I know he is doing this for my own good. Or at least, for what he perceives to be my own good. But how, I want to shout at him, how is leading me to my own execution fucking good for me? Jake is tugging insistently on my sweaty palm, looking at me through bleary eyes, and I start to walk forwards. As I walk, I suddenly think, ‘I never knew you had green eyes’. For some reason, I’d always assumed they were blue. The power of assumption. I curse my Bayesian mind. What else have I failed to perceive, or have perceived incorrectly, that I will never get the chance now to correct? On my other side I feel an arm snake around my waist: my other best friend, Kevin. He squeezes my middle affectionately, and purposefully walks me on.
When we get to the tube station, Kevin breaks off to buy three tickets: return for them, single for me. When he hands me mine he hugs me tightly, almost crushing me, until Jake pulls him off with a stern look in his green eyes: they have to be stronger. Stronger than me, stronger than they naturally would be. I can almost feel that surge of energy as they muster more courage from the depths of their souls.
We take the first West-bound train that arrives, Jake and Kevin sitting in seats either side of me, my two hands in one each of theirs. None of us speak as the train trundles along, the glaring electric lights flickering occasionally. We pass one station, two, three, each one counting down to my time. Their hands are crushing mine, a small physical manifestation of their love, and the pain is most welcome, most welcome. And then, in between the third and forth stations, the train begins to slow down, and stop.
A crackle announces the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are currently experiencing a delay; there are passengers on the line ahead. We’ll start moving as soon as I receive the all clear. I’d like to apologise for the inconvenience this may cause to your journey.”
I can’t help it; I guffaw at that. The lights go off.
“Jake?” I say, squeezing his hand.
“Why have the lights gone off if it’s just people on the track?” he whispers, squeezing back. In the darkness I hear a wrenching sound; the doors being forced apart, and a man grunting with the exertion of the task. Suddenly my hands are empty.
“Jake!” I shout, pointlessly straining to look for them in the dark. “Kevin!”
Rough, strong hands pull me to my feet and as I scream and flail, they clamp around my waist and throw me out of the doors. I land with a thud not against the wall of the tube tunnel, but several metres across and down from the train, in a wide open space. The blackness is terrifyingly all-encompassing for a moment, and then the train starts up, the lights flick on, the doors close, and it starts up again. I see Jake and Kevin’s startled faces briefly through the train window; they are gazing in shock at each other, unaware that I am watching them from outside; and then they’re gone. A few seconds later, the entire train is gone, and the darkness is back.
I tremble in the dark for a thousand years, until I cannot remember whether the train ever truly existed, whether it is dark or I am blind, whether I am awake, whether I am alive. And then I hear the cough, and then I hear myself scream.
“Sh. You know who I am. Think.”
But I cannot think over the loudness of my own hitched breathing, over the pounding in my chest. I need a paper bag, I need a toilet, I need to lie down.
“Jenny, you know my voice.”
I do know it. I do know it.
“That’s right. You haven’t forgotten me yet.”
“I haven’t forgotten you,” I repeat.
“I haven’t forgotten you,” he says. “Just as I said I wouldn’t.”
“How?” I ask.
“It doesn’t matter now. We’ve got to move.”
The same rough hands that threw me out of the train pull me to my feet. One of them keeps my clammy hand steady as I shakily walk forward.
“Careful. There are steps. And they move.”
“The steps move, Jenny.” A light flicks on, blinding me. It takes me a minute to adjust to the brightness, and then I see it is coming from his head: a head torch. Below us, in front of us, above us, spreading for a hundred metres – or more, the light doesn’t penetrate further than that – are huge concrete steps; some stationary, some swinging wildly back and forth, like pendulums. Then I realise the floor beneath me is moving; I scream again, my legs collapse beneath me, and he picks me up again.
“I don’t want to die either. That’s why I’m here. Come on.”
His arm is wrapped tightly around my waist as we plunge to the stationary step below us; we land, thud, on the floor, and I breathe a sigh of relief. A step flies past my nose, and I faint.
“Come on, come on,” that voice says, as I feel droplets of water seeping into my mouth.
“What,” I groan.
“There’s no time. Come on.” I am pulled to my feet again and the headlight glares in my face as he looks at me. “Can you continue?”
“Yes.” As the step comes flying back again, we duck. Before it can return, we jump onto a slower-passing one below us, falling onto our backsides as soon as we land. That arm is still holding tightly onto my small body, steadying me. From that we leap onto a slightly higher step. And so we progress, to where I don’t know. Up and down we go, until I can’t tell whether we are slowly moving up, down, or nowhere at all.
How does he know where he’s going? I’m thinking the question, but I don’t ask him. It doesn’t matter if we do this until we are exhausted, dehydrated, forever.
A hitch in his breath tells me we have made our destination. There is solid above us; for the first time he lets go my waist; with both hands he pushes up at the ceiling. An almighty groan; a stone lifts up, light pours in. From above the stone is hauled away, he hauls me up, and I am out. My eyes burn and my head throbs as I curl foetally on the pavement. I hear hands and feet scuffling as he pulls himself out too, aided by – who?
I find myself at a chair by a table on a patio in Italy, or London with sun. He is opposite me, a waiter winking at us with a pad and pen in his hand by the side of our table. I order coffee for me, and coke for him. Time has gone backwards, yet there is dirt all over my clothes. The waiter hands me a pristine white towel and I brush myself down.
The drinks arrive. As I sip my coffee, he says:
“We need to get passports – that’s the first thing.”
Across the patio, a man in a suit catches my eye and smiles. I smile back, flattered.
My lover takes my hand. “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” I say. “Passports. How are we going to get them? I had mine taken.”
“So did I, but we can’t travel as ourselves anyway. We’ll meet Arnal later – he’s getting us fakes.”
I look over at the smiling man again. He is still looking at me and smiling. At his table is a cup of coffee, a packet of cigarettes, and a radio. My heart stops beating. I look at my lover, who is still talking about getting fake passports, back at the radio, and at the man who is taping us, a great big grin on his face. As I open my mouth to convey this, a white van screeches to a halt on the road beside the café. My lover and I jump out of our seats and run full pelt in opposite directions.
The sound of guns being fired and bullets missing their target; my panting breath, my aching limbs, my racing heart, the ringing in my ears. Up and up a steep hill I run, my youth and fitness an advantage over these bullet-proof-vest-wearing, armed and armoured police. I reach the peak, begin my descent over the other side; in my peripheral vision, I see a single soul coming up to meet me, taser and baton in hand. I turn abruptly and run back the way I came, only to face another five of the same. I spin around, realise I am surrounded, and slowly I raise my hands into the air.
A woman, distinguished from the policemen by her sex and clothing, saunters over to me, smiling nastily. She says nothing, but pads down my legs, arms, and body, then slices open my jacket lining with one swish of her dagger. As she plunges a hand into the fluffy inside of my jacket, my mind makes the unpleasant association of being raped; this is unhelped by her clear enjoyment of the act, of penetrating my clothing with her filthy, corrupt hand. And she is not to be vindicated in the act; I have concealed weapons, she withdraws, taking my protection, my comfort. I am led away, bound and broken.
“Where is he?” I ask of her as we walk towards my prison vehicle.
“Shot,” she says simply.
“Dead?” I whisper. She nods, smiling. I die a little bit too.
A slightly less sadistic copper gently guides me through the van’s metal doors. I glance at freedom through metal bars, and as I do so, I note that this is not a foreshadowing, for I am not to be locked away indefinitely. I wonder if that would be more or less cruel, and decide it would be more. But suddenly I see it: my lover, there he is, walking, and thus alive; he is being led roughly into another cage, and he catches my eye and winks. A rage of insurmountable proportion rears inside me as I think about how sadistic she was, that lady of the law, in telling me he was dead, expecting me never to find out different, before I perished.
My gentle captor opens the door after a cold, bad night.
“It’s today,” he says redundantly. “But you have been granted a final request.”
I sit up. “Restrictions?”
“None, within reason.”
“I want to see him.”
He nods. “He asks for the same.”
Along a corridor, out into the open. I am fitted with bugs, and tracking devices, told that I will be shot if I try to escape again, given the restrictions that I expected, though were told didn’t exist, and then – then I see him. He is fitted too, but his spirit is defiant – I can feel it.
We walk through a quiet, gentle forest. I curl my hand into his, and he places our hands both into his warm pocket. Our mouths talk of beauty and life as his finger tells my palm of escape and the future.
My heart is pounding as the hours drain away. We have had our time; now we must say goodbye to those that once loved us. Jake and Kevin cannot hold back their tears, but they refrain from breaking down. I am the only one who does not register surprise when I see my lover kiss Arnal fully on the mouth. I know his true purpose.