by Linda Flynn
a sharp, bitter lemon drink
You always know when you are being watched. There’s that sense of a tingling in your spine, a boring into your back, or an awareness that every detail is being observed. And all without you turning around.
Most of the time you would brush it away, forgotten, like the litter blowing across the platform. At other times you might freeze, knowing that you are almost alone, as you try to focus on the peeling posters. The train rushes in like an indrawn breath and you leap on.
You know it’s not unusual, it happens to everyone, so why is it troubling you today?
A quick glance around the carriage, without making any eye contact, assures you that everything is normal: faces buried in newspapers, books or phones, a pale pensive man twisting some interview notes in his lap, a ginger haired girl impatiently kicking her legs against the seat, figures stood at the poles turned away from each other. Then the deep, dark blur of the tunnel as the windows gleamed back dull reflections. So why is your heart beating a little faster?
You rub your eyes; you hadn’t slept well last night, haunted by the shadowy outline by the bush outside your bedroom window.
The train seems to wait ages at the station. It’s hard not to drum your fingers as passengers heave on and off. An obstruction in the doors. At last it surges forward and those standing sway backwards.
You scan the new faces, locking your hands which are now clammy with dread.
You see a black jacket weaving through the passengers. It’s the same as a thousand other black jackets seen on the underground, but there’s something in the straightness of the back, an alertness, and the air around you feels suffocating.
Of course neighbours meet each other all the time: chance encounters buying a pint of milk, collecting a newspaper, walking a dog. But still, not all the time, not the exact same routine.
You should have taken a taxi. Too late to think of that now.
The hooded mac helps. Not your usual raincoat. You don’t even like it much, but bland beige blends in.
The train screeches to the penultimate stop before you must disembark. Your heart is hammering. You glance down at your shoes. Not ideal for walking.
You hold your breath and in your head begin counting the three seconds it will take for the doors to fully close. Then you leap out at one, forcibly parting people as you sprint on to the platform.
A hurried glance behind; then breathe. You flit into the gap between commuters, knowing the space will close as people jostle forward.
Before you reach the escalator you slip off your coat, scrunch it into a ball and shove into a bag. Black clothes. Good.
Your heart is thumping but you must take the escalator calmly, without drawing attention to yourself; so you ease in front of a bulky man and remain motionless, steadying your pulse.
The crowd on the pavement outside has thinned out, so you slip inside a busy shop, slide past customers and out of a side door. It’s all time lost and you will be late for work, if only you had left slightly earlier today.
There’s the reassuring rumble of traffic and once more you are swallowed up by a group of pedestrians. You keep pace with them, there’s safety in numbers. Everyday conversations flitter around you, dull and reassuring, people going about their every-day lives.
You try to resist turning your head around, checking, watching. With an effort of will you face mainly forwards, throwing the occasional glance at reflections in shop windows. There’s nothing unusual and you are nearly there.
As you approach the main door to your office your knees feel weak with relief and you long to sit down.
Instinct makes you twist your head slightly towards the café window opposite. Then you see him. He gives a half smile and seems to raise his coffee cup in greeting.
He was there before you; he already knew where you worked.
You thought you had noticed when you were being watched, but you hadn’t, not really. Another detail had been given away, another piece of the jig-saw puzzle that formed your life, another fact gleaned from following; making you easier to stalk.
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