I looked back at the dark bedroom, signs of our struggle were all around. The dislodged lampshade, the Venetian window blinds fanning back into the room bent at odd angles, and his half naked body. The large man with trimmed beard and dark short spiked hair, now matted with blood was slumped diagonally across the bed. His gorilla chest was slowly lifting and falling, there was a smear of blood on the pillow where the half empty bottle of bourbon had struck its mark. He wouldn't be out for long. I'd already given up on hopes of finding my passport, but I'd finally learnt where he kept the key for the bedroom, my prison. I groped around under the bed, it was in his sock. The sock needed darning. The thought of my concern for his welfare surprised me, but didn't deter me. I used my body to muffle the click of the turning key. The door opened noiselessly, I had oiled the hinges with lube from the bathroom the day before. As the door opened I hadn't anticipated it would get caught on the doormat, the mat slid with the door making a loud shush noise which startled me, I heard him groan. The fingers of his right hand awoke as spider legs slowly creeping along the bedsheets searching for my warm body. I froze, then exhaled slowly as his fingers fell limp, as he again drifted into unconsciousness.
I had run out on him, and vowed to never return. The icy air of the corridor slapped my body hard leaving goose pimples. My blood stained satin nightdress was my only protection. My bare foot trod in a puddle of warm piss, that's when I noticed the bedroom opposite to mine was ajar, the other man had just relieved himself, if I'd emerged a moment earlier I would have been detected.
I forced my stubborn body to walk past the sound of rape, coming from the opposite bedroom. Tears burned my cheeks, my mouth tightened, I had to be resolute, if I could get to the shelter I could help her, maybe I could help the other woman escape too. A year ago when I was still allowed a phone to make arrangements with my clients, one of his old girls who'd got away had texted me an address where I could get help. He had found the message and confiscated my phone but he couldn't erase my memory. I'd be back for her, once I got to the shelter, you see she was my younger sister once, in another life.
I took each step on the staircase deliberately, the movement of toe to heel, a creaky board was masked by the screams coming from the other bedroom. I sped up and arrived at the bottom of the stairs, the streetlights outside giving a little illumination. The sound of Manchester nightlife just outside the door was reassuring, beside the door was a frosted glass window pane, on the narrow window ledge was an old mug, and a half used packet of Marlboro lights. Above the window was a small window on the latch for ventilation. I moved quickly undoing the catches and pulling back the bolts. I pulled down the yale handle and the door remained closed. Shit. It was locked.
Hearing him shout my name caused my body to collapse into the fetal position. I began to rock forward and backward in desperation, a crown of thorns pierced my mind.
"Come back here you filthy bitch! Where the hell are you?"
His footfall on the landing forced me out of my paralysis. His voice was joined by the second man. I grabbed the cup and hurled it through the top open window, there was a satisfying smash and I retreated to the darkness at the foot of the stairs. The men came running down the stairs both landing on the creaky board in turn. From my hiding place, I saw the second man was naked from the waist down and was holding his trousers in his left hand, he fumbled around and retrieved a key from the trouser pocket and handed it to my handler, he then turned and ran back upstairs to finish his meal. I saw violence and hunger flash across his face as he ran back to her. I watched as the front door was unlocked. He closed the door behind him and my heart sank, but he didn't lock it. I watched his pixelated body vanish into a sea of people through the frosted glass. I grabbed the yale clasp and the door opened for me. I was out and was terrified, I felt people staring at this blood-stained woman barefoot in her nightdress. I ignored them, got my bearings and began to run. I was so focused that I missed the fact he had spotted me from across the road and was shouting at me. People turned away from me as I approached them for help. He began to laugh I heard his bellow.
"Ha, Maria, you're invisible, they don't care. You're mine. Come back!"
I kept moving, he lost me in a crowd of tipsy students wearing pyjamas, I doubled back and eventually arrived at the street of the shelter. I began to feel giddy inside, I tried to slow my breathing as I took in the numbers of the buildings. I'd imagined the woman I'd meet at the shelter, someone like my grandmother. She would be short and have squinty small kind eyes with crows feet from too much smiling. I could reattach my severed feelings and begin the journey of becoming human again.
The shop front was dark, it was quiet. I imagined the rooms were out of sight at the back perhaps. Above the door it said:
'SafeSpace' a council and local business initiative for Manchester’s vulnerable women. Ring buzzer to speak to one of our team.
Then through the dark glass door I saw the plies of takeaway menus, taxi firm cards, and dozens of unopened pieces of mail. Finally I absorbed the A4 notice on the door which was right in front of me it read:
"We apologise to our clients, our funding has now run out. This service has been discontinued, please call the number below during office hours to access equivalent services in the city, or search the council website below for relevant links."
I drank the bitter message to its dregs, as a cold appreciation of it's meaning left me hollow. His silent figure grew behind me in the reflection of the glass locked door.
A short story by Azariah France-Williams written January 23rd 2017 in response to hearing of the increase of homeless women in the Richmond Borough. 75% of these women are attempting to escape violence. The presentation I heard expressed sorrow at the frequency of cuts and the impact on the vulnerable people effected.