WARNING – Discussion of sexual assault.
Tap, tap, tap. The sound of water dripping in the bathroom sink. I wake up from another dream about her and lie in bed, waiting. She is out there; this time I know for sure. Mum told me you should always pay attention to messages from God.
The dream happened near the Brixton Road exit on the cycle path so that’s where I need to go. This morning. No waiting around again, no more mistakes. Mr Allen told me I’m not allowed near the cycle path after last time, but this is more important. I have to find her otherwise I’ll spend the rest of my life full of regret.
I wait in bed until Mum goes out to do her shopping. The sun pours in through the window, making a bright square on the opposite wall. I hear her rustling around in her bag and closing the kitchen cabinets. The kettle boils. She always goes to the shop at around the same time on Sunday mornings when she thinks I’m sleeping, just to be safe.
Then I hear her footsteps coming up the stairs so I pull the duvet up to my nose and close my eyes tightly. The door creaks; she must be opening it a tiny bit to look in. I make my breathing heavy. Then I hear her go back down the stairs and out the front door, closing it carefully behind her.
When we were in court, Mum did a lot of crying. Her and sis were the only people in the public seating area. I sat behind a glass sheet in the dock and watched them. Sometimes I watched the faces of the jury people too, although Mr Allen told me I shouldn’t do that. None of them looked over at me much, anyway; they mostly paid attention to the judge and solicitors with their silly wigs and the witnesses when they were giving statements. I couldn’t see the witnesses, because they were hidden from me by a big blue screen.
After we got the verdict and came home, she couldn’t look at me for weeks. Even when she brought my dinner upstairs, she would leave it on the floor outside to avoid seeing me. I might as well have gone to prison.
I’m up and dressed in five minutes after she leaves the house and stop to check my reflection in the hallway mirror. If I’m meeting her today, I have to look my best. Mum bought me a new navy suit for court and a light blue shirt to go with it. She said it brought out my eyes which I didn’t really understand because my eyes are brown. Today I’m wearing the shirt, with jeans and a long coat. I think I look good. I hope my girl thinks so, too.
As I’m walking quickly down the street, looking around in case Mum or sis or any police officers are around, I try and think of what I will say to her. The last few times I’ve blown it and said the wrong things and the girls have been scared away. Some of them screamed. I remember one in particular, the one I met at night time in Riverside Park – I think it must’ve been winter because she was wearing a wool hat and I could see her breath in the air when she was screaming. I tried to make her feel better by smiling and asking a simple question but there was horror in her eyes, and she ran away from me. I remember her white trainers being the last thing to disappear into the black night. Tap, tap, tap as she ran.
This time will be different. I walk down Brixton Road and duck under some tree branches to get onto the cycle path. It’s about 10am so there aren’t many people around, just a man walking his dog and a few cyclists. I shade my eyes against the sun, looking up and down the path for her. There are birds singing all around. It’s peaceful.
I remember standing on the steps outside court when the trial was over and Mum, still with tears in her eyes, saying “I can’t lie for you, Jay, if this happens again. In the eyes of the Lord, it’s wrong.” I promised her it wouldn’t happen again, not with her watching over me. As I stand on the cycle path looking up through the trees at the bright sky, I imagine God somewhere up above the clouds, looking down at me with angry eyes. He must think I’m a sinner. But I know I’m doing the right thing because I can feel it in my heart.
After I’ve been waiting about ten minutes, I start to get worried about Mum coming home and finding me gone. My heart beats faster when I think about those policemen with their sticks and handcuffs throwing me onto the ground and pushing down on my back with their boots. By the time I get home they will probably already be there waiting for me, and Mum will never speak to me again. They’ll put me in a special home for sinners. The air is cold in my lungs as I breath in and out very quickly, imagining what it will be like. They will tie my arms and legs down with leather straps and inject me with giant needles.
I am just about to turn around and leave when I see her. I know it’s her because she is dressed in black like the girl in my dream…and she is running. She runs right past me, too quickly to see her face, but there is no doubt in my mind this time.
I start to follow her.
She is wearing headphones and doesn’t notice my heavy footsteps on the path as I break into a jog to catch her up. Tap, tap, tap. We are passing other runners…I see a group of them out of the corner of my eye and decide to hang back a little. It’s better if there is no one else around. I try to remember what happened in my dream, but it is fuzzy – and now I don’t know what to do so I speed up until I am running very close behind her, our shadows on the ground merging, the folds of my coat flapping.
I forget why I am here, just for a second. The trees around me are a brown blur. My head spins.
Hesitating, I slow down, allowing our shadows to separate. My eyes try to re-focus. I need to touch her, so I know this is real. I remember the others when I touched them, how they jumped back and screamed and ran, but this time will be different because this time it’s really her.
Our footsteps are in time with each other as I speed up again. Tap, tap, tap. Her head is level with my chin; I can almost smell her hair. I’m close enough to hear the music coming from the headphones in her ears. I can tell that she is sensing someone behind her.
Once again, I make sure to check there is no one else around. Witnesses only make things worse. The path is quiet, there is only the sound of a car engine rumbling behind the trees.
The scripture Mum has hanging in her bedroom flashes before my eyes, gold letters in a wooden frame:
Let all that you do be done in love.
The tap, tap, tap of her shoes on the tarmac begins to slow. She is turning to look at me. I reach out my hand.