Learn English Network
By Damaris West
A short story
Gemma slipped slim fingers into black leather gloves, passed a pin through her designer hat into her hair and gathered the skirts of her expensive camel coat around her. It was always as well to be prepared for getting off the bus at this time of night: that way, if anyone was planning to follow her she would get a head start on the quarter-mile walk to her flat.
It was the same every time she had to come back from work this late. At the beginning of the bus journey there would be a selection of fellow-passengers most of whom she would have been perfectly happy to be near in any situation - elderly ladies with baskets of shopping from the late-night market, teenagers absorbed in the music from their Walkmen - and then as they progressed from stop to stop all these harmless people would disembark to leave behind the one person who made her feel uncomfortable.
Tonight was no exception. Across the aisle from her was a seedy, unhealthy-looking man with greasy hair. She turned her head to look at him. He was staring out of the window but his reflection met her eye. He reminded her of the boy who used to bring round the tea. She’d had him sacked last week because he upset a scalding cup of sweetened coffee (when she’d specifically said unsweetened) all over her stocking-clad knees.
Gemma’s was the last stop before the bus returned to the depot so the young man would certainly get off where she did. With her handy organiser slung over her shoulder, she slid from her seat so that she was standing beside the driver as the bus swung into the pull-in.
“Good night,” she said as her gloved hand released the pole and she stepped out into the darkness.
“Good night, darling,” he returned. Bus drivers often used daring endearments like that when they addressed her.
As she set off along the pavement she was aware of someone behind her. She allowed herself a quick glimpse behind and sure enough it was the man from the bus. He seemed to be hurrying towards her. Normally she allowed herself to light a cigarette to aid the winding down process, but tonight she didn’t want the delay. She quickened her pace and heard the footsteps behind her quicken also. On moonlit nights and when she was feeling particularly bold, she took a short cut across the corner of the park thus saving about five minutes. She knew it was stupid, particularly since one of her friends at work had been stalked and another had been accosted by a flasher in a multi-storey car park in the lunch hour. Tonight she would go the long way round so as to stay under the street lights. The man took the same route. At last she could bear it no longer and swung round to look at him. He waved an arm in the air as if brandishing something so, with her heart in her mouth, she turned on her heel and walked on even faster than before. If it hadn’t been for her high heels she would have broken into a run.
The man was still behind her. He seemed to have gained on her slightly and she was sure she could hear him panting. Perhaps heavy breathing was his thing.
On the corner of the park there was a classy little wine bar which she sometimes frequented. A group of yuppies was emerging from it, spilling out into the night with their ties and their tongues loosened. She peered at them and recognised among them someone she’d once considered going out with. He’d been rather persistent and she’d been put off, but he still had a bit of a crush on her so she felt confident he would help.
“George,” she said. “Do me a favour. There’s somebody tailing me. Can you sort him out?”
George was drunk but not so drunk that he couldn’t immediately stiffen in response to the challenge.
“Where is he?” he asked. “What does he look like?”
“He’s got greasy black hair and he’s a few yards behind me,” Gemma answered.
She didn’t look back but her ears were strained to make sure that the pursuing footsteps didn’t start again. In fact, having rounded a couple of corners and being in the act of crossing the road opposite her block of flats, she was still listening so hard that she didn’t hear the car coming until it was too late. A tremendous impact. A burst of white light. The feeling of going down into deep velvet blackness.
She came to in hospital. A nurse was peering into her face and behind her was the patient figure of a police officer sitting waiting.
“What happened?” Gemma queried.
“You’re very lucky. You’ve got a few broken ribs and a bit of concussion but other than that you’re as right as rain,” the nurse reassured her.
Gemma recalled she’d been struck by a car. “Did they get the driver?” she asked.
“It was a taxi and the driver couldn’t have done anything to avoid you. All his passengers vouched for that. They wished you well. Just said you ought to revise the Green Cross Code.”
What was the policeman doing there, then? It must be to do with the man who was following her. Perhaps he’d raped someone else instead. How did they know he’d been after her first?
The policeman stepped forward and spoke, interrupting her musings.
“We believe you can help us with our enquiry into an attack which took place outside a wine bar on the same evening as your accident,” he said. “A group of drunken men set upon a passer-by who had a weak heart. During the onslaught he had a fatal seizure.”
Gemma opened her mouth to protest but she was too feeble. They were only supposed to scare him off a bit! But the police officer continued relentlessly.
“You’ve been connected with the incident because the dead man was carrying your Filofax at the time...”
Gemma heard no more. She’d slipped back into the welcome embrace of unconsciousness.
About the Author: Damaris West is Managing Director of worldwide tutor agency Anysubject Ltd which she runs from the Italian office. Anysubject provides tutoring in all academic subjects, musical instruments and foreign languages. Visit the Anysubject website - http://www.anysubject.com or see the free guides section.