Note: I am in the middle of fairly extensive re-writes but I will continue to post the original so that anyone who is following Jean’s adventures can see it through to the end.
It felt that it would be impossible to stand and yet she must. Jean turned onto her knees and crawled on all fours to where Lesley was struggling against the rolling and jolting of the truck. As she reached her sister, Jean’s strength gave out and all she could do was to lie with her head on Lesley’s outstretched legs. After a couple of minutes, she struggled to a sitting position. “How are you fastened. What did they use?” Jean remembered the tough plastic ties, that had been so difficult to break, until they found the metal bracket, back at the warehouse. It was obvious there was no way she could search the inside of this dreadful space for something sharp.
Lesley tilted her head upwards, to where her hands were fastened around a metal bar, “I don’t really know. I think it’s rope or cord of some sort. I was so scared, we all were, they had guns and we couldn’t help you. They’d just thrown you in here, like you were an old sack or something. They were so brutal, kicking at us, pushing, and threatening with the guns. They were shouting at each other and at us. I don’t know what they used. Can you do it Jean? You must. Just see if you can. If you can get me free I can help the others. Or wait, maybe Carl. What about Carl? Perhaps you should help him.”
“Aunty Jean,” Carl’s voice came from the other side of the box. “Come and let me free? I can help the others then.”
For Jean, the thought of crawling all the way across the dirty, vibrating floor was overwhelming. She wanted to curl into a ball and cry. They were all desperate and afraid.
Paul called to her from further away. “You must hurry. We don’t know where they are taking us. You must hurry.”
The sobbing, which had ceased once Jean had begun to move, restarted, and she heard a plaintive voice, over and over just one word, “Please, please, please.”
They all depended on her. This was no time for self-pity. She had to move.
Bracing herself against the juddering sides with one hand, she managed to stand against the wall. She wrapped her fingers around metal ridges. The vibration of the wheels on the road outside sent spasms of pain through her legs, and up into her body. She gritted her teeth, leaned, and reached out for Lesley’s arms.
She could make out the dark mass around Lesley’s wrists and hands. She felt for the rope. It had been wrapped and tied repeatedly until there was a bulky tangle. Rocked and bucked in the darkness she struggled to find the ends. Forced to stop whenever the movement of the truck threatened to throw her off balance, she clung on. She was exhausted. Her hands were weak, fingers without their usual strength or feeling, and the downward pull on Lesley’s limbs tightened the knots. “Can you ease up at all Les?”
“I can’t the angle’s all wrong. If I try to stand, my shoulders twist the wrong way. I’ve been trying.”
“Okay, but if you can ease up just a bit.”
“Hang on then. Oh shit, that hurts.” Just as Lesley struggled to stretch higher, easing her buttocks from the floor and straightening her back, the truck took a sharp bend. Jean screamed as she was thrown away from the sides, tumbling over her sister, arms and legs flailing, head bouncing first against the walls and then on the floor. She rolled and slid across the width of the container. As quickly as it began that small part of the ongoing drama was over. Lesley was cursing, and the girl who had been begging for aid had now begun to intone what was so obviously a prayer, in a language that Jean didn’t understand.
Though the collision of their bodies had injured Lesley’s face and shoulder, causing her to squeal with pain, it had brought Jean near to where Carl was tied. She rolled yet nearer to him. He was in the same sort of position as his mother, but his extra height made it easier for him to release the tension on his bonds.
Jean grunted and puffed with the effort and several times she had to hang on to Carl’s arms as the truck turned and swerved. Each time she heard him gasp with pain and her heart glitched. At last there was small movement in the rope and, once it had begun to loosen it wasn’t long before she was able to unwind it from the bars. With a groan at the release of strain in his shoulders and back, Carl lowered his arms.
He shook his hands in front of him, restoring the circulation. Jean flopped onto the floor and leaned her head back, eyes closed. She heard him move away and then conversation between him and Paul. She forced herself to stay in the moment, but it was beyond her to stand and help them as they untied the others. Once she was free, Lesley scuttled across the floor and they wrapped their arms around each other. Paul and Rima were locked in an embrace and she was crying quietly against his shoulder. Sonja had pulled the girl, who must be, Noor, to her and was murmuring at her as you would to a child.
For a while everything was about mutual comfort and relief until Paul spoke “We need to be ready. I don’t know what they will do with us now, but we need to be ready if they open the door. We need to keep low, out of the line of…” He stopped but they all knew he had been intending to say, “Out of the line of fire.”
If the great metal doors opened and the guns, that they had last seen in the hands of the thugs, were to be fired into the confined space there would be no escape. No matter how low they were, how they pressed against the walls. They would be killed, all of them, in the most brutal manner imaginable. Like animals trapped in a pen.
Through the appalling fear one question found its way and Jean had to ask, she leaned close to Lesley, “Bob, what has he to do with this?”
“Oh Jean, he’s one of them. He helped them. When you passed out, he sent the others to bring Rima and Noor and then they herded us all downstairs. Another of them had Sonja and Paul already in the entrance. They’ve all got guns. They had this truck parked beside one of those units. They bullied and shouted at us and all the time, he was with them, he didn’t even try to help you. He never went near you to see if you were alright. One of them said you were dead and he just turned away. I don’t think they ever thought you were dead, but they didn’t want to waste time tying you up. I knew you couldn’t be dead, Jean. I mean, I just knew. They were desperate to move us out of the hotel and away.” She was sobbing again now and Jean pulled her close and let her own tears flow. Carl sat on the floor beside them and wrapped his arms around them and lowered his head to his mum’s shoulder.
“Don’t cry mum, please. We’re going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay.”
The drone of the engine changed. They felt the vehicle slow and turn, and then it stopped.