Jean encouraged them all into the living room. She was filthy, as was Carl but she was too tired to think about mess on the sofa, mud on the carpet. The last few days had reset her views on some things. She was weary to the bone, achy and shivery. She felt as though she was running a temperature, but there was no time to dwell on it. She swallowed a couple of aspirins with a glass of water and then went through to where the others were waiting in silence. Immediately she walked through the door, Lesley began speaking, demanding answers that Jean didn’t have to give, and explanations that were not yet clear enough in her own head to be verbalized.
In the end Carl calmed his mother, sitting beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and telling her very quietly that they, none of them could answer all of her questions, but now, before the police came back, they had to find out as much as they could.
Jean was impressed that he was thinking in exactly as she was. She smiled across the room towards Sonja, “Please, will you tell us as much as you can? The police will come soon and we need to be sure that we all have the same story to tell them. I don’t want to get you into trouble, truly, and so you need to let us help you.”
Sonja glanced at her watch. “I will need to telephone work. I can’t go today but I need to tell them.” Jean noted Carl’s glance, neither of them had given any thought to this girl’s day to day life. They had seen only the desperate kidnapper, the woman brandishing a carving knife, a balaclava hiding the face and long dark hair. It was a little surreal to hear that she was worried about being absent from work.
“You can use my phone if you like.”
“No, it’s fine.” As she spoke the girl took out a mobile and punched in a number. She had a conversation about shift times, patients, treatments.
When she finished the call, and looked up at them Jean asked the question that was in all of their minds. “Was that the hospital?”
“Yes, I am a physiotherapist. I had patients booked.” And so, the story began. Once she started to tell them the words flowed easily. It seemed that she had been bottling this up for so long that now the gates had opened she was relieved to let it all out.
She told them about Suzanne, how she had kept in touch even though she had fled from Syria with her parents while she was still at school. How, her friend had trained as a nurse and they had planned and schemed for better times when they might be able to work together in England. As the situation in her home country had become so very desperate, contact with her friends and other members of her family had become sporadic and difficult.
She paused for a moment and wiped at her eyes. “Mama and Papa died, they were killed in a car, it was seven years ago now and I had begun my training. They were proud and they were happy. That is what I think.”
And so, in England she had made a life for herself, found a good job, begun to buy a home. Then had come the news that Paul had to get away. Suzanne was desperate on behalf of her brother who had spoken out against the regime and was now in danger for his life. He had fled and Sonja had helped him. Met him near the coast, when he was put ashore from a fishing boat in the middle of the night, and then found him a place to stay.
“It isn’t nice, that warehouse but he says he doesn’t mind. He comes to my flat for food and to use the shower but it’s small, just two rooms and so he sleeps there.”
“And Suzanne, what happened to her?” Jean leaned forward, her arms on her knees watching the young woman as she struggled to keep control. Her lips quivered for a moment but she cleared her throat and carried on.
Suzanne had refused to leave their mother when Paul had fled, but now the old lady had died. Paul had scraped together the money to pay traffickers to help his sister. “Not Paul alone you understand. I borrowed some money, I gave him my savings. We had to pay, it was a lot of money…”
Jean spoke again, quietly, calmly, “Has Paul made his stay legal?”
Sonja shook her head. “He had to be careful. He must apply, he will apply for asylum, but there are other things he needs to do first. He can’t go to the authorities, not yet.
“He is also a physical therapist but he can’t work legally. I find him clients as a personal trainer. He’s very good and the women like him.” She nodded and carried on. “I have to tell you. Paul is not a bad person. I know what he did to you,” she glanced from Jean to Carl, and what he made me do. That was wrong. I didn’t want to do any of it but he is desperate.”
Jean filled the silence, “I understand that he thought I had something to do with Suzanne’s death. I see that he wanted, oh I don’t know some sort of revenge. But then afterwards. All that about what she had told me. I still don’t understand what that was about. What did it matter, she was dead. Once he knew that, what did it matter what she had said? Why did he make the picture making it look as though I pushed her in?”
Sonja sighed. “He thought you had. He said that when you saw that he knew, you would tell him the truth to keep him quiet. He believed that she had told you where they were. He has to know where they are. You see, they still have his wife. They are still holding her, they won’t let her go until he pays them more money.”