The shock at Sonja’s words was extreme. Jean didn’t speak for a moment, thoughts and responses swirled in her brain. She pulled a shawl from the arm of the chair and wrapped it around her shoulders. Lesley glanced across and frowned at her, but Jean spoke first.
“Where is he now? Do you know?”
Sonja sighed and shook her head. “I wasn’t there, he just called me and told me to go to the unit quickly, that you were alone. That is when I decided I had to let you go. I am very frightened for him. He was angry and upset.”
It occurred to Jean that there were many other things that hadn’t yet been explained. If they were to face the police, who surely must be in touch soon, then the more information they had, the better she could decide how to help this brave young woman. She was determined that she would help, somehow, and now, it seemed there was yet another life at risk.
She went back in her mind to the start of it all, right to the beginning as she did when she was editing her books. She knew that the story had to have a beginning and at the moment, there was too much confusion and puzzlement. “Tell us about the night Suzanne died?”
Sonja closed her eyes and slid back in her chair. She looked lost and vulnerable and her voice cracked as she began to speak, but she pressed on. She told them how they had waited for days to hear that Suzanne and Rima were safe, and where they were to go to collect them. As time went on they became more and more concerned, but when they tried to call, first the women themselves, and then the go between who had taken their money, there was no answer. Then at last a call had come. They had instructed her to go to the canal. They said that Suzanne would be there, she should go immediately.
Paul had a cheap mobile phone set only to receive calls from Sonja. She had called Paul and they had rushed, separately, through the wet night, to the bank and the bridge. There, and for a while Sonja couldn’t speak as she tried to relay her horror, she had seen Jean, pulling her friend from the water. She had watched helplessly as the event had unfolded before her. Yes, she had filmed with her phone but it had been automatic, recording the event because she had been prepared to film the happy reunion. Once she saw Jean and Suzanne on the bank, and in her mind her friend safe and cared for, she had tried again to call Paul, to warn him. But, he was on his way, believing that at last he was to hold his sister in his arms. She fled when the police arrived and it wasn’t until Paul came to her flat, alone, angry and tearful that she heard the awful truth.
It began to make some sort of sense. The plot was coming together, but there was the other thing and Jean walked over to the chair and sat on the arm. She hugged Sonja’s shoulders gently. This time the girl didn’t stiffen and pull away, but turned and looked up. She was afraid, it was drawn clearly on her face, she sensed that there was more horror.
Jean spoke quietly, “Do you know how she died? your friend, Suzanne.”
“She was in the water, she couldn’t swim. She didn’t like the water. I don’t know why they did that. Why they pushed her in. Maybe they did it so that they could get away. I hate it, I hate that she died like that, drowning. We should have been quicker. If I had gone across the bridge instead of waiting I would have seen her, I could have pulled her out. The young woman began to sob, and Jean’s heart was torn as she acknowledged, that what she would say would make it all so very much worse.
“Sweetheart, she didn’t drown. Your friend was dead already. Maybe they knew and they left her there on purpose, or maybe they left her and she died and then fell in, but no matter what, she was dead when she went into the canal. It was enough for the moment, the rest of it would come later but for now, this was enough.”
“No, no. That can’t be. We were going to meet her, to collect her. Come, they said, come to the bend before the bridge. She is there.”
Lesley was crying quietly, leaning against her son who was pale and shaken. Jean was struggling to hold her emotions in check and Sonja looked spent and exhausted. They were all focused now on the other woman, the one that, until just a short while ago most of those in the room hadn’t known existed. Where was Rima? Was she safe and if so – for how long?
Lesley was the one who broke the silence, “We should just tell all this to the police. They’ll know what to do. They’ll be able to – oh I don’t know, get people out there, find them, rescue Rima.”
Sonja was shaking her head furiously. “No, please no. Paul is illegal, Rima is illegal, they will send them back. They’ll put them into a holding centre, but it’s not just that. If those people, the ones who brought them here find out that we went to the police, no, no they would be so angry. I have a brother still in Syria, an aunt. They would no longer be safe. No, please.”
The phone in the kitchen rang out into the brittle silence.