I left in the dead of the night, when the house was silent and all I could hear was the quiet purr of my brother’s engine outside. I already had a bag packed as I knew what was happening; we had had enough. Reuben was old enough to leave, he could go whenever he liked, not worrying about being found but he wouldn’t leave without me. He said he couldn’t leave me to ‘those bastards’... in his words.
So with a full tank of petrol, very little money and a couple of suitcases we escaped and set off for London. I don’t know why we chose London, I don’t know why were so drawn to it; maybe it was just because it was so big and bustling with life that the chances of them finding us were very slim, practically non-existent.
The journey was the worst. Reuben kept checking his rear view mirror, convinced that every dark car we saw was their’s. I couldn’t sleep, although I tried. I curled my feet beneath my body and rested my head against the window but images flashed through my mind like a trashy film stuck on repeat. Their faces, twisted in anger, a constant stream of profanities flowing from their open mouths, their eyes burning with rage.
‘I can’t do it,’ I whispered. ‘We have to go back, before they wake.’
‘No Ana, you’re not going back there,’ my brother’s voice was firm, adamant.
‘It’s okay.’ I wasn’t sure who I was trying to reassure: him or myself. ‘I can stick it out for another six months. Six months really isn’t that long, it’ll fly by and then I’ll turn eighteen and I’ll be able to leave.’
‘Ana! You’re not going back there,’ he repeated. ‘Now shut up.’
The rest of the journey passed fairly uneventful. I finally managed to full into slumber, albeit a fitful sleep but nevertheless I managed to get some rest.
When I woke, we were there.
The flat was dingy, dismal and utterly repelling and yet it was home.
'We can fix it up,' Reuben patted my shoulder, seeing my facial expression. 'You watch. We'll get jobs and then we'll be able to buy nice things. But for now, we're safe.'
That was all that mattered in the end; being safe. Being away from them.
'Where did it all go wrong?' I muttered, staring straight ahead.
Reuben said nothing. He simply fished some keys out of his jeans pocket and shoved them in the door. It took several turns and a kick to get inside. I was thankful once we were away from the stench of stale piss and alcohol.
The inside was mildly better. The smell had gone for one...
'Yes,' Reuben murmured. 'We'll fix it up.'
Straight to our right was a cooker, a microwave, a shabby fridge, an oven and a wooden table with three chairs. Ahead of us was a TV, one three seater sofa and a rug with a few stains on it. The curtains were closed, blocking out the morning light. Reuben pulled them apart and I groaned inwardly. We were overlooking a construction site, fantastic.
'Let's check out the rooms,' Reuben suggested.
I followed him down a narrow hallway and got a glimpse of the bathroom. A small bathtub with yellow mould growing round the edges sat next a toilet and a tiny sink.
'This is yours.'
I followed my brother as he held the door open with one arm whilst flicking the light on with the other.
To be fair, the bedroom wasn't that bad. I had a slightly small double bed complete with a thick duvet and three pillows: just how I liked it. There was enough floor space to move around and the wardrobe looked big enough to hold all of my clothes. My window was facing the South, so I overlooked a busy main road.
'I'm just across the hall. I'll give you time to unpack then we can look for jobs, agreed?'
'Okay,' I replied.
I started to unpack, slowly taking out the items I had managed to save from the house, a few of my most memorable possessions. The stuffed animal I had had since I was a little girl, a framed photograph of me and my brother, my mobile phone and charger, hair straighteners and make up. Typical girl stuff. I was thankful I had managed to save these. First impressions were crucial, especially if I needed to get a job.
'The Pig's Head?' I raised an eyebrow skeptically.
'Just trust me. Pub's are nearly always looking for new staff, who knows, we both might get one.'
'I'm too young to work behind the bar,' I pointed out.
'I'll ask about bar work, you ask about any other opportunities, okay?'
'Okay,' I grumbled reluctantly. I didn't really fancy working in a dingy pub full of old men and drunkards, but what choice did I have?
Turns out, I'd been deceived by the name of the pub. It wasn't even remotely dingy, it was the exact opposite. It was quite elegant. The lighting was dim and I squinted as my eyes grew adjusted. Muted chatter filled the room as the people around me sipped at their drinks. We both headed over to the bar where a young man, perhaps in his mid twenties was drying a glass with a towel slung over his shoulder.
'Excuse me,' Reuben smiled politely. 'We're new in town and we were just wondering if you have any job opportunities for me and my sister going at the minute?'
'Not here we don't,' he grunted. 'Not that you'd want to work here...'
'Listen kid, since you're new here I'll give you some good advice. Take your sister and get out of here. It's not safe.'