The train swayed slightly from side to side as it eased out of the station, but even that gentle motion was enough to make Vahide feel queasy. She made herself focus on a fist-sized pockmark on the wooden wall opposite her and took three deep breaths. It was a blessing to have the car to herself, though at mid-afternoon on a weekday it wasn’t completely unexpected.

As the train picked up speed her fingers found the envelope in her pocket of their own accord and placed it on her lap. She had forgotten about the letter and photograph that she’d found in her hiding place until she was almost at the station. By then the risk had been far too great to go back for it, even if its contents were legitimate.

And that was a pretty big if at the time.

So she had carried on, stealing glances back towards the brothel every few steps, terrified that Bora would appear at any moment. But, by some miracle, he had not, and she’d reached the ticket booth without incident.

“Destination?” the old man behind the window had asked, taking in her dishevelled, youthful appearance with a doubting eye.

“Istanbul, please.” She was planning on buying a second, wholly separate ticket to Sofia once she arrived in Turkey’s largest city - that way if Bora tracked her to the station and bribed the ticket seller, he would have no way of knowing her final destination.

“Please? Ha! You don’t need to ask my permission - just hand over forty lira!”

“Is American okay?” she had asked, holding up two crumpled twenty dollar bills that she had extracted from the stolen wallet. Greed had flashed in the old man’s eyes but he concealed it quickly.

“Only for you, young lady,” he’d told her with an avuncular smile and plucked the equivalent of sixty lira from her frail fingers. While the ticket was printing he placed the cash in his change drawer and slipped a twenty lira note into his own pocket, safely out of Vahide‘s sight. “Track One, boarding begins in forty-five minutes. Have a wonderful journey!”

The wait had been excruciating. Seconds passed like hours, minutes as though they were days. Vahide initially thought to lock herself in a washroom stall until it was time to catch her train, but the line of women waiting to use the facilities stretched into the marble floored terminal and she couldn’t bare to be so exposed.

Instead she had found a seat facing the main entrance of the station in the coffee shop and had dipped into her stolen funds to purchase a drink and that morning’s newspaper; one an attempt at normalcy, the other to hide behind. The coffee had remained untouched for the duration of her wait, and the paper never made it past the second page, its words ignored in favour of the stream of human traffic arriving through the revolving glass doors.

Vahide had eyes only for the nightmarish form of her vengeful pimp; it had not yet occurred to her that she should also be on the lookout for the police.

When the massive analog clock in the terminal had finally indicated there were only two minutes until her train began accepting passengers into its confines, she folded the paper under her arm and rose on unsteady legs. She’d made her way through the smoke-filled station, through crowds that consisted of more locals than tourists, and out to the sparsely populated platform. Vahide had paced outside her car with one eye on the clock and the other at the opening to the terminal, her paper ready to become her protective shield again at a moment’s notice.

But there had still been no sign of her real life, personal demon by the time the doors were unlocked by a bored rail employee and Vahide was able to board without issue. Once inside she had found the car that matched her ticket and stepped inside before closing the door firmly behind her and resting her forehead against its metal door. Then she had released a breath, for what felt like the first time since she’d fled her room.

When she had turned around the envelope was waiting for her on her seat, her name neatly printed on its front.

Vahide hadn’t dared to move at first, but after a few moments passed without incident she managed to pry herself away from the door. She’d tried to pick up the envelope but her hands were shaking so badly that she dropped it on the floor. Her second attempt was successful and then she dropped into her seat like she’d been shot.

The photograph appeared to be the same as the one she’d found in the alley and the letter held exactly the same words, though the handwriting seemed different. Almost as though the author had been rushed to finish it in time.

Before I arrived.

She had stared at the letter for a long time, mesmerized by its contents and the implications of its appearance on the train. Eventually she realized with a start that she should have been looking out for Bora to board the train, and then spent the remaining time until departure alternating her panicked gaze between the platform and her car door.

The relief that had washed over her when the exterior doors had clanged into place was like being doused with a bucket of ice cold water on a sweltering summer day.

Now, as the train trundled westward, the if of the legitimacy of the letter and photograph seemed to shrink in size with every passing mile.

The End

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