I was slowly driving in the center of town — the traffic was always dense at this time of the day.
All of a sudden my passenger door was opened, all the news reports of car jacking came into my mind as a bullet in the shape of a young girl entered the car and crouched down, closing the door behind her.
“Don’t stop!” She hissed at me.
“Look I’m the one driving, and I can’t go any faster.” I retorted wondering why I did not demand that she get out of my car? Looking in my mirror I could see a couple of men running through the line of slow moving cars, they were obviously looking for the girl.
I could have opened my window and called out to them . . . I could have. .
But I didn’t, instead I reached behind me and pulled my coat from the back seat and covered the crouching form with it, I also locked the doors – I didn’t want anyone else to come in.
Just before the two men caught up with us the light, or whatever the hold-up was cleared and I started to move with the flow, picking up speed — leaving the two behind.
I watched them in my mirror gesticulating with their hands and blaming each other for the loss of their target. I drove further away from them seeing their forms grow smaller and then they were lost in the distance.
“You can come out now.” I said.
“No! I can’t be seen by anyone.” She said panicking and pulling the coat in around her.
“So where can I drop you?” I asked her.
“Are you going near Rushmore Street?” She asked me.
Now I’ve lived here for some time and I’d never heard of the road, “Where?” I asked her
“You know! Just off 112th Street.” She said as if stating an obvious fact.
“No such place darling.” I said in my friendliest fashion. The coat moved and an eye looked at me.
“You don’t know where 112th Street is. But there’s a Mall they’re everyone knows it!” She said and this time there was a twang in her voice.
“Where are you from?” I asked her.
She mumbled something, so I took a chance and said, “Never heard of it, where about in England is it?”
This time the coat moved. “What do you mean England? It is not in England its in America. Why are you driving on the wrong side of the road?” She added as she looked around. Yes she was not from around here I decided.
“Because that’s the way we drive around here, left is right . . . or its right to drive on the left either way that’s the law.” I said.
“No this is wrong I couldn’t have been out that long could I?” She looked at me as if I had the answers.
“Look love all I know is that you suddenly get into my car and told me to drive, look I’m nearly home, do you want to come with me or should I take you to a police station?” However, at the word police she seemed to shrink into herself.
“No . . . not the police, they’d only send me back to him!” She said in a frightened tone.
“Why would they do that, if you’ve been kidnapped and taken to a foreign country . . .” I started to say.
“But he’s my dad, he and mum separated and she’s the one I should be living with.” She interrupted me.
So she would be taken away by her father and brought to England, but she obviously wanted to say with her mother . . . what could I do? I had been in this situation myself.
In the end I drove home and parked my car in the garage, which luckily for me had an entrance to the house so that I could close the garage door and enter my kitchen without my nosy neighbors seeing me – okay I’m exaggerating that, most of the neighbors keep to themselves, but you never know who’s watching from behind their lace curtains.
I held the back door open and the girl ran from my car to the safety of the kitchen. I drew the blinds so that she would feel safe. I pulled two chairs over and sat down in it, she also sat down, but on my lap!
“Should you be sitting here like this?” I asked her.
“But I like you!” She said simply and started to hug me. Now I was concerned . . . I mean I am . . . over thirty, and single and here was this young girl, I could judge her age as between eleven and twelve.
“I don’t mean that . . . you don’t even know me, I could be a nasty person.” I tried to scowl at her but only made her laugh instead.
“Oh you’re not a bad man, I can tell . . .. I’m Tania by the way.” She said and held out her right hand to me. How was it we were only introducing ourselves at this late stage.
“How do you do Tania, I’m John.” I said as I shook her hand, “Now Tania what are we going to do?” I asked her.
She bit her lip and looked up at me, “Do you mind if I use your telephone?” She said, “I’ve got a number I can call.”
I smiled at her and lifted her off from my lap and placed her on the floor, she took my hand as I led her over to my, only, phone. She picked up the handset and looked at it in wonder, “You’re still using one like this?” She asked me.
I shrugged my shoulders, “Hey it works. You should never mess with perfection.” I said smiling at her.
“Shish haven’t you heard of cordless.” She then started to dial a number. Her brow wrinkling as she listened to the bleeping tone. “What does that mean?” She asked me passing the handset over.
“The number is not available.” I told her, where were you dialing.” I asked her
“Home!” was the simple reply.
“So you need to dial the international code and then the number.” I said smiling. Then I spent some time looking for the telephone directory . . . I did not know the code either!
Finally, I managed to get the number (+1) would you believe! I started the number off and left Tania to carry on with her dialing, her smile told me that she had been connected.
“Hello, 60! Tania Williams . . . yes I’m fine . . . can you let mummy know . . . His name’s John . . . no I don’t . . . he’s with me now . . . okay!” She handed the phone to me, “Can you talk to them.”
“Hello, can I help you?” It was a stupid thing to say but I did not know how else to begin.
“Mr. John Archer?” The female voice asked me, I agreed that was who I was, “Is Tania in any serious danger?” She asked.
“I don’t understand . . . how do you mean serious danger. I don’t think her father knows where she is at the moment.” I was really puzzled by this.
“I mean are you going to be a danger to Tania?” the woman persisted.
“How dare you ask such a question!”? I said outraged, “Just who do you think you’re talking to?”
“From the records I have here, you are John Archer, 38, you’ve been questioned by your police for loitering near schools and talking to some of the children there, released without charge.” They did have the right person but not the reason why I had been arrested.
“Nothing about how my former wife had taken my daughter from me — moved to some god forsaken part of the country and then married some pervert who was also a magistrate and managed to list me as a molester?” I said aggrieved.
“The social service report did report some abuse but nothing was followed up about it!” The woman said.
“Because the son-of-a-bitch told me that if I gave up my daughter then he’d stop the actions! I had no choice!” The memories of the time came back to me, my lost daughter – Wendy – thanks to that bitch.
“Very well Mr. Archer, Tania has reported to us and we are starting retrieval actions for her, but it will take a day before we can get a team to you. I’ll ask you again, will Tania be safe with you.”
I looked at the young girl standing in front of me … her face was watching mine, could I hurt this child? Hell, I could not even think about it. The woman in the earpiece was waiting for my answer. “Hold on a moment.” I said to her.
“Tania, it’s up to you . . . do you want to stay here until these people come for you? Or do you want to go elsewhere?” I asked her.
She did not hesitate, “I want to stay here!” She said with conviction, “You’re not meaning like daddy is. I like you!”
“She’ll be safe with me!” I told the woman
“Very well, let me talk to Tania again please.” She asked me
I handed the phone back to my young charge and went back to my kitchen. I opened a drawer and removed a picture, the smiling face of my daughter – Wendy, aged 4, wearing a yellow dress and being held by ‘the bitch from hell’ as I’ve come to think of her, even in the picture her eyes were cold and unforgiving. All because I had a fling with a girl in a pub . . . Wendy would be . . . yes she would be the about eleven, the same age as Tania. I looked at the picture again, there seemed to be something wrong with it, it was blurred . . . I realized that it was my eyes that were blurring not the photograph.
I went to pick up the bottle that I had in the cupboard . . . it was one way to numb the pain. I have even started to pour out a glass when I heard the phone ‘ping’ as it was hung up. I looked at the glass and then tipped it into the sink. I had a guest to look after; I could not be drunk with her in the house.
Tania entered the kitchen and sniffed the air she looked in the sink at the liquid that had not yet gone down the drain. She sat on my lap again and then pulled my head down.
She sniffed at my breath, smiling at the lack of alcohol there and then kissed me . . . it wasn’t the kiss of a child but of a woman(?) She then looked at me directly in the eyes.
“I’m glad you said yes. You’re a good man, I know that!” She said and then she noticed the picture in my hand, “Is that your daughter? She looks very lovely.” She looked back at me. “While I’m here will you be my daddy?”
I am sorry to say that I broke down and started to cry.