Jane leaves home for a life in London.
Jane was naturally excited when her seventeenth birthday arrived and after the lesson at the dance school, the older students asked her to a local bar for a celebration drink. She was reluctant at first, but they soon persuaded her that it was the thing to do.
She had visited the bar a few times before with a couple of the other girls but only had one or two Babychams. This time things were different and her friends seemed to have the misguided idea of getting her drunk. They were successful in their efforts and at the end of the evening, they seemed to be laughing at the drunken way in which she was behaving, but one of her girlfriends was not amused and tried to stop her from drinking too much. The girl lived near Jane and knew how her mother treated her and knew that she would be in big trouble when she got home. When they left the bar, the girl took Jane to her own house first to try to sober her up with cups of coffee and dry toast, but although she had some success Jane was still a little drunk when the girl took her to her front garden gate.
It was nearly midnight when Jane closed the front door and crept across the hall. It seemed as if her mother had been lying in bed waiting for her and she appeared on the landing like a spectre before dashing down the stairs. "And where the hell do you think you've been to till now?" she shouted. Jane’s sister heard their mother shouting and she came downstairs to give Jane a bit of support.
Jane didn't answer her mother. She just put a hand to her mouth, hiccupped, and then gave a silly laugh.
Her stern-faced mother moved close to her and gave a loud exaggerated sniff. "You've been drinking, haven't you?" Not waiting for a reply, she grabbed Jane by the hair and dragged her across the hall before striking her hand hard across Jane’s face. Jane screamed as the blow seemed to sober her up more than her friend's coffee. Her sister ran over and began pulling at their mother's arm.
"Leave her alone, Mum, it is her birthday, after all."
"Little harlot, her birthday yes. Just turned seventeen and she comes home drunk like some dirty little tramp. She's a bad influence on you. We should have left her in that home where she belongs. Get her upstairs out of my sight before I break her bloody neck." She turned to look back at Jane. "Your mother must have known what you'd turn out like. It's no wonder she dumped you in that shop like a piece of rubbish." She stormed off to the kitchen to make herself a cocoa and Gwen took hold of Jane's arm and helped her up to her bedroom.
"She hates me, Gwen, she really hates me and I don't know why."
"I know she picks on you, but she can't hate you. I'm sure she can't, not deep down."
"Well I've had enough, I'm going. When I get my wages on Friday, I'm off."
"Off, where? Where are you gonna go?"
"London, I know a girl who lives in Bromley-by-Bow. She used to work with me at the factory. When she left to live with her boyfriend, she gave me her address and said I could go and stay with her anytime I like."
"But what am I going to do without you. Without you looking after me and stopping the bullies from getting me?"
"The bullies, the bullies won't bother you. You've grown up to be a tough little nut." Jane smiled at her before reaching across to hug her tightly. "I do love you, Gwen."
"I wish I could go with you. Will you write to me?"
"Write to you. I'll write to you every week. And I'll come to visit. I'll be an adult and she won't be able to touch me anymore." Jane stood up and went to the window to shut the curtains. "Look, there's a big red moon tonight."
Gwen looked out through the window. "Yeah, red moon. There was a program on the tele' about it last night. Some of those UFO weirdos were saying the moon turns red when the monsters from Mars are lining up a ray gun to blow up the planet."
"Nothing to do with the glare from the sun then?"
"I don't know, do I? But the weirdos haven't been seen since."
"Probably gone off looking for the abominable snowman."
"Bit scary though, isn't it?"
"If you say so." Jane hiccupped again. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
* * * * *
The house was in darkness when Jane left early on Friday morning. She left a note telling her parents she had left home. She didn't want to leave it to her sister in case she got into trouble for not letting them know the previous night. She made her way to the bus stop to catch the bus to her workplace. All the things she thought she would need were neatly packed in her old brown suitcase. She knew she wouldn't be paid before midday, but she wanted to be out of the house before her parents woke up.
She waited in the canteen, most of the time alone and bored, checking the time frequently as the minutes slowly passed. Just before twelve o'clock, she set off to the office to collect her wages. The money was a little more than she expected. She had a week in hand, but the amount of holiday pay was a welcome bonus. She was pleased with herself setting off on an adventure where she would be treated with respect, as an adult, with all her money and time being spent however she chose.
She set off to a nearby transport cafe to meet a lorry driver who worked from the factory. He was booked on a journey to Millwall docks in London and said he would give her a lift to Bow Road, near to where her friend lived.
Jane sat in the cafe surrounded by workmen and feeling nervous because the men were looking at her as if she had no right to be there. The men looked menacing and their language was crude and vulgar as they spoke to each other. Again, she waited checking the minutes and thinking the lorry driver might not turn up. Perhaps he forgot and went off without her. What would she do then? How will she ever find her way to East London on her own? She felt relieved when she saw him at the cafe door and was eager to start her adventure, but he wanted his lunch before he left so she had to wait a bit longer.
When they set off, Jane had no difficulty climbing into the cab of the Thames Trader and was looking forward to the experience of the journey into London. She was impressed with the way the man handled the lorry thinking how skilled he looked. She wondered if she would ever have the opportunity to drive a lorry, and thought probably not, but she would have loved to have a try. They arrived in East London and she climbed down from the cab. The driver passed her case down, slammed the door, and gave a quick wave before the lorry lumbered off.
She felt apprehensive as she watched the lorry pulling away, but tried to dismiss her doubts. It was too late now anyway. It was her own decision and there was no going back now. "Right, let's go then", she muttered to herself. She smiled, thinking what a change it was for her; she had plenty of money, a friend's house to stay at, and a life ahead of her devoid of abuse, fear and humiliation. She noticed a crowd of people standing at a bus stop looking at her as if she had just arrived from another planet, and she moved off feeling slightly embarrassed.
Jane glanced at the page the lorry driver tore out of an old street atlas for her and she set off to find Tench Street.
She noticed how everybody seemed to be in a hurry as they made their way home. They seemed unfriendly, there were no smiling faces, and she felt reluctant to ask any of them for directions. She felt isolated and weak as she struggled along the pavement with her suitcase. A huge stoutly built man was standing in the doorway of a derelict shop and she noticed him staring at her.
"Do you want a hand," the man said, and started to walk towards her swaying a little as if he were drunk. His jaw was covered with dark stubble and his teeth looked long and yellow as he smiled at her.
She shook her head and hurried away from him, but he began to follow her. She became frightened and looked behind after every few steps, hoping he would give up. In her haste, she dropped the map page and thought of going back to pick it up. The suitcase was hampering her progress and it seemed as if the man was gaining on her so she left the map page and hurried on.