Jane leaves home for a life in London.
Book 2. Chapter 1
I was naturally excited when my seventeenth birthday arrived and after the lesson at the dance school, the older students asked me to a local bar for a celebration drink. I was reluctant at first, but they soon convinced me it was the thing to do.
I had been in 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 my friends seemed to have the misguided idea of getting me drunk. They were almost successful in their efforts and at the end of the evening, they were laughing at the drunken way in which I was behaving, but one of my girlfriends was not amused and tried to stop me from drinking too much. She lived near me and knew how my mother treated me and knew that I would be in big trouble when I got home. When we left, the girl took me to her own house first to try to sober me up with cups of coffee and dry toast, but although she had some success I was still a little drunk when the girl took me to my front gate.
It was nearly midnight when I closed the front door and crept across the hall. It seemed as if my mother had been lying in bed waiting for me 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. My sister heard our mother shouting and she came downstairs to give me a bit of support.
I didn't answer my mother. I just put a hand to my mouth, hiccupped, and then gave a silly laugh.
My stern-faced mother moved close to me and gave a loud exaggerated sniff. "You've been drinking, haven't you?" Not waiting for a reply, she grabbed me by my hair and dragged me across the hall before striking her hand hard across my face. I screamed as the blow seemed to sober me up more than my friend's coffee. My sister ran over, pulling at our mother's arms.
"Leave her alone, Mum, it is her birthday, you know."
"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 me. "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 my arm and helped me up to my 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." I 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." I 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." I hiccupped again. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
* * * * *
The house was in darkness when I left early on Friday morning and made my way to the bus stop. All the things I thought I would need were neatly packed in my old brown suitcase. I knew I wouldn't be paid before midday, but I wanted to be out of the house before my parents woke up.
I 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, I set off to the office to collect my wages. The money was a little more than I expected. I had a week in hand, but the amount of holiday pay was a welcome bonus. I was pleased with myself, off on an adventure where I would be treated with respect, as an adult, with all my money and time being spent however I chose.
I 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 me a lift to Bow Road, near to where my friend lived.
I sat in the cafe surrounded by workmen and feeling nervous because the men were looking at me as if I had no right to be there. The men looked menacing and their language was crude and vulgar as they spoke to each other. Again, I waited checking the minutes and thinking the lorry driver might not turn up. Perhaps he forgot and went off without me. What will I do then? How will I ever find my way to East London on my own? I felt relieved when I saw him at the cafe door and was eager to start my adventure, but he wanted his lunch before he left so I had to wait a bit longer.
When we set off, I had no difficulty climbing into the cab of the Thames Trader and was looking forward to the experience of the journey into London. I was impressed with the way the man handled the lorry thinking how skilled he looked. I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to drive a lorry, and thought probably not, but I would have loved to have a try. We arrived in East London and I climbed down from the cab. The driver passed my case down, slammed the door, and gave a quick wave before the lorry lumbered off.
I felt apprehensive as I watched the lorry pulling away, but tried to dismiss my doubts. It was too late now anyway. It was my decision and there was no going back now. "Right, let's go then", I muttered to myself. I smiled, thinking what a change it was for me; I had plenty of money, a friend's house to stay at, and a life ahead of me devoid of abuse, fear and humiliation. I noticed a crowd of people standing at a bus stop looking at me as if I had just arrived from another planet, and I moved off feeling slightly embarrassed.
* * * * *
I glanced at the page the lorry driver tore out of an old street atlas for me and I set off to find Tench Street.
I noticed how everybody seemed to be in a hurry as they made their way home. They seemed unfriendly, there were no smiling faces, and I felt reluctant to ask any of them for directions. I felt isolated and weak as I struggled along the pavement with my suitcase. A huge stoutly built man was standing in the doorway of a derelict shop and I noticed him staring at me.
"Do you want a hand," the man said, and started to walk towards me 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 me.
I shook my head and hurried away from him, but he began to follow me. I became frightened and looked behind after every few steps, hoping he would give up. In my haste, I dropped the map page and thought of going back to pick it up, but the man was gaining on me so I left it and hurried on. There was a small cafe amongst a row of shops and I dashed in. The cafe was empty apart from a woman who was busy wiping the counter with a steaming cloth. The woman looked over at me and raised her eyebrows while giving out a false grin.
"We're closing now, girl," the woman said.
"Please, there's a man following me, can I sit in here for a few minutes?" I pleaded to her in an obvious panic.
The man looked in through the window prompting the woman to hurry over to the door. "Oy, what are you doing following this girl about? Get yourself home, Harry, you fat drunken slob, before you get one of my pans over your head."
"Sorry, I was just trying to help. I thought she was lost. There's some funny people about you know." He smiled and walked off.
The woman closed the door and turned the little closed sign on the window. She walked to the counter and poured two cups of tea from a large teapot before sitting down at one of the tables. "There you are, sweetheart, sit down you look like you need a hot drink. I'm Carol, this is my cafe."
I sat opposite the woman, with my smile clearly showing my relief and gratitude. "Oh, how much do I owe you?"
"No, the tea's on me. I'd only throw it down the sink. So what's happened? Have you lost your way?"
"I think I panicked and took a wrong turn when that man was following me. I'm looking for Tench Street; I've a friend who lives there."
"It's just up the road from here. I go past it on my way home. I'll walk up with you, if you like." She looked at my old brown suitcase. "Left home, have you?"
"Yeah, I couldn't get on with my mother."
The woman laughed. "Bloody hell, I know the feeling. I can never get on with my mother either. Have you got a job to go to?"
"No, not yet, I'll start looking tomorrow."
"You can work here, if you like. I could use another pair of hands."
"I can work here." I could hardly believe my luck. Not only have I stumbled on a woman who knows where my friend lives, but within minutes of leaving the truck, I have found a job. Leaving home is the best thing I have done in my life. "That's fantastic, thank you. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you so much."
"Calm down girl, don't wet your drawers, it's only a skivvying job." The woman gave a laugh and took a swig of her tea before losing interest in the drink. "Right then, you can help me to clear up, then I'll change me shoes and we'll walk up to Tench Street. Me and the cook get here at six in the morning, but there's not much of a rush till seven. So as long as you're here by then we'll get along fine."
Carol locked the cafe and we walked up past a parade of shops. The shops all had stalls outside and the stallholders were packing away their goods. Carol was a popular woman and all the men spoke to her as she passed. The men also looked at me, in a friendly manner, but I felt uncomfortable because they seemed to be taking more interest in my body than in my face. We left the shops behind and I listened to the clip-clop of Carol's stiletto heels on the paving stones as she took short but fast steps. Her chest seemed to bounce in the same rhythm as her footsteps and I thought Carol had enormous breasts for such a short woman. Her hair was bleached and backcombed beehive style with a large comb in the back and I noticed how her hair also bounced in the same rhythm.
We said our goodbyes at the corner of Tench Street and I walked along until I came to my friend's three-storey terraced house. The knocker had been removed and replaced by a doorbell. I pushed on the button and was surprised when a scruffy middle-aged man opened the door. "Hello," I said as I looked at the man, thinking perhaps I was at the wrong house.
"Are those yobs at my lorry again?" The man rushed out to the pavement and checked across the road to his lorry. "Huh, what, did you scare them off?"
"The yobs, the thieving yobs, raiding my lorry."
"I haven't seen anybody."
"Well what the hell do you want then? Ringing my doorbell."
"I'm looking for a friend of mine, Rose. Does she live here?"
"Rose lives at flat two; you ring the bloody bell twice. I live at flat one and I've got better things to do than to open the door for other people. Anyway, if you are staying here, you let me know if you see anyone near my lorry, there's a nice bunch of bananas in it for you."
"Oh, well, thanks then. But is Rose in?"
The man pressed the bell twice and walked off down the passage muttering to himself. "If I catch the sods I'll break their bloody necks I can tell you."
Rose appeared at the landing and when she saw who it was, she rushed down the stairs to greet me. We went up to the flat and sat in the living room chatting for a while. Rose had just made some coffee when her boyfriend Kevin walked in with a carrier bag of fish and chips.
I looked at him, stared almost, thinking he was the most handsome young man I had ever seen in my life. What a lucky girl Rose is. Not only did she have her own place, but she also shared it with a man who looked like he just stepped out of a Hollywood film.
He smiled at me as he put the bag on the table in front of Rose. "And who's this pretty young thing?" he said. "Not the Tupperware lady I'll bet."
I smiled back at him but looked away knowing my face had bloomed.
Rose stood up to go and fetch the plates and cutlery. "This is Jane, she's a mate of mine from home," she said as she walked to the kitchen area. "Looking for somewhere to stay so I gave her the box room. That's all right, isn't it?"
"Course it is." He looked at me again and lowered his voice. "As long as you don't walk about the flat topless and wearing skimpy knickers all the time." He grinned widely at me as he held his hands up. "I'm only joking, you can if you like."
Rose put the plates on the table. "Can what if she likes?"
"Share our fish and chips."
"Yeah, all right. Was he being rude, Jane?"
"No, no I don't think so," I said. "He just said… Well, no, we weren't being rude."
Rose grinned at my flushed face and my obvious nervous manner. "Um. Take no notice of him, he's harmless, but if he does ever try it on, just let me know and I'll cut his dick off." She held a knife up. "Anyone want a chipolata with their chips." Rose laughed as she started dividing the two meals into three.
"Ouch, that's made my eyes water," Kevin said.
I went into a bout of uncontrollable laughter. "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm so sorry," and then I began laughing again.
"That's all right, sweetness," he said. "We're all a bit mad in here, but you'll be quite safe with me; this sex-mad nymph is more than enough for any man."
"Yeah, well when I find a man I'll let you know if that's true or not."
I enjoyed the continuing banter between my hosts. The humorous and sometimes lewd comments between the pair kept me laughing between mouthfuls of food as if they were using me as an audience for some kind of act.
After a coffee and a quick rinse under the cold tap, Kevin picked up his jacket and walked back to the table. "I'll have to leave the dishes tonight, got a date with a publican." He gave a sideways glance at me. "Don't wait up for me, sweetness." He grabbed Rose as she stood up and gave her a long passionate kiss. I felt awkward with the two of them engaged in an amorous kissing session in front of me. I thought it best to take no notice and I stood up and gathered up the dinner dishes for washing. As I walked off the couple's lust seemed to fizzle out. "You can wait up for me though my love," he said.
"Yeah I will, but if you're not in by half eleven forget it, the shop will be shut." I gave a laugh while I stood at the sink, thinking how lucky I was to live with such a happy and humorous, loving couple.
Kevin went out for his Friday night drink with the man from the third-floor flat. I helped Rose with the dishes and then Rose showed me around the house. The flat had a small kitchen, plus a medium and a small bedroom leading off from the living room. The small bedroom was to be my domain and although it was drab and less than half the size of my bedroom at home, I was pleased with it as a sign of my independence. There was a mattress on the floor and boxes of Rose's clothes and other effects. We stacked the boxes in the corner and put some sheets and blankets on the mattress.
"There's no room for any furniture," Rose said. "But you can hang your stuff from the picture rail."
I looked up at the rail running around three of the walls. It was obvious the third wall was a partition built across the main bedroom at some time, partitioning it off to make a two-bedroom flat. Rose took me down to the ground floor to show me the bathroom. It surprised me all three flats had to share the same bathroom, although Rose said there was another toilet out in the backyard. We returned to the flat, Rose made some cocoa and we sat talking for a while. I always liked Rose's company and enjoyed reminiscing about our fun times together at the factory, but it had been a long day and I was pleased when Rose said she was ready for her bed.
I curled myself up on the mattress. It felt strange to be lying on the floor, but I felt cosy and content. I felt I was an adult in control of my life and I could do whatever I pleased with it and no one would be there to chastise me. I heard Kevin and his friend closing the street door when they came into the house. I listened to the footsteps coming up the stairs and their brief goodbye before Kevin unlocked the Yale and walked into the flat. There were now two separate sets of footsteps, one heading across the living room to the main bedroom, and the other heading upstairs to the flat above. I could hear Kevin talking to Rose for a while and then silence until I heard the bed squeaking. I realised what they were doing and tried not to listen, but somehow it seemed to fascinate me. The partition was thin and I could hear every sound.
However, I soon became uneasy because Rose and Kevin were wild and noisy lovers. I became frightened; I had never heard such sounds before and thought he was hurting her. I pulled the covers over my head in an attempt to hide the noise, but I could still hear them and was beginning to worry about my own safety. The noises from Rose seemed to get worse, screams almost, and then Kevin began groaning like a swaggering drunk trying to stop himself from falling over. As I pushed the tips of my thumbs against my ears, the noises abruptly stopped. The sudden silence frightened me as much as the noises and I looked out from the covers wondering if Rose was all right, worried in case he had hurt her, perhaps he had killed her. I heard someone leave the bedroom. I looked at the door fearing now he finished with Rose he might want to come into my room and attack me as well. There was no lock on the door and I felt vulnerable and afraid as I thought he could just walk in at any time.