When the bus doors folded open at the Harrington stop, Sara hoisted herself to her feet, one hand gripping the seat in front of her. She stepped off the bus and stood there for a moment under the lurid yellow lamp, beside the bus schedule, gathering the energy to walk home. Behind her she heard the muted clatter of the other passengers rearranging themselves on the bus, then the doors shut with a hiss, the bus moved off, and she was alone.
Sara turned to the right, along the main street of the little London suburb where she lived with her aunt. At the far end of the street rose the sharp church steeple, barely visible under the new moon. Clustered about the church steeple were the gabled roofs of the town: brick houses in rows, identical with their white doors and little gardens; specialty clothing shops and pharmacies and grocers and the occasional Indian takeaway; the empty park with two benches and a swingset. Now, long past midnight, all the windows along the street were darkened. Only a few dim lamps shone in attic windows – aspiring writers, perhaps; in a few upper windows, the neon blue-and-purple lights of televisions flickered.
Sara yawned. When she reached home, she thought, she’d cut herself a thick slice of bread, then have it toasted with butter and jam and a glass of wine. Maybe two glasses of wine. Sara started calculating how late she could set her alarm clock and still make her audition tomorrow – when suddenly behind her she heard a tapping, footsteps keeping time with her own.
Even in broad daylight, Harrington was a quiet stop. Almost no one ever got off the bus. Still, Sara thought, the footpad could be nothing more than a local, coming home late and somewhat tanked up from pub night with his friends. Nevertheless, Sara quickened her pace.
The footsteps behind her quickened too.
Sara took a left-hand turn, heading up the street towards the tiny park, and just on the other side, her flat. Still the footpad followed her.
Sara glanced behind her. Perhaps a quarter-mile behind her was a tall and lanky shadow, striding purposefully after her. She whipped back around, and hands suddenly clammy with sweat, tightened her grip on her bag and broke into a trot.
By the time she reached the park Sara was running flat-out, heeled boots clattering on the cobblestones and then on the paved walkway through the park. Only a few blocks past the park, and she’d be safe at home –
Someone grabbed her shoulder, twisted her about so hard she nearly fell, and pressed long white fingers over her mouth. “Hello, beautiful.”
With a shock Sara recognized the dark-eyed young man from the bus. She squirmed beneath his firm grip, tried to cry out, but he simply pressed his long fingers even more tightly against her mouth. “Sh – sh – sh, my darling. Don’t struggle. I have you.”
He bent close to whisper in her ear. “You looked so lonely at the bar tonight. Such a shame for a beautiful girl like you to be alone.” His breath smelled sticky sweet, like candy stored too long in a hot place – some kind of drug, Sara guessed. Again she struggled against his grip, but he simply twisted her shoulders backwards, so that she had to arch her back to stay on her feet and look into his face.
“Do you fancy anyone?” he breathed. “Do you fancy me?” In the dim orange light Sara could just make out his eye cheekbones and bright eyes – bright, crazed. “I’m a handsome man. See?” Though still holding her, he leaned back into the park light.
Sara seized her chance. She shoved her body forwards, then raised her right boot and smashed it down on his foot. Again she raised her right leg. This time, she crashed her knee upwards into his crotch. With a howl of pain he released her, hands cupping at his pants.
Sara spun away, somehow still holding her purse, and bolted across the park.
In a few seconds she left her assailant’s groans behind her, but she didn’t stop running. Past the quiet houses, past a pharmacy, past a block of flats, Sara ran. Not even when she reached the white gate to her house did she stop. She flung open the gate, leaving it unlatched behind her, darted up the steps to the house, fumbling for her key as she went. She jammed the key into the lock, twisted it, pulled the door open, and flung herself inside.
Then she was safe, her back to the locked door, breathing hard. The house was quiet and dark, and there was no one outside.