Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Face First

The force of the fist smashing into my face drove me against the side of the ship and I crumpled down the cold metal to the wooden floor. In apparent slow motion the man came towards and heaved me upright by clenching a huge fistful of my hair and tugging until I rose, gasping with pain. I could feel blood dampening my cheeks, mixing with the tears that coursed freely down my face, diluted drops that dripped nonchalantly to the floor.

The man peered closely at me through my swollen vision and I cowered in anticipation trying to raise my hands to protect my face but failing to find the strength to move. His face was contorted in violence, his features unrecognisably human.

'That's enough.' A woman's voice broke through the rushing noise of blood racing around my heightened system. 'Back off for now.'

The last was ominous, threatening a resumption of hostilities, and I could see that I had a painfully narrow window of opportunity.

The man crossed rapidly to another part of the room and came clumping back with a stool for me in one large, manicured hand and a brass mug of water in the other. I perched, protecting the base of my spine which was throbbing in a most unpleasantly insistent way, and took the mug, sniffing it before I drank.

'Are you ready to talk?' The woman asked. She moved into my line of vision as she spoke and I realised with a jolt of recognition that I knew who she was. Her face betrayed no knowledge of me, however. Perhaps I was still safe.

I nodded. She smiled, inclining her head in a gracious invitation for me to continue.

My mind raced as I pondered, trying to work out strategically what the best thing to say would be. But I was taking too long and the woman's fixed smile began to slide away. She started to physically move away, nodding to her tame thug as she went.

'No, wait!' I yelled. She turned back to me, her satisfaction apparent.

'Go on.'

'I'll tell you whatever you like. Just keep him away from me.'

She frowned. 'What do you mean? You'll tell us whatever we like? We just want the truth.'

I drew a deep breath through sore ribs. 'Would you recognise it if I told you?'

The woman flinched. Unexpectedly I had scored some sort of point. But then her features composed themselves back into her former resolution and she shrugged.

'If you're telling me it doesn't matter then you are telling me that you don't matter.' She said simply.

I wished I had her composure but both of us knew how important this was. We were dancing around each other, hesitating to be the first to give anything away. And, somehow, I was expected to convince her to change sides.

I began to think that I should never have said yes to the old man...

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