I remember the first day we met. I was standing in the shelter of a closed shop doorway, waiting for the rain to pass because I didn’t bring an umbrella and I wasn’t in a rush. I was scrolling Facebook on my phone, holding my coat collar up against my neck. The evening was blue; car lights swept past like sunbeams, the sound of tyres on wet concrete rolling by. You stepped in like you were running from something or someone – I stared at you for a good few seconds before you noticed me.
‘Hi,’ you said.
‘Hi.’ I pressed closer to the wall, turned to face the road.
‘You ok?’ you asked.
It was a weird question from a stranger. If I’d been crying or something, sure. But I was just trying to be alone. Why did that suggest something was wrong?
‘Yeah. Are you?’
‘Uh,’ you laughed, rubbing the back of your neck. ‘Funny story.’
Somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be funny.
‘So I’m kinda…’ you continued, ‘in trouble.’
I was reluctant to offer help. Trouble could mean anything – drug money, crazy exes, stolen goods, an overdue power bill, forgetting to call your mum. But I couldn’t help it. I asked, ‘What kind of trouble?’
You said, quite matter-of-factly, ‘These guys wanna kill me.’
I stuck my head out of the doorway to look in the direction you’d come from. ‘Which guys?’
‘Don’t look! Just … some guys.’
‘Are they looking for you now?’
‘What do they look like?’
‘I dunno. That’s the worst part. They might not even be guys. It could be you for all know.’
‘Is this some weird pick-up?’
‘No! God … I mean – not that I wouldn’t – ah, so … no, not – it’s not. It’s real.’
‘And why … ?’
‘I may … have something they want.’
‘Which is … ?’
‘I can’t say. If you know, you’re as good as dead as well.’
The sky opened further and poured more rain, torrential. We could have been standing behind a waterfall.
‘I’m Jacinta,’ I said, sticking out a hand.
‘Really? You’re doing this now?’
‘You’re supposed to tell me your name and shake my hand now.’
You looked at me like I was some kind of poisonous creature, unsure whether I’d choose to sting you or not. But slowly, cautiously, you stretched out your hand. ‘Jake.’
‘Nice to meet you.’
‘You … too. I guess.’
‘I just … a lot is happening right now! Sorry.’
‘Look,’ I said, putting my phone away and facing you now, but still leaning my back against the wall. The rain felt like a fourth wall, enclosing us in an echo chamber. ‘No one else knows you’re here.’
‘How can you know that?’
‘Whatever you’ve got … stolen … whatever. Do you have it with you?’
‘Is it dangerous?’
‘In the wrong hands, yes.’
‘How do I know the wrong hands aren’t yours?’
‘Why do you want to know? Trust me, you look like a nice girl, you don’t wanna get involved in this mess.’
‘What if I do?’
I realised I’d taken a step closer. I realised the rain had let up, that the evening sky had lightened and a faint setting sun was beaming through the heavy clouds. We didn’t know each other then, didn’t trust each other. But in that moment I felt your walls coming down.
Footsteps came and went, but no one killed you that night.
[A 20 minute writing exercise inspired by the following phrases: I remember, the telephone rang, when it all changed, an important meeting.]