Natasha’s story. Part One

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    The young police officer looked down at the bundle tucked beneath the overhang of a shop window and nudged it with his foot. The other officer with him stood disconsolately as the bundle stirred and came to life. They’d been here before and this was nothing new for them. A head poked clear of the bundle, hair a mess of dreadlocks. The skin on the woman’s face was marked with tell-tale blotches of sallow health and ravages of drug addiction. She blinked and pulled a hand from beneath the sleeping bag to shield her eyes.

    ‘Come on sweetheart, time to move.’

    Her name was Natasha, but the officers preferred one name: one size fits all, so it was sweetheart.

    Although it was barely dawn and the sun would not be seen that day, it fell to the police officers to clear the alleyways and park benches, the bus-stops and underpasses of all the human detritus that gathered there to sleep the spaced-out sleep of the near dead. This was drug-land; a picture painted in every major city and town across the United Kingdom, and never likely to go away despite the best efforts of the authorities. But it was necessary to try and present the best picture possible for the daily lives of those who had no need to populate the back alleys and the homeless shelters. They were the lucky ones.

    ‘Five minutes, plod. Give a girl some room.’

    The young police officer smiled and nudged her again with the toe of his boot. ‘We’ll be back in five minutes then, sweetheart. Make sure you look your best.

    His companion laughed with him. Sorrow for these poor creatures wasn’t a luxury they could afford; theirs was to do what was asked of them and let the social workers, the aid agencies, the Christian support workers concern themselves with the welfare of these unfortunate people.

    She struggled up into a sitting position and leaned back against the shop wall, too tired almost to summon up the will or the effort to move. Then she pulled the sleeping bag up around her shoulders and closed her eyes, thinking about the dream. As always the dream would fade, but it was the same nightmare from which there was no release. She knew it so well she knew there never would be the release she craved despite the drugs and the feeling of peace when the heroin or crack cocaine soothed her. The nightmare was always there.

    And his smell. She would never forget his smell.

    She got to her feet and rolled up the sleeping bag, tied it with a cord and then lifted her shabby back-pack over her shoulder. Now the routine began again. She would make her way down to the docks, sit somewhere around the yard entrance and beg. With luck she would make enough for a wrap of cocaine. Ten pounds would do it. She pulled some change from her pocket and squinted at the coins. Two quid. Not enough even for a cup of tea. She sniffed and put the money back in her pocket. She knew she would probably make enough to buy a wrap; the essentials of life like tea and bread could be stolen; it was something she often did from the smaller shops rather than the supermarkets. And if she stole anything she couldn’t eat, she could barter. It was easy. With luck she would get enough to help her forget her life and the nightmare.

    It took three hours to get the ten pounds. Three hours of slow torture as she contemplated the awful prospect of not getting enough for her fix and being forced to sell herself. It happened; not every day was a good day. The punters knew when the girls were desperate and could get a shag quite cheap. They knew the price of a wrap too. Natasha considered herself lucky if she got through the week with enough to buy her daily fix. But when she was being pushed hard up against a wall in some alley somewhere while the client was getting his quick knee-trembler, she tried to shut out the awfulness of it and think only of the peace she would enjoy once she had injected the precious drug.

    She couldn’t get pregnant; the bastard had seen to that. The surgeon couldn’t save her, so he said. And the trauma had been too much; she had no memory other than that smell. His face was covered, so she couldn’t identify him. Her anger, her humiliation and her suffering had coalesced into a blinding ball of fury that burned away inside and destroyed all comforting thoughts of hope and of life. She had fled then, refusing all help, and wandered into the squalid hell that occupied every single waking moment of her life. One thing kept her going, one morsel that she could cling to: the hope that she would see him dead. One day, she promised herself.

    One day.