The Runaway

The Write Practice today asks up to write a scene about a young man or woman walking through London. First in present tense, then in past tense. Here’s my version:

As I walk I’m careful where I put my feet, not wanting to step in some trash or trip over some litter, perhaps a child’s broken toy left lying. Now and then I stop to study the buildings around me, the tenement row houses and run-down apartment blocks. Cramped quarters where you try hard to shut your ears, not wanting to know about the shouts, cries, maybe even screams of your neighbours. Maybe hoping that it’s at least not the children getting the beating. But you tune it all out. You have enough problems of your own.

Snatches of conversation I’m hearing tell me a lot of immigrants are starting out life in Britain right here on these streets. How do they feel now about the Promised Land?

A gust of wind blows at my skirt and I smooth it down, trying to stay decently covered. Three black-haired, black eyed young men in a huddle look my way; one of them whistles. As I pass by they look me over, curious, but I’m too old for them. I give myself a mental shake and straighten my shoulders. I’m not some teenage runaway; I have business here.

How did she end up on these streets? And why am I here, trying to find her? This is madness. Again I pray for a miracle: Could she somehow just materialize in front of me.

When I get to the street corner my eyes scan the sign posts, willing “Faust Street” to appear on one of them. Next time I’m taking a cab right to her door. No, I correct myself. There won’t be a next time. Ever.

Surely it can’t be much farther. I plod on, conscious that the daylight’s disappearing. I glance up into the murky sky and realize the fog is rolling in. What would it be like to be caught wandering these East End streets in a pea soup fog. My mind flips to the story of Jack the Ripper. I force myself to think about my flower garden at home.

A man approaches, walking toward me, and something makes me look in his face. It’s not the scars that startle me, but the look in his eyes. Like a wolf sizing up a silly ewe. And I’m seeing myself very fitted to the role of lamb kebab.

At this moment finding her seems not half as important as it did an hour ago. All my being is crying to be out of this place, off these streets.

The man is so close to me now I can smell the stale tobacco on his clothes. He stops and eyes me too thoroughly. He seems to think he knows what I’m doing here. Well I’m not, mister! I take a several steps back.

“Where ye going’ lady? He reaches out his hand, gripping my arm with strong fingers. I’d like ta get ta know ye.” He pulls me toward him.

Half a block behind him I see a bobby step out of a shop and look in our direction. Thank God!

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6 thoughts on “The Runaway

    • Thank you. This is the opening hook to a longer tale; unfortunately I haven’t dreamed up the rest of the story yet. Like, who is she and who’s she looking for? A social worker? A concerned aunt looking for a runaway niece? But will she find her?

      This story does have a bit of basis in fact: when we were living in Montreal my aunt called to ask me if I’d look for her daughter-in-law’s sister. Apparently the troubled teen ran away from home and they heard she’d made it to Montreal, so I was phoning around to the Y and other shelters to see if I could locate her. It wasn’t hard to picture the part of town a runaway would take shelter in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just adore your writing Christine. It has the ability to take one out of themselves and into the story. Now I thought you were in London! 🙂

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      • Thank you. I’m glad I could “deceive” you, writing from my little home in Saskatchewan about a place I’ve never been. 🙂
        Right now I’m kind of blue about it all: I should be writing books and instead I’m just spinning my wheels on small stuff and can’t seem to get at the Main Thing.

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