The Long Way Home

I was nearly home when the woman stopped me. She was younger than me, slight, wrapped in a long beige coat, clutching a battered red suitcase.

“Can I ask you something? Where’s Tesco? Is it near?”.

I was pregnant, tired and desperate to get home. But something in her voice gave me pause. “Are you OK?”, I asked, knowing full well that she wasn’t.

She swallowed, hard. The words fell out, piecemeal, between sobs: “Tesco. I’ve got to get there. I’ve got to go now. Before he gets back.”

“It’s this way. I’ll walk with you.”. I started back the way I’d come, she dragged her suitcase beside me.

As we walked, she told me a little of her situation. She’d come to our country expecting a better life. Her boyfriend seemed kind when she met him. He wasn’t kind when he drank. She was scared of him, of what he’d done, of what he was going to do. He hit her. Repeatedly. She always wore long sleeves. He was at work, so she’d packed her case. She’d called a friend; he was coming to get her, but wouldn’t drive to her house. He didn’t want to risk running into her boyfriend. He, too, was scared of him. He said he’d pick her up from Tesco’s, that it was safer to meet there.

Along the pavements, across the busy road, we walked, in silence now. At the Tesco car park, I asked her if she needed money, if she wanted me to wait until her friend arrived. But she said I should go, that she thought she was safe.

I moved away from there many years ago. Once in a while, I drive past that big Tesco, and I hope that she was right.