Ambush at Westfield Lane

March 12, 2017 § 1 Comment

All of these things they talk about in films, the things they say fear smells like – none of it’s true.

What fear smells like is this: tall leylandii to the left of the path, behind a fence patchily creosoted last year. A rose hedge, outside the big house set back from the lane, whose perfume-sweet blooms are already undercut with a note of decay. Freshly mown grass and dog shit. The summer evening air itself.

The ginnel leads from the village – the old village, that is – through to the new housing estate, which must have stood for twenty years now but which must perpetually be defined as new, with its neat verges and cul-de-sacs. A bench sits at the village end, and as the lane narrows to a path, a wooden structure forces anyone on a bicycle to dismount and feed it under the low barrier before pedalling on and out into the full glare of the estate houses.

She could walk round by the road, past the bungalows and the bus stop at the front, but it’s the long way round, and she won’t do that. Perhaps a part of her, a hidden quiet part, secretly relishes the thrill of it. The fear of it.

It’s not as if anything actually happens. She’s never been fired at by pea shooters, wrestled off her bicycle, made to – no, not that. None of that. The worst it might be, really, is the ratatat of name calling, the pointing and jeering, a sudden lunge that could cause her to wobble, to lose her balance.

The boys – it is always boys, save for an occasional cawing girlfriend – will be at the bench on the corner, or waiting at the barrier, where the path bends out of sight; either way, by the time she sees them, it will be too late. There will be no way of being nonchalant. No way to turn on her heel, to walk away as if she’d forgotten something. She will be caught in plain sight, unarmed. She knows all the things people say to do – just ignore it, don’t rise to it, have some retort ready – but there’s none of that. There isn’t time. Each time, every time, she is afraid.

She is a clever girl, she knows that. She knows that in class, her hand is up fastest; she’s always ready with an answer. She knows that she doesn’t struggle like these boys do. She is never to be found outside the headmistress’s office on a Monday afternoon or a Thursday morning, blank-faced and remorseless. But that is not enough. That counts for nothing, not here, not in an ambush situation. Here, now, for this moment, it is about living on your wits. It is about being prepared for combat, from the mortar shelling of stolen eggs hurled across the road to the sniper spitting great gobbets of drool from an overhead branch. It is about being vigilant.

She must always be prepared, our heroine, and yet it seems she never is. Like as not, they aren’t even there, but nevertheless she will edge along the ginnel, heart pounding, attentive to every sound.

She will not give in and take the long way round. She will roll that fear around her mind every day, even as she holsters her gun and strides off towards her friend’s house, thinking now about Smash Hits and film stars. People will never know the line she has walked. Not now, not ever.

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