THE STRENGTH WITHIN
Anna hadn’t noticed the time slipping away as she worked in the library. Engrossed in her study of anatomy, books covered every surface of the desk, some lying on top of each other at an angle, others closed with scraps of paper marking various sections.
Suddenly the alarm rang, and a flurry of activity stirred Anna from her studies.
‘Ten minutes until closing everyone. Ten minutes. Please bring any books to the desk if you need to check them out.’ The librarian headed to another room repeating her message.
Where had the three hours gone? Quickly Anna slammed the books shut and dashed around the library returning a couple to the shelves. The remaining three she lifted into the crook of her arm and after putting her papers and ink pen into her satchel she headed for the desk.
‘There you are, dear. Better fasten up your coat, it’s a blustery night out there,’ said the librarian, recognising the diligent student from the past few weeks. ‘You’ll take the tram back, won’t you? Don’t get caught out in the rain.’
Anna nodded briefly, whispered a quiet ‘thank you’ before grabbing her books. She found it hard to talk to strangers and the warmth and kindness of the librarian only made her miss home more. There she never had a moment to herself apart from her brief solitary outings on the rocks, here loneliness engulfed her.
‘Goodbye. Have a good weekend,’ called the librarian.
‘You too,’ replied Anna with clarity and determination. ‘I wish you a lovely weekend too.’ There, she could do it. Everything would be fine.
The librarian had not been exaggerating about the weather as outside the wind whipped around Anna, sweeping her coat around her legs and rain spiked at her face. Undecided she stopped at the corner. To the left was the tram stop but she barely had any money and perhaps the girls might invite her out to a cafe with them tomorrow afternoon. She didn’t want to back out through lack of funds. To her right lay the shortcut to the school; only a kilometre, all along the streets. With a determined spin Anna turned and marched off down the road.
The lights were further apart than she recalled and as the temperature dropped mist formed on the ground and drifted around her ankles as she walked. Her feet scuffed the pavement and with a stumble she corrected herself, the books precariously balanced in her arms.
‘Not long now,’ Anna said to herself as she started to hum one of her mother’s lullabies. The fog became denser, the lights from the lamps dissipating until only distant balls of yellow hung ominously in the air. Where was everyone? Shouldn’t they all be going out to the cafes and bars? Of course, she realised, that was the opposite direction. Here there were only a few houses in the distance and to the left a park; she’d forgotten about that. She tried to peer through the murk into the park, to the lake she knew lay in the middle but saw nothing. Just blackness.
Anna walked faster, her shoes trilling along on the pavement, her breathing faster. Behind her she heard some steps. Loud and heavy. No, this was silly, she was imagining it. The steps sounded closer now and with a shock she started to run, the books flying in her wake, her satchel dropped to the ground.
Suddenly an arm violently grabbed her around the waist and started to pull her towards the park. Anna screamed and instinctively reached out to the black iron wrought railings at the park entrance. She must never let go.
The man had both arms around her waist, tugging, squeezing hard as he tried to drag her from the railings. Anna screamed and screamed. She couldn’t stop. Her shrieks pierced the air. His hands were over one of hers, trying to prise her fingers from their grip. She held on – just. All the time screeching for help. A feral animalistic wordless cry of sheer terror.
His fingers clawed at her fingertips and with another scream she finally let go. Her other hand remained clutched to the railing. The man released his hold for a fraction, Anna hoped for a second, he would leave her. In vain as she saw his arm rise and he threw a sharp punch in her stomach. Silence collapsed around them. Anna fell forward, her head slumping onto her knees, the man’s arms quickly around her and lifting her up. Like a rag doll she hung for a moment in his grasp. Limp. Lost.
‘What’s going on here? Let her go!’ The voice came from across the street and more shouts joined this first one. Footsteps echoed in the silence of the fog. ‘Let her go! Let her GO!’ On their command Anna was dropped to the ground like discarded rubbish and with a thud she hit the ground, landing on her side and rolling into a ball.
‘Are you alright?’ Tightly curled up, she lay unmoving.
‘Is she hurt?’
‘Where did he go?’
‘I’ll go and call the police, you stay with her.’
The disembodied voices hung around her. Anna felt a lady sit on the ground next to her, talking, saying something; the words remote and distant. Indecipherable. A jacket was bunched as a pillow beneath her head.
‘Mamma, Mamma,’ moaned Anna inaudibly.
’She’s trying to speak. I can’t make it out. Can anyone give me their coats? Any blankets, anything. She’s shaking terribly. God, look, this is bad, I can’t stop her shaking.’
‘I’ve found her bag. And some books were scattered just a bit away from here.’
‘What’s your name? Where do you live? Listen, we need to call someone.’
The voice was becoming more emphatic, increasingly desperate.
‘I recognise the uniform. It’s Hellsson School – I’ll give them a call. I’ll be back in a moment.’
Hellsson School? Why did that sound familiar, wondered Anna. She was sure she’d heard of it before. Who were all these strangers and why wasn’t she lying in bed? With that thought she closed her eyes and found welcome oblivion.
©Annika Perry, July 2019