I wait by the side of the road, feet squashed into the ridiculous shoes, hoping a bus will come before he does. The streetlight throws a sinister orange glow over the houses and their little gardens and my toes, freezing in these stupid shoes. The street is sparkling cold. People in passing cars look at me because I am in jeans and t-shirt and no coat, in December.
I walked out of the pub, right out. I was supposedly going to the loo, so I had my handbag with me — and because none of his mates’ girlfriends were coming with me this time, I just walked past the sign for Ladies and out the side door of the pub. I crossed the car park and then I started running, because if he caught me out here he would drag me back inside to his friends, but not before he smacked me and made me understand that once he got me home, it would be even worse.
So I ran, risking my ankles in these slutty going-out heels he likes, and I made it to the main road and now I’m standing at the bus stop, terrified about how long he will wait before coming to look for me, praying for a bus — praying that it is not too late at night for buses.
I left my phone on the pub table. To take it would have been suspicious. Why would I need a phone in the loo? Who would I be calling — my family, the friends I’m not allowed to see? Who? So I left it, like an innocent person would. And then I ran.
This, of course, is why we don’t go out very often. He knows the risk. In public, he has to appear normal and jolly, and not like someone who might grab me by the throat and hiss into my face how worthless he thinks I am, and make me repeat it back and promise never to do anything so stupid ever again.
What stupid thing? Who knows. But there’s always something. Sometimes I look wrong, stand wrong, put a mug in the cupboard wrong. It can be anything, especially as I think he invents these misdemeanours on the spot when he wants to punish me.
Anyway, I have not done anything actually stupid, and that’s what the woman on the end of the phone support line made me understand.
I am shaking as I think what he can be like, and thinking how the woman on the end of the line is not here to protect me.
Where is the bus?
Oh god. A car, his car —
I duck down into a stranger’s front garden, like a tramp. I hide behind their hedge. What will I say if they look out of their front window and see me crouching here, shaking and incoherent?
It’s not his car. It’s some other random car. It had the same headlights, that was all.
I rise, and scuttle back into the street.
This is how my life will be, I realise. I will see him, or think I do, and I will crumble, try to hide, try to escape. This is how it will be forever.
The bus rumbles to a stop by the kerb. The doors hiss open and the driver looks at me expectantly.
It would be easier to dash back to the pub. Say, I needed fresh air, but now I’m back! Big smile! Another drink, he likes drinks and if he drinks enough he will be slower, torture me less before passing out, maybe.
The bus judders and thrums at the kerb.
I can’t move, can’t explain, can’t tell the driver I am trying to decide between one life and the next. “I —” I am stuck, in my heels and no coat, the cold air swirling into the bus and the other passengers starting to look a bit resentful because I am letting the heat out.
The driver gives me a smile. He says, “You coming, love?” He is normal, kindly, helpful. This is what ordinary people are like.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m coming.” I step on board.
These days they don’t ask you where you’re going, you just get on and tap your bank card. I have my purse, I have everything a handbag contains — tissues, lip balm, the phone number for the local women’s shelter.
I sit down, at the back with a load of young girls going out on a Saturday night, and although my head is full of the thought of him coming after me, a sliver of hope edges in, whispering that I have finally done it.
I have run away.
He is going to kill me.
No. I clutch my handbag. I might be freezing cold, trembling and wild with the enormity of what I have just done, but I have in fact done it. I am away.
That’s all. I’m away. And free. Even in these ridiculous shoes.