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The Van

by Brightonhaze 

Posted: 03 September 2013
Word Count: 1109

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The door opens from outside revealing a vein of harsh, white light for a second or two before a human silhouette all but blocks it out. The silhouette sits opposite me as I blink, my eyes dry and slow to adjust. Then we are in grey darkness, light sneaking in through tiny imperfections in the van’s seams.

From outside come the sounds of shoes scuffling, glass shattering, impassioned shouts and incredulous roars, dull thuds as hard objects meet flesh and a scratchy, displaced voice callously demanding that people stop now and leave the area –an area they are kettled into by police.

Inside the van is silent and I know her! In the back of this van, in the dark, with only her silhouette to hint at who she is and at least twenty years between this meeting and the last, I know her. I don’t say anything. Perhaps out of hope that she validate me by acknowledging me first; perhaps out of fear that she would not know me now; or perhaps because I can use this time to appraise her in such a strange and intimate setting. The darkness conceals me and gives my eyes perfect freedom to stray all over her. She is slumped and static but she is still a compelling presence – long and lithe with angular limbs, her femininity is not found in the usual curves but in the long line of her neck and her powerful cheekbones.

My memory gives colour and texture to her neck, her skin pale but with a yellow tinge like the remnants of a tan; her eyes, I remember, have sharp, black pupils that could easily relax my tongue and set me off into a litany of private revelations (strange that I don’t remember the colour of those eyes). I can’t remember if she is right or left handed but I can feel her hand take mine before darting across a busy road. I protested, as was expected of course, told her to stop dragging me dangerously out in front of traffic and all the time I held back tightly, I followed willingly.

I should speak to her, I could fake spontaneity – Karen! My God, is that you?! – but I have left it too long now and if I do speak I might make it obvious that I’ve stolen the past few minutes, looking at her, rallying myself to speak to her – it would give far too much of me away. It is better to hope that she remains disinterested in her surroundings until later when there are bound to be more of us in this van or later still when the distraction of the police station will make us each irrelevant to the other.

Besides, what could we say? It is hardly a good setting for a catch up – cramming in a rundown of the most impressive excerpts from the past two decades of our lives (because that’s what people do isn’t it?) in the time it takes them to drive us to the station! We are assumed strangers and she is silent and I am compliant.

The door opens, wider this time, and another silhouette is pushed inside, less composed than Karen and myself, he swears to himself, noisily inhales his own spittle through his lips and settles with his head dramatically laid in his hands, elbows digging into his lap. I know how he feels – I was close to that sort of despair before Karen appeared. Seeing him, I feel a resurgence of powerlessness and grief – I do not want to be here, I should not be here, a criminal record! But then none of us should be here – it was a peaceful protest until we were surrounded, intimidated, bullied and deprived of even the most basic of human needs – water and a place to pee discreetly.

The man is quiet now. The chaos continues outside and inside we are motionless and muted – the only activity is the whir of my brain and the electric pulses that sear through my body – the thrill of arrest and of seeing Karen again, I don’t know which is affecting me more.

The walls are yellowing at the police station and remind me of Life on Mars – I wouldn’t be surprised if it hasn’t been painted since the early 70s. Karen is three people ahead of me, we are in a queue. It feels ridiculous to be standing obligingly this way considering why we are here. When the van had filled up, Karen seemed to shake off the spell of introspection and in the blurred darkness she became animated, she spoke loudly, telling us what our rights are and explaining the best way to behave with the police to minimise the trouble we are in. I feel so raw and so justified in what we did that it is hard to follow this advice but I do – we all do.

I don’t think that Karen has noticed me yet. She hasn’t spoken to me, but this could be because I am intently looking at the grubby, marked floor as we shuffle along. She may well have recognised me but by avoiding eye contact I am postponing the moment of acknowledgment – I am shy now under the bright, artificial light. And I almost don’t want to look at her – I might see the vanishing of my own youth in her older self. Life has been dramatic, tiresome and tense for me and if her eyes no longer spark, if she shows even a trace of defeat, my own small fragment of remaining optimism might collapse to rubble. It is better, cosier to look at this floor, that could be anywhere at any time, and fancy that I am back with her in a past I’ve no doubt idealised.

I am processed without much ceremony by a murmuring police officer who is officious with pursed lips and seems more suited to the role of librarian. I am shown into a cell with olive green walls and Karen is there, sitting on a thin, metal bench. She looks up and says nothing and I stand still, just inside the room, as the door closes behind me. I feel the exhaustion of today suddenly and I want to go directly to her and hold her hand. I am also vulnerable and exposed – I feel haggard and unworthy. I do not want to disappoint her and I do not want to be disappointed. Let this reunion happen to somebody else! I take another step into the cell.


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