My waking thoughts were of being alone in my small room, feeling the warmth of the early morning sun on my face. Today was a day that showed real promise and would be a turning point in my life as I had just successfully completed a long term project that had been threatening to overwhelm me, but I had beaten it.
I could still feel the warmth of the early morning sun gently bathing my face and I was buoyant with an adrenalin rush as I recalled the previous evening. At least I think it was the previous evening, though it had definitely been fantastic. Carol, my long-term girl friend, had said the magic word "yes" to my simple request: “Will you be my wife?” The hardest thing I'd ever done. Carol was the most wonderful part of my life and we were to be one whole and not parts anymore. Clever, gorgeous and just a lovely person. I'd go and get a ring to symbolically cement our future together. I clearly remember getting out of bed and walking into the bathroom and washing and shaving. Even wondering if excitement made the hair on my face grow faster. I listened to the local radio and heard some good music and some not so good. Well, not to my taste anyhow. The local news much the same as usual, mostly bad. I vaguely recall something about gang problems and fighting in the streets, robberies and muggings. I've always found it odd that people seem to enjoy bad news, though only when somebody else is having a rough time. I turned off the radio, wondering what I would do first when I got into town.
I was walking along the busy High Street when I saw someone I thought I knew, a smart dresser in his mid-twenties I reckoned, but I couldn't recall from where I knew this person. There was nothing else particularly remarkable about him. My attention was suddenly hijacked towards a group of scruffily dressed men coming towards me, all of them with long greasy hair, earrings and arms covered with tattoos. It was all worn like a uniform, though I was instantly alert to danger. This group looked very menacing and I was chilled with fear. I vividly remember the sudden movement of the one closest to me. A memory of a hairy sun-tanned arm with the picture of a silver dart dividing a blazing sun. An intensely sharp pain in my shoulder. The pavement rapidly moving towards me. The darkness coming.
I heard voices and some unfamiliar noises as I slowly became aware of bright lights through my closed eyes. I had no sense of time or where I was and how I got here. What was happening to me? I was very aware of my shoulder and it seemed to be on fire. I suddenly pictured the High Street. The group of sinister men moving towards me. The intense sense of fear returned and felt as though I had run into a wall. I relived the terror of that moment when I first saw the group of men approaching me. As I slowly began to come to my senses I could open my eyes just enough to recognise that I was in a room with electronic machines displaying an array of flashing lights. I saw a uniformed man. A policeman. Unmistakable. He turned as I blinked my eyes and in the same movement he shouted: "Nurse. He's awake." There was a sudden flurry of movement as I was aware of several people rushing about. They seemed to flock around me like vultures around a dying animal. The movement panicked me and I remember feeling shocked at feeling so scared as though I was drowning. A dread. A sickening feeling.
"Calm down," I heard. Calm down? Was he mad? I didn’t understand?
"You're safe here in the hospital."
Hospital? Why am I in hospital?
I must have passed out as I remember nothing more until I came around again. I felt pain in my shoulder as I tried to move myself as a result of returning panic. A sharp reminder and more focused than before, but I didn't try to move again for a while. The full horror of my memory flooded back in a rush of awareness. I couldn't shrug off a feeling of helplessness and dread, as I felt pinned down in my bed. I could have been lying in slow setting concrete. The picture of a tattoo smeared across my mind. I pictured a tattoo and a knife. Wasn’t it a dart? A searing hot flush as an instant dawning came to me: I had been stabbed.
In a whirl my mind went back to the news I had heard on the radio. When was that? Today? The day before? I had no way of knowing. I had been attacked. Pirates, I visualised, as I recalled the group of sinister men. I froze. I had been hot and then cold. I was really confused about my feelings and that terrified me. Momentarily, all sense of pain left me. But I was alive. I was thinking. That had to be a good sign. Then I heard Carol's voice. Carol? Was this real or was I imagining it? Then I heard her voice again. It sounded urgent. Demanding to see me. Carol walked into the room and the feeling of an aura smothered me. If there is one thing that I will never forget it is that moment. She sat on the bed and tenderly curled the fingers of both her hands around the one of mine that was on top of the blanket. A most wonderful feeling as safety wrapped itself around me. I realised what a comfort zone is and it’s one of indescribable security. I imagined it must be like returning to the womb.
I couldn’t believe what happened next and it shocked me into absolute senselessness. Nothing could have prepared me for this. Nothing. I didn't think I could go any colder, but I did. I almost forgot to breathe. The murderous longhaired thug boldly walked into the room closely followed by the policeman I had seen earlier. The policeman walking behind him? The monster that had attacked and stabbed me? Tried to kill me? I couldn't unscramble my mind. Walking towards me. I saw death coming when just a moment before I had felt indescribable safety. The look of fear in my face must have screamed what I couldn't speak.
"Stop!" I heard the policeman shout. "He doesn't know!"
Know what? That I was completely helpless? That this killer was in this room? That my heart wouldn’t jump from my chest? That I was completely helpless. That these images weren’t forever tattooed on my mind?
"Meet Jake," I heard someone say. "He's the one who probably saved your life. Amazing speed of reaction to see what was happening and act so quickly. It must be his combat training."
I supposed in my dream-like state it must have been the policeman who spoke. I didn’t understand what I was hearing. Saved my life? Was I mad? I felt sick with confusion.
Jake stood several feet away behind Carol and made no movement to come any further towards me. I was surprised that Jake spoke with a well-modulated timbre in his voice.
"I’m sorry. I don’t want to alarm you and I’ll leave if you want me to."
I shook my head as a signal for Jake to remain. I didn’t utter a word. I couldn’t though I had regained some awareness and was now rather curious. I was very much aware of Carol and the policeman.
"I saw the guy walking towards you. I'd noticed him earlier. He just appeared... well, odd. Couldn't say what it was about him exactly. Just something not right. It's an instinct I have developed over the years and it's saved me many times. This awareness. He seemed to have an interest in you, but clearly you didn't know each other. It just didn't look right. Anyway, I kept an eye on him."
The picture of the scene filled my mind. I still didn’t understand, but I listened to Jake’s soft voice and the comfort of Carol’s touch.
"Then I saw it."
Saw what? I silently interrupted.
"The knife in his left hand and as he was walking toward you, you couldn't have seen it. If you know what you're looking for you see it and that’s from behind. Otherwise it is virtually hidden. That's why it's so effective."
What? What’s so effective? My mind raced on ahead.
"The knife is held upside down in the hand, the hilt of the knife resting in the crooked fingertips of the first and middle fingers and rests against the ring finger. The hand looks quite natural with the blade hidden up against the back of the wrist, but the knife can appear in an instant almost like magic."
Magic? What’s going on? Help? My mind screamed silently.
"As you came out of the jeweller’s shop he started his move towards you as though he’d been waiting. He must have been after your bag. It seems he was. If you’d been stabbed in your left shoulder you would let it go, as you wouldn't be able to hold onto it. Your reaction would be to drop it anyway."
As though Jake could read my thoughts, "If you’d carried the bag in your other hand he’d have just approached you on your other side. I realised straightaway how it would happen. If he’d struck an artery he could have killed you. He probably didn't care. He wanted your bag and it's as simple as that. A typical professional-style mugging. Ruthless. It's fast and in the confusion he's away. Gone. Vanished. Most people don't expect that to happen."
I didn’t. I’d never have even imagined that such a thing is possible. Suddenly I sat up in my bed, not caring about the pain in my shoulder. Of course, that's where I'd seen him! The smart dresser. A couple of times as I had left a jeweller’s shop. I hadn't taken any real notice of him. He must have been following me. Watching me. I obviously was a good choice of victim. That was the scariest part. He must have been watching me buy the ring.
That's really frightening. I fell back onto my pillow, feeling very faint and incredibly thirsty.
"I’m just sorry that I couldn’t stop him stabbing you," Jake was saying.
Even though my mouth was very dry, I managed to say:
"I knew today was going to be a strange day, but I had no idea how strange. To be lucky enough to have you walking behind and notice everything you did when you did is absolutely incredible. And to have Carol sitting here is even more wonderful."
It must have been Jake's arm I saw as he intervened and broke the force of the blow. It was then I noticed that Jake's tattoo was just a blazing sun and nothing else. In the instant that it had all happened, Jake's arm coming into my sight from behind, and the knife seemed to be one. As Jake spoke I realised how I'd misjudged the situation completely and what had actually happened. The bastard who had attacked me didn't look threatening at all and my attention had been diverted to someone who I believed was a danger. In my judgement of type, my prejudice, I had considered the threat and got it very, very wrong.
I found it almost unbelievable how wrong I could be and from that moment vowed that I'd never again judge a book by its cover.
Then I looked up at Carol, the single most important person in my life and then down at the hands that held mine. She held out the ring that I had bought for her. The ring that was responsible for bringing us even closer and restoring my faith in my fellow Man.
I discovered later that the ring had been recovered after the attack and had been given to Carol for safekeeping.
I took it and, looking her in the eyes, instantly gave it back. Carol slipped the engagement ring onto her finger without a word. Then kissed me gently on the lips.
© Louis Brothnias (2005), Rev 2 (2007)