When the four of them rushed me, I honestly thought I was going to die. They were pushing and shoving and pulling all at once, demanding to know why I was there, How I’d gotten in, whether the bags were mine. They were drunk and aggressive and scary, and I thought I was dead.
The morning before I had finally left the backpacker’s, unable to continue paying rent. Between my previous landlady keeping my deposit and a month’s rent, my card being cloned and maxed, and the number of days my boss had been off sick the last few weeks (for which I didn’t get paid) I was done. I had about £20 in my purse, and not a penny in my account. After the disastrous swath Mars had cut in its transit through my sun-sign, I was tapped out and on the street. None of my friends were in a position to help me physically, and any financial help from afar would simply be too late. It’s scary how quickly things can compound and go horribly wrong. I could only hope that I had enough sense and guts to survive until my next pay cheque. I even entertained the notion of, if things went well, finding somewhere to squat my last couple of months in London, and at least clawing back some of my losses by not having to pay rent.
Turns out though that I have about as much sense and streetwise as what one might expect from any middle-class brat with no real experience of the really-real world. Not to mention that I am an absolute bloody idiot.
They shoved me upstairs, ignoring my entreaties that I had thought the house abandoned, that I hadn’t known they were occupying it, that I had not found their spot. I was quaking with fear – I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. I glanced back and thought of pushing them down the stairs and making a run for it, but really, the only direction was up, and I could be running into something worse. Of course, that’s just the rationalisation of it that comes afterwards … to my shame, at the time I was simply too petrified to act.
We entered their room through a door that for all the world looked like just another boarded-up dead-end. Once upon a time the room had most likely been a lounge or something, but they had turned it into a large dorm with four bare mattresses arranged along the walls, a lamp of some kind off on a table in the corner, dimly lighting the room.
They surrounded me. The short, scary one with the burn scars on his face took the lead, shouting at me about me coming into his ‘flat’ and stealing his things, and that if they found anything missing, I was dead. That’s what I think he was getting at anyway – his English was really bad, and half the time I couldn’t make out a word of what he said.
I tried explaining over the shouts and shoving, quite frantic by now, about how my landlady had kicked me out and kept my money, and that I was consequently on the streets. I had honestly just stumbled onto the house by accident, I pleaded. The ground floor was a mess of fallen beams and corrugated sheeting and boarded windows, and having tried and failed to get into the first floor, I had thought it unoccupied.
Eventually, whether they actually realised what I had been saying and took pity on me, or just wanted to wait till morning to decide what to do with me, they pushed me up another flight of stairs to the second floor, where there was a single, cleared-out room with a grimy little inch-thin mattress on the floor. Tears were flowing freely by now, (thank Goddess they only had candles) but I had enough sense left to introduce myself and shake their hands, and to start thanking them profusely for letting me stay … you know what they say about killing (and eating) something whose name you know … Not that I thought they were cannibals, but still, the vegetarian thing seemed to apply. I dropped my bags pointedly in the corner.
They listened for a few minutes before Slava disappeared back through the door, only to return with a blanket, which he shoved unceremoniously at me.
“You sleep!” He insisted in broken English. The other one was still scary as hell, but Slava seemed to have realised that I was just a sheeple in over her head. Way over, and that I was no risk to them. They left a moment later, deep in rapid conversation in what I could only guess was Polish, but who knows. I closed the door, watching them disappear down the stairs through a huge hole somebody had punched or hacked through the centre of it.
They turned the corner, and I lost it entirely.
I was panicking, literally pacing around like a caged animal. I was convinced that I was going to die there. In hindsight that fear was most likely totally unfounded, and for all I know they had really, genuinely decided to just give me a place to sleep. But in my mind they were already dividing my stuff up between them while contemplating whether to use cement boots or sell me to a pork-pie factory instead.
Slava returned with a pillow, shoving the door open as I choked back my hysterics. Pushing the pillow into my hands, he turned again and left without a word, pointedly pushing the door open wider as he left.
I had to get out.
I tried to meditate for a bit, just to calm down, but my thoughts were so jumbled up that I might as well have been chasing ghosts. After a while though I did calm. The moon was full that night, and few things soothe like that does.
There were two wooden windows, one welded shut in its frame by years of exposure. The other had been broken open though, and covered with a dirty sheet serving as a curtain. I peeked out, listening intently for any change in the boozy conversation from downstairs. The road was horribly busy, especially considering that it was past midnight on a Sunday … well, Monday morning, not to mention the ratty apartment building across the road. I’d never get out without being spotted, and there was no way I could survive cops getting involved. I wanted with all my heart to just leap out that window, to escape, but I would have to wait.
By three the lights across the way had finally all been switched off, and traffic had dribbled to circulating taxis and cop-cars every now and again. Most importantly though, the conversation from downstairs had finally gone quiet.
I tried to go out the window with my stuff on my back, but it was fairly obvious that that was a sure ticket to a messy end. I struggled awkwardly back in, tumbling arse-over-head through the window. I leapt under the blanket and prayed that that they had not heard. After a minute or two, with nobody rushing up the stairs, I sat up and rethought my plan.
After a moment or two, I dug out my stretching belt and tried lowering the bags down to the ledge on the first floor, but I wasn’t going to make it, and if they slipped, my meds, my phone, all my stuff might be damaged. Worse, it might wake the neighbours. So I hauled it all back in. Damnit…
I knotted the stretching belt to the blanket’s corner and tried again. Too short to reach the ground, but only by about a meter or so, so I decided to chance it and let go. I had to get out.
I crawled gingerly out the window, my heart in my throat. A car approached and I flattened myself against the wall, hoping my stuff would be safe down below. As it passed, I started inching my foot along the ledge, my hands locked onto the wormy frame with vice-like grip, I reached out with my left foot, full stretch barely reaching the big wrought-iron lamp-fitting. There had been a fire in the building’s past, and I just hoped and prayed the fitting was still secure. I inched out with my left hand and barely snagged the diagonal, slowly managed to work my way out onto the fitting, and … I was stuck. I could not go any further. Suddenly it seemed like I was miles up.
I was frozen, numb with fear. to get down, I would have to swing out from my perch, but it seemed like every bone in my body had turned to jelly. Nor could I think that the bracket would hold my weight. At that point the four roll-bolts in the wall seemed like thumb-tacks. The reach to the ledge down below was just too far, and I am neither Lara Croft nor Jason Bourne. And going back was equally terrifying. Looking back up at that window, it seemed impossible to get back.
A car approached, and resignedly I started calling out quietly for help. Gods let the driver’s window be down. No such luck. It seemed that the only help I would be getting would be from my captors, and that I could do without.
I took a few deep breaths to calm down after calling out quietly a few more times. If I tried to go down, I’d die for sure. But I’d made it from the window, so I could make it back. I had to.
Hours later, or what seemed it anyway, I tumbled arse-over-head back in through the window.
My stuff was down below, and at some point somebody would take it. Yet going out the window was beyond me. I needed to figure something out, but the only option left to me really, was to try and sneak past down the stairs.
I eased my way down, testing every step as I went. It was pitch-black dark, but the Goddess shone down outside, seeming to work a bit of magick as the old steps remained solid and quiet.
I inched my way around the corner to find their door closed, and I continued my way down with a quiet sigh of relief.
I reached the ground-floor and was about to make my way to the boarded-up little window I had come in through when I heard a loud squeak, followed by light and somebody entering. I froze. There was absolutely nowhere to go, no place to hide, and I was sure this would be it.
He walked right past me, his steps passing right over my leading foot. I looked right at him, but he did not even register me being there, didn’t even so much as blink. Need. That’s all I can think of. Need.
As I heard the door close above I breathed again and stumbled out through the door, gathering my stuff quickly. I balled the blanket up and dropped it just inside their make-shift door before walking away as quickly as I could without running.
I made my way to Liverpool Street so I could get dressed for work.
This was originally a post at a forum I frequent shortly after the events described here, which occurred somewhere in the middle of May 2008. I had had a run of bad luck over the preceding week culminating in my landlady finding out I was trans and giving me a day to leave, and I just had no options and resources. I was stuck in a foreign city with nobody to turn to and just starting my transition.
I’d been in nasty situations before, but never like … any with meaning. I’ve been afraid, but I never had much to lose. The fear was nothing but animal instinct, I suppose. But now … this was the first time since my childhood that I was really, really scared, that I wanted with all my heart to live. I was finally transitioning, finally clawing my way towards life. And paradoxically, it seems, that desire almost cost me. Stuck on that wall before, I would’ve just done it – taken the chance and let the chips fall as they will. But now – I just couldn’t. I had too much to lose.