Easter is a religious festival and in Geoffrey Cronin’s second book The Black Bitch And Other Stories he has one or two tales that fit the bill. For those who do not celebrate Easter, this story also reminds us that we have to sometimes reach out a hand to accept kindness from a stranger.
The Lost Sheep, apart from anything reminds us that however dreadful we feel our life is, we can still move forward. And, as I have always believed, there are Guardian Angels. First posted Easter 2015.
The Lost Sheep by Geoff Cronin
The clock in the railway station said five minutes to nine. The express would be thundering through at nine o’clock and would be followed by the intercity at ten past.
The ticket she now fingered in her pocket would take her to her home town on the intercity, but that was not her intention.
The little voice in her head was saying, “there’s still time, five minutes – no, four minutes now – in which to change your mind.”
But the two large gins which she had earlier in the railway bar helped to silence that damnable little voice.
Her steps were a little unsteady now and she was not really surprised when she bumped into a man who was one of the few people on the platform and she forced a smile as she apologised to him.
He smiled at her and said it was OK and as she faced him she noticed his eyes – they were the deepest blue she’d ever seen. He was a soldier and, though she meant to walk on, she found herself in conversation with him.
“Are you waiting for the Intercity?” he asked.
“Yes,” she lied.
“So am I,” he said as he walked away down the platform.
The little voice was back again saying, “you still have two minutes left, think about it.”
She silenced it and stepped to the edge of the platform ready to fall in front of the express as it came by at sixty. She could hear it now as it entered the station and she whispered, “God forgive me,” as she leaned forward.
At the last moment a strong hand grabbed her shoulder and pulled her backwards and she found herself in the arms of the soldier who said, “you’re safe now miss, you had a narrow escape there.”
Before she knew it, the Intercity pulled in to the station and she found herself being helped into a carriage by the soldier who sat her down and lit a cigarette for her, which she gratefully accepted.
The little voice in her head was gone now and she sat there, silent, with the soldier looking at her with those eyes – deep blue they were and they seemed to be reaching into her mind.
Well, maybe it was the gin and tonic, again, maybe it was something else but she began to feel a kind of warmth and peace creeping over her and a need to explain, to talk and to unburden her very soul became compelling. And, after all, the soldier was a total stranger – she would never see him again and it would be like talking to the barman or the taxi driver she told herself.
As she started to talk the soldier just looked at her and said absolutely nothing.
“I suppose I have to thank you for saving my life,” she ventured. “But I don’t rightly know whether I’m glad or sorry ’cos I’d made up my mind to fall in front of the express and end it all.”
And then it was as if the floodgates of her very soul had opened as her whole sorry story tumbled out and she spoke non-stop.
At an early age she was said to be ‘difficult’ and at fourteen she was a rebel, kicking against any form of authority – school, police, family etc. etc. At fifteen she was said to be ‘wild’ and knocking around with a bad crowd and by the time she was sixteen she had been twice in trouble for shop lifting and drinking.
Her parents and her brother were known to be ‘respectable’ and deeply religious people and this, coupled with the fact that her father was a shopkeeper noted for his integrity, had saved her from the rigours of the law. Then came the evening when she had packed a small bag, emptied the till in her father’s shop and taken the train to the big city and glorious anonymity.
That was ten years ago and in the interim she had sampled the joys of sleeping rough, of squats, of being mugged, of washing dishes for a living, hanging out with drunks, druggies and prostitutes. She ended up being landed in a Salvation Army hostel after being found unconscious in the street, stoned out of her mind on drugs and near starvation. She had ‘hit the bottom’.
The road back to sanity and sobriety was tough beyond belief, involving a stay in hospital and a rehabilitation programme with psychiatric assessment etc. etc. and finally the offer of a menial job and a cheap bed sitter organised by a social worker.
After a while the little voice in her head began to say things like “well where did it all get you?” And, “do you realise that you’re twenty-six years old? and isn’t it time you copped yourself on?”
In time she found herself agreeing with the little voice and a firm decision to better herself was made. So, three jobs later, last Christmas, she phoned her mother just to say ‘hello’ and that she was alright. It was only then she learned of her father’s death and that her brother, John, now married and running the enlarged shop, could do with her help. She was overcome with guilt and remorse and hung up without giving her number. She never rang again.
She had been talking for nearly an hour now, non stop, and as she paused the soldier spoke.
“You know, the thing you have to do now is to forgive yourself and then to go home to your family. It’s Easter week, in case you hadn’t noticed, and I can tell you that your mother will welcome you and forgive you and the past will be washed away as if it never happened.”
He sounded so sure of everything and as the train slid slowly into her home station he put his hand on her shoulder and something strange happened – she knew she was going home.
The train stopped and she stepped out, saying goodbye to the soldier and thanking him for being a good listener. She felt that warmth and peace again and as the train pulled away he waved to her and then she saw, the marks of the nails in his hands.
©The Black Bitch and other Stories by Geoffrey Cronin
You can find the previous posts by Geoff Cronin in The Colour of Life directory.
Thank you for dropping in.. Happy Easter.. Sally