I need to phone work. Carol answers and I say I’m sorry I can’t come in today and she says where have you been and I say, I can’t explain now but I’ve not been well, I’ll be in tomorrow (when they see my scalp they’ll think cancer) and she says sorry to tell you this but you’re fired, you haven’t been in since Friday. What? Friday? What?
What day is it today? I say in a small voice, feeling like an idiot.
She seems to be suppressing a laugh. It’s Thursday. I drop the phone and collapse onto the bed.
Three whole days lost!
Enough. I drag myself into the shower, wincing as the water hits my scalp, and when I’m dry I throw on some jeans and a t-shirt, put a scarf over my lumpen head and ransack the drawers flinging clothes, money and passport into a bag. I slink out the back door and hail a taxi. I’ve already called May, said I needed a break; she sounded a bit curt but she’ll understand. She told me to leave years ago. Well May, I’m leaving now.
I hit the platform, ignoring the sidelong stares at my wild appearance, hoping the train won’t be delayed. As I look anxiously down the platform I see the stubbly brown hair and unmistakable gait of my least-favourite person in the world; Barry, my office nemesis and Dave’s best mate. Can I hide? Too late – he’s seen me. He strides over like a minder come to pick up his charge. What’s going on?
Without preamble he takes my arm in an iron grip and starts to steer me away from the platform. ‘Time to go home,’ he says out of the corner of his mouth. I’m trying to speak, to say what the hell are you doing, you can’t do this; to call out this man’s taking me by force, help, call the police, but the words won’t come. Barry propels me to a quiet spot under the bridge. ‘Now,’ he says.
Now? What does he mean, now?
He leans in to pull off my scarf and I wince, more in embarrassment than pain – in spite of needing help I don’t want anyone to see the state I’m in. He surveys my sorry scalp, nods in approval and hands the scarf back, then seizing my arm once more (why can’t I scream?) propels me into the lift, up and out through a barrier where he puts my return ticket through, a cancelled journey. In the side-street a taxi idles. Barry opens the door and shoves me in giving the driver our address, Dave’s and mine. Another cancelled journey.