She’d been doing so well. She’d got a support worker and a police liaison officer; as for him, he had an exclusion order banning him from her street. He was not to go within a hundred yards of her place of work, nor was he to importune her on the street. In three months, not a sign of him, no phone calls, no texts, nothing. And now this.
He’d used newsprint, must have spent hours cutting out the letters and sticking them on. The messages were crude; threats mostly – we know where you are, your days are numbered, watch your back, bitch. Nothing to identify him, nothing personal, but it had to be him. But how could he have known the first one would arrive on the same day as her acceptance from Durham? She was to do an access course in the summer and providing she passed that she’d have a place waiting to study Physics. Far from disparaging her application as she’d feared, they were only too keen. It had helped to have a woman on the panel.
As luck would have it she’d opened Durham’s letter first, thinking the other one was probably junk. For a few seconds she was floating on air – until she opened the second envelope. It was brown, the label printed, no postmark. Inside there was a single page: she pulled it out and looked at it without comprehension. When the meaning sank in she collapsed, feeling as if a car had run her down. She read it again and again, knowing that she shouldn’t, unable to stop herself. It was like cauterising a wound. Then with a shaking hand got her phone out; she had the police liaison officer on speed-dial.
‘It has to be him, right?’
Nadia was plain clothes, a purple headscarf the only outward concession to a faith she presumably practised. They’d exchanged details – part of the ritual, Anna assumed – so she now knew that Nadia was a few years older than her and married with three children. She looked young, but there was something in Nadia that inspired confidence. A level of self-belief, Anna decided – something she’d always lacked. Considering they were supposed to be so downtrodden, young Muslim women were very confident, much more so than Anna’s contemporaries. She wondered about that.
‘It has to be him, right?’ said Anna again.
Nadia, gloves on, was examining the letter. ‘It’s likely,’ she said briskly, ‘but let’s not jump to conclusions. We’ll look for DNA first.’
‘Who else would be sending me threats?’
For answer, Nadia just shrugged. ‘There’s some real cranks out there – you’d be surprised. We’ve had people sent death threats just because they put an EU poster up.’
‘I haven’t done anything like that,’ Anna protested. ‘I mean, yeah, I don’t like Brexit but I’ve not got any posters up.’
‘You’ve not done anything public that would indicate your views? Nothing on Facebook, Twitter, no demos?’
Anna laughed. ‘I stopped going on Facebook a long time ago. And I’ve not been on a demo since – well, before I got married,’ she finished a little sadly.
‘OK.’ Nadia was making notes; then she put the letters into a folder and slid them into her bag. ‘Are you going to be OK?’
‘I’m late for work now.’
‘I’ll give you a lift.’
Driving lessons would be a good idea, she decided. Then she could get her own car, be less vulnerable. When she thought about all the things he’d taken from her, all the opportunities he’d stolen… it had to be him, it had to. Some sixth sense had warned him she was moving on; he had to have one last stab at spoiling it for her.
Why had she ever thought it would be easy? Why had she thought he would let her go, just like that? Of course he wouldn’t stop – no amount of exclusion orders could keep him from what was rightfully his. She must stop thinking about it. ‘You don’t want him inside your head,’ Nadia had warned. ‘You’ve got your own life now. Try to forget him.’
But did she have her own life? Would he ever let her go?