My fingers tremble as I reach for the knocker. It’s a cat, I notice, which calms me somewhat; my best friend has a similar one at her front door. Must be a good omen, I think, and give it a quick rap. I lean on a post, gasping for breath, checking the road behind me.
Footsteps quicken inside the home.
I smooth down my T-shirt; it’s no use, though, I’m a mess. Covered in dirt and mud and blood. My hair is matted, likely contains twigs and dead leaves. I brush a strand off my face as the door opens.
The woman fails to conceal her shock at the sight of me on her verandah. Her eyes widen as she scans my entire body. ‘Can I help you?’ she asks, her voice crackling with fear.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ I say quickly. ‘May I use your telephone?’
She pauses, clearly weighing up her options. From the little I can see inside her home, it’s doubtful she’d want to welcome me in. I’m too unclean; the risk too great of me destroying the beauty and tidiness of her hallway.
While I wait for her response, a trickle of blood drips down my leg.
‘What happened to you?’ she asks, watching it trail from my outer thigh, down my calf and into my sock.
‘Telephone? Please?’ I look over my shoulder. She follows my gaze and seems to understand my urgency.
‘Of course. Come in.’
As I stand in her entrance hallway, she moves into another room. When she returns she is holding her mobile as well as a portable handset that I can only assume is her landline. Even in my distress, I find this quaint.
‘I’m Lucinda,’ she says while handing me the handset and a tall glass of water. Ice cubes clink against the glass. ‘You call whoever you need. I’m calling triple zero.’
I nod. Drink the water in two gulps.
‘What’s your name?’
I stand in her stark white home while she makes the call. I can hear the operator state that both police and ambulance are on the way.
‘Right, Bella. Make your call while I draw you a bath. You can soak away while we wait.’
This time, I shake my head. ‘No. No bath.’
‘I insist,’ she smiles.
Seconds pass before I speak. I hope she understands. ‘I can’t wash yet.’
Her mouth forms a small O-shape as the meaning registers. ‘What happened to you?’ she repeats.
I don’t remember much. Only snippets. A van. Blinding pain. A black hoodie. Wide open land, and a ditch. Days and nights. Hunger. With a strength I didn’t even know I had, I clawed my way to the top and ran until I found this house.
‘Taken. On my way home one night.’ I dial Mum’s number. When she answers I crack; my sobs heave through my entire body and I can’t speak. Lucinda takes the phone and tells my mum I’m OK, safe, to come right away.
The sirens wail in the background.
Lucinda takes me in her arms and rocks me gently. ‘You’re safe now, Bella. Don’t worry.’