December 06 2015
Once upon a time a little girl called Alina was born in a small town somewhere on the eastern edge of Europe. She had an idyllic childhood, playing with her dolls in the lovely garden around her house and skating on the lake in winter. But all this changed the day her father went to work and didn’t come back. When Alina asked her mum where daddy was, her mum got very cross so she didn’t ask again. They had hardly any money, and the little girl no longer had new toys to play with. Instead she had to help her mother who took in other people’s ironing to make ends meet.
Then one day, when Alina was fourteen, Mum brought home a new dad for her. Nico was not at all like her real dad and Alina didn’t like him one bit. When he had been in the house for about six months he started to do very bad things to her when her mum was out. Alina was frightened and didn’t dare tell anyone. Nico said that it was their little secret and that if she told anyone he would kill her. Alina didn’t know what to do.
One day her mum asked her why she was always grumpy, so Alina took a deep breath and told her what Nico was doing. Mum was very angry and called her a liar and all sorts of other really bad names. She told her to go and never come back. She would not listen to her Alina’s pleading, so all the girl could do was pack a few things in a bag and leave the house for good.
She travelled for many months across Europe. Sometimes she slept in barns, sometimes in bus or railway stations. She raided bins for food and begged for coins on street corners. Once she got a job cleaning up in a café, but the boss wanted her to get into his car with him after work. She did this once, and found out that he was as bad as Nico so she ran away again.
All this took a very long time, and Alina was tired of living on the streets. She wanted a proper home, with a fireplace and a cat just like she used to have when she was little. She had heard that if you went to England they would give you money, a place to live and a job. How she got to England is really another story, but I can tell you that she did eventually get there and she arrived in London two days before her sixteenth birthday at the end of November.
It wasn’t at all like she’d been told. It was cold and dirty and no one even took the time to be horrid to her. She did get some money, but it wasn’t enough to find anywhere to live and it was quickly gone on food and bus fares. Without anywhere to live Alina couldn’t find a job and without a job she was worse off than she had been in all the other countries that she’d been through.
The people hurrying to and from the train station where she begged weren’t usually downright rude. Some were, they directly commented on her dirty face, her scruffy clothes even her attempts to speak English. But mostly they ignored her, rushed past her as if she simply wasn’t there and avoided any eye contact that might have breached some of her loneliness.
The police could be a problem. Mostly they just ignored her, but sometimes they moved her on from a sheltered doorway just as she had got comfortable. One young policeman once gave her some money for a hot drink and on one occasion another suggested she should find a hostel, but mostly they left her alone.
As Christmas approached the crowds increased and seemed to get even more frantic. Alina didn’t even look at the food in all the shop windows, she ignored the bulging bags everyone was carrying and refused to think about the warm and loving Christmases of her long lost childhood.
Then she got a job.
A man called Mr Smith gave her a suitcase full of brightly coloured scarves. If she could sell them he would pay her for each item sold. He made it quite clear that she would have to pay for any that got lost or stolen. He would send his friend Duwayne round every day to collect the money.
But no one was interested in her wares; no one listened to her pleas to “Buy my beautiful scarves.” One woman even shouted at her, “Go away scarf girl.” The police took more interest in her now; they kept moving her on and demanding to see her licence. Duwayne changed from being friendly to threatening as every day she told him ‘No scarves sold.’
As another hopeless day drew to a close Alina realised that nothing would change. Sadly she took her bag of scarves into the yard behind a closed-down shop. There she made a little house out of cardboard boxes and a few empty crates. She tried to eat a piece of bread she had found, but couldn’t. So she spread some of the scarves on the concrete and wrapped the others around her. As the rest of London celebrated Christmas she drifted off to sleep.
Then a miracle happened.
As she lay there sick, tired and cold her father came to her. He picked her up and carried her gently back to her home. In front of the fire her mother sat roasting chestnuts, the cat asleep at her feet. There was no sign of Nico, just a table covered with delicious food. She smiled happily. Safe at last.
And that’s how the security guard found her on Boxing Day, wrapped in gaudy cloths, her head on a bag of rubbish, and a smile of peace and serenity on her cold, stiff face.
About the Author
Penny Rogers writes mainly short stories and flash fiction. You can find out more about her at www.pennyrogers.wordpress.co.uk
Published December 06 2015