It was late one Saturday in September.
The air was cold with the first signs of an early Autumn chilling the night. A spot of moisture hit my face beneath the anorak hood and I looked up. The street light showed a fine misty rain that in my native land we called guti, and for which I knew no English equivalent. London was still alive and throbbing even at this late hour and the parties were going on in several houses on Nevern Square in Earls Court. I pulled the anorak tighter around my body as I approached Nevern Park, that tiny patch of greenery in the bustling city. The old Singer Sports Car was still there parked against the curb, with flat tyres and a myriad of tickets glued to the windscreen, I thought, for the umpteenth time that surely the Police or the Council must by now have realised that it had been abandoned. It looked at least thirty years old, probably made before World War Two. It looked old and forlorn and soon the Park would lose its green grass and the trees their leaves and resemble it as well.
As I hurried past, the rain falling more densely now, I heard, or thought I heard, a sob as though someone had reached the end of their tether. I stopped by the gate and listened intently; my first thought was that an animal was in difficulty.
The sob sounded again, It seemed as though the world was just too much for whoever it was who was sobbing and who seemed to be struggling to keep silent.
I opened the gate and as it creaked there came a gasp from under the trees near some shrubs. I turned towards them. That gasp sounded terrified.
As I neared the bushes I could see a small bundle of what appeared to be clothing lying on the ground and beyond it a figure crouching in an almost feral manner. The eyes were wide open and I could see gleaming teeth that looked ferocious in the gloom. I could not make out any features and was thinking of running out of the park rather than be attacked by an escaped animal when the lights of a passing car shone on the face of the creature.
It wasn't an animal, it was a girl, a young girl, and her eyes were an amazing shade of blue that looked violet in the lights of the car. But the colour was only secondary to what struck me forcibly. The eyes, bright with tears, and full of defiance, were also full of terror. She crouched there glaring at me so fiercely that I was not sure of my next move. I could sense in her an anger, a deep abiding anger that made her almost savage.
What was she frightened of? Why that look of defiance? She looked like a leopard I had seen once in the veldt that was guarding its young against the attack from a troop of baboons.
Then a tiny wail came from the bundle and a plaintive voice cried out, "Mummy, I'm hungry."
Realisation hit me. She was guarding her young; but against what?
I moved closer and she growled, actually growled, at me. I stopped and then another car passed in the street. I saw her face clearly for the first time and something hit me in the gut that felt like a mule's kick. She had been beaten; badly.
A red mist descended over my eyes. Through the mist I saw her eyes widen. The car had stopped to park and the lights were shining almost directly on her. The voices of party-goers came from outside the park. They had obviously not noticed either her or me. The terror had left the eyes and a look of wonder had replaced it.
"You're here," she said in wonder. "I thought you were my husband and thought he had followed me. But you came and you hate him for doing this to me and yet you don't even know him. Or do you?"
It was true. I hadn't even realised it myself but I did hate whoever had done it, I could gladly and easily have killed him if he were there. The extent of my own emotions shook me rigid. Why should I get so emotional over a girl I didn't know and couldn't even see properly?
I put my hand out to pull her to her feet but instead of taking it she picked up not one but two bundles of clothing from the ground and passed them to me, one at a time. Two children; from their weight and size, probably about three or four years old.
The hatred and anger inside me that had been abating rose again and I could feel bile in my throat, a bitter taste. How could any so called man allow this to happen to his children?
The two children clung to me and then relaxed as they fell asleep in my arms. A feeling of tenderness such as I had never known before, flowed over me. I gestured to the girl, still on the ground, with my head.
"Come with me," I told her. "Follow me."
She struggled to her feet and I thought it was from crouching too long on the damp ground. We were all wet through now as the rain had become a storm rather than a shower.
As I led the way to the gate a low voice behind me asked, "Where are we going?"
I almost said, "To my flat." but amended it to "A place of safety."
It wasn't my flat. I had moved in that very day when a friend, an archaeologist, had asked me to take care of it for him whilst he was in the Middle East on a dig.
I hadn't even unpacked properly. And here I was, mind made up, that tomorrow I would move back to my Club in Warwick Road and turn the flat over to her and her children.
The flat was in a back road near the exhibition Hall. It was secure and quite large with two bedrooms and big kitchen, living room, dining room and study. The study was locked at my insistence, for it contained a lot of valuable relics and all Harold's notes.
I am not sure, even today, what prompted me to take the action I did. Normally I left other people to sort their own problems out but I had a strange compulsion to help her, that I had been sent to that very spot at that time of night just to give her a hand. The other thing that amazed me was that she trusted me, a complete stranger, and followed meekly and easily behind me, whilst I carried her children, the ones she was ready to fight like a tiger to protect only moments before.
We were at the flat, it seemed in just a few moments. I asked her to get the keys out of my anorak pocket and she unlocked and then opened the door. We stood and looked at each other. In any other circumstances we would have roared with laughter for we both looked like something the cat had brought in. Instead I placed the two bundles on the rug covering the blue Chinese carpet and unwrapped the children.
"Thank God, they are both dry," I told her. "A boy and a girl. How old are they?”
“They'll be four in a month," she said.
"Both of them?"
She nodded. "Twins," she affirmed. "He takes after his Dad and she takes after me. She saw my questioning look. "I have no idea," she answered, "All I know is that he put them here," she patted her stomach, "and I gave birth to them."
The unspoken question was, "Why is the girl blonde and the boy black haired?"
Her own hair looked black but that could be due to it being soaked.
"Where are your clothes?" I asked. "You need a hot bath and some dry clothes."
A tear trickled down her cheek. Miserably she shook her head. "He burnt them all," she said, "and the kid's. I told him we were leaving and he burnt them so that we couldn't. All I have is what I am wearing and this." She gestured at the guitar case she had brought with her. "My neighbour had it to tune for me. I picked it up when I left."
The red rage obscured my vision again. I staggered slightly and cast a shadow onto her from the overhead ceiling light. I saw her gazing at me in wonder and thought to myself, What on earth is she looking at?
"Right," I said, pulling myself together. "We'll put the kids to sleep on the big bed in the Master Bedroom. You'll have to share tonight and tomorrow we'll work something out."
That accomplished, I told her. "The bathroom's through there. You go and take a boiling hot shower and I will dig out some shirts and a track suit of mine for you to wear. I'll leave them outside the door for you to pick up. Don't worry I won't peak. I promise." She gave me what would be a beaming smile but for the bruises and cuts on her face. She was swollen badly and I had no idea if she was pretty or not.
Ten minutes later I had opened my own case after taking it to the spare room and found some tee shirts and a track suit bottom. I added some socks and a pair of my underpants, wondering if they would fit.
Wrapping them into a spare towel I went to the bathroom and knocked on the door.
Immediately a voice called out, "Come in." Thinking she must be wrapped up in a towel I opened the door and went in. She was draped in a towel and with her back to me.
"I wanted to see what you have brought into your home," she sobbed.
Her back and her legs, the parts visible, were a mass of bruises and sores. She had been whipped and beaten. The rage engulfed me. I was trembling and could hardly see. Again I got the wondering look and she turned to show me her front. It wasn't as bad but was still very bad indeed. I could even see cigarette or cigar burns on that part of her chest above the towel.
I had to sit down, my knees wouldn't carry the weight and I almost fell from the bathroom and collapsed onto a chair in the hall. For several moments I thought I was going to have a heart attack, for the rage had reached a crescendo of emotion.
It seemed only a moment had passed before she came out. She was all in black, of course, for that was what I always wore. The longs were rolled up, the shirt sleeves almost covered her arms and the socks flopped about but she was warm and dry.
She looked different somehow. The hair was brushed and the face had the blood removed.
"You look like a little sparrow," I told her.
She looked at me sharply. "How did you know that?" she asked, with some of the fear back in her voice.
"Know what," I asked, bewildered.
"My nickname! Sparrow."
"A pure coincidence," I told her. "My name is Robin, and we never swapped names. So I was making one up for you. I should have called you Nightingale as, I assume, you sing, or you wouldn't be carrying around a guitar."
She looked relieved and then sad. "I do sing. Before I fell pregnant I was hoping to go on the stage."
A thought occurred to me. "How old are you, Sparrow?" I asked.
Tears started to flow again. "Just over eighteen," she said.
"Then that was rape!"
"Did your parents object and prosecute?"
As shake of the head. "His Dad and mine are drinking buddies. When the tests were positive they somehow got a fake birth certificate and forced me to marry him. They always take his side."
The room spun around and I almost fell from the chair. Could this have happened? It had, for I believed her implicitly. And parents that could behave like that? What was the world coming to?
The children woke up and we raided Harold's fridge. A hour later, after two in the morning we turned in. As I said good night I warned her to always have the bedroom curtains closed at night. "They face the Exhibition Hall," I told her.
"But isn't it empty at night when it is closed?" she asked curiously.
"There are always night-watchmen on duty. they watch these windows through binoculars," I replied and then felt my face redden.
She was even more curious.
"I used to be one before I inherited." I said, "Most of these apartments are rented to young girls. We saw some pretty interesting things."
She had climbed into bed. I turned to go and then stopped.
“Tell me,” I asked, “you were terrified and looked so angry that I was actually frightened of you. What made you change so suddenly?”
She looked bemused. “But you must know,” she said. “You are the angel I prayed for.”
I did not know what to say. Me an angel? No way. Then I saw that she actually believed it.
“What makes you say that,” I asked.
“When you started to glow in the dark with a shining light around your head. You were just as he said you would be.”
“He,” I asked, “who is he?”
“The man in the church. I went in and sat there in the dark and a priest came to me. He told me that I must leave as he had to lock the doors for the night. I told him I was looking for an angel to save me. He said to me that if I believed and had faith then an angel would appear, and you did, just like he said.”
Realisation hit me, and then panic. The car that had stopped was behind me. In the glow of the lights my long golden blond hair had seemed to her like a halo around my head. My eyes had been wide and my face had also gone red with an increase in my blood pressure. The glow, the anger in my face and my eyes, or rather the look in them, for she must have seen my face in the lights reflected back from the bushes behind her had made an illusion. She had believed so strongly that she was to be rescued by an angel that the image had come to fruition in her over-stressed mind.
I didn't know what to do so smiled down at her and turned and left the room closing the door softly behind me.
It seemed that I now had something to live up to. I was not sure if I was capable.