I remember taking refuge in the cold of the sharp aluminium strip as it pressed against my forearms. It was a pleasant cold. The sort of cold that you can switch to hot in your mind. Hot-cold-hot-cold. Just a sensation. A perception to toy with. I pressed hard. So hard the cold and the sensation of the sharp metal came close to pain. But it never really hurt. Just came close to being painful like a bad itch. But in a truly pleasant way.
I was sitting in the refreshment room at the train station. A small paper cup was standing in front of me. Almost empty but not quite yet. With my last few coins plus a tuppence I found earlier, I had bought myself a small orange soda. I was taking my time to drink it. As long as I had my drink, it was legitimate to hang out at the refreshment room. But I knew, as soon as the drink was gone, I would be thrown out. I could see the staff getting impatient with me already. I was waiting for the right moment to finish and leave. The drink would taste like lukewarm paper by now anyway, so maybe I would just finish it.
Then, out of nowhere, Michael sat down next to me. Usually I would sit in a spot, from where I could easily get up regardless of anyone approaching or sitting next to me or something like that. Now I was caught off guard. It was a quiet day at the train station. I did not feel comfortable sitting at a table in the centre of the refreshment room, so I chose a table at the side. But also I sat down in a chair right up to the wall. Michael, sitting down next to me, pinned me down in my seat. I could not just get up and leave. And God knows I wanted to.
I stared down my last bit of drink thinking through my next move. Thinking was getting harder these days. I noticed that and it worried me some. I pressed my forearms into the aluminium strip that was the edge of the table. The table did not move as it was bolted down to the floor, but it felt pleasant enough. I just kept my arms there. I had managed to avoid contact with David and his pack for such a long time. No more it seemed.
Sure enough, from the corners of my eyes I saw David approach the table. I got nervous. I licked my lower lip. Picked up the paper cup and noticed my hand trembling. Nevertheless I brought it to my mouth and took the last sip of drink. Maybe the waiter would throw us out now. But I noticed he saw but he chose not to move.
David sat himself down opposite of me. Another kid sat down at the table next to us. Quite shamelessly he got himself a knife out of his pockets and started to scratch something into the table with the tip of the blade, as if bored. As if no one saw him. He seemed quite crafted with it.
Finally I looked up. “Good morning” said David with some amused smile on his face. I did not reply. “To be honest I did not expect to see you back. And in such a good health.” He gave the boy at the other table a nod, who then got up and left. “You are somewhat of a survivor, aren’t you, lassie.” I still did not know what to do or how to respond. “Look,” David continued, “I respect that, I do. But you got to respect something too.” I got the feeling I was not really in trouble, yet, but still was about to learn a lesson I was not likely to forget either. David set back in his chair and then pulled up his shirt a bit. My eyes were drawn to his waist. I wanted to swallow but it was as if a vacuum passed through my guts. I thought I saw the handle of a hand gun. And that was exactly what David wanted me to see. He tuck his shirt in again and sat upright.
“Look, girl, I still don’t know your name.”
“Anna.” I replied, once I dared talk again. “My name is Anna.” “There, that was not that hard was it.” David said, still amused. “I am David. Now we can all be a lot more civilised and polite about it.”
David had a remarkable voice. His voice was that of an educated man, surely. Slow and soft, well articulated, deep yet gentle. A bit posh even. He could be a teacher. Or an actor. It seemed utterly out of place here. It confused me.
“Listen, Anna, this here railway station, this is my turf and my business. That means if you want to be here, you work for me. I cannot allow any lone renegade to run freely about going about any business of their own, undermining my authority here.” David was trying to find my eyes with his and lock in. “Or, attracting police attention by stupidity and ignorance, you hear.” I lowered my eyes. Played with the paper cup in my hands in my lap. Moved uneasy in my chair. Why did I sit next to the wall? I stayed away from him for so long. How did I get caught of guard big time like I did just now? Fuck me.
David noticed my unease. “I understand if you don’t want to. I can appreciate that too. I will never force you into anything. Not working for me is an option too.” I looked up from my fondled paper cup and sticky hands in my lap. David studied my face as I studied his. “Not working for me simply means you have to move on.” he continued. “You have to leave the station than.” I lowered my eyes again. Tried to relax a bit, lean back, see if I could just get up and leave now. “Sleep on it a night or two and then let me know.” said David.
He all of a sudden leaned over the table and took hold of my neck, pulled me towards him, all the way up in his face. “I mean business, Anna.” The aluminium strip was cold and sharp and the sensation of it digging into the skin of my forearms came as near to being painful as ever. “Don’t you fuck with me. Don’t you dare fuck with me.” he said smiling still. “You can understand this, can’t you, love?” I tried to breath and I faintly nodded. “Good girl!” he said and he let go of my neck.
“Now, since our little business is settled, time to relax a bit.” He looked around. “Rem!” he called out. The boy with the knife brought in some coffee and buns and sandwiches. I looked at it. I did not yet drink coffee. I was not hungry at all either. There was a carton with milk too. David smiled again. He passed me the milk.