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Authors: Renita D'Silva

The Stolen Girl

BOOK: The Stolen Girl
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The Stolen Girl
Renita D’Silva
Bookouture
The Stolen Girl
Renita D’Silva
Bookouture
Contents

P
ublished
by Bookouture

An imprint of StoryFire Ltd. 23 Sussex Road, Ickenham, UB10 8PN. United Kingdom.

www.bookouture.com

C
opyright © Renita
D’Silva 2014

R
enita D’Silva
has asserted
her
right to be identified as the author of this work.

A
ll rights reserved
. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.

T
his book is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-909490-53-6

Acknowledgments

T
hank you
, as always, to Oliver Rhodes for his continued belief in me and for another stunning cover, to Lorella Belli for her guidance and tireless efforts in making my books reach a wider audience, to my wonderful editors Jenny Hutton and Claire Bord whose amazing insight I am indebted to, to Debbie Brunettin and Helen Bolton for their scrupulous eye for detail, and to Kim Nash – the best book ambassador any author could wish for.

T
his book would not have been
possible without the help and advice of Tom Beynon, who gave up so many of his Sunday afternoons listening to me hash out fictional legal scenarios and talked me through what was feasible and what was not, who put up with my phone calls and texts brimming with questions and patiently answered every one, who talked to lawyer friends in other disciplines and read up on legal texts outside his field of criminal law to give me solutions. Thank you SO much, Tom.

T
hank
you to Margaret Ilori for her time, for providing answers to my questions even though they weren’t related to her field of law.

T
hank
you to Vineeta Goveas Giles, who patiently explained the difference between a child psychologist and child psychiatrist and gave her input into my fictional scenario.

A
ny oversights
and mistakes are my own. I have taken some liberties with the prisoners’ visits and the Visits Hall. Most prisons do not allow more than one visit/ visitor per day. I have also taken liberties with social workers’ duties – in some boroughs, some of the things that Jane does would have been done by a child support officer.

I
am incredibly
lucky in having amazing neighbours who also, coincidentally, work in crime enforcement and family support. A huge thank you to Peter McKay and Monika McKay for answering my many questions at all hours, for their support and wonderful friendship, and for understanding when I did not have time for cups of tea. Thank you to Alex McKay, for her lovely smile which never fails to cheer me up. And a big thank you to David for always, without fail, telling me stories.

T
hank
you to the Tharumanayagams and the Ponweeras: Niluma, Noel, Sunanda, Dillon, Rochelle and Samara, for adopting Tanya while I was writing, picking her up and dropping her off when I asked and when I didn’t, for feeding her and making her a part of their family.

A
huge thank
you to the Strudwicks: Amelia, Dave, Eloise, Jacob, Lily and Keira for their love and support.

T
hank you to the Ahadis
: Evelina, Karina, Alex and Abs for all their help and for taking Tanya to fun things, especially the Summer Ball which she is not likely to forget.

I
am
grateful to the mums at the school, and all my friends, too many to name individually, for their support.

A
huge thank
you to my lovely sister-in-law, Levin D’Souza for asking around and getting answers to questions related to Indian law. And to my wonderful mother, Perdita Hilda D’Silva for her advice, her inspirational quotes, her support and love.

T
hank
you to my family for putting up with a mum and wife on a deadline.

A
nd last but not least
, thank you, reader, for choosing to buy this book and read it. Enjoy.

F
or Tanya Ayesha
D’Souza

My burst of sunshine, my delight, my muse

Part One
Present Day

P
opped Bubble of Truths

Mother
Diya

M
other

Noun:
a female parent.

Verb: 
to be the mother of; to assume as one’s own; to care for like a mother.

Related forms:
motherless, unmothered.

T
he day
my mother is arrested I have a roaring spat with her.

Friday the eleventh of February. Cold and grey, my breath escaping in smoky wisps like spilling secrets, the brush of icy air like the caress of a ghost, the white taste of winter in my mouth. School has finished for the day and there is the delicious anticipation of no school next week to look forward to. It is half term – yippee. Five whole days of freedom from the taunts, the jeers, the constant dodging of bullies.

Shadows dance to twinkling lights reflected from other flats onto the windowsill when Mum comes in from work, smelling of curry and smoke and other people’s sweat, bearing that flighty look she gets when she is worried, her lips pulled down into a grimace, her eyes flitting this way and that as if they long to escape the boundaries of her face. They remind me of Lily’s hamster, they do, with their constant scrabbling. She wrings her hands and picks the tissue she is holding to shreds.

‘What is it, Mum?’ I ask when I am unable to take her restlessness any longer, even though I know what’s coming. I can read the signs; I am not stupid. She is already in the bedroom we share, pulling clothes into the suitcase which hasn’t been up long enough to gather dust. I’ve been at Fernhill Secondary only a term and a half, the same amount of time we’ve been here in Kenton. This is the fastest we have moved anywhere, the smallest time we have stayed in one place.

Usually I don’t mind this constant moving. I really don’t. I like that it’s just Mum and me against the world. I like moving just when the bullies are starting to get particularly vicious; it is thwarting them, isn’t it? I like the thought that they will turn up at school having dreamt up new names to call me, a new form of torture, only to find that I am no longer there.

I can’t say I like starting at a new school, identifying immediately the same old bullies in new guises just a tad before they identify me. It is wearying having to endure new bullies calling me by the same few names, having to suffer the same regurgitated pranks.

And now, finally, I have reached my limit. I do not want to move again. Because, for the first time in my life, I have a friend. I have Lily.

I know. It’s sad, isn’t it? It’s taken me thirteen years to find a friend. It hasn’t been that bad though. I didn’t know what I was missing. Anyway, if I had had friends all this while, I would not properly appreciate what Lily means to me, would I? And I have always had Mum, the two of us against a world that is cruel to me, a world that judges me on how I look, not bothering to see inside. And so far, Mum’s been enough.

‘I’m afraid we have to leave, sweetheart,’ she says, trying to shut the overflowing suitcase, contents spilling out like M&M’s from a burst bag.

Normally, I enjoy the excitement of moving to a new flat – the new smells, the fresh layout of the same few rooms. I do a quick reconnaissance of the shops close by, the cafes and the chip shops where I can while away some of the hours waiting for Mum to come home from whichever job she is currently doing. Funnily enough, I like winter evenings best. I have books and food to keep me company while I wait.

I like sitting in the chip shop and doing my homework, the mouth-watering smell of battered fish, the sizzle of potato hitting hot oil, the vinegary crunch of steaming, freshly cooked chips making my brain cells spark and fizz into producing some of my best work. No matter how many times we move, wherever I find myself, the owner of the local chippy becomes my friend.

‘Ah, there she is,’ they’ll say, be it portly Dave, Turkish Ali or cheerful Jen, looking out for me once I’ve been round two weeks in a row after school; the scratch of my pencil on paper harmonising with the cooking sounds, the reassuring banter of the chef with the customers reverberating in my ears like music.

I’ll watch their tired faces crease into grins as I walk in, beads of moisture glistening on their upper lips like droplets sticking to leaves after a shower, wait for them to say, ‘And what homework have you got today?’

I will shrug off my bag and sigh, ‘History and maths.’

They will bring me crispy golden fish and fat chips oozing oil into the foil packet they are wrapped in, steam escaping the corners, along with a smile as warm as the fryer in which they cooked their offering. ‘You work hard for your mum, now, so when you are older, you won’t have to slog long hours in front of the cooker like her, like us.’

On busy days, I help behind the counter and earn a few quid which I then spend on chocolate and crisps. Mum doesn’t know, and what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, I tell myself. I love the feel of food filling the gaping hole that yawns in my stomach, always wanting more. The explosion in my mouth from a burst of chocolate or the salty kick of crunchy peanuts from a Snickers bar instantly wipes out the horrors I’ve had to endure that day – the name-calling, the jeers. When I am eating, I can forget. The warm feeling in my stomach afterwards is comfort, like my mother’s hug. It envelops me, makes me feel safe, loved. And the thought of the food awaiting me at the end of the day gets me through long afternoons at school, when the desks on either side of me are conspicuously empty, when people move to sit two benches away, sniffing loudly, complaining that I stink. The thought of the lunch I carry in my bag, a tuna salad baguette that my mum has packed, plus the KitKat I bought on my way to school and the cheese and onion Walkers I will buy in the cafeteria along with a can of Coke, tides me through the morning when my classmates call me lard-arse.

The other activity I love, which provides solace from the realities of daily life, is reading. When I read, I can escape to diverse, happier worlds, I can be a different person, a person other than the fat girl my schoolmates, no matter where I move to, seem to despise and be repulsed by. I revel in the joy of discovering a new word, trying it out, the feel of it in my mouth, the way it rolls off my tongue, a gift to the listener.

Mum loves my pronunciation. ‘You speak English like the British who invented the language,’ she says proudly, her eyes shining.

‘I am British, Mum,’ I laugh.

‘You are,’ she says, her voice awed as if she cannot quite believe it.

Mum makes me say new words that I have learnt again and again, watching my tongue shape the word, her eyes screwed up in concentration. She tries to repeat after me but she pulls the word every which way, stressing the wrong syllables. The more she tries, the more she gets it wrong, until finally she gives up, with a ‘Pah!’ in that way she has, rolling her eyes and shrugging and thrusting her arms out at the same time, and I give in to the laughter that has been bubbling in my throat and we fall about laughing.

When I was little, just as I was beginning to make sense of the world, Mum realised how much I loved words by the way my face lit up when I learnt a new one. I would clap with delight and repeat the word again and again, fascinated by the way it sounded, the way it tumbled out of my mouth. She fetched a notebook and asked me to write down any words I did not know the meaning to; any new words I found in the books that I was reading. The first word I jotted in that new book – we called it ‘Diya’s Vocabulary Book’, written painstakingly in my just-learned-to-join-up-letters writing – was ‘mother’. I knew the meaning to that one of course, but I wanted to write it anyway. Mum had me write out the full meaning, the verb, noun and related forms. ‘Mother’: such a simple word, encompassing so much.

‘You,’ I had said, cupping her face in my palm, and she had looked at me, her eyes filling up in that familiar expression of love and joy and wonder, that expression I can never get enough of, her eyes shimmering like chocolate buttons melting in the sun.

‘Yes, me,’ she said, smiling and swiping at her eyes.

‘Why are you crying, Mum?’ I asked, puzzled.

‘They are tears of joy, darling,’ she smiled. ‘I am so happy to have you for my daughter. Do you want to write “daughter” in there? Shall we look it up?’

Since then, I have amassed quite a few of those notebooks. I think I am onto my seventh or eighth one now. Nerdy I know, but who’s to care? I haven’t had any friends up until now to make fun of the books that I lug with me everywhere. Not all of them at once, of course, only the one I am currently using. I read such a lot and I’d much rather be prepared when I come across a word I don’t know.

My vocabulary is brilliant thanks to these books. I hardly ever need to refer to the earliest ones now – I know all of those words by heart, have used them many times. I make a point of using a new word that I have learnt as many times as possible. My record is twenty in a day; it was the word ‘schadenfreude’ – even the teacher did not know what it meant. She had to look it up. It is not a very nice word; it means ‘pleasure derived from the misfortune of others’.

Food and words are my best friends, or have been thus far, after my mum and, more recently, Lily.

I like coming home from the chip shop, dragging my school bag behind me by its strap, my clothes smelling faintly of oil and the outdoors. I let myself into the dark flat wherever we are staying, the noise of countless televisions blaring, arguments erupting, dinners cooking and children yelling filtering in. The soft buttery glow of reflected light from the lamps outside oozes into the flat like caramel from a Creme Egg and envelopes me in comfort. The stale, slightly desperate smell of the empty flat is masked by the overpowering odour of spiced grilled meat wafting from the Kebab shop, which inveigles in on a burst of nippy air through the open front door as I enter, and the thick cloud of trapped air sighs as it is displaced, huffing like a spurned lover.

I am not scared to be on my own. In fact, I feel safe, cocooned in the collective warmth of the hundreds of people living in these flats, above, below and around me. I like to imagine what an alien zooming past on his spaceship sees when he looks down on us mortals. Will he rocket into each flat and wish he was part of the lives being led there rather than trapped in a machine ogling a culture he longs to own? And what will he think of me, sitting in the dark on the sofa with a bag of crisps, a can of Coke and a pack of Skittles, reading my book by the mellow gold light of the lamp beside the sofa as I wait for Mum to come home with leftovers from the restaurant where she’s been working? The smell of chocolate and adventure, the gooey brown taste of sweet escape, the crunch of teeth working overtime, the rustle of the foil pack gaping wider to dislodge the last of its contents, the wistful sigh of pages turning, my mind transported, no longer in the room but in a world created by the author of the book I am reading, beige crumbs swilling like confetti, blending into beige carpet.

When I hear Mum’s tread on the stairs, I quickly dispose of the wrappers – she doesn’t approve of my choice of snacks, what mother does? – and sweep the crumbs under the sofa. (I always know it’s her. I know by the rhythm of her footfall, the way she favours her right foot more than the left, the sigh of exertion she releases after each step. The last flight of stairs is always the hardest for her. ‘They get me every time,’ she laments. ‘It doesn’t matter if we live on the second floor or the fifth, I cannot handle the last flight of stairs after a long day at work.’)

When I hear her key in the door, I am propped up again on the sofa with my book, no evidence of offending snacks. She will smile, the lines on her face crinkling, her eyes glowing, the tiredness leaving them briefly as she looks at me.

‘Hungry, miss?’ she will ask and we will sit together in front of the television, still in the dark, the reflected light from other flats and the flicker of the telly basking us in a warm glow. She will save all the pieces of meat from the vindaloo, and the paneer from the saag for me and she will throw her head back on the cushion, swivel her gaze towards me and ask, ‘How was your day, sweetheart?’

‘About the same,’ I will reply.

And she will say, ‘That bad, huh?’

‘That bad.’

She will smile softly at me then, her eyes shining with care. ‘We both need a bit of a lift, don’t we? Look what I got for dessert.’

I love moving into a new place and getting used to the smells. Every flat in every town smells different. Some smell of escapades, others of pain, yet others of anger, danger, fear. I like to wander through the rooms, usually two plus a tiny kitchen and bathroom, and imagine the lives of the people who lived there before us and wonder where they are now.

This flat, the one we currently inhabit, though not for long if Mum has her way, smelled of new paint and old despair when we first arrived. Now, to me it smells of hope and new beginnings. Not so, it seems, to my mum.

She tries to pull the suitcase closed but it won’t shut. Both sides are full to bursting, blouse sleeves waving out of the edges like drowning arms in the sea after a shipwreck. She manages to pull the top to and tries to sit on it to squash the clothes together. ‘Here, help me,’ she says, looking up at me for the first time.

‘No.’ I fold my arms together, my legs planted apart: my warrior stance.

‘Diya, don’t be difficult now, please.’ Her voice is desperate, laced with panic. Her eyes plead with me, eyeballs moving frantically again, as if she can pierce the wall, see past it to some peril only she can imagine.

‘Mum, I’m tired of moving. I want to stay here.’

Her shoulders slump and she doubles into herself. Unlike me, my mother is tiny. At thirteen, I am almost as tall as her and twice as big. I bet she could fit into that suitcase she is trying to close. ‘I thought you liked moving,’ she says in a small voice.

‘Not anymore. I have a friend now, Mum. You know that. I have Lily.’ My voice is accusing. I don’t care. She knows what a big deal finding a friend is for me. She was so happy when I told her. She baked a cake to celebrate. ‘You said I could have her round for a sleepover this half-term, remember?’ With each word, my voice has been getting louder. I try to mask the hurt I feel but it is hard.

BOOK: The Stolen Girl
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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