This story is informed by an experience I had whilst working in London in the mid-nineties. Although enjoying being grossly overpaid for a job I loved doing, my personal life was in complete ruins, and I’d found an emotional low that I never thought existed.
A brief encounter with a beautiful young homeless girl made me think long and very hard about my life, and how I was (or rather wasn’t) dealing with it. Many years later, I realised that it was a true moment of Epiphany for me, both life-preserving and enriching, and one for which I am eternally grateful to her for. As a result I have never forgotten her, and often wonder what would have happened if I’d behaved differently.
Let me explain. I was strong financially, and could have easily supported her, but I stopped myself from becoming involved after realising that my motives were less than altruistic, that it was I who needed her, rather than she needed me, although she would probably not have agreed had we discussed it at the time.
I was in awe and admiration at her sheer determination to survive, and despite her dire circumstances, her demonstration of a defiant dignity and belief in herself that was as inspirational to me, as it was humbling. These things, coupled with an honesty and openness about her motives, together with her beauty, made her almost irresistable to me, and I was deeply smitten.
I’m glad I resisted the temptation, and on the occasions that I now encounter the homeless, I’m minded of her, and as a result a little more charitable in my attitude towards them, and to the selfless charity workers who help them.
This story then, is about a man who has adopted a life of helping homeless and vulnerable girls, and of waging a dark and ruthless private war on the human traffickers and criminals who prey on them. His chance encounter with a young Serbian woman, and his experience of her growing unconditional love for him, reveal to him that emotionally, he is as broken and beaten as the girls he is trying to help.
Up to date, I’ve usually published stories complete, as a single PDF document, and these are indexed on a page in the main menu above. (see The Stories) On this occasion I’m taking the alternative approach of publishing a chapter at a time, rather in the style of the penny weeklies of yesteryear, except that the frequency of publication of each chapter, will not follow a strict weekly pattern. To ease navigation through the story I have given it the category of the title above, simply ‘Svetlana’, and each post will have the title ‘Svetlana’ catenated with the chapter title and number. Links to each published chapter will appear in the left sidebar menu ‘Svetlana’, and at the bottom of each post. At some point, I will publish the story in it’s entirety, as a PDF document.
Warning: The story contains adult subject matter, several explicit scenes of an intimate sexual nature, descriptions of human jeopardy, and is not suitable for minors, or those who are easily offended.
The Carlson Imperative
Chapter 1: Frightened Waif
“Leave her alone.”
She had borne his loud-mouthed profanities and uninvited comments regarding her appearance with stoic patience, and had kept her gaze on the floor of the carriage, despite his bating her. I had remained quiet, just watching, until I had seen his hand go slyly to her backside and touch her intimately. Even to this she had not reacted, but was visibly shaking and close to tears, and I had seen enough of his cruel bullying.
The train rattled and squealed it’s way into Baker Street station, and the bully and his friend left the crowded carriage. The train moved off and I remained standing, despite there now being a seat empty near me. I said quietly to her. “Would you like to sit? I’m getting off at the next stop.”
She looked up at me, and there were tears in her eyes. Despite the dirt on her face and short curly blonde hair, she was stunningly pretty, with high Slavic cheekbones, blue-green eyes and a wide sensual mouth.
Since she made no move toward the seat, I stood to one side and gestured with my hand. She nodded slightly and then sat, trying to wipe away her tears with the back of her hand. I held out a couple of clean paper tissues, and she took them, gently pressing the back of my hand as she did. She wiped her face, and then looked up defiantly around the carriage, causing those that stared at her to look away, then she looked up at me again and said “Thank you.” Her accent was thick and mid-European. I smiled back and said “You are welcome.”
London was still like a frying pan, oppressively hot and very sticky, so I walked slowly down towards Edgware Road, letting most of the other commuters overtake me. As I waited at the crossing, I was aware of the girl just behind me and to my left. I crossed the road and made my way slowly down Praed Street, and as I turned left into Junction Place, I could see she was still behind me, following at a short distance. Just before I turned into the ‘Three Keys’ pub I stopped and turned around. She too stopped, about twenty-feet away. I smiled at her and walked slowly back towards her.
She waited as I approached. Her expression and demeanour was an inexplicable mixture of supplication and defiance and she spoke, a tremor in her voice. “Will you slip with me plis? I need money.”
Good manners had stopped me from observing her closely in the train, but she was now standing full in front of me, and she looked desperate. She wore a skimpy, filthy dress, with a dirty silk scarf around her neck, and the straps of a small haversack were over her shoulders. Her long legs were streaked with dirt and on her feet were a beat-up pair of dirty plimsolls. She was a little too thin for her height and was visibly shaking despite the heat.
“Are you hungry?” I said, and not waiting for a reply I pointed at the ‘Three Keys’ and added:
I saw her jump, and knew I had guessed correctly. Unfortunately I had also frightened her. Before waiting for her to tell me her name I reassured her, telling her not to be afraid “It’s OK. Не бојте се.”
She grabbed my hand and clenched it fiercely in her own. She started to speak, but far too fast for my grasp of her language and dialect. I held up my other hand and said gently. “Пребрзо. Не разумем.”
Her eyes lit up as the food was laid in front of us. I ordered more juice, and we started on the sandwiches. She was ravenous. The delicious beef, ham and cheese rolls were demolished in rapid succession, together with the salad. I ordered strawberries, bananas and cream, and these followed the sandwiches, this time a little more slowly. Finally she put down her spoon and reached out her hand again. “Thank you. I enjoy very much.”
Despite the warmth, she still had the scarf around her neck, but during the meal I had noticed signs of dark bruising as she moved. On her upper arms too, as her sleeves moved, I could see ominous dark brown and blue patches.
The pub was filling up, and there were one or two glances in our direction due to her appearance, so I settled the bill and we left.
Outside, she grew apprehensive again, and held on fiercely to my hand. “I slip with you now Joe?”
I struggled to explain to her, in a mixture of English and Serbian that I would help her, and she didn’t need to sleep with me. I explained I lived nearby and she was welcome to stay for a while.
At this she smiled, but seemed still uncertain and a little afraid, and I guessed my mangled Serbian wasn’t cutting it.
We walked down towards the bottom of Sussex Gardens, and down the steps to the basement door of my house. I let us in. It was blissfully cool compared to the hot pavements outside. I opened the lounge windows, put on the coffee pot, and grabbed a pile of fluffy towels from the airing cupboard. She had stood in the middle of the spacious lounge, looking around, her mouth a little open in surprise at the room’s size, but said nothing and taking my offered hand followed me into the guest bedroom.
I threw back the bed cover on one of the two single beds, then showed her the carefully chosen contents of the drawers, and cupboards. I showed her into the bathroom, demonstrated how the mixer tap on the bath worked, and then tried to explain to her slowly and carefully in Serbian. “This is all for you. I will find you a change of clothes.”
When I finished my halting speech, she took hold of both of my hands in hers and looking up at me with tears in her eyes she said softly: “Хвала ти Џо. Ви сте веома љубазни и посебан човек. Не треба ми доктор.”, then in halting English “Thank you Joe. You are very kind man. No Doctor.”
I thanked her, and left her to bathe. I poured a large coffee then picked up the ‘phone and called Zee.
I sat and sipped the coffee and thought long and hard. Then dialled ‘9′ for an outside line and rang Katya Salinskya’s number. I heard her quiet “Katya. Who’s calling please?” and greeted her in her own tongue.
It was all I could do to stop my mouth from falling open. I had seen she was very pretty, but now, with the filth removed from her face and hair, she was staggeringly beautiful.
She stood still, wrapped in the fleece bathrobe and watched us approach. I gestured to Zee and spoke, first in Serbian followed by English.
Zee moved forward and kissed Svetlana on the cheek. The girl’s arms closed around her and held Zee tight. Zee’s arms went around her and they hugged each other. Svetlana was facing me and I watched as floods of tears sprang into her eyes and she wept uncontrollably.
I turned away, tears beginning in my own eyes, and poured another coffee. Zee held her, stroking her head and murmuring low assurances as she would have to a distressed baby. Eventually the tears and sobs subsided and they sat together on the sofa, Zee with her arm around Svetlana’s shoulders, Svetlana grasping Zee’s other hand in a tight grip. I poured us all a coffee, and explained my intentions for tomorrow, as carefully and slowly as necessary, in both English and Serbian, until I was convinced that Svetlana understood.
Tomorrow, Zee would take Svetlana shopping for clothes of her own, and any other necessary personal items she needed. We would all have lunch upstairs and Svetlana could meet the other Refuge staff and some of the girls. Then at tea-time Katya would arrive and talk to Svetlana in her own language. If she wished, she could then see a lady doctor, with Katya acting as interpreter.
I stressed again that no one was held here against their will, and that she was free to leave whenever she wanted, but I hoped she would stay and let us help her. I told her that she would be kept safe from harm, and that no-one would inform the Police.
In the course of my long and sometimes laboured speech, Svetlana relaxed visibly and when I finally sat back in my chair, she got up, crossed over towards me and planted a big kiss on my cheek.
I felt emotionally and mentally exhausted. Translating on-the-fly, and being all-too-aware of the effects of making a bad mistake would have on her, had left me completely drained. I was also aware of the beginnings of conflicting personal emotions regarding her, and that worried me. I crossed to the ‘fridge and grabbed a bottle of German lager, sat down with it and switched on the TV.
I kept my eyes on the box but heard only the chatter of the girls, and I smiled wryly, knowing that despite the cacophony of Zeena’s occasional Portuguese, mixed with her perfect English, and Svetlana’s Slavic overtones, they both understood each other perfectly, and it gladdened my heart.
It was my turn to say “Wow!”
She stood just inside the lounge, Zee by her side, and gave a twirl, a delighted grin on her lovely face.
I stood up and walked over smiling, telling her in Serbian “You look beautiful Svetlana.”
She gave me a quizzical look, but I just smiled. I noticed that Zee had very successfully hidden most of the bruises on Svetlana’s neck with make-up foundation, and on a sudden wild impulse, I moved over to my wall safe, and removed the small velvet box I kept there. I took out the gold chain and pendant, and walked back to the girls. I went behind Svetlana and fastened the chain around her lovely long neck, then walked her over to the full-length mirror. She gasped, and her hand reached up and held the exquisite opal-decorated Lalique pendant up to the mirror for a closer look.
I stood and stared at her reflection in the mirror. Zee touched my arm and said quietly. “Are you sure you want her to wear that?”
I turned fully towards her “My sweet, sweet Zee. I am pleased, no-one is more deserving nor fitted than Svetlana to wear it, or the pendant.”
Svetlana heard the door close and looked around. “Zee?”
Now that she felt calm and safe, her English, though still halting, was at least as good as my bad Serbian.
I looked at the two girls together – they looked like twins – beautiful twins, except one twin was inexplicably larger than the other, but I knew. The smaller girl was Svetlana’s sister. She had been watching my face, and knew I understood. She took my left hand and said quietly.
We sat quietly together watching the TV. She had chosen a delicate scent that was most hypnotic in it’s effect and I found the warmth and touch of her body so close to me both pleasing, and not a little disturbing.
In a while I felt her breathing deepen, and my own head was feeling very heavy. I carefully lifted her into my arms and carried her into her bedroom, placing her gently on the sheet, and carefully removing the bathrobe. The Lalique on it’s chain was still curled around her fingers. I gently extricated it and placed it on the bedside table, together with the photo from her pocket. I filled a water jug and placed this and a glass on the table, and then I stood looking down at her beautiful head on the pillow, and a great sense of that which I had lost came over me. I turned down the light and left the room, leaving the door partly open.
I brushed my teeth and fell into my own bed, my mind churning. Not the useful, planning, insightful thoughts that usually accompanied my pre-sleep doze, but the events of the evening, and that of other evenings long ago, mixed and meshed, until they formed a surreal other-world, in which I blundered about blindly.
I did sleep eventually, but it seemed that the tormented brain-twisting of the evening gave way almost immediately to the bright sunlight filtering in from my French windows, and high on to the bedroom wall.
Svetlana – Index of Chapters.
Book 1 of The Carlson Imperative is now available as a PDF download here: The Carlson Imperative – Book 1
The Carlson Imperative is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between characters in the story, and real persons, either living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Link to now-non-existent site removed on 6th August 2011