I close my eyes. I don’t know why I came here. I don’t believe in God. God has done nothing for me. All he has ever done is take and take and take every f**king thing I’ve ever had. I feel so incredibly sad and defeated I wish I did not have to leave this quiet sanctuary. Hot tears are pricking the backs of my eyes. Life is so unfair.
Suddenly there is a gust of cold air. I open my eyes and look around. There is no one there. A draft? And then I have the strange sensation that my mother is there with me. I stand.
‘Mum?’ I call out.
My voice sounds strange and loud in that empty space.
‘Mum,’ I call out again, this time more desperately.
Nothing. I sit down again and close my eyes and presently the sensation returns that my mother is with me. The sensation soothes me. ‘I love you, Mum,’ I whisper. ‘You left me too quickly. I never even had a chance to say goodbye.’
A feeling of peace settles on me. There are no words to describe the sensation. A timeless moment and I don’t know how long I sit there. It is only the sound of footsteps that rouses me. I look behind me. Tom is standing by one of the pillars at the entrance. I stand up and go to him.
We walk silently to the car. There is a yellow parking ticket stuck to the windshield.
‘Sorry,’ I say.
‘Laura will take care of it. My instructions are clear.’
We get into the car and Tom drives me to Billie’s.
‘Can we take a small walk down by the canal?’ I say to her.
I put a finger on my lips. ‘I just fancy a walk.’
‘All right,’ she says, frowning.
‘It’s cold outside. Wear your coat.’
She takes her coat and follows me. When we are in the bracing air I tell her everything. Sometimes she will come to a sudden stop and stare at me mouth agape, and then I will take her arm into the crook of mine and we will continue on our path. I have never seen Billie look so white or totally robbed of her trademark wisecracks. It serves to highlight just how shocked I must be to be able to act so normally.
After the walk I kiss Billie’s stunned face goodbye, and she pulls me hard against her body as if she could pass me some of her strength. Both of us know exactly how to contact each other. She is blinking back the tears.
‘Be safe,’ she calls as I push Sorab away from her.
Then I go home to await my next instructions.
When the call comes I leave my cellphone on the dining table and push the pram out to the front. I wave to Mr. Nair and he looks at me with confusion. I know that only a few minutes ago he must have seen my look-alike push an identical pram out of the door, perhaps to the coffee shop where she will have cake and coffee. Just outside the front door a car is waiting for me. A man jumps out of the front seat. I take Sorab out of his pram.
He holds open the back door while I slip into it. When I am settled in, he closes it with a gentle click. He folds the pram quickly, stores it in the boot, and gets into the front seat. Not a word has been exchanged by any of us. The car pulls away.
I think of my lookalike. She must have reached the patisserie by now. She has probably finished with her slice of cake. I imagine she must be an actress. Paid to play a part and then disappear. She will probably push her pram back into the building. Perhaps Blake’s father has another flat where she can drop off the pram and effect a change of clothing. A hat, a scarf, a wig, before she exits the building forever.
And Blake, my poor darling love, will come home to his empty nest.
We travel for many hours, stopping only at rest stops. Finally we arrive at a farmhouse in the moors. Here the countryside is wild and deserted. A strong wind is blowing as I get out of the car.
‘Where are we?’ I ask.
But the men simply smile politely. ‘They will tell you when the time comes.’
Inside it is warm. A fire is already roaring in the fireplace. From the kitchen come delicious smells of roasting meat. I am shown to my room upstairs. It is pleasant enough, with blue patterned wallpaper and a double bed with a thick mattress. There is a crib in it too. As instructed I brought no clothes for Sorab or me. The man tells me everything I need is in the drawers and cupboards. I can already see the exact same brand of formula that I use for Sorab on the dresser.
He leaves and I go to stand by the window. The moors seem to stretch into the horizon. Not a single dwelling in sight. Fear gnaws at me. Why am I here? I know Blake’s father said this is to be my temporary home until everything is arranged, but something feels very wrong.
Another voice in my head frets, you didn’t keep your promise to Blake. But I had no choice. I protected Blake with my own body. I walk away from the window and lie down on the bed, curling my body around Sorab’s sleeping one. I close my eyes and pretend I am in my bed in St. John’s Wood until there is a knock on the door.
‘Dinner is ready,’ someone informs.
I wash my hands and freshen up before going downstairs. I put Sorab in the playpen and one of the men puts a plate of food on the table and withdraws from the room. I hear him open the front door and go outside. I eat alone. The food is wholesome and steaming hot, and I finish it all. Something tells me I am going to need all my strength.
I fall asleep while I watch TV in my room.
I am awakened by a hand over my mouth. My eyes jerk open. A man’s voice urgently whispers, ‘Please don’t make any noise.’ A small torch is switched on. ‘Blake sent us,’ and he dangles over my eyes, in the light of the torch, the ruby and black diamond necklace that Blake put around my neck in Venice. I gaze at it as if hypnotized, but in fact I do not need the necklace. I recognize the man. Brian, the one who felled Rupert.
‘Can I take my hand off now?’
‘Take nothing. Just pick up your baby and keep him as quiet as you can,’ he instructs.
Carefully I lift Sorab out of his crib and lay him across my chest. He makes a small sound, but does not wake up. We go down the stairs. The house is dark and silent. As we round the corner of the dining room, I see an inert shoe and quickly look away. I knew I had made a mistake from the moment I got into the car with those men. Now I know I am on the right path. Come what may. We get into the car and the car pulls away. I don’t look back. I look down on Sorab’s sleeping face and will him not to wake up, buy the noise of the helicopter blades wake him up. He screams his head off and does not stop until we touch down on a helipad in a totally different part of England.