Tiger in the Well – extract

Little by little she became aware of other shapes huddled In the darkness, in the doorways, behind gravestones, on the other bench further off into the shadows.

‘There’s a lot of people here,’ she whispered silently. ‘All of them asleep like I should be. Why was this bench free? I can see two, or is it three, on the other bench. Huddled up like Harriet and me. Oh, Fred, I’ve done wrong to come here. I wouldn’t expose her to this. But I didn’t know what to do. Me, the great independent woman – oh, I used to be so proud ..I cruised along earning money and organizing businesses md thinking I was so clever and then this comes at me and all of a sudden I’m huddling on a bench with only seven shillings in the world, and a couple of old blankets…’

Suddenly she caught her breath. There was someone else on the bench with her. Harriet didn’t stir, but in a moment Sally was awake and prickling all over with tension. A man’s shape, that was all she could tell, and he was looking at her.

And then she heard footsteps: heavy ones, steady ones, coming down the gravel path, and she knew why this bench had been empty. The footsteps came to a halt near by. The policeman was wearing a. cape and carrying a lantern, which he shone full in her face.

‘What you plannin’ on doin’?’ he said. ‘Cause you can’t stay there. You ain’t no vagrant.’

And before she could reply, the other man spoke, the shadow-man.

‘It’s all right, officer,’ he said in a deep voice, a voice with a strong accent -Russian? Polish? ‘My wife speaks no English. We are resting. We have just arrived at the docks from Hamburg.’

‘You got somewhere to go, then?’

‘Oh, yes. I have a cousin in Lamb Street, Spitalfields. But we had to rest a moment.’
‘Better be along, then. This ain’t no place to stop for long.’

He watched as the man gently took Sally’s arm. She let herself be helped up, and draped the blankets high around her neck, holding Harriet close to her.

Saying nothing, she accompanied the man along the gravel path, through the gate, and turned left along the street.

‘Who are you?’ she said, when they’d gone far enough to be out of earshot of the policeman.

‘A friend,’ he said. ‘A friend of a friend. My name is Morris Katz. Forgive me for referring to you as my wife; it seemed the safest thing to do. The policeman is watching us. Will you come with me?’

Back to the top