She didn’t know how she got there. Burbage Road. She did not remember the train journey. Did not remember turning off the road that led to the church she was due to preach at, did not remember getting on and off the train. Her mind was determined not to think, she had sat in perfect numbness.
Out of Herne Hill station she met Rap and Farmers Markets and wax jackets. Traffic going like a John Adam’s piece. But on Burbage Road, silence. The sound of a Robin and her heart was instantly soothed. She was soothed by the Robin. But her hand trembled and she still clutched her mobile. People looked at her, the Japanese woman who seemed to be crying but was after all cleaning her eye, gave her a glance. She was still in her robes. Well, she could be going to any church. What business was it of anyone’s she was running away? It was ridiculous and absurd, she knew it was. People went through this everyday. She’d looked on the Internet as soon as the text came. There were lots of stories warning her not to phone back. Lots of stories claiming the wrong people were being targeted. But somehow they hadn’t got the wrong person with her, she thought. She couldn’t struggle on her own anymore. But she couldn’t tell her husband. He was so particular about these things, that’s why she never said anything when letters started arriving, she’d hidden them. Anyway she thought she’d sorted it. They were in the wrong after all, why did they have to target her, the little man, she thought?
She did try and tell her friend.
Look, the tax say I owe this and this, and I don’t, they’ve made a mistake.
But the friend, normally so open about things, became distant.
Well, she’d said over a coffee, I don’t have any debts.
But Prebendary Angela did, oh yes. She was passing a garage on her left on Burbage Road. A young Rastafarian came out and got into a car, driving off.
I bet he doesn’t have debts, Angela thought.
To her right she took in a young woman standing at the door of her large house, her two children in front of her. She was talking to another, rather staid woman.
I did arrange payment for next week you see, she was saying in a high voice.
But the woman she was talking to remained upright and immobile, her back straight. Angela’s heart gladdened for a moment.. someone else! Then she felt guilty. Besides they could be talking about anything, the woman didn’t look like a debt collector and after all it was 7pm. But they could come at 7pm, they could come at anytime.
Angela carried on walking. She hadn’t reached the house yet. Now she remembered why she was coming. His house was right at the end, near the old grammar school. This was why she had come.
Foolish, foolish Angela, she told her 45 year old self.
Foolish, foolish Angela, others said when she gave up her teaching job to go into the church.
Yes, she was foolish. Foolish because she couldn’t face herself over one stupid debt which wasn’t hers in the first place.
She read again the text. An important message for Mrs A Turnage. Please contact dlc quoting ********* reference number on *********** immediately. Well she didn’t of course, who would? Why couldn’t they just ring? Or send a letter? What ever happened to the old forms of communication? She thought again of David. He’d been sick, he was easily excitable; he wouldn’t understand it was all a mistake. He’d be horrified with shame, embarrassment. She wished she could be like Jesus in the Temple of Moneymakers. Thinking this, she felt stronger. It was the peace of Burbage Road, the other woman with her debt troubles, even if it were only to the local cricket club. It was sin. She could be a sinner, so what? So what about money, she thought. Yes that’s right, I can free myself from it even if others can’t.
But again, approaching his house, she was having misgivings. She should ring them. But she hadn’t. Why? She was too scared. She couldn’t face herself. Couldn’t stand up for herself. She wasn’t arrogant enough. If this were David, well even if he were in the wrong, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t even occur to him, he’d just ring up and address them with authority ‘how dare you’ and that would be the end of it. He would not even think to blame himself, question himself. Arrogance didn’t wear well with her.
She was near the home now. All she needed was to hear a little music, a little singing to calm her now. But of course, she wouldn’t hear anything. She didn’t think he sang as much. She didn’t even know if he lived there anymore, he probably didn’t.
She was crossing the road when the car came. A Volkswagen, fast around the corner but not so fast she couldn’t see his face crease disapprovingly and in exasperation. His eyes rested on her and then disappeared. No doubt, it was him. He was older but the intensity of the exasperation remained the same.
This was what she really couldn’t face, she realized. His dislike of her. If he liked her she could face anything in the world, knowing she was loved by him. That was the power. Nothing else, not debt collections, or anything in the world could faze her, as long she knew he was on her side. That was where she went wrong. And she was really sinning this time. Pride. Sloth. Lust. Envy. But the shaft of pain in her stomach his look gave her. Why was it to him she turned in such anxious times? Why was it to him she wanted to crawl?
She read Buddha guiltily. She read Osho and Rumi with guilt. But they only convinced her that she was weak, unable to be alone, unable to be herself, conditioned by others, unable to be vulnerable and somehow, in this ridiculous life, find out who she really was and live it. She found out she was not a rebel.
Her mind was a whirr of different notions, thoughts. Who were the sprites, the tricksters and what was her real quest? She had thought she had known but life had brought her this problem and this problem led her to temptation, to want to be with him, the other man. It was true, one problem just led to another until you arrived at the knot of yourself.
She found herself in Dulwich Park, near Court Lane, which used to lead to Dulwich Court where the records went back as far as 1333. Her worry, the headache she had with it, the dull thumping, and the need for reprieve. She walked amongst the Turkish Oaks, the conkers not yet ready but falling from the trees. It occurred to her that a way out would be to focus on the problems of others. The more you accrued problems, the more you should look to others. I should go right back now and carry on with my hospital visits; go on that trip to the drug rehabilitation centres in Penzance, even though I am not free from sin.
But all her thoughts raced around in her head. The only thing she could do was focus on the detail of the park. A family ahead of her, all on roller blades, complained about the unevenness of the road. She saw a Crab Tree laden with fruit and stole one just as a Park Warden rode up on his bike behind her. She threw it away. She wasn’t meant to sin and get away with it obviously. But the wide-open spaces soothed her. The great trees and the sky, nature – she could not believe her own eyes sometimes- how alive it was. So alive and independent and yet interdependent. With this, with nature, she was satisfied, content. Why wasn’t this enough?
She drank in the air, the hope. She remembered when she was 13 and a teacher she refused to work for. The teacher complained one day and Angela, trudging resentfully through a stream running through her back garden, could only think, you have a go at me but you don’t have this, you don’t have the sun shining on the water and the trout beneath. The teacher did indeed not have it, she died of cancer soon after.
Angela thought like this now. Anyone can do what they like to me but they can’t take this. This peace I feel being with the trees, the earth, the sky, the heavenly music. You cannot take my soul.
Knowing it made her turn back. Perhaps after all, this is what she had come to find. She would go home and tell David and share her worry and ask for advice. She’d just ask for help. She was a human being and sometimes things that happened were just unfair and anyway, even if they weren’t, that didn’t make her bad did it?
For Prebendary J, for your light shone so.