by Sophia Fitzsimons (age 13, Belfast)
No one is allowed to kidnap or sell you. Photograph: Getty Images
“Ugh, do I have to?”
I was sitting on the sofa with my mum as she flicked off the television and the dreaded hour struck.
“Yes, you need sleep. School tomorrow.” She tucked back a piece of my hair.
“Fine,” I moaned. I trudged up the stairs and climbed into bed.
Ten minutes later, my bedroom door creaked open and my mother’s face peeked through. We looked similar – we both had the same bright, silver eyes and elfin nose. Our smiles were big and blinding and our feet ones of dancers. I was proud to look like her.
“Goodnight darling,” she whispered, planting a tender kiss on my forehead.
“Goodnight mum,” I said, rolling my eyes, not really caring or noticing that she was there. She left and closed the door behind her, a spark of pride in her eye. Today’s energy was still buzzing in my veins and I could already tell sleeping was going to be hopeless. The night was going to drag on.
My mind drifted to my father, as it often did. He and my mum had broken up when I was younger. He’d called lots of times after the divorce, asking to speak to me. Mum always said no and I never had a say in the matter. After a few years, those calls faded and they never came again. Every time he was mentioned in a conversation my mother’s eyes flashed with loathing and fear. I never knew what broke them up.
I dozed for a while, wrapping myself in my blue-flowered bed sheets, when, out of nowhere, a scream came from downstairs. A loud crash sounded from someone kicking the door in.
“Juliet!” bellowed a male voice, “Where is she!”
“Get the hell out of my house, Mark!” my mother screamed. I was instantly awake, gripping my blankets.
“I have just as much claim to her as you,” thundered the man again.
“She’s a person, Mark. She is not something you have a ‘claim’ to.”
“Where is she!” he boomed, ignoring my mother’s protests. “Is she in her room?”
Before my mother could answer, I heard the loud stomping of hard boots coming up the stairs. My heartbeat quickened and I was barely breathing. I couldn’t move a muscle.
My mother shrieked at him to stop. I heard her yank at his coat, trying to pull him back down the stairs; followed by a series of thumps, the sound of someone falling down the stairs and a high-pitched yell.
I was shaking and still couldn’t move. My door slammed open and a tall, brooding man bulging with muscles stood silhouetted in the hallway light. I could make out shining chestnut hair and a thin mouth, just like mine.
It was my father.
“Mara, out of bed. Please,” said my father, his voice pleading.
I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. Fear had paralysed my entire body. His face screwed in frustration and he took a looming step towards me. His arms shot down and lifted me. I finally managed to force a scream from my throat, a scream so loud I felt as if my head would burst. He threw me into a fireman’s lift as I screamed and struggled. He carried me down the stairs as I watched the floor pass under me, not strong enough to lift my head, adrenaline zipping through my body. As we reached the last step, me still screaming, I saw a dark scarlet stain spilling onto the carpet. My father stepped over my mother’s limp body, her eyes open and unseeing. Blood poured out of her nose and the back of her head. I tried to yell her name and struggle free, desperate to help her, but a part of me knew it was hopeless. I watched the blood flow out of her nose like a scarlet river, as my father carried me out the front door.
He locked the doors of his shabby Ford Fiesta. It was filthy. Filled with McDonald’s wrappers and takeaway cartons. He started the engine and sped off. I stared at the ground, seeing my mother’s featureless face, still patterned with blood.
“How old are you?” asked my father, after a minute of silence.
I looked at the ground.
I lifted my head and looked out the window, the highway rushing past me.
I turned to him in surprise. I didn’t think my father could be sorry. I didn’t think my father could be anything but insane and frightening.
“I didn’t mean for it to get so out of hand back there. I didn’t mean to-” he choked on the last words. Kill her. I finished in my head. I looked at him through the rear-view mirror and saw his eyes sparkling with tears. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead.
“Why did you leave Mum?” I asked as quickly as possible. I may have hated this man, but that didn’t stop my curiosity.
“I made a mistake,” he said. I had waited four years for this conversation, I deserved more than this.
He sighed and looked at me. “Me and Juliet had a complicated relationship. I was always fully committed to her, but she cheated on me so many times, mostly with my friends. I loved her but she never felt the same. I did everything for her, but she never thanked me or cared, even a little. Until she realised she was pregnant with you.”
I didn’t want to hear the rest of this story.
“She was suddenly being completely faithful to me. Always there and reliable. I had never felt so happy. After you were born, I thought I might have a chance at a happy family. Then I found her kissing my brother on our living room couch.”
“I snapped,” he continued, “and I hit her and my brother. I couldn’t take it anymore. In the court case when we divorced, she made me out to be crazy and unfaithful. That’s why she got custody of you.”
I swallowed as he reached the end of the story. We both sat in quiet and watched as cars drove past.
Quiet conversations flashed through my head. Conversations my mother thought I couldn’t hear or understand. Words like manipulative, liar, and dangerous had been used to describe the man sitting in front of me. Was I really going to believe one stranger’s opinion over my mother’s?
“Why wait all this time to try and find me?” I asked, breaking the silence.
“I always loved you,” said my father, suddenly excited, “and I always knew you’d be different from your mother, more kind and loyal. There’s a ship at the other end of the country and it takes people like you and me away from this godforsaken place. Marabelle, don’t you see? It’s my – our – chance to be free. Don’t you want that? I want you to come with me.”
It sounded amazing, incredible even. But something made me hesitate.
My father noticed. “Mara, you know I’d never harm you, right?”
I thought of my mother’s eyes at the bottom of my stairs, and the way I loved her and the way she loved me. My father was right about one thing: I am loyal.
“No,” I said, quietly.
“You killed my mother. I will never trust or love you again,” I screamed, all the pain and shock and terror in my voice.
My father’s face contorted into a mix of disappointment and anger. A flicker of madness gleamed at the corners of his eyes.
“Please, Marabelle. I love you. I want you to come willingly.”
I shook my head vigorously. He sighed.
“You leave me no choice.” My father pulled a gun out of his pocket.
My hands were beginning to shake and the fear was tightening my chest. Fear split through me. I pulled frantically at the door. My father drove past the cars honking horns at us and pulled up at the side of the highway. I whirled my head around, looking for anything that could protect me. Anything at all.
“Marabelle,” he said, his voice strained. He grabbed my arm and held on tight. “I need you to listen -”
“Never, Mark!” I yelled. I pulled away from him as fast as I could, falling out of his grasp. I reached for the door handle and by some miracle it opened. Mark must have hit a button at the front of the car. I sprinted out of the door, not daring to look back, not daring to look at all. I was too late to see the white searing lights piercing my eyes, or hear the squealing car horn that shattered my eardrum. I put my hands over my face, my last effort to protect myself.
A second later I lay on the pavement, my eyes blank and stunned, as my life ebbed away on the concrete and the stars dragged me away into the sky.
No one is allowed to kidnap or sell you