Our holiday to Greece had been amazing, the sun had blazed gloriously everyday since our arrival and our days were lazy as we relaxed and explored the endless stretch of sandy beach. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery and each day we were eased into a slower pace as the herb scented warm air filled our lungs. The country’s gastronomic reputation exceeded our expectations as we explored tavernas on an evening and filled our now round bellies with the most delicious food and exquisite wine. The fish and calamari, fresh from the Mediterranean, were mouth wateringly good, and I felt like I had eaten my own body weight in honey baklavas.
We had decided we would take a leisurely walk into the old town before dinner on our last afternoon. The receptionist at the hotel had told us a laiki, a traditional Greek street market, was taking place in the square, so we decided we’d head there to buy some treats and delicacies to take back home with us.
The fresh seasonal product was intoxicating, the stalls were crammed with seafood, olive oils, and cheeses, which were making our mouths water and our stomachs cry out for more heavenly food. Having spent the last of our holiday money we decided to make our way back to the hotel, both happy we’d wrung every drop of enjoyment out of our fortnight’s escape from reality. Just as we were leaving the market, laden down with bags of gifts and delectable delights I saw a face in the crowd. One I hadn’t seen for a long time. I initially gasped and felt my knees buckle under the still heavy weight of the memory of the night I’d last seen Jenny.
I can still remember the fear flashing in her eyes when she had turned up unannounced on my doorstep, her hands were covered in blood and she could hardly catch her breath. The vivid red of the blood had stayed with me, the blood of her violent and bullying husband splattered on her tiny white t-shirt. I could remember her frail hands trembling as she gripped my arms, she had hardly been able stand as I stripped her clothes off and held her in the shower. This was the first time I’d seen the full extent of the purple bruises on her emaciated body. I tried to soothe her with reassuring words, but my insides were twisted with shock and my mind and conscience in turmoil. In a state of panic, I dressed Jenny in some of my clothes and threw more clean clothes, toiletries and food in a suitcase. I gave her what money I had in the house and told her to take my car keys and just go. I knew I’d sounded harsh, but I didn’t know what else to do. I insisted she didn’t contact me as the police would be able trace her, just to get far enough away. I told her I loved her, but she had to leave and never come back. The terror in her eyes as she turned, her frailness and her final strained smile had stayed with me. Watching her skinny frame drowning in my clothes as she walked away for that final time had broken my heart.
I had hardly slept for weeks, not daring to close my eyes. When the body was finally found, as Jenny’s best friend, I was called on to help the police with their enquires, my nerves were stretched to the limit as I told bare faced lie after bare faced lie. The number of times I’d convince myself they would catch her on CCTV in my car or find her with my belongings kept me awake, and I felt wretched and scared day and night.
Months and finally years passed and eventually I started being brave enough to think we’d got away with it. I often thought about Jenny and desperately hoped she was happy. She was such a beautiful soul and I still missed her desperately.
And here she was. I was face to face with her and frozen to the spot, a turbulent and ricocheting combination of fear and happiness, I couldn’t move. She looked healthy, her skin a beautiful shimmering bronze and her beaming smile full of love and happiness. Gently cajoling three small and hopeful children away from a sugar loaded stall, our eyes met.
She too froze.
Our gaze locked briefly in recognition of a past neither of us wanted resurrecting, memories screaming silently in our heads. She looked down for a spilt second and then looked back, flashing a warm wide smile. She raised a hand to her face and touched her earlobe followed by quickly fluttering her fingers as our eyes locked again, a discrete secret wave to acknowledge me. I returned her smile and mirrored her secret wave. As I quickly moved away to catch up with Harry, I heard her gentle voice. “Right, come on kids, and that means you as well Amie, no messing today.” I turned my head and saw her scoop up her youngest daughter, whom she had named after me.
It would have been wonderful to hug her, hear about her life, and meet her beautiful children, but our actions had declared an unspoken agreement to leave the past resolutely in the past. Knowing Jenny, she will have paid her penance, her own mind would have punished her more than any prison could.