Thinking back on it now, I still believe that I would have played the whole situation in exactly the same way. In my shoes, you would have too. I’m positive about that. There was just no way to know. You could never have worked it out. Not to any degree of certainty. I mean, there were signs, yes, but they were too obvious to take seriously. In hindsight, we can all sit and point out how easy it should have been to avoid the entire situation long before it escalated into what it did, but the truth is, there was no way to know. No one could have preempted it. You know why? Because she was an old school pro.
I didn’t dislike my job, or anything like that, I was just bored, mostly. There was nothing to challenge my mind and I wasn’t doing anything to challenge the minds of others. It was all just a matter of going through the motions, for me. The positive thing about those types of jobs is that they leave you free to focus on other things in your life. You don’t take your work home with you, so you’re able to give your attention to the things that mean something to you. Whether that’s family, relationships, religion, art, community, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you have something to keep you fulfilled. A reason to keep you getting out of bed in the morning. Around the time that this whole mess got started, I had none of those things and that’s what led me to make the biggest mistake of my life.
A group of guys from work decided to go for drinks one Thursday night. I had never really gotten involved with the social side of the job because I always had things going on that I needed to get to and, in any case, work was on the opposite side of the city from home and the commute was enough of a bitch when sober. I didn’t feel the need to add alcohol to the mix and wind up sleeping and dribbling my way into another city altogether. But on this particular Thursday I thought, fuck it, why not? I was going through somewhat of a personal transition, in terms of relationships, and I was struggling to focus on anything else, which set me adrift both mentally and emotionally. So, on this particular night, I figured I might as well enjoy the company. As it was such a one off for me, I was keen to persuade as many people as possible to come along and join in the merriment. I had always liked my co-workers, even the shy and quiet ones that never really got involved. Especially the shy and quiet ones, actually. You see, I’m one of those people that likes a “friend project”. If I see that someone is sad or lonely, I’m gonna roll up in their life like a steam train and do everything I can to turn that frown around. I had a friend like that at work who, naturally, was the first person I convinced to come out with us that night.
Her name was Francine. She was, roughly, around 20 years older than me and, somehow, without her having to say anything, I knew that she’d lived a tough life. It was in the eyes, you know? She was so sweet and quiet, but had the look of a woman who’d suffered long years of hardship. Maybe at the hand of an abusive husband, maybe she’d raised a difficult child, maybe she was an outcast from her family or community. There was just something that seemed so sad about Francine, like her spirit had been broken, and I wanted to put some cheer in her. In truth, I guess, it was kind of patronising, the way that I felt about Francine. Babying her, ignoring the fact that she was quite clearly an intelligent woman, but she knew that my heart was in the right place. She, in her own maternal way, forgave me my shortcomings and saw through to the good person that I was trying to be. And so the two of us had a unique bond. We had our moments, though, it’s not unfair to say. She reminded me a lot of my own mother, the way she’d lose her temper with my inability to let go of a joke. I liked to tease, it was my way of breaking down that wall of seriousness, but I didn’t always judge the right time to let a joke go. Mostly, that made it funnier to me, but ultimately I’d end up feeling guilty for going to too far. She would always forgive me, though, just like that. No residual animosity.
She agreed to come out for a drink that night, which took me by surprise. She had always seemed so dismayed when listening to the drunken stories of our fellow co-workers. I didn’t take her for much of a drinker, but maybe, like me, she just thought, fuck it, you know? And it was a great night. Nothing stood out about it, other than having had more fun than I’d anticipated. Francine, too, had let her hair down and, for the first time in the years I’d known her, she seemed content and that made me really happy. She shared stories about her family and how much her three daughters shaped her life. We joked about an over the top gold plated phone that her daughter had given her to use, that looked like something out of a cheesy music video. She told us of the years she’d spent living in Dubai after a period of bad health and how finding her spirituality had saved her life. I felt like all my worries about Francine had melted away that night and I finally looked at her as more of a friend than someone who needed my help.
The next day in the office was a pretty standard hangover day. Everyone kept their heads down and their headphones in. I had lost my phone in my drunken stupor, so spent the majority of my morning trying to make an insurance claim. Francine looked the same as always, which I attributed to that meditation junk she’d been telling us about the night before. I’m just not so keen on the idea of spending too much time alone with my own thoughts. It takes up so much energy trying to get out of my own head, I’m not about to dedicate hours to hanging out in there voluntarily. It’s a dark and messy place. But that afternoon, over lunch, she started on at me again about yoga and meditation, so much so I agreed to go with her to a stupid class, just to silence the nagging. It seemed that the tables had turned on our relationship. Now it was Francine who wanted to help me, to save me from myself. After putting up with me all this time, I figured it was the least I could do, to indulge her in this thing that she credits for saving her life. You never know, maybe it could save mine too.
That Sunday, Francine picked me up from outside the train station near the office at around 11:30am. I wasn’t altogether surprised to see that the other two guys from work, who’d also agreed to come, were a no-show. That was always the way with these things. A group of us would say we’d go along to some shit we weren’t really interested in and, nine times out of ten, I’d be the only one that actually went through with it. The day was beautiful, however, and I was pretty happy to be there for Francine. It meant a lot to her, so it was cool. When we pulled up at the community centre in Francine’s neighbourhood, I made my way inside, while Francine got her stuff out of the boot. It was an old disused railway station that had been turned into a community space. The main room had children’s drawings on the walls and tiny tables and chairs stacked neatly in the corner. It was a bright and welcoming room that reminded me of the after-school-club that I went to when I was a kid. The smell of dried poster paint filled me with nostalgia, giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It was the last time I’d ever feel anything other than the paralysing fear to come.
Shortly after I’d entered the room, a tall man, dressed all in denim entered from the hallway, carrying a chair and a black bag. I watched as he set the chair and bag down perfectly in the centre of the space, returning to the door to lock it from the inside. Francine then entered through the main door, also locking it from the inside. I can’t really place what I felt after that, in that moment. Confusion, mostly. Followed by a heavy sense of realisation. Like a giant pendulum of a penny had dropped and I finally figured out that something was horribly, horribly wrong. It was one of those moments when you realise you’ve fucked something up completely and you can’t take it back, only this time there was no damage control to be done. There was no sweet talking my way out of the fuck up or working twice as hard to fix it. Like a brick to the chest, the realisation that I’d gone too far to turn back hit hard. I searched deep into to Francine’s eyes, as my own started to well up. Those eyes that I’d read so much into over the years we’d worked together. Those eyes that told me a hundred stories of hardship were suddenly empty. Like two pieces of glass sat inside of their sockets, unmoving. I desperately willed Francine to look into my eyes and forgive me. Whatever it was that I’d done, she could forgive me. She always did. She knew me. But it wasn’t the Francine that I’d known that had walked into that room, locking the door behind her.
“Sit down, please.” She said the words in the same sweet and gentle manner that she used for every word she’d ever spoken to me. My body complied and I walked to the chair and sat, while my mind continued to spin around the room. The man in denim approached me and took something out of the bag. I didn’t see or feel what he had done until moments later when I realised my hands where bound behind my back. Francine was standing in front of me now, asking me who I had told. I felt sick. I couldn’t hear the words she was saying. I felt dizzy. Prompted by a nod from Francine, the denim man delved, once again, into his bag of tricks, grabbed my face in one hand and forced a bitter tasting liquid down my throat. The room went black.
“Feeling better?” I came round to see the same scene I’d hoped to awaken from. The irreversible madness that I’d effortlessly slipped into. “Who did you tell about what you saw?” And there it was. The memory came to me. Had I blocked it out, or had my mind rationalised it into something else entirely? The gold plated phone that we’d laughed so hysterically about. I saw things in it. Things that I morphed into a million other scenarios that made more sense than the truth of it. Things that mapped out my life’s end from the moment they were seen. “No one else knows anything. I went straight home and I’d lost my ph… You took my phone, didn’t you? Francine? Francine, it’s okay. I can help you get out of this…” The man in denim punched me in the stomach so hard I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak another word. He crammed something foul smelling into my mouth and secured it with tape. What must have been a Sainsbury’s carrier bag was then thrust over my head and secured around the neck. The brightness of the room shone through the bag, quilting my head in a bright orange glow. I could hear Francine talking. I could hear her saying that she believed me, and that everything was going to be fine. My Francine, she was going to make it okay and get me out of this. If they were trying to scare me into silence, they had succeeded. I wanted to tell her she had succeed. She needed to know. I would make sure that everything was going to be okay because we were friends and she could trust me. An overwhelming sensation took over my body as I tried to scream out and let Francine know that we could get through this together. I dribbled and gagged as I tried to scream out. Remembering that I was not bound to the chair itself, I got up and tried to make my way to the sound of Francine’s delicate voice. The voice that had broken my heart a million times over with its pain and fragility. I ran to the voice that drew my heart to it, before a heavy blow struck the back of my head with a ferocity that lifted me off my feet. The orange glow went out.
Acceptance swept over my family, friends and co-workers like an unexpected breeze when they learnt of my suicide. No one questioned for one moment that I’d taken my own life because all anyone knew was that I’d been going through personal change and difficult relationships. They didn’t know that I was prone to depression and had never been suicidal. They didn’t know that the ups and downs came and went, or that I was dealing with everything and was going to be okay. They didn’t know because the only person I had ever confided in was my friend Francine. She spun her golden web of lies over my legacy with precision and detail. She wove an intricate lace of gold across the story of my last day spent in mediation seeking out the ultimate peace. She placed a thin layer of gold leaf over my final hour at that station waiting for my train. She cried tears of liquid gold over the body of memories she’d laid bare on the tracks, leaving nothing but a gold plated lie.
I was nothing to her. Nobody. An expendable part of a complex cover story that had gotten too close and dug too deep. The way I choose to see it, Francine had dropped her guard with me. She had let me into a sacred place that non should enter and thus my demise was inevitable. Deep within the eyes of her complex psyche, I sought out life’s only certainty. Eventually the story faded in the memories of those who knew me and Francine went on living her double life. The softly spoken working mother, dearly loved by her children – the leader of an underground trafficking network worth an estimated £420 million.