Father ranted on, waving the newspaper around in disbelief. ‘More rights?! Why should they get more rights? Who says they deserve ’em? I tell you, this country will fall to pieces soon enough if this happens.’
His violent bluster afforded me the opportunity to swiftly and discreetly scoop a lamb chop off my plate and into the napkin on my lap. I folded it up and placed it in the pocket of my dress, praying that no juice from the meat would seep through.
Mother let father continue until all the steam had evaporated. I finished my plate and asked to be excused. There would be calm until the evening news came on the radio in half an hour and his temper would fray once more.
I went outside and ran through the garden to the small hut at the end of the lane, surrounded by overgrown grass and wild flowers. I took the key and unlocked the door, after knocking four times – our signal that it was a friend entering.
‘I’ve brought something for you to eat,’ I called.
There was no reply. I stepped further into the gloomy shed. ‘Hello?’ I called hopefully, but I knew there would be no answer. The window at the back of the shed lay open. He had left.
I looked around, at a loss as to what to do next. It had been a month since I had first found him hiding in the undergrowth at the back of the village. He had run away from something. Over the days of hushed conversations, I gathered he was a servant from one of the big houses at the top of the high street, who had been accused of some crime involving the daughter of his master. He protested his innocence and I believed him. He said the daughter had made it up because she didn’t want her father to know she was in love with him. No one else believed his side of the story.
I had given him shelter in the shed. It was a perilous situation. I had no doubt if my father discovered him he would kill him on account of his trespass combined with his skin colour.
We had talked about the future. I wished to come away with him when he had settled on a place to go. He had been reluctant to agree. Travelling around with a fair-skinned white girl would get him into more trouble than he was already suffering.
On a used napkin I saw scrawled writing. Some words were misspelled, but I deciphered the message: ‘Thank you for your kindness. I have decided to leave and find my fortune overseas somewhere, perhaps aboard a ship bound for the Americas. I shall always remember your kindness.’ It was signed with his forename: Jim.
I discreetly left the shed and locked it behind me. The dog bounded to me and jumped up. I took out the lamb chop and threw it for him to fetch. I walked back to the house, knowing I would never hear what had become of my secret friend.
GOOGLE BOOKS ALSO AVAILABLE ON APPLE BOOKS