Charlie pressed the off button on the remote and wiped the tears from his eyes as he stared at his pregnant wife.
“I’m so sorry soph.” He said.
“Hey, don’t be silly it’s not your fault. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She reassured him.
Charlie wished she was right, but it was a job after all. He had only been doing it a short while after being made redundant, but with months of struggling to make ends meet on the dole he couldn’t turn down the cash in hand job that Dale, a friend of a friend of a friend had told him about.
“It’s easy money mate,” Charlie remembered him saying, “just pick a car up and take it to where it’s gotta go, easy money.”
London isn’t what it used to be, in-fact England isn’t what it used to be. Long gone are the quaint country villages, with their Sunday morning church bells followed by the cheers of ‘how’s that’ as the village clergy gets bowled out on the cricket green or groups of ramblers wandering across pastured fields while skylarks circle overhead singing their summer tunes.
No more are the city streets bustling with commuters during morning rush hour, as they make haste to get a seat on the seven thirty express and bury themselves into their favourite daily newspaper, attempting a crossword or reading of the horror that was about to descend upon the once green and pleasant land.
That’s how it was before, just four years ago. Before the uprising started. An uprising that would send thousands to their graves, be it sacred ground or an undisclosed mass burial pit, dug secretly, deep in some remote forest. The cricket ball would be replaced with a flaming Molotov cocktail. The clergy, probably slaughtered for his beliefs would now be but a skeleton hanging from the very rope of the bell he once pulled and the commuter swapping his newspaper for an AK47 and killing the neighbour he once borrowed a lawn mower from.
No, England wasn’t the same. It was in turmoil.
It all began to change on August 3rd, 2015 and Charlie Smith was there to witness it.
“What happened daddy?” Mellisa, his seven year old daughter asked.
He couldn’t look at her but he knew he had to be strong. He had to shield his babies from the atrocities.
“Don’t you fret now girl,” He replied, “daddy needs to watch the news, run along now.”
“Millie do as your father says.”
“But…..but mummy, it’s daddy’s birthday, why is daddy’s crying mummy?”
Not wanting to get into a question and and answer debate with their seven going on seventeen inquisitive little girl, Sophia playfully tapped Mellisa’s behind, “why don’t you go upstairs and find something pretty to wear for daddy party.” She said.
With a joyful Yelp and her thoughts now focused on the floral pink dress mummy had ironed and carefully hung in her wardrobe, Melissa dashed from the room and bounded up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, leaving her parents alone, staring at the silent television screen.
Charlie had almost forgot it was his birthday with what had happened, but here he was, 51 years of age, although he was often told he looked slightly younger, which he put down to his sense of fashion. Trendy some would say when he wore his skinny jeans, pumps and t-shirt with gelled strawberry blonde hair styled short. But after what he had witnessed that afternoon, he had aged.
“It was horrible soph.” He finally said to Sophia, as she sat next to him, taking his hand, trying her best to comfort him.
“You don’t have to talk about it babe.” She reassured him.
“I don’t think I can.” He sobbed.
A silence befell the room, not the sort of awkward silence that some couples get, this one had a heaviness to it that filled the air, Pressing down on them as they sat watching the local weather forecaster mouth how sunny and bright the day had been.
But for Charlie his day wasn’t bright, it was full of gloom and felt like he had been hit by a thunder bolt from hell and the national news was about to replay a cut down version of the actual event he suffered. Charlie pressed the volume button on the remote control just long enough to hear but not loud enough for Mellisa’s delicate ears.
“Good evening,” the newscaster said, “it’s six o clock and welcome to the national and international news.”
“Earlier today in Dover a bomb said to be planted by the extremist group ‘Keep Britain British’ or ‘The KBB’ as they like to be known has exploded at a Syrian refugee camp. The extremists have claimed that are planning to target all ethnic camps over the coming weeks. Today’s explosion has killed thirty seven men, women and children, leaving twelve more in a critical condition. We now join Steve twist, live from the scene.”
The image on the screen switched to the middle aged, greying reporter who stood amidst what looked like a war zone.
“Chris, things have escalated here at the camp since the blast,” he said, “As you can see around me the refugees have started to demonstrate for their human rights and demanding that the government do everything in their power to bring the KBB to justice.”
The camera started to pan around, feeding images of hundreds of chanting protesters back to the news centre. The cameraman zoomed in on a blood covered couple, the woman was on her knees, rocking back and forth, crying and cradling a young charred body in her arms.
“They took my daughter,” the man beside her screamed. He stared directly at the camera with hatred in his eyes. “They must and will pay for what they have done.” He said.
“Why don’t you take a shower,” Sophia said, interrupting his thoughts, “I promised Millie a MacDonalds for your birthday.”
The water felt good as it cascaded over his body, he liked it hot and Sophia often laughed at him as he stepped from bathroom looking like a lobster.
Closing his eyes he turned his face to the shower and tried to wash away the image of the carnage, but they didn’t disappear and he knew it would be a long time, if ever, before they did.
He could still hear the blast of the explosion and smell the stench of burning body parts. He had tried to save her, she couldn’t have been much older than his own daughter but the flames had held him back.
He fell to the floor of the shower, covering his ears, cowering in the corner like a frighten animal shutting out her screams.
That’s what he felt like, an animal. How could he explain to his family, his wife, his daughter, his unborn child that it was his car, the car he had picked up and drove through the gates, the car that had exploded after he walked away.
“I didn’t know,” He cried, “I honestly didn’t know.”
“Come on you two your such slow coaches.” Mellisa yelled excitedly as she pushed open the door of the burger house. Standing to one side, not wanting them to ruffle her dress she allowed the two lads in hoodies to barge pass her.
“We’re coming darling,” Sophia said, “go get us a table.”
She grabbed Charlie’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“You ok?” She asked.
“I’ll be fine. Come on let’s not keep her waiting.”
Being a Friday night the restaurant was packed full, Charlie joined the que of people who didn’t have time or couldn’t be bothered to cook as Sophia met Mellisa at the only vacant table. He watched his wife laugh as Mellisa waved a red ballon in her face, taunting her to grab it as she tried to clear away the remnants of the tables last diners.
“Can I help?”
Charlie steadied himself against the counter as the smell of meat cooking on the griddle sent a wave of nausea over him.
“Sir, can I help?” The teenage assistant repeated impatiently.
“Yes, sorry one Big Mac meal, a kids chicken nugget meal and a large coffee please.” Charlie replied.
“Make that two coffees,” a voice beside him said, “You don’t mind do you Chas?” He added.
Charlie stared at him, confused.
“The coffee, you don’t mind right?”
He stood like a bulk over Charlie, thick set and totally bald. Charlie recognised him but he couldn’t place where from.
“Come on Chas, time is money and the poor girls waiting.” He said tapping his gold Rolex watch. “Two coffees love.” He added.
Tutting, the assistant turned away and started to prepare the order.
“You did a good job today Chas.” The man said.
“At the camp, you did a good job. But here’s the thing, you gotta keep stum. Mums the word as they say.”
Before charlie could answer the man held his finger to his lips making a ssshhing noise then pointed it in a gun like fashion over Charlie’s shoulder, nodding in the direction of Sophia and Mellisa.
Panicked, Charlie turned just as one of the lads in hoodies put a lighter to the red balloon making it deflate and float to the floor. He could see the disappointed look on his daughters face but was thankful that neither Sophia or Mellisa noticed the hoodies.
“Have this on us Chas.” the man said tucking an envelope in Charlie’s pocket.
With the two hoodies following behind, he walked from the restaurant casually sipping his coffee.
“Oh and chas,” he said, without looking back, “we’ll be in touch.”
Shaken, all Charlie could do was watch as the three of them piled into a polished black Range Rover and drove off into the night, leaving him with bile rising to his throat.
“Who was that babe?” Sophia asked as Charlie joined his family at the table.
“No one, just a guy from the pub.” He lied. “Hey look can we take this home? I’m not feeling that great. You don’t mind do you mil’s?”
“Can I take another balloon then daddy? That one was rubbish.” Mellisa replied.