Disclaimers, or lack of them in Part 1
Thanks again to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Find her work on her page, Barbara Davies
Jo began to doubt the wisdom of her foray into the realm of the homeless when she was asked to buy a Big Issue for the fifth time.
The magazine was printed and distributed to those with no other means of earning money in an effort to cut down on begging in London and all over the country.
The people she found beneath the railway arches waved soggy copies of the magazine at her as she stepped over the debris that they left. Her jeans were now splashed with the muddy water that the people who called this dank place home seemed to accept without question. As she scanned the faces for one of the two people she was seeking, she found an emptiness that seemed to duplicate itself in every face she saw. It was despair, and helplessness, which led to hopelessness. In many of the faces she saw defeat, a final acceptance of their plight. It had been the same in the gallery when she first viewed the pictures. Empty eyes. And that was the reason the photograph of Rocky had affected her so completely. The eyes held life, and pride. There was no illusion of defeat there, only challenge. And Jo wanted to take the girl up on that challenge, wanted to see beyond the grime and the stigma, wanted to know the woman.
And that want, that need brought her to a part of London she barely knew existed.
It was only a few minutes from the hostel where she had first encountered the old woman, and it was as good a place as any to begin her search.
She spotted the shopping trolley first, though it was by no means the only one there. The woman was rummaging furiously through the contents of the wire basket of the trolley.
"Hello again," said Jo, her eyes flitting from the woman to a couple of men who were approaching from her right.
The grey head rose, and even greyer eyes took in the smartly dressed, aristocratic form.
The woman looked past Jo at the two men, and with a flick of her hand sent them on their way.
"They`re scared of you?" asked Jo, a look of amusement on her face.
"Probably," she turned back to her trolley. "What do you want now?"
Jo folded her arms across her chest. "I want to know why you lied to me."
Jo nodded. "I don't believe she's dead."
The old woman nodded towards a couple of tyres, and sat on one, waiting for Jo to join her.
"It's cold," said the old woman as Jo eased herself down onto the dirty tyre.
"Coldest winter for over 50 years," Jo agreed, wondering why they were carrying on this ridiculous conversation.
"My name's Edna." The old woman thrust a dirty, withered hand towards Jo, and was surprised when the younger woman took it without reservation.
"Jo," the younger woman said simply.
Edna held onto the hand, feeling the strength there. "You have strong hands."
"From my father, I think."
Edna nodded, and released the hand. "Your colouring comes from your mother; she's not English."
"That's right. She has Greek parentage, but was born in England." Jo was running on automatic, her upbringing forcing her politeness.
Another nod from the grey head. "I didn't lie to you about Rocky, only about when she died."
Jo was sure there was a serpent in her chest, squeezing the life from her heart, as it pounded, making her head throb in unison. "She's not..."
"Oh, she is dead," said the old woman. "Died just over five years ago."
"No, I saw the picture, it was taken a couple of months ago."
"You saw what is left. It's just a shell. Rocky is dead."
Two pairs of pale eyes held each other for a long moment as the younger woman took in what she was hearing. Then the dark head began to shake slowly. "No, I saw something. I saw ..."
"Nothing. There is nothing. She arrived here five years ago. Too young to claim benefit. Terrified of being sent back."
"Back where?" Jo ran a shaking hand through her damp hair.
"We don't ask. It's nobody's business. She was a child and she was afraid. We helped her until she could help herself."
"Edna, how old was she?" Jo was shivering now, her leather jacket not enough to keep out the bitter cold.
"She was just fifteen, I think." Edna watched the angular face across from her, seeing the sorrow there.
"We all have reasons for being here, Jo. What's yours?"
"I'm looking for Rocky." The answer came to Jo's lips easily, it was simple.
"And you don't know why, do you?"
Jo pulled the collar of the jacket up, her hands holding it tightly beneath her chin. "Can you tell me?" she whispered.
Edna seemed to ignore the question. "Why did you come here?" she waved her hand. "Why this place exactly?"
"I was trying to find you." Jo looked puzzled.
"But why Whitechapel, why outside the hostels?"
Edna stood so quickly Jo almost fell off the tyre she was sitting on. "Don't say that bastard's name in my presence." She paced in a small circle. "This is what she was scared of. This is..." She looked back down at the stunned woman, who still sat close to the ground. "I'm sorry." Edna returned to her seat beside Jo.
"So am I, I don't know much about..." Jo was obviously trying to find a word that wouldn't insult the elderly woman.
"The homeless? Displaced? We have many names, most of them not good."
"I'm not here to judge you, Edna. Just to find Rocky."
Edna nodded. "So you are. And as I said before, why here?"
"And I already told you, because...."
"Because you heard the word Whitechapel. Yes, I know. But it goes beyond that, Jo. You are here to find a woman you've never met, never knew existed before yesterday. And you're confused as to why."
Two perfect eyebrows knitted, as Jo's brow furrowed. "Who are you, Edna?"
"You're not stupid, are you, Jo?"
"I like to think not."
Edna's pale eyes caught the blue of Jo's and held them. "I was here when Rocky arrived, and I was here when you did."
"And?" Jo squirmed on the cold tyre, trying hard to understand the woman's cryptic answers.
"And I believe it was meant to be."
"What are you saying, Edna? I don't understand."
"I believe that Rocky has been waiting for you. That's what drew her here."
Now it was Jo's turn to stand and pace. "And you're saying that she's been waiting for me to turn up? Without appearing to be rude, Edna, that's a crock of shit." She walked a few paces away, and then crossed her arms and bent her head. Feeling suddenly tired, she turned back to the still seated woman. "I saw her picture in a gallery. For some reason I felt compelled to find her." Jo shrugged, hugging herself tightly against the cold breeze. "I don't know, maybe I'm going crazy."
"Not many of us get the chance to find the other half of our souls." Edna waited, watching the woman turn slowly towards her. "You have an ancient soul, Jo. It needs the other half to be fulfilled."
Jo was backing away from her now. "I don't believe this crap."
"Believe it or not, Jo. I see in you something you have kept buried for many years, for centuries in fact." Edna stood and approached the retreating woman. "Let it have its voice."
"Jesus, you're crazy," said Jo, as she backed up against a wall.
Edna smiled a gentle smile. "Maybe, many have called me that. But Rocky never did."
The girl's name seemed to calm Jo somewhat. "Where is she?"
"Not far, we can go there now."
"Now?" asked Jo.
"Of course, come on." Edna turned abruptly and started picking a way through the debris and bodies that littered the alleyway, making a path for her shopping trolley.
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