My Journey

From mind to paper and back again.

Absent With Out Leave.

on June 2, 2009

 

At half past twelve the phone rang waking Richard up. He’d not been in from an exercise all that long and was due on shift at seven the next morning.

‘Can you get that love?’ He mumbled as he turned back over stuffing his head under the pillow to stop the ringing in his ears. Diane answered the call in a groggy voice. It wasn’t long before she was completely awake though.

‘Wake up Rick.’

‘What?’ He rubbed his eyes and struggled to sit up as sleep encased him and tried to make him ignore the panic in his wife’s voice.

‘Jenny’s gone.’

Rick looked at his wife and took the handset that she held out to him, he was awake now.

‘What’s going on?’

‘The school’s on the phone, Jenny’s gone.’

‘Hello?’ Rick wrapped his arm around Diane as he struggled to keep up with the fast, flustered pace of the voice on the other end of the line. ‘Stop. I can’t make out what you’re saying. Start from the beginning.’

The teacher at the other end of the line took a deep breath and started again.

‘I’ve just taken roll call and Jenny is nowhere on the school grounds. I’ve checked all the rooms, the gardens and can’t see her anywhere. I’ve called the local police to alert them and then called you, do you know where she might have gone? I thought maybe she might have gone to family but we don’t have any numbers apart from yours.’

‘No, she won’t have gone to family, they’re all near Kings Lynn, it’s too far. What did the police say?’

‘They said they’d circulate her description and ask if she’s been seen at all. They’re getting on to it now.’

‘Thank you, we’ll be on the next flight home. Please will you keep us updated on the mobile if anything happens?’

Ricks clear head was a blessing as Diane had crumbled.

‘Why would she do that Rick, where could she have gone?’

‘She won’t have gone far love. I’m going to see the duty officer to get leave to go home, I won’t be long. Pack a bag for us to take.’ He squeezed her hand as he pulled on his uniform. ‘It’s going to be okay.’

As the door shut behind him, Rick’s calm exterior faltered. She’d asked to leave that school so many times and he hadn’t let her, all he’d done was shout at her for letting her grades drop. Was this his fault?

He asked the duty officer for some leave to go and help in the search for his daughter, explaining the situation. The leave was granted immediately; he filled in the forms and thanked the officer for his help before going back to Diane.

‘Have you got the bag sorted love?’ Rick shouted as he burst through the door. He threw off his uniform where he stood and pulled on some clean clothes. He rushed his wife, who was distraught with worry to get ready. He collected their passports and station passes, picked up his wallet and car keys and went to start the car. Barely pausing for thought, he picked up his mobile phone and called the school. The same flustered teacher answered.

‘We’re driving to the airport now. Keep us updated please.’

The tires crunched the gravel as he left the house and headed towards the airport through the main streets of Cyprus. They boarded the next available flight back to the UK and fretted all the way.

‘What if something’s happened to her?’

‘Don’t say that love, she’ll be okay. We’ll find her.’

Jenny’s mind wandered back to a more carefree time when she was Daddy’s little girl and she hadn’t been shut in this awful school.

She was what’s known as an army brat, even though her father was in the RAF and not the Army. For years she’d moved with him from station to station and never once complained of the upheaval and change. She relished the challenge of making new friends at each school. She was a model daughter who worshipped her father and kept her room as pristine as any new recruit in the services would.

Her dark eyes welled up as she sat on the edge of the uncomfortable bed, favourite pencil case on the floor, the model student long gone. The father she worshipped angry at her grades.

The large oak door loomed as she approached the school with her mum and dad in the front of the car. Only their second time here, this time carrying Jenny’s uniform and cases, the door was full of darkness and shadows. The driveway seemed to elongate and the car travelled at the pace of a funeral procession as the school’s speed limit came into effect. The feeling of the windows in the old fashioned building scrutinising her had never left her skin. She felt as though the school was deciding if she was good enough to be there, her grades answered the question. No, she wasn’t.

‘Jenny, are you coming out with us?’

Leanne was on the other side of the door to her room and she brought Jenny abruptly out of her thoughts. The door opened a touch and Leanne stuck her head through to ask the same question.

‘Are…’

Jenny shook her head. She didn’t want to spend the day traipsing the same town she had seen every Saturday for the past eight months. It was the same every time. Her eyes darted about the green paintwork on the walls and she wandered how many times she had stared up at the same ceiling feeling like the walls were closing in on her. It was time for another letter, the phone calls ended in arguments. She picked up the long discarded pencil case and pulled out a fountain pen, a present her father had bought her when she started boarding school. She might as well make some use out of it.

Books were thrown on the bed and everything else was laid haphazardly on the floor. She knew that the school had written to her parents and that she was on the verge of expulsion. She didn’t care. It wasn’t where she wanted to be anyway.

Long slender fingers twisted the pen as she placed a new ink cartridge into it and pulled some paper towards her. The chair leg creaked as she leant back on it, pen end in her mouth while she thought. Her dad was posted in Cyprus at the moment and she couldn’t run away to him – she’d never get there. Even on the school holidays she wasn’t able to go across to see him, these same walls were her companions throughout and she was getting fed up of them.

She wrote a brief letter to her father apologising for not being the daughter that she used to be and expressing how much she loathed being locked away from all her family, sealed it in the envelope and put a stamp on it. The letter went to one side of the desk and she pulled a heavy bag onto it, emptied the contents and flung open the wardrobe doors. She quickly threw clothes into the bag, filling it easily. The rest would have to stay here, never mind, she had enough. One quick check that she had her bank card in her purse and a count of her money and she decided that she could leave, she slipped on her jacket, picked up the bag and letter then looked at the small room for the last time. Even now she felt like the walls were closing in on her.

She dropped the stamped envelope into the schools post box and with her diary squeezed tightly into the rucksack amidst her clothes she left the school with her only true companion, herself. No one saw her leave, even if they had, they would have just assumed that she was going into town for the day like all the other girls.

The trains flew in and out of the busy station paying no attention to the little girl on the run. She looked up at the big boards and chose a destination. She didn’t know anyone in Manchester and she didn’t care. It was a big city, she knew that much. The clerk at the till raised an eyebrow as she served the young girl her ticket one way to Manchester but said nothing.

‘I’m meeting my mum at the other end, I’m from the boarding school up the road.’

The clerk nodded and passed the ticket under the window. They had a lot of the children from the boarding school travel one way, their parents paid for their safe returns from the other end.

As Jenny settled for the long train ride, she pulled out her diary and pen that were stowed safely in her bag and began to write, interrupted only when the ticket master approached her for her ticket. She dug into her pocket and pulled it out him to see. He smiled at her and continued on his way.

‘Would you like anything to eat or drink dear?’

Jenny pondered the tray before answering. She pointed to a sandwich and asked for a hot chocolate.

‘Five pounds fifty dear.’ The lady said and accepted the money Jenny held out.

She settled into the journey sipping at the hot chocolate whilst filling in her diary with the fountain pen off her dad.

As the train pulled into Manchester Piccadilly, Jenny gathered her belongings up into her rucksack and looked tentatively out onto the platforms. People were bustling about everywhere, she had heard that Manchester was busy but hadn’t realised exactly how busy. The train slowed to a complete stop and everyone stood almost at once to make their way to the doors, she decided to hold back. Once everyone had left the train she made her way to the doors and stepped onto the platform clutching her rucksack to her. Is this really such a good idea? She thought to herself as she walked through the shops in the main station and out of the door onto the busy streets.

She knew that she would have to find somewhere to stay, but first she needed to find herself in the lively streets of a city that she had never visited before. She got directions into the town centre and began to wonder in and out of the shops, her mind taking in all the information around her, the gardens in the town, the big shops in the Arndale centre, the Food Court. Ah, the Food Court, it was tea time after all. She carried on down the high street into the Food Court where she ordered a Burger King meal and went to sit down with it. As she ate she pondered what to do next. Everywhere was open much later than the little town near her boarding school, everything was different.

As the taxi pulled into the schools drive way, the teacher was stood waiting for them with a police man. No sooner had Diane and Rick gotten out of the cab and paid were they accosted with questions.

‘Where could she have gone? Was she unhappy? Have you spoken to her recently? What did she say?’ Diane covered her ears from the questions, distressed she looked to Rick to answer.

‘Please can we go inside officer? We’ve had a very long flight and we’re tired. We’ll answer your questions when we get a warm drink.’ He took hold of Diane’s hand gently and led her into the school office the teacher showed them to, as they went inside she handed a letter to Rick, obviously from Jenny. It was addressed to him in a military fashion, service number before name. The teacher took drink orders and left them to read the letter in peace. By the time he had finished reading it, Rick had tears running from his eyes. His little girl thought she was a burden and had taken it upon herself to leave. He showed the letter to the police and they left immediately to search the CCTV of the train station.

‘How could she run? Why didn’t she tell us?’ Diane pleaded.

‘She did, we just chose not to listen.’

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