52 Stories from 52 Photos: ‘#38’
W e walked through the doors of the bar and were instantly hit with that warm, tangy hum of hops and melting candle wax. It was as recognisable and familiar as it was gross, and we marched straight to the bar to align ourselves better with the vibe.
“Aww look; you reserved us a table!” said my friend’s wife with a grin. I followed her finger which was pointing at a table at the back of the room. True enough, there was my name on an A4 print-out hastily taped to a bottle: “CAM: 9PM”
I glanced at my watch and laughed, “That’s weird, I didn’t! Guess we’ll get to meet my doppelgänger in about an hour. Hope he’s not better looking than me..” We cheerily bought a round of drinks and ordered some food, then made our way down the long stone staircase out the back and under the warm lights of the pub garden. It was a Tuesday night and the place was pretty empty with most of the clientele sitting outside too, enjoying the dying days of a lacklustre summer. We sipped our wine and settled in, completely unprepared for the meteor that would crash straight into our evening in just moments.
She wore a little black cocktail dress and matching black high heels that stuck in the ground like pitchforks. She stood at the top of the outdoor stairs, a mobile phone clutched in one hand, a liquorice paper roll-up in the other. I looked up from my meal to see her scanning the garden from above presumably for someone with a lighter. She clutched the little cigarette between her fingers under her chin like prayer beads and I noticed she was swaying, her eyelids lulling. Just at that moment her eyes reached mine and she took a sharp in-take of breath, her eyes widening instantly as if she’d choked on something. She twitched a couple of times and fell forwards, instantly out of sight. I sat motionless from a couple of beats, my brain struggling to catch up with what my eyes had seen. My partner acted first, jumping up from our dinner, across the garden and to the bottom of the staircase where the girl lay. I followed her, dumbfounded and stood over the woman as she was carefully placed in the recovery position; someone else’s coat under her head to cushion against the cold concrete. I looked up, counting 9 sharp, unforgiving steps concluding about 8 feet from the base. I called an ambulance.
Despite being less than a mile away from the hospital, we waited for what seemed like a long time for help to arrive. Luckily there didn’t seem to be any blood but the girl was in a bad way. She couldn’t tell us her name and was drifting in and out of consciousness, moving only with brief, sickening convulsions over her whole body. The pub staff had flown into action and were doing everything they could but told us she was there alone and had been for the last hour or so. She’d drunk only water and just said she was waiting for someone. She didn’t have a coat or a bag, just the mobile phone which on closer inspection was an old blower without internet access. In a panic I scrolled through her contact list looking for a ‘Mum’ ‘Dad’ or ‘Home’ but found none. I turned to her recent calls lists and rung the first number in an attempt to let someone know where this anonymous girl was. The person on the other end was the local pharmacy who didn’t recognise her description. The next few were men’s first names ‘Neil’ ‘Phil’ ‘Mark’ — most didn’t answer but the last did.
“No, sorry, don’t know this number I’m afraid” a voice on the other end said edgily.
“But you’re saved on hers under Mark — that is you, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, can’t help you but…will you let me know what happens to…this lady. I’m worried now” he stammered before hanging up. I shared glances with my friends as we knew there was something wrong here.
Scrolling through a couple of her texts we found messages to and from some girl friends offering ‘field work’ in return for somewhere to stay that night. None of them answered when we called but then I got to a message that stopped me dead like a statue. It simply read “Tu es fou, je ne te crois pas. Je suis désolé” and under Sender — there was the 3 letters that spelled out my own name: ‘Cam.’ I shrugged it off realising that she must have been here for the reserved table upstairs and slowly scrolled through the options to call the number. Paramedics had arrived and were carefully performing preliminary checks on the girl while preparing the stretcher. She was motionless now save for the occasional, momentary spasm. I pressed call and waited. From across the garden a familiar tone rung out and my stomach dropped as I saw on the table next to my abandoned meal my phone ringing with an unknown number.
“Hello?” I said in my smallest voice as I heard it echoed through the phone in my other hand. It didn’t make any sense. I’d never seen the girl in my life but here was a message from my number and my name in her inbox.
The medics were carrying her into the back of the ambulance and I ran to catch up with them.
“Who are you?!” I begged of the body on the stretcher, “What are you doing here!?” I shouted. My friends pulled me backward and I looked at the text message again. The received date said 9/9/19, two years from now. Just then the medics snatched her phone back out of my hands and slammed the ambulance doors closed behind them. I ran back inside and demanded information about the reserved table at the back of the pub. They had no record of a booking and none of them had put the sign there. I ran over to it, tearing it from its place. Turning it around it had something scrawled almost illegibly on the back.
“Believe me now?”