That the young woman had healing hands was a difficult fact to deny, even by the most sceptical of observers. When she was hauled before the magistrate’s court in the presence of pockmarked deliquents and the white van driver with charges of running down cyclists, the gallery was brimming with cynical faces, eager to see what the free newspapers were on about. I was there. I was one of them.
Her estuary accent was disarming, to say the least. No mystically elongated vowels, no faraway moonfaced whisper of a voice. Her words and the way she spoke them undoubtedly added to her story, and we can all see that, now it has reached at narratively familiar ending. She spoke as though she was pushing words through gold hooped earrings, her phrases turned with Lambert and Butler and all the rest. Quite what she was charged with was always unclear. Wrong time, wrong place; typical outcomes with a messianic twist. She was first reported as being found wandering in the crisp packet and condom littered no-mans-land of in-between gang territories of Dagenham, the black spot accentuated by local press and the petty prejudices of the white working class. She’d wait for the bruises and the shanks, the chrome bumper breakings and the occasional gunshot. One witness claimed they saw her kneeling over a child waiting to be front page tabloid news in the neverending grinding into the ground of suburban London, and lift him to his feet, the wounds scabbing over within seconds. He picked up his bag of glue and swaggered over to the rust covered ice cream van. Of course, nobody could prove a thing. Getting anybody to speak to the police down there would require far greater, older miracles. But the girl kept returning, and was seen everywhere from Chatham to Dartford, getting up from the swings or the bonnet of a car, flicking away gum and laying her hands on the unlucky, the guilty, the crossfired and the brandished. Stories started appearing online, and cctv footage acted as it always did, the unblinking eye of a filthy urban deity, handing out punishment and reward to those it glares at under the yellow sodium light of the maisonettes.
Some claimed she was hero. Some were disgusted by who she saved. Some said she should go back to where she came from, but nobody really knew where that was. She didn’t wear a headscarf, and I suppose that helped, in a sad sort of way. Some said she couldn’t speak, but we knew that not to be true, in the end.
The congregation of the gawping and superior in the magistrate’s court felt ill, by the end of the trial. Here was a reverse vigilanteism, taking the lore into one’s own hands, so to speak, a dangerous extension of an old, hypocratic oath. The city needs victims, and it needs villains, and we all know this, somehow. What the city can’t stomach is saviours – we underpay our nurses and midwives, we string up our golden ones and doubt them when they return. If they must come back, let them at least speak properly. Let them understand the charges against us, let them forgive us. Let them be male. She did and was none of these things, a halo of hairspray and the static crackle of nylon followed her through the room, and she stared incredulously at the judge, rolled her eyes at the list of questions.
People play roles, of that we can be sure. The words we choose, the clothes we wear. By a certain point in our lives, we are Pierrots, we are Malmaries, Harlequins and Judases and Jonahs and Jobs. I’m sure that’s what she said, in not so many words. And perhaps this explained the look of complete boredom on her face as they carried her outside and drove nails through her hands, planted a crown of razor wire onto her head and poured white spirit onto her wounds. She looked to her left, and spoke to one of the pockmarked deliquents. Nobody quite heard what she said. She laid her hands on a blind man, and he could see. It was all just tricks, they were saying. Someone claimed she was a single mother, too. This started a frenzy.
„You don’t know what you’re doin’”, she said.
„Forgive us”, they replied. „We need you to forgive us”.
„You don’t know what you’re doin’”.
She spoke in that awful voice for some time, before falling silent. Parables, they used to call them. A mobile phone range tinnily in a pocket somewhere. People stayed.
Somewhere in London, the ground shook so much that all the envelopes in the post office headquarters fell to the ground, and those working on the outside of the gherkin lay down their sponges and buckets. The Thames rippled more than usual. The prayers of the faithful in Saint Paul’s were uninterrupted, and a young man bled to death outside a children’s play area in Dulwich. All was as it should be, again.