Ann Walker could make out two distinct women’s voices around her as she lay with her eyes closed on the hard pavement. They weren’t exactly yelling at each other, but there was an edge of frustration to their words. She didn’t think she knew the voices, why would she? She’d only been in London a few weeks, and apart from a few of her cousin Catherine’s friends, she hadn’t really met anyone. No, there was no reason to know the voices surrounding her, only one of them kept saying her name repeatedly and the other sounded so familiar.
Trying to place that voice was the least of her problems though. First of all she needed to figure out why she was laying on the floor, and if she could actually get up. She opened her eyes slowly and blinked a few times trying to bring everything into focus. She could make out what looked like the beams of a bridge. That’s right. She had been on Tower Bridge looking out over the River Thames and then she thinks she was hit by something, or someone.
She could hear the sounds of traffic passing on her left. She must still be on the bridge. Horizontal, but definitely on the bridge. She surmised the bodiless voices were behind her since she still couldn’t see them. It was still just a lot of words she couldn’t fully understand with the occasional ‘Ann’ thrown in. She wished they’d wait till she was vertical before they started yelling at her.
She wasn’t numb, she could definitely feel the soreness in her backside, which she presumed she must have landed on before taking her current position. She was infinitely grateful that she had decided to wear her cropped jeans and a light t-shirt rather than a dress despite the warm summer weather. Much more suited to lying on the ground. She felt winded, like the air had been knocked out of her but she didn’t feel any pain in her head so she didn’t think she’d hit it, for which she was grateful. She could worry about whatever germs London streets were riddled with later. She wriggled her fingers and toes. Yes, all still present and moving. Again another good sign.
The voices were still arguing over her but they hadn’t noticed she’d opened her eyes so she decided now was as good a time as any to try and get up. She took a deep breath and slowly tried to lift herself up on her elbows. Immediately she regretted that decision as the blood rushed from her head making her feel light-headed. She felt herself slumping to the ground when a strong pair of hands swooped up to cradle her head and lay it back down in what must be their lap.
“Best not try that for a bit, hmm.” It was the kinder voice, the vaguely familiar one. Ann liked this person better, probably because they hadn’t been shouting her name at her. She still didn’t know why that was. Ann opened her eyes again to look at who the voice belonged to but could only see the underside of her saviour’s jaw. Even in her muddled state she could see how strong it was. It matched the firm hands that were holding her head ever so gently, as though she might break.
When she spoke to the other woman there was still a hint of frustration, “We need to make sure she’s alright. I can’t just leave her here like this.” Ann felt a soft hand stroke her forehead, instantly making her feel better.
The moment was stolen away by the other woman’s much harsher tone, she started yelling at her again, “Anne! We can’t be seen here.” There was a strong emphasis on the “we” that even Ann in her slightly dizzy state recognised. She didn’t know who any of these women were let alone why she shouldn’t be seen with them.
“Then you should leave Mariana!” Was the curt reply from the woman whose lap her head lay in. “Heaven forbid you ever be seen with me.” Ann sensed more hurt in that sentence than the woman had probably wanted to convey. She wished she could see her face but all she could see apart from that exquisite jawline was the woman’s neck framed by shoulder length chestnut hair, and the top of what she was sure to be a perfectly tailored black button up beneath a black blazer. Dashing but impractical for the warm sunshine beating down on them.
“Freddy don’t be like that.” The shouty woman’s tone had softened too. But who was Freddy? Ann thought to herself maybe she had actually hit her head, or perhaps it was the incredibly hypnotic touches of the fingertips on her scalp and the scent of sandalwood and was that lime that she could smell? Take away the lying down on a pavement part, Ann thought she could happily spend an afternoon like this.
“Look Mary,” the voice from above her said calmly. “You should leave. You’re right. You shouldn’t be seen here, with me. It could be explained easily enough, or it doesn’t have to be explained at all. I need to make sure this girl is okay.” By now Ann could sense that a few more people had gathered around her. The woman holding her paused before continuing in a quieter voice, “Charles shouldn’t see you here. I’ll call you later.”
Ann tilted her head slightly following the gaze of the woman above her and caught a glimpse of the other woman nodding before quickly retreating. Ann felt the gentle hands stop moving and the heavy sigh escape from the woman above her before a new voice broke the silence,
“Do you need us to call an ambulance? She alright?” A new male voice. Definitely from London, East London if Ann was right. She could easily be wrong, they all sounded the same down here. The questions brought them both back to the present as she felt the hands move to her shoulders. “No, we’re fine thank you. She’ll be able to get up in a moment.”
“You sure? She don’t look right to me love.”
Ann saw the woman’s shoulders tense as she let out another sigh, the frustration from earlier back, “Yes, I am quite sure.” Her replies were short and sharp. “She’s just had a rather nasty knock. She hasn’t hit her head. She’ll be fine.” Confirmed then. She hadn’t hit her head.
“Are you the one that hit her? Is that your motor?” Ann hadn’t thought of that. Is that what had happened? Is that why there was so much concern in her voice and why the other woman couldn’t be seen there. Maybe her saviour was the one responsible for all of this.
“I did not knock her down!” Ann was silently grateful. “Not that I see why it’s any of your concern, but I was in my car, my driver was taking me back to my office.” She gestured towards the other side of the bridge. Before anyone could ask anymore questions she continued explaining what had happened, “Some damn reckless fool of a cyclist cut across the front of my car and plowed into her.” Still in her lap, Ann wanted to giggle at the animated way in which she talked with her hands, waving them through the air with increased fervour as her frustration grew. “Where’s he gone anyway? Of course he hasn’t stuck around to see the carnage he’s left in his wake! Idiot.”
It was all starting to come back to her now. She had been on the bridge, overlooking the river. She’d heard a car screech to a halt behind her. She’d turned and that’s when the cyclist had crashed into her and knocked her to the ground. She still wasn’t sure how long she had been on the ground but it can’t have been too long or surely a larger crowd would have gathered.
“You a doctor then?” the person in the crowd asked. Ann thought now that would’ve been a stroke of luck, being laid out on the floor in the lap of a doctor. That sort of good fortune was never characteristic of her life however. Trust Ann Walker, on her first solo adventure into the city, to get knocked over by a cyclist in the middle of Tourist Central. She could hear her tribe of relatives now once they’d found out about it.
“No, I’m not a doctor.” That sounded more like her life. “But I have done extensive study on human anatomy in Paris. I know what I’m talking about.” There was something in the authority with which she spoke that played at the back of Ann’s mind. Ann was certain she knew that voice.
“Look, why don’t you just make some space? Give her some air and then I can get her back up.” Ann heard the other person quietly groaning at being dismissed and she fought the urge to laugh again. Ann could feel the small crowd move back as the head above her nodded in approval. And then it happened.
The hands were back gently cupping the sides of her face. The woman tilted her head down slowly and as her brown eyes met Ann’s pale blue ones she smiled at her with the biggest, warmest smile and said softly, “Now darling, before we try to get you up again, why don’t we start with your name? Can you tell me that?”
In that moment, looking up into those eyes, at that smile. It all started to make sense. Ann knew exactly why that voice had sounded so familiar. Why she’d heard her name called. Why she felt so at ease in this stranger’s lap. She knew exactly who her saviour was. A small smile pulled at her lips as she quietly replied, “Anne.”