Angie lay like a corpse, flat on her back on the white marble floor, next to the barrier for Platform 17. She opened her grey eyes and squinted up at the brightness of the Victorian glass roof high above her, obscured by a looming paramedic. ‘You’ve been out for five minutes; we need to take you to hospital. What’s your name, love?’
Angie peered around her. The floor felt cold and hard as she turned her head. Next to the paramedic’s legs, she saw a policeman’s and heard his radio burble and crackle. Beyond them, a procession of feet. Trains screeched gently on the tracks. It occurred to her that it was good she’d chosen jeans instead of a skirt that morning. ‘Angie – Angelina. No, no, I’m fine; I just need to get my train home.’ She sat up, slowly. The paramedic screwed up his eyes and held his chin, ‘We should take you to hospital…’
‘No, really… I’ve just fainted, that’s all. I forgot to eat, I think… yes, I forgot to have breakfast. And lunch.’ The paramedic patted his belly and laughed, ‘I wish I could forget to have lunch!’ Half a smile flitted across Angie’s elfin face. The policeman said, ‘You need to do what the paramedic advises.’ Behind him, an old woman whispered, ‘drugs’, just loud enough for them all to hear.
‘I simply need to eat something,’ Angie insisted. Pigeons flapped petulantly in the rafters.
‘Can I do your blood pressure and then we’ll see about hospital?’ Angie tugged her green leather jacket off and the paramedic unzipped his blood pressure monitor and slid the cuff on to her arm. The machine squeezed and chugged and buzzed. Angie crossed her fingers. The paramedic took the cuff off, looked at the policeman and nodded his approval.
With her cropped fair hair and green jacket, Angie looked like a little lost pixie. The policeman asked, ‘Is that Angelina as in “Jolie”?’ He offered his hand. She took it and staggered to her feet, ‘Yes, Angelina’.
‘I assume – since you were heading for Platform 17 – that you were going for the Brighton train?’
‘Oh, so you’re a detective!’ Angie grinned. He offered his arm, as if they were in a Jane Austen novel. He was in his forties, muscular, with black hair like an Action Man doll (but no scar) velvet brown eyes and red lips. ‘Why don’t you come with me and have a sandwich, then I can put you on your train?’
‘Yes, and yes, I’ll do that, please, kind sir.’ The policeman beamed and Angie felt safe and the paramedic collected up his equipment and accepted the policeman’s thanks as he left.
The policeman walked Angie to a grey moulded metal bench facing the departures board and she obediently sat on it. He took his radio from his shoulder clip and held it to his mouth, smiling into Angie’s eyes as he did. ‘Alpha Sierra Zero Five One, clearing up after a paramedic has attended a woman who collapsed. Doesn’t require hospital. Just taking her to get on the train safely. Over’. He pointed towards the food kiosks. ‘Egg, ham, chicken tikka?’
‘Egg.’ She fumbled in her rucksack.
‘No, I’ll get this.’ He strode towards Upper Crust. It was a weird date, Angie thought. He returned with an egg baguette, a paper cup with tea (‘two sugars for you’) and a tiny bar of Green & Black’s chocolate.
‘You know how to wine and dine a girl.’
‘So do you come here often, to faint?’
‘It was that bloody incense. It reminded me of something horrible that happened to me and then I hadn’t eaten and…’ Her lungs didn’t seem to have quite enough air in them.
‘Steady, take your time. You don’t have to tell me anything.’ He had one of those faces: he was the sort of person people told their problems to.
‘It was when I was a student. I went to look at a bedsit. It was Earl’s Court. The house belonged to this Indian man. He worshipped the goddess Kali. She’s the Hindu goddess of destruction. I don’t remember his face, but he wore blue suit trousers with brown sandals. He had this gold statue thing in his hallway and the whole place stank of incense; sandalwood, I think. That’s what got me at the barrier: that shop with the incense.’
‘Oh, god, yeah, reeks doesn’t it?’ He sat down next to her. Angie chomped into the bread, trying to take a big enough bite so that the egg wouldn’t fall down her chin. As she chewed, she waved her spare hand in little circles, ‘Somehow he got me playing a Ouija board with him. I knew I shouldn’t; I’d heard about the suicides.’ She tried to slurp her tea. It was too sweet and too hot. ‘He had crystals, blue crystals; I don’t know if he hypnotized me. Oh god, this is embarrassing.’
‘No, go on, I’m fascinated.’
‘Well, what I remember clearest is how fast the little glass whizzed across the board to the letters and we truly, honestly were barely touching it with our fingertips. I asked for a name and it spelled out “V-I-T…” and I remember thinking, this is nonsense, because there isn’t a name that starts with those letters, but then it went on, “…O-R-I-A. Then the same with the surname, because it started with an ‘X’: “X-A-V-I-E-R”. Then I asked, “Will I find true love” and the letters spelled out “F-O-O-L”. Oh, I’m feeling really dizzy now…’
‘Try your chocolate, the sugar will help. Maybe you should think about something else’.
‘I want to tell you. I haven’t talked about this for years. Perhaps if I tell you, I’ll get it out of my head.’ He moved his hand towards hers and she thought he was going to squeeze it, but then he just steadied her tea so that it didn’t spill.
‘I left that place with her inside me. I was young and, you know, suggestible. She took over me. She made me hate men; really despise them. And drink a lot of tequila. That sounds stupid, doesn’t it?’ The policeman opened his eyes wide and leant back on the bench, stretching out his legs in front of him. He looked down at his black boots and exhaled. ‘You’ve not been on the shots today, have you?’
‘Shall I stop? You think I’m mad.’
‘No; go on,’ he sat forward again. Angie thought he tried to sneak a glimpse at his watch.
‘I ended up walking up and down the Cromwell Road all night. I was looking up at the sky and I could see that there was an extra, well, a layer above us – a spirit layer that we can’t usually see. The church spires were like beacons, jutting up through it, up towards the stars. I got to Holy Trinity Brompton, banging on the vicarage door at 5am and the vicar’s wife came to the door in her pink fluffy dressing gown and invited me in. The vicar was really nice. He asked where I’d got the, um, well, thing from and when I told him, he said, “Earl’s Court, eh? It’s easier to pick up a demon than a ‘flu’ bug over there.” He said prayers for me and then, when I told him I didn’t want to go back to my flat alone, he drove me home and shook holy water about the place and then everything was ok; well… she was gone, anyway. That was so long ago; a different life. God, it must be about fifteen years. I can’t believe I’ve had three husbands since then.’
‘No, only one was a divorce.’ The policeman took a breath to speak, but a station announcement blared over the intercom, Platform seventeen for the 15.20 Southern Service to Brighton…
‘So you’re telling me you were possessed by a demon?’ There was something in his tone that made Angie worry he was about to get his notebook out.
She dared not tell him she’d just seen Vitoria Xavier again. It was one thing for him to think she’d been reminded of some weird experience years ago, but something quite different for him to suspect she was psychotic today: that she’d glanced at the shop window just before the barrier and her reflection had been Vitoria’s. She had mustered all her courage to check, knowing who it was, but wanting to be wrong.
Angie had forced herself to hold Vitoria’s gaze and taken two steps back: Vitoria had taken two steps back. Then she raised a hand: Vitoria raised the corresponding hand. Angie’s guts had seemed to melt and sink and her vision had started to fall away and fill up with blackness. That must have been when she fainted. It was such a long time ago; Angie thought that woman was gone for good. It had taken years to get over it. She didn’t want to be threatened with hospital twice in one afternoon and that bloody counsellor had betrayed her by reporting “Psychotic Episode”, which was now there, like a flashing red light, on her medical notes. Angie shuddered at what she’d just seen; the long black curly hair tied at the side with a green ribbon, the thin nose, dark eyes. She started feeling heavy again, with a creeping feeling up her back. ‘It’s hard to explain. No, yes…, in a way, and anyway it was ages ago. Then it was the just the incense from that shop; it brought it all back and I was feeling faint anyway because I hadn’t eaten.’
‘So you believe me, then?’
‘The church has exorcists, doesn’t it? They must all believe in it, so you’re in good company.’ He said it as if he was closing drawers in a filing cabinet in his mind. ‘Are you feeling better now?’ She nodded, but she wasn’t.
They walked to the train, which was waiting at the platform. The policeman pushed the door button and, as the door swooshed open, stepped up with Angie in to the carriage.
‘I love this bright yellow colour,’ she offered, lamely. She sat at a window seat, platform side, opposite a man with a briefcase and a grey suit, who lifted his Telegraph in front of his face when he saw them. Angie noticed he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. She said to the policeman, ‘Oh, I don’t know your name and you’ve been so kind,’ but he was already leaving her, calling behind him, ‘Don’t need to. You just look after yourself.’ He turned back and winked, then stepped out of the carriage. She smiled, but didn’t know why. She had never really understood winking.
The train was starting to move off, clunking over the joins in the track. The policeman started up the platform towards the station. He exhaled loudly and muttered, ‘fucking nutters’. He looked back over his shoulder, thinking it would be polite to wave goodbye. In the corner of his eye, framed by the window, he saw the businessman with the newspaper, but in the seat opposite was a woman with long black curly hair, tied with a green ribbon. He shook his head a little, assuming he’d misjudged how far the carriages had moved, turned his face back towards the station, continued walking and took out his radio, ‘Alpha Sierra Zero Five One; back on patrol. Over.’
The train rattled through the suburbs. The businessman had put down his paper and was looking intently into Angie’s eyes, ‘Ah, as in “Jolie”, I assume…?’
Louisa Campbell lives in Kent, England. Better known for her poetry, she also writes stories. Vitoria Xavier might be real, or might be imagined; we will never know.