A gust of wind blew coldly through her thin jacket. She shivered and huddled closer into the doorway, clutching her bag to her chest tightly in a vain attempt to keep herself warm. She fell into a light doze, while listening to the radio on a walkman she had stolen from a market stall. The radio signal hissed periodically as the battery's power drained.
It was just after midnight, but the city was still pumping with the sounds of ordinary people enjoying their ordinary social lives. The biting January evening didn't stop them from having fun. After all, they had warm homes to go to afterwards. She tormented herself with thoughts of warm cosy beds, thick duvets and hot baths. Not that she could really remember what those things felt like, but then she couldn't remember much of anything.
She had woken in Battersea Park, central London, over five months ago, badly beaten, penniless and remembering only her first name. She had vague visions of a home life. A man she assumed was her father, shouting. A woman. Her mother? Crying. Other faces and hazy memories occasionally swam before her eyes, tantalising, just out of reach, always disappearing into the swirling darkness before she could grasp them.
When she had first woken in the park, she had desperately tried to get passers-by to help her, so badly beaten and weak, she could hardly talk, let alone walk. The passers-by - business men and women in suits, striding along with a rigid grip on their briefcases, mothers pushing prams and towing toddlers, elderly people with walking sticks - all rushed past, pretending not to see her or hear her, simply assuming she was homeless, or maybe a junkie.
Eventually a kind old lady with snow white hair and weathered skin, took pity on the bedraggled young girl, and gave her a pound coin, with a hand that was curled like a claw, obviously riddled with arthritis. Before the girl even managed to smile in thanks, the woman was gone.
The girl awkwardly limped to a nearby burger van, not more than a couple of hundred feet away, but to her it felt like miles. Finally there, she bought a cup of tea and added three sugars. The overweight, balding and rather greasy looking man behind the counter obviously wanted to get rid of the girl as quickly as possible. He didn't like these street kids, couldn't understand why they didn't just get jobs like normal people and pay the damned government taxes. Well he had to, didn't he? So he took her money, gave her the pitiful change, and then sat on a cracked vinyl covered stool, which just about held his overwhelming girth. He held a newspaper up in front of his face until he was sure the girl was gone.
She sat on a bench to drink her tea, holding it tightly between both hands, feeling the warmth spread through her, easing the numbness of shock. Once she had drained it, she gathered her wits enough to find a toilet at a local fast food restaurant.
A wave of dizziness washed over her as she gazed at her reflection in the rather murky mirror. Her boring brown hair was darkened with mud and debris. Her lips, usually embarrassingly full anyway, were twice their normal size and split. Dried blood caked her chin, not only from the split lips, but also from her nose. Her left eye was swollen shut and was already a myriad of colours, whilst the right eye seemed dull and unfocused. A large egg-shaped lump adorned the side of her head, which throbbed painfully. Her skin between the bruises was deathly pale. She took stock of her other injuries - a swollen, most likely sprained ankle and general cuts and bruises were the extent of it, but the pneumatic drill thumping inside her skull made up for the other injuries ten-fold.
She slumped on a plastic moulded chair to think, too shocked to cry. The wounds she had, aside from the memory loss, were mostly superficial. The few blurry memories she did have filled her with such a confusion of emotions, including fear, guilt, anger and sadness, that the thought of remembering anymore terrified her. Had her parents done this to her? Could her own father have beaten her unconscious and left her in the park? It didn't seem possible, but from what she could remember, it was the only plausible explanation.
She buried her face in her hands and groaned. What the hell was she going to do? She couldn't go to the police or even a hospital; they would definitely try to find her family. Without any memories, how could she go back there? If her father did do this to her, then what would happen if she went back? She knew rationally that no-one could actually force her to go home, but without a memory, how would anyone believe her story? She had no clue if she still lived at home even, but right now, she was so terrified, she just could not bear to take the risk.
She decided to try and find a homeless shelter for the night. She was sure that once she'd had a good sleep she'd be able to think more clearly and decide what to do.
She stumbled out of the restaurant and asked directions from at least a dozen people before she found someone who had any idea where a shelter was. She limped painfully along the darkening streets, and after several wrong turns, she made it to the shelter.
She knocked on the closed door several times before it was opened. The man before her was in his late thirties, as far as she could gage, with a shaved head, goatee beard, several facial piercings and a rather bored expression.
`I wish you people would learn' he sighed, barely even looking at her. `There are only so many beds, once they're gone - that's it - tough luck. You should all know by now to get here early'. And without so much as a farewell, he slammed the door shut, narrowly missing her toes.
The girl stood there for a full minute, shocked. Only so many beds? She'd thought she only had to make it here, then she'd be safe, she'd be able to get a drink, or even food, and then finally, finally be able to sleep. The sweet oblivion of sleep. What could she do now? Where could she go? She'd seen plenty of homeless sleeping in doorways and the like on her way to the shelter. Surely there was somewhere better? So she walked, and walked, her ankle sending sharp shafts of pain shooting up her leg with every step, with an echoing stab in her pounding head. It was a warm night, but she shivered incessantly, her teeth chattering. It dimly registered in her mind that the shaking was probably shock, but she ignored the warning. Eventually as she reached a bench, she could walk no further, and she sank heavily onto it. She wept softly, in too much pain, and too scared to just lie down and sleep. She hugged herself tightly, rocking. She spent the night like that, jumping at every sound for what seemed like an eternity, until eventually dawn broke and the city sprang to life around her.
She stayed there until the staring of passers-by became too much to bear. Her stomach grumbled almost constantly and her throat virtually stuck together, it was so dry. She eventually found a public drinking fountain, and drank as much as she could possibly hold to calm her hunger pangs.
Her stomach temporarily placated, she sat down to think. A job was obviously to be her first priority, she thought, once she had one, she could get herself a place to live, not to mention food and clothes.
Huddled in her doorway, the freezing snow slowly melting in her hair, she snorted cynically. How naive she had been back then. She hadn't known the impossibility of getting a job without an address, national insurance number or bank account. Cash in hand jobs were few and far between and almost never given to the homeless. She'd survived so far by taking her cue from other street kids, sleeping in doorways and under bridges, in tube stations when she could get away with it, occasionally getting a bed in a shelter, but not often enough. She begged and stole when she had to, anything to survive. She hadn't made friends with the other street kids. She spoke with them on rare occasions only, trying to keep herself distant, fearful of falling into their habits of drugs, alcohol or prostitution. The loneliness was hard to bear, but the loss of her pride would be harder.
As the nights grew colder, she watched the street kids who'd turned to prostitution almost enviously. They had money, and warmth, if only for a short while. What would it be like? She wondered. Surely it couldn't be that bad. Sex is just sex; she tried to convince herself, just a physical function, nothing to it.
As it started to snow, she pulled her battered coat around her even more tightly, trying to cut out the icy wind and ignore her grumbling stomach. She knew if she turned a trick or two, she would have enough money to eat, maybe even get a room for a night or two. She would even be in the warm for however long it took - hopefully. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, she thought, maybe I could do it just a few times to set myself up. The other street kids made it look so easy - even if they did spend their money more on drugs and alcohol rather than food. She sighed, dreaming of a warm bed, and her belly filled with hot food. She began to cry softly, she was cold, so cold. She knew that if she turned a trick she could be warm, just for a little while, but her damned pride just wouldn't let her do it.
She eventually dozed off into a fitful sleep, light enough to jump up running if she needed to, but deep enough to escape from the constant and nagging fright that dogged her at every minute, for at least a couple of hours.
A/N: Just so you know, Edward makes his appearance next chapter! This story is actually complete so I'll be updating regularly – at least once a week – or more if reviews get demanding! ;)