[Media prompt] “People should be hung from lampposts, they should be burned alive, for what they’ve done to Britain”
They had been marching every day from first light until dark for a week now, through villages and small towns so the people could come out and jeer and spit on them. Spitting mostly on her, because she was the one they blamed.
“When I say run,” one of the guards said to her. “Head for those trees.”
She had suffered a hundred indignities a day at his hands, but she saw the trees he meant. They were a long way off.
He whispered it after shouting and pushing her in the back. She had stumbled, nearly falling, but he held her by the shoulder, pulling her close.
He said, “You still have friends.”
The road veered away from the trees, which disappeared from view behind a small hill. A sharp pain in the side of her stomach stabbed at her with every step. Earlier she had wet her pants, and the denim rubbed between her thighs. Was it worse to raise her hopes and then dash them by revealing he was lying to her? Or to tell her the truth, only to see her collapse a hundred yards short of the trees? She wanted to believe it was a lie, but felt sick with fear and hope that he would at any moment yell for her to start running.
Now the trees came back into view. There was rain in the distance, a thick sheet of it falling from low black clouds. The sun behind them shone brightly, making the grass stretching away to the rain seem greener.
There were potholes in the road here, from artillery shells. Some from landmines, too. She kept her eyes on the ground. The skin on her hands was torn and bloodied from falls on the first day. Scabs had formed, and they would bleed worse than new cuts if she fell now. To hold even a spoon was almost impossible. Her fingers were swollen, the nails ripped short. She cried from relief on the third day when the guards untied their hands.
A fresh wind had sprung up, numbing her cheeks. Her lips were cracked and bled intermittently. She knew this signified rain was coming, something that never occurred to her in all the years she had lived. Before the first drops, there was a heavy gust, and then it started to come down. Hard, driving rain, swirling in the wind. The guards had wet weather gear, but she saw that even they had their heads bent low.
When it stopped, the guard walked back slowly along the line. He hit someone with his stick, but she couldn’t see whom it was. She had given up caring about it days ago. As long as they didn’t hit her.
When he came to her, he said, “Run.”
She had not considered how rough and slippery the terrain would be once she left the road. Her shoes squelched in the water logged ground, but she ran despite the holes and the rocks, slipping and scrambling her way towards the trees. Her legs burned in pain. She had thought the constant walking would have made her stronger, but she seemed weaker. The trees were hardly any closer than when she started.
Almost collapsing from the exertion, she stumbled on until looking up she found herself on the edge of the trees. Through her eyes stinging with sweat, she saw a group of men standing around the largest of the trees. They helped her over the final twenty or thirty yards, their rough hands preventing her from falling.
When she recovered, they stood her under a tree. One of them looped the rope dangling from a high branch around her neck. Another pulled it tight until it rubbed and burned her skin, then two others joined him and lifted her from the ground. She heard one of them call her Prime Minister with a laugh. She gasped for breath. Her neck hurt. It was the last thought she had.