Degrees of Separation: Part two
Interview transcript #012
Melissa Curran/Lauren O’Neill
LO: Okay, Melissa, are you ready?
LO: Last time we talked a little about how Robert treated you during your time at the farm.
LO: Do you remember?
LO: Is there anything you want to say about it? Where do you want to begin?
MC: I don’t know.
MC: I don’t know what you want me to say.
LO: You can say anything you want. It’s up to you. Whatever you want to talk about, whatever’s in your head.
MC: About Robert?
LO: If you want to. I think you need to talk through what happened and how you feel about it.
MC:I don’t know what to think…I…no-one understands. They think he’s a monster, that he’s evil.
LO: And what do you think?
MC: I just don’t think anyone can be all bad. Not completely. There’s some good in everyone.
MC: See, you don’t believe me. Whatever I say, people won’t believe anything but what they want to believe. What they see on the news.
LO: You can’t control what other people think, Melissa. It doesn’t make your opinion any less important. I’m just asking for your opinion, your thoughts. Not what other people will make of it. What you think is important.
MC: Okay, well…I just think, you know, nobody is completely bad. Robert was, sometimes, you know, he was okay. One time, he brought us ice-cream in the summer when it was really hot. When Ben was born, he went to a charity shop and bought a load of baby clothes and blankets for him. One Christmas, he brought some chalks for Ben, and some pens and pencils. He was kind sometimes too, you know.
LO: Why do you think he did those things?
MC: I don’t know. I suppose…he wanted to do something nice.
LO: If he wanted to do something nice, he could’ve taken you home.
LO: Did you ask him to take you home?
MC: Of course. All the time.
LO: And he never did. But you feel grateful to him anyway.
MC: I suppose I do, about those things.
LO: What did he say when you asked him to release you?
MC: Different things. In the beginning, he said he was working for people who kidnapped children and sold them to rich families who couldn’t have children. He said I was going to live like a princess, with lots of money and everything.
LO: And later?
MC: Later, he said those people wouldn’t pay him, so I had to stay locked in the barn for a while longer.
LO: What about your mother? What reason did he give for not taking you back?
MC: He said…he said, I can’t remember.
LO: Did he say she didn’t want you back?
MC: I can’t remember.
LO: Did he say they had stopped looking for you and didn’t want you back anyway? That he’d asked her and she told him that?
LO: Melissa, he was lying to you. You were eleven years old and extremely vulnerable. Of course you believed him, because he was an adult. That’s what people like him do, they tell you lies.
LO: Melissa, can you remember what happened on the day he took you?
LO: Can you tell me about it? As much detail as you can remember?
There were lots of things she couldn't remember, but the day she was taken was not one of them. Melissa could remember every detail of that day from waking in her bed at home with a peroxide Gary Barlow grinning at her from the ceiling, to falling asleep exhausted and freezing cold chained to the wall in the pitch blackness of the barn.
She'd been late again. Charlie had shaken her awake at 7:45 waving a note from their mother.
'Wake up, we're late,' she said. 'You're gonna miss your bus!'
Melissa stirred and looked at her watch.
'Oh no,' she said, throwing back her covers and jumping out of bed. Her mother had been in to wake her before she left to catch a train to Inverness. A neighbour was coming in to cook them supper and greet them from school as she wasn't due back until late. She'd set her alarm for 7:00 so she could wake Charlie and get her ready for school, but she must have slept through it. She’d have to get a real move on if she had any hope of catching her bus.
Charlie was heading out of Melissa's bedroom muttering about breakfast.
'Have we got time for pancakes?'
'No way ! Just cereal or toast. I'll do it if you go and get dressed quickly.'
She missed the bus. She was on her way along Prince’s Street to catch the 8:45 from North Bridge when a van pulled up alongside her. The street was busy and at first she paid no attention. It was beginning to rain so she reached around and pulled the hood of her school anorak over her head. As she did so, she noticed the van out of the corner of her eye. It was crawling along, slowly keeping pace with her. The passenger window lowered with an electrical whirring sound and a man in the driver’s seat leaned forward, smiling at her.
‘Hello,’ he said. Melissa stopped walking.
‘Aren’t you going to be late for school?’ he said, still smiling. Melissa didn’t answer. She stood, unsure, waiting to see what the man wanted. It would be rude to walk away, but she would miss another bus if she didn’t get a move on. He reminded her a little of Mr Cusack, her music teacher. He had black hair and the start of a white beard and his eyes crinkled when he smiled. This man was scruffier than Mr Cusack though, who always wore a suit and tie. He was wearing a pair of scuffed blue jeans and a dirty camouflage jacket.
He held out a street map of Edinburgh.
‘Do you know how I get to The Meadows from here?’ He jabbed a thumb towards the back of the van. ‘I’ve got a delivery and I’m supposed to be there by nine.’
She hesitated a moment longer. Glancing towards the row of bus stops along the street, she couldn’t see any buses. A minute wouldn’t hurt. She stepped towards the open window and leaned in. His car smelled of cigarettes. Pointing at the map, she said:
‘You need to turn around and head along there.’
His brows knitted together in confusion. ‘That’s the way I just came. Are you sure?’
‘Yeah. Turn left at the end towards—‘
He leaned across and opened the passenger door.
‘Look at you, I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘You’re getting soaked. Get in the warm for a minute.’
She didn’t hesitate. Later, she relived this moment over and over, wishing for another chance.
She hopped in, dropping her backpack at her feet. As she held the map up to point out the route, she was thrown back in her seat as the car suddenly accelerated. She looked across at the man, but he wasn’t looking at her anymore. He stared straight ahead through the windscreen, no longer smiling.
Without taking his eyes off the road, the man said, ‘I need you to get in the back.’
‘Just do it.’
He reached his left hand across and grabbed her shoulder, pulling her roughly sideways towards the gap between the seats. ‘Just get in the back. The seat belt doesn’t work, you’ll have to sit back there.’
Without thinking she obeyed, leaving her backpack in the foot well and climbing between the two front seats into the back of the van. The windows were blacked out by some kind of tape. A black tool bag and a coil of bright blue nylon rope were the only things in the back with her. She tipped over onto her back as they turned a corner at speed and then again, around another tight turn, making her roll in a complete 360 degree arc before smashing into the side of the van. Tendrils of fear began to claw at her insides. Why was he driving so fast if he was lost? As she righted herself, sitting on her bottom with hands and feet planted for stability, she realised there were no boxes rolling around in the back with her. He’d said he was making a delivery, but there was nothing here. He had lied. A cold hand of fear crept around her heart and gripped tightly.
After a few minutes, the van came to a standstill at traffic lights. The man immediately leaned around and looked at Melissa. His eyes were no longer crinkly and smiling.
‘Don’t make a fucking sound,’ he said. He leaned an arm around the back of the chair and lifted the tool bag into his lap. ‘There’s a gun in here. Stay quiet or I’ll shoot you. Not a sound, you understand?’ He stared at her, his blue eyes sharp, waiting for an answer.
Melissa nodded. Her mouth was too dry to speak, her tongue glued to the roof of her mouth.
‘Lie down,’ he said, and Melissa immediately complied, thinking of the gun in the bag. ‘Not like that, on your front.’ She turned onto her stomach, resting her head on her forearms. ‘That’s it, stay like that until we get there.’ Get where? He turned back and the van began to move again. At floor level, she could see dirt and dry grass clinging to a filthy carpet. It smelled dank and musty. Her mind kept coming back to what the man had said. Did he really have a gun? How could this be happening to her? Less than two hours ago, she was waking up in her room at home. Now she had been- incredibly- kidnapped, by a man with a gun. This couldn’t be real. It was like a television show. Kidnapped. Just thinking the word made her heart thump faster.
Eventually, the van came to a standstill and she heard the rapid ratcheting sound of the handbrake. A door slammed and a few moments later cool air and light poured in from behind her as the back doors of the van flew open. Her muscles knotted with fear and she squeezed her eyes shut.
For a second, there was no noise and she began to wonder if it was over. Had he gone? Was she free to go? Then there was a sharp ripping sound and her hope disappeared.
Suddenly, she was dragged backwards by her ankles and her woollen school socks were raked down. Fear beyond anything she had experienced before clutched her and she tried to scream. Only a raspy wheezing noise escaped her airless lungs.
‘Quiet,’ spat the man through his teeth.
With one hand, the man grabbed both of her feet and lifted, while he wrapped something tightly around her ankles with the other. He jerked her backwards by her feet until her legs were outside the van in the cool air and then grabbed a handful of her hair at the back of her head and lifted her into a sitting position. His nails scraped painfully across her scalp.
Melissa blinked. The man stood in front of her panting through his teeth, a piece of grey masking tape hanging from his mouth. How could I think he looked like Mr Cusack? This man’s face was a monstrous mask, like a demon. His black eyebrows met in the middle at a deep crease like a slash between his eyes. He had sweat on his face, despite the chill in the air. She looked away, not wanting to look at him.
She was in a farmyard. The van was parked between several stone buildings, some bigger than others. A dog barked somewhere nearby. Across the yard, she could see a tractor, broken and rusty, sitting on flat tyres in front of a big stone barn. A green metal door, about a quarter of the size of the entire side of the barn, stood open.
‘Where are we?’ Melissa said.
He ignored her question, ripping another length of tape loose. ‘Put your arms out, wrists together. Quickly.’
She did as he said and he immediately wrapped more grey tape around her wrists, extending halfway up her forearms.
‘Why are you doing this? What have I done?’
‘Get up,’ he said, grabbing a handful of her coat at the front and hauling her to her feet. She wobbled, unable to steady herself with her bound ankles.
‘My mum’s going to be wondering where I am.’
The man’s smile was more like a sneer, exposing teeth that were so yellow they were almost brown. ‘Is that right? So she’s not at work all day? Why didn’t she drive you to school then?’
Melissa looked away, avoiding his gaze. He laughed. ‘That’s what I thought.’
He looked around, eyes flicking left and right. He bit his lower lip and sucked in air through his teeth. He looked at Melissa and she shrank back from his gaze.
‘Right. Unless you want tape over your mouth too, I’d advise you to keep quiet, alright?’
She nodded quickly. Her knees felt so shaky she thought they might give way. Her whole body began to shiver, and her jaw clenched painfully. A moment later, the man bent forwards and grabbed her around her thighs, tipping her over his shoulder. Melissa let out an involuntary squeal. He hoisted her up so her head hung down his back and crossed the farm yard in rapid strides, splashing through muddy puddles. His shoulder dug painfully into her stomach below her ribcage, making it hard to breathe. Her face pressed against his coat and she held her breath against the smell. It was musty and cloying, like his car.
He headed in the direction of the barn she had seen and in just a few short seconds she was enveloped in darkness again. A moment later, he tipped forwards, dropping her onto the concrete floor. She crumpled as her feet touched the ground and she hit her head against a wall behind her. In the dim light, she could see the man crouching near her. He grabbed her bound wrists and threaded a piece of rope between them, like the rope she had seen in the van. He threaded the other end through a metal loop attached to the wall above her head and knotted it several times. The rope pulled her arms upwards, so she manoeuvred herself into a sitting position.
The man crouched in front of her face, and she shrank backwards against the wall.
‘Stay still and quiet, or I’ll come back with my gun, d’you hear? And don’t try screaming ‘cos no-one’ll hear except me.’ He stood up and left, heaving his weight against the massive door and rolling it closed. It would be four years before she learned his name.
The remaining sliver of daylight shrank with every second until she was plunged into almost complete darkness. As she heard the rattling of metal chains being attached to the door, she finally began to cry.