The Girl in The Bin
Martino quietly leaned into the kitchen and pulled a meat cleaver off the wall-mounted magnetic strip. It was approaching two-am and the only people left in the restaurant were Martino and his son, Luca, who was leaving a message on the greengrocer’s answer-phone.
Taller than Martino by a foot, Luca was slim but athletic, with well-defined Mediterranean features, short-cropped hair and dark, thoughtful eyes. Martino, mid-fifties and not as svelte as he once was, had taught his son everything he knew. When Luca turned twenty-six he’d been handed full responsibility of the kitchen.
‘Where you going with that?’ Luca said in his laid-back Midlands drawl, his father clearly not as stealthy as he’d have himself believe.
‘I, ah...’ Martino said in his thick Italian accent, embarrassed slightly at having to justify himself to his son ‘...I hear a noise, I... think maybe it’s kids’.
‘Dad...’ Luca exhaled, long and slow ‘...you can’t go threatening kids with knives.’
‘No, not to threaten.... to, you know...’ he shook the cleaver in his hairy hand, emphasised his point ‘... scare them off.’
A loud bang outside the kitchen window made Martino jump.
‘You see!’ Martino said.
‘Ok, but... give me that thing’ Luca snatched the cleaver from Martino’s hand and walked to the back door, pushed it open.
She was half hanging out of the tall metal wheelie-bin; her legs working frantically to push up, squeaky wet trainers scribbling about aimlessly for grip. Luca banged the bin heavily on its side with the back edge of the cleaver. She dropped down from the bin onto one foot, which twisted and gave way. She fell into a heap on the floor. Her thin, dirty hands reached up and brushed long, dark hair away from her face. The straggly tear-stains around her wide brown eyes made it hard to tell, but they guessed she was mid-twenties.
Her eyes flitted between them, caught the glint of metal in Luca’s hand; the cleaver. She tried to scrabble backwards, push herself against the wall; she let out a cry of pain as she did, reached for her ankle with both hands.
‘Oh no no!’ Martino said, realising what had caught her attention; ‘I... hear noises and think... it’s kids... a drunk ... a rat?’ He held both hands up, palms facing each other, two feet apart;
‘We get rats here...’ he said, his hands drifting apart another half foot ‘... big rats.’
‘Well...’ Luca said, passing the meat cleaver handle-first to his father, ‘....you keep an eye out for those rats.’ He approached the girl, hands held up as if surrendering, and knelt at her feet. She watched as his hands, dotted with nicks and burns, lifted the leg of her jeans to get a better look at her swollen ankle.
‘It doesn’t look broken...’ Luca said, carefully loosening the laces on her trainers. Her eyes widened, pupils dilated and face flashed with doubt.
‘I'm Luca’ he said, smiling slightly out of the side of his mouth.
‘Martino Maroni...’ his dad interjected, his words dripping in Italian inflection ‘...and this...’ he waved proudly towards the emergency exit and frosted window lit up sickly, bug-zapper blue ‘...this is my restaurant...’ he followed her puzzled gaze, added ‘... maybe it looks better from the front.’
‘My name is Xatia...’ she said, the word sounding hypnotic in her husky, Eastern European voice.
‘Ok, Xatia,’ Luca said ‘we should probably get you to a hospital.’ She looked startled, terrified.
‘Please, no, I... cannot go to hospital.’
Martino and Luca shared a quick, worried glance.
‘Is there... someone we can call then?’ Martino said.
‘No, there is... no-one’ she replied quietly.
‘So’ Martino said, ‘you can... stay here... with the bin, or...’
‘Come in. With us. I'll, er, knock you up something. To eat.’ Luca blurted out, blushing when he realised how enthusiastic he’d sounded. He stood up, held his hand out. She studied his hand... then him... then reached up towards him. He eased her up onto her good leg, placed one arm around her back, hooked the other behind her knees and picked her up.
‘It’s ok. I promise’ he said, walking her through the back door.
Martino had a look up and down the service road, tried to pinpoint the location of a barking dog then followed them in.
Luca sat Xatia on the worn brown leather sofa by the bar. Martino rushed in clutching a fake fur coat, which he opened wide and held towards Xatia.
‘It’s ok, I ...don’t she’s coming back for this’ he said. Xatia leant forward as he draped the coat around her shoulders.
‘No, I... don’t think she is’ she said, seeing the fur clumped together in places, the lining torn; ‘thank you. You are both very kind, but... I have no money to pay you for this.’
Martino looked outraged;
‘Pay! No! You are our guest.’
‘Right’ said Luca, drifting off towards the kitchen, ‘let’s see what...’
Martino went behind the bar, poured a couple of generous brandies.
‘So you and Luca...?’ she asks.
‘He is my son...’ Martino said, glancing towards the kitchen ‘... my only son.’
‘His mother, Mrs...?’ Xatia started, realising she’d forgotten Martino’s surname.
‘Maroni. Ariah Maroni. No, she is... no longer here. Not since Luca, she... died when he was born.’ Martino’s gaze fixed on his drink.
‘Please forgive me, I... didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.’ Xatia reached across the table and placed her hands over Martino’s.
‘Hey, they’re not all bad memories’ he said, turning his hands over and squeezing hers; ‘I have my son... this place... friends...’ his tired, glazed eyes drifted slowly around the restaurant. ‘So... what about Xatia? How long have you been in my bin?’ Xatia let out a small, unexpected, snort of a laugh.
‘Me? Well I...’ She tried to organise the words in her head, work out what ones she could leave out. ‘I came to England a month ago. My parents, they... They’re not here anymore. Bad men came to our village, cleared us out of our homes. When my people tried to defend themselves they were pushed... beaten... shot. This was six months ago. I had nothing; no family... little money. I had to leave... make a new start.’
Xatia and Martino turned together as Luca walked in; a folded-up white kitchen cloth holding the side of a large white pasta bowl, its contents obscured by the tendrils of steam snaking from it. He set the bowl down in front of Xatia along with some shaved parmesan.
‘So what exactly have you, er...’ Martino asked, his eyes widening with insinuation ‘...knocked up?’
‘Oh, it’s just some... risotto. Mushroom. Shit, I didn’t ask! Do you even like mushrooms?’ Luca clenched his teeth in anticipation of her response.
‘Yes I like mushrooms. Thank you, Luca.’ She smiled at him, raised a fork to get stuck in; the first proper food she’d have eaten in more than a week...
‘Good, well, there’s... wild mushrooms. Truffle oil. Chicken. Roasted with, er... thyme and...’ Luca was cut off by his father;
‘Luca, please... Look how hungry she is. Just... sit.’ Martino went to the bar to refill their glasses. He returned with an extra glass for Luca.
‘This is... amazing’ Xatia said, making short work of the risotto.
Martino had bought her an ice-pack. She held it against her ankle.
‘Thank you so much, I...’
‘Hey... no need... really’ Luca said.
‘Xatia was telling me about how she came here, to England’ Martino said, before continuing to the girl; ‘...so... what did you do when you got here? Where did you stay?’
‘I... found job. A Russian man, he told me it was work for internet company... He said he had many flats... girls.’ She paused, took a deep breath and braced herself. ‘He’d film the girls; alone in their room or... with him... his friends, then... sell the films. I... could not do what he wanted. He got angry; told me I owed him rent... said he would sell my passport...’ she trailed off, didn’t want to look at either of them. Hot, stinging tears rolled down her dirty cheeks.
‘So this... Russian, he... has your passport? How did you get away?’ Luca asked.
‘Well, he... he came to my room; told me I need to start paying him, I...’
‘Yes?’ said Martino, the veins in his temples pumped to bursting point.
‘I kick him. Hard, you know; between...’ Luca and Martino both nodded ‘...then I push past him, run... keep running. Three days later, you... find me here. In bin.’
‘So...’ Martino said ‘... how many more girls are there?’
‘I never know for sure. I was locked away. I never saw the other girls but... late at night you could... hear them.’
Martino stood up, placed a hand on Xatia’s shoulder;
‘You can stay here tonight...’ he said, looking to Luca who nodded solemnly; ‘...tomorrow we will visit this Russian... get your passport back.’