“Be right with you, darlin’,” a portly chap with a shaved head said, from behind a makeshift desk. We stepped away from the portable blood donation station and enjoyed the low winter sunshine, both gazing up to the sky with eyes closed. It was nice to be out from behind my own desk.
“They film Dragon’s Den up there. You know it? That investment show.” I opened my eyes. The man walked down the tiny van steps, pointing at the next building. “Got an appointment?”
My friend nodded and handed him her paperwork. He looked at me.
“I don’t have an appointment,” I started, smiling, “BUT, I spoke to a lovely Irish lady on the telephone, and she said to come on down anyway because likely you lovely lot would be able to accommodate me, because you’re brilliant like that.” I gave my most charming version of an even wider grin.
“That right?” the man said, amused.
“You look like the chap that can,” I said. “Am I able to donate? Can you make it happen?”
I do this thing when I am trying to get my own way – when I’m putting on a bit of a performance. “The Laura Show”. I put on a posher voice and curtsy a little bit and make big hand gestures – a bit like Russell Brand.
He instructed my friend to go in the van and take a seat, and told me he’d see what he could do, if I insisted. “Oh, I do!” I laughed. “Thank you so much.” I told him I’d wait on the bench, and to call me over when he was ready to assist me in saving lives. I sat and watched the world go by.
“OI! You coming or what?”
I turned to the van. The man was waving for me to come over. I stood up. I don’t know how much time had passed.
“You were in a world of your own then,” he said, when I reached him.
“It’s lovely here,” I said.
He said, “I’ve got you an donation slot.”
“You’re my new favourite,” I said.
I followed him inside and sat down beside his desk so he could check my details. We made small talk. I told him I write and that it’d been ages since I last donated. He told me about a mugging he’d seen yesterday on Oxford Street, and about what a busy day he’d had.
Then he said, “Well this is a lovely coat, isn’t it?”
I was wearing my long black fluffy thing. He reached his sausage-like fingers out toward me, looking me in the eye, and his heavy hand landed on the top of my arm, just below my shoulder. His touch surprised me. I froze. It didn’t feel right. My instinct told me so. He ran his hand down the fur of the jacket, towards my hands, in my lap, and as I recoiled – mildly, so as not to cause offence – his hand landed on my knee and gave a little squeeze.
The way he did it made me want to throw up.
I blinked hard and fast, quick, over and over, as if my eyelids were the washers of my memory and like a car window all I had to do was rubrubrub at his penetrating gaze burnt into the back of my brain, and it would be erased.
I focused my stare out of the open door directly in front of me.
Don’t make a fucking scene, I warned myself.
He asked me for my name, address, and date of birth. My voice sounded light, breezy. I continued to look out of the door because I didn’t know what I would do if he made eye contact. He asked for my phone number, so they could reach me if there was a problem.
It’s my own fault, I thought. I flirted with him. I made him think it was okay to touch me like that.
Another voice in my imagination roared. DON’T BE A FUCKING IDIOT. HE IS A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL. YOU COULD STAND NAKED WITH YOUR TITS ON FIRE FOR HIM AND PAWING AT YOU LIKE THAT STILL WOULDN’T BE OKAY.
It’s my own fault.
Suddenly we were finished, and I had to go into the private booth to be asked the personal questions that they have to ask, the ones about sex and travel, and test my blood for iron. I stood up, ready to be greeted by the next nurse. To be away from the man who had made my heart thump and eyes water and throat tight.
“I’ll get this one,” he said, and then we were squashed into a room no bigger than a stationary cupboard, and he said to me, “Just got to ask you again: name, address, date of birth.” Then he chuckled and said, “Oh… and vital statistics.”
I don’t know why I didn’t scream at him. Yell. Storm out and tell everyone in the centre what he had done to me, what he was saying to me. Maybe he didn’t mean it like that. Maybe he didn’t mean to touch me high on my knee, to make me blush, to say provocative things.
It’s my own fault.
I’d smiled, I’d cajoled, I’d flattered.
It’s my own fault.
I wish I had said something. For the next girl. But I didn’t. I blamed myself. It’s my own fault.
It wasn’t my fault though. Now he’s not here, I know that. I’m ashamed that I wasn’t braver at the time.