‘Look out! Stop!’
Margaret didn’t look. She didn’t stop until she was pushed into a doorway. ‘What–?’ was all she had time to say before her body slammed into the door. With the wind knocked out of her, Margaret gasped for breath. She struggled beneath the body of a man twice her size until she found a pocket of air, and inhaled deeply. A combination of sweat and brick dust filled her nostrils. Her mouth snatched for air and she began to choke. Her captor didn’t relax his grip. He held her tightly as tiles from the roof of the once quaint Jardin Café on Maiden Lane, in London’s Covent Garden, crashed onto the pavement where Margaret had been standing seconds before.
The cracking, splintering sound of snapping slates gave way to a heavier, duller sound like rolling thunder. With a vice-like grip, the man shielding Margaret took hold of her wrist and threw himself at the door they were leaning on. The door groaned, and the wood splintered at the side of the antiquated brass keyhole, but it didn’t give way. Still holding her, the man lunged again. This time there was a loud crack and the lock buckled beneath his powerful body. The door burst open, propelling Margaret through its gaping entrance as the chimney from the café’s roof crashed to the ground, missing them by inches.
Frightened for her life, Margaret stumbled into the darkness, lost her footing, and slid bottom-first down a flight of stone steps. The strap on her handbag snapped and the bag flew through the air, scattering its contents over the ancient flagstones. With the cardboard box of her gas mask digging into her ribs, Margaret came to a halt beneath a huge wooden cross.
Dazed and bruised, she looked around. She could see by the beam of daylight shining into the small vestibule that she was in the entrance of a church. She could hardly believe her eyes. She had walked down Maiden Lane a dozen times before; she’d had tea in the café, bought postcards from the bookshop opposite to send home, but she had never seen a church. Now she was sitting at the bottom of a flight of steps looking up at a soulful figure of Jesus on the Cross.
‘Have you had enough of life, young woman?’ the burly workman bellowed from inside the door at the top of the steps.
‘What do you mean?’ Margaret said, coughing and spluttering.
‘That was a bloody stupid thing to do.’
‘You’re the stupid one, for pushing me down these stairs. I could have broken my neck.’ She put her hand up to shield her eyes and peered at him through swirling brick dust.
‘Didn’t you see that bloody great big sign sayin’ No Entry?’
‘I didn’t have time to look.’ Margaret put on her best voice, emphasising the aitch in have. ‘I was on my way to a very important job interview and didn’t want to be late,’ she said, in an attempt to justify her stupidity while biting back her tears.
‘You could’ve been killed, never mind late!’ the man hollered, and he stormed off.
‘I’m sorry!’ Margaret shouted after him, but he had gone. She could have been killed, and so could he. The workman had put his life at risk to save her and she hadn’t even thanked him. As the reality of the danger she’d put them both in hit her, tears welled up in her eyes. She looked up at the figure of Jesus on the Cross. Engraved above his head were the letters INRI – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. At his feet was a brass plaque with the words Welcome to the Church of St. Saviour. Margaret burst into tears.
On grazed hands and knees, Margaret picked up her comb, lipstick and powder compact, which now had a cracked mirror and was covered in brick dust. Returning them to her handbag, she sat back on her heels and looked at her hands. How can I go to a job interview looking like this? she thought. But if I don’t go, the builder who saved my life would have risked his life for nothing. And what would Anton Goldman say? I’ve pestered him to get me the interview for more than six months.
‘Anyone would think you don’t want this job in the theatre,’ she said to herself. She did want it. She wanted it badly. Getting a job as an usherette was only the beginning. One day she was going to be an actress and sing and dance in a West End show. It was what she had dreamed of all her life. She was going to be famous and she wasn’t going to let a bit of muck, or a few cuts and bruises, stop her.