She walked away again from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, raising her face towards the watery sunshine distilling itself through the cloud. The day had been quite warm but there was a sense of the start of a new season: holidays over, workers with fading tans, and children back at school. Across Little Britain she went through the gates to the small garden within. She scanned the names on the plaques: George Bencowe, Amelia Kennedy, Thomas Griffin, Joseph Andrew Ford. Heroes all.
The garden was quiet, very quiet, save for an old man with an empty tin of beer, nodding in the far corner.
It suddenly seemed colder. Buttoning her cardigan, Sarah reached in her bag and produced a scarf to wind around her neck. As she did so, she heard a faint scratching sound, like nails against a glass window. The scratching continued and became louder and she found herself unable to move, pinioned, seemingly, to the bench by the weight of an invisible presence. Then, the sound of a boy’s voice. “Let me out Sarah! Let me out.”
The voice became stronger. The cold of the gardens receded. Now she smelled fire and burning. Acrid, chemical fumes. The detritus of life and death. Bodies blackened, strewn and distorted. Limbs that had no life. People in pieces.
“Help me. Please!”
But it was the insistent voice of the small child that echoed out again. As she looked, a tiny, dirty boy emerged from the wall.
“My name is Soloman Galaman. I live here, but I can never, ever, sleep. Our community is small and everyone is so caring and kind. May I talk to you?”
“I’m 8 years old. I never became older. My parents, they told me, came to escape what they called persecution. They were Iraqi Jews. My home was in Commercial St and they were tailors. We had no money, but many friends.”
“It happened at Rosh Hashanah. We were all so excited. We were about to light the candles and eat our traditional cakes when we realized that my brother wasn’t there. We looked out of the window and saw him standing in the doorway waiving to a friend across the street. Commercial St was so busy. I rushed downstairs just as my brother ran into the road.”
“ My brother!” I shouted. I ran into the road and pushed him, with some force, away from the tram. But I could not save myself. My wounds will not heal – look at them!”
She saw deep gouges in the spectral boy’s legs, like blackened rivers in his flesh.
“ The Dr Alec tried to help me. He is here but he is able to rest. My friend is William Fisher, who tried to save his brother from drowning. Sarah, the pantomime artist tries to keep us happy. She was in the pantomime when she died. William and I had never seen such things.”
“You are called Sarah. I’ve seen your names on the enveloped in your bag. You remind me of my mother. She, too, was called Sarah.”
“Will you come with me and be my mother? If you come into my world, perhaps I will sleep at last. I am not at peace like some of the others.”
She looked right through the boy. She wanted to hug him, reassure him. To tell him it would all be aright. But she was not ready to go.
She shut her eyes and imagined the inscription on her blue and white plaque.
“ Sarah Jacobs: died while trying to pull a young boy from the wreckage of a tube train at Edgware Road July 7 2007, whilst herself suffering from cancer.”
But no such inscription existed. The boy had died and she had lived. It was not yet time to go behind the wall.