Copyright is held by the author.
ELLIE STOOD by her front door, hardly able to breathe. Her heart was pounding so loudly it felt as if it was going to jump out of her chest. She tried to swallow but it was impossible. Her throat was as dry as the desert.
Earlier that morning Ellie had made sure there was a paper bag in her dressing gown pocket — just in case she started hyperventilating again — but her hands were trembling so badly she wasn’t sure she’d be able to hold on to the bag, even if she desperately needed it.
She’d been standing by her front door for almost five minutes, but Ellie knew she had to open it to get what she wanted. Thankfully the local postman, Ravinder, was very understanding. He’d known Ellie for years and he was incredibly patient with her every time there was a delivery she had to sign for.
“Don’t worry, Ellie,” his gentle voice came from behind the door. “Take all the time you need. It’s going to be okay. You just need to sign the piece of paper for the parcel — same as usual, no worries — it’ll be quickly done, you can do it.”
Sweat was running down Ellie’s back and her palms were clammy. She shivered as she slowly reached for the doorknob and gently, ever so gently, twisted it. If she didn’t open the door she wouldn’t get the book she’d been looking forward to receiving since ordering it on the Internet a couple of days earlier.
Thank goodness for the worldwide web, Ellie had thought as she’d made the final click and sent off her order through cyberspace. She honestly didn’t know what she would have done without the Internet. Ellie could access the outside world from the comfort of her own little flat and yet, just as easily, she could block everything out whenever it became too much for her.
As Ellie opened the door just a tiny crack, she saw Ravinder’s friendly grin and noticed — with a large amount of relief — that he was standing about five steps back, giving her enough personal space and reassurance to open the door a bit further. Ellie managed a weak smile in return.
“Hi Ellie.” Ravinder’s voice was kind and soothing. He really was a stellar postman. “Well done — that was much faster than last week. Good for you.”
He handed her the receipt, which she swiftly signed before giving it back to him and grabbing the parcel from his outstretched hand as quickly as she dared without seeming unbearably rude.
“Have a good day, Ellie,” Ravinder said gently and she gave him a little wave.
When Ellie closed the door she leaned with her back against it and closed her eyes. The ordeal was over! She wouldn’t have to open the front door again for at least another week. Trembling, she breathed a sigh of relief and angrily brushed away the tears spilling down her cheeks, despite there not being anybody else in the flat to see her cry.
She hadn’t always been like this — a weirdo, a freak, a waste of space — or at least that’s what she felt like. Before the “incident,” as the police called it, Ellie had a job she loved at the local library, a wonderful group of friends and a boyfriend who thought the absolute world of her — but then she had lost it all.
It was evident even to Ellie that it all stemmed from being mugged 15 months ago. She hadn’t needed a psychologist to figure that out.
Shortly after seven o’clock on a balmy May evening, Ellie was walking home from the bus stop with her nose stuck in a book, just as she did every weekday evening after work. She didn’t pay particular attention to the two young men crossing the street and barely noticed when they started walking towards her.
As she stepped aside to let them pass, one of them swore at her, then shoved her so hard she crashed to the ground, badly bruising her shoulder. The other man grabbed her handbag, ripping it clean off her shoulder. Before Ellie even realized what had happened, they had both run off. A passerby rushed over to help her and called the police. Unfortunately the officers couldn’t do much more than take Ellie’s statement about the “incident.” She didn’t have a good description of the men that had assaulted her and there was no CCTV footage or any other leads. When the police found Ellie’s bag with everything in it except for the 50 pounds the thieves had taken out of her purse, she was incredibly relieved. But the feeling didn’t last.
Although she was physically fine, Ellie’s mental well-being was quite a different story. A week later she started suffering from flashbacks and she became increasingly paranoid that the muggers knew where she lived. Ellie couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time and even then she had terrible nightmares. She worried they had her address or had copied her keys — even though she knew they hadn’t had time to do so — and that they’d be back to assault her again. She thought of moving, but she couldn’t face the upheaval so she had her locks changed instead.
“They can’t possibly know anything about you,” Ellie’s boyfriend Michael had tried to reassure her. “They were only interested in the cash they grabbed from your purse.”
But little by little Ellie stopped trusting everybody around her, including Michael. She hated going outside, detested leaving the comfort — the safety — of her own home. One day she woke up and realized she couldn’t leave her flat anymore — not to go to the corner shop, let alone to go to work.
Her manager at the library was very understanding and put Ellie on sick-leave, but she had to let her go in the end.
Over time, Ellie lost most of her friends because she stopped returning their calls. And then she lost Michael too. Ellie couldn’t bear to be around anybody and she finally asked Michael to stop coming over. That was the day she broke his heart — and her own.
PTSD — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s what Ellie learned her condition was called. She looked up the definition in the dictionary. It read: “a psychological condition, characterized by anxiety, withdrawal, and a proneness to physical illness that may follow a traumatic experience.” Ellie simply called it a living hell.
She was 27 and had been out of her flat fewer than half a dozen times over the past year, relying on her parents and younger brother for help. They did Ellie’s shopping and — as infrequently as she could possibly make it — accompanied her when she needed to venture outside of her flat.
Through a library connection, Ellie was fortunate enough to find work as a freelance writer, enabling her to just about get by financially. She barely spent any money so she didn’t need a large income to cater for expensive nights out, exclusive holidays or a flashy car.
Just thinking about going outside made Ellie break out into a cold sweat. If she didn’t stop thinking about it, a panic attack would start, where the muscles in her arms and legs seized up and she felt like she couldn’t breathe, and that she was suffocating. Ellie avoided the real world as much as she could and by the same token she also avoided thinking about her future. What future? she said to herself once. How can I possibly have one?
A month earlier Ellie’s dad had pleaded with her to get help. “I can’t bear seeing you like this, Ellie,” he’d said, his eyes glistening with tears. “Here’s the number of a really good psychiatrist, Dr Neuhaus. She specialises in treating PTSD. Please promise me you’ll at least think about calling her. Please, Ellie!”
Ellie had promised but all she had done was stick the number on the pin board in her kitchen, leaving it there to gather dust. She couldn’t face speaking to a stranger — not about the weather and certainly not about her condition.
After Ravinder left and Ellie’s heart stopped racing, she took her parcel into the living room and ripped it open eagerly, the nightmare of answering the front door and dealing with the outside world swiftly forgotten.
Her favourite author’s new novel had finally arrived and she couldn’t wait to start reading it, curled up in her favourite big, red, solid, comfy armchair, with a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. Ellie wanted to sit there for as long as she could concentrate on reading — which wasn’t very long these days — safe as houses.
Just as she was about to start the first chapter, there was a loud cry for help from outside. Ellie leapt up and looked out of the window. She saw a man standing over an elderly woman, and he was yanking on her handbag.
Ellie gasped. The woman was being mugged right in front of her eyes! Frozen to the spot she watched as the woman used her walking stick to whack the attacker on the knee. The man yelped but didn’t let go of the bag, tugging at it more fiercely this time.
Ellie frantically searched out of the window for another passerby. Surely one of the neighbours was going to come to the woman’s rescue — but the seconds passed and nobody did. The man was still pulling on the bag, but the woman was refusing to let it go and she struck him again with her walking stick, which landed squarely on his hand this time.
Ellie realized she had a choice; stay in the comfort of her living room with her new book, ignoring what was going on outside, or take a stand. She chose the latter.
As Ellie ran out of her front door, brandishing the umbrella she hadn’t had a use for in almost a year, she screamed, “Get away from her you thug!” at the top of her lungs.
She pictured herself over a year ago, lying on the ground and being mugged by two men. Adrenaline kicked in and all of a sudden an almighty rage rose up inside of Ellie, pumping through her body and rushing through her veins. Those yobs had taken her life from her. They had turned her into a psychotic, quivering wreck. Ellie wasn’t going to let that happen to anybody else. How dare this man attack another person — let alone an elderly woman! Her face red with fury, she rushed towards him, umbrella raised in her right hand, looking like a woman possessed. The mugger took one look at Ellie, quickly let go of the bag and ran off.
“That’s right you lowlife coward!” Ellie shouted after him as loudly as she possibly could. “Keep running and don’t you dare look back or I’ll beat you to a pulp and then some!” She was breathing hard as she knelt down to help the woman up, but Ellie felt more alive than she had in years.
Surprisingly, given the circumstances, the woman was looking at Ellie with a proud and friendly grin.
“That’s the spirit, young lady,” she said, slowly getting to her feet with Ellie’s help. “That’s the spirit! He’s going to have to try a lot harder if he wants to steal my pension from me!”
As she looked into the woman’s kind eyes Ellie realized enough was enough. She decided she wasn’t going to be afraid anymore. If she could chase off a mugger, she could do anything, especially pick up the phone and call Dr Neuhaus. It was the start of a new beginning.
“Thank you for rescuing me,” the woman said, squeezing Ellie’s hand.
“No,” Ellie answered, shaking her head and matching the woman’s broad smile. “Thank you for rescuing me.”