It's strange, the things that come to mind when you are placed under stress. When I'm under pressure at work, for example, I like to put the headphones into my laptop, put in a CD and listen to somebody like Tracy Chapman or Michelle Shocked. It helps me to relax, to focus on the task at hand.
Not much chance of me getting to this now, I suspect, as I sit here with my hands on my head and look at the young man in front of me, waving a gun in my face. I've only just come back in from the office, taking off the pashmina wrap and leaving it on the stand in my front room, when this hand slapped itself over my mouth and the voice told me to be quiet.
I could see myself in the hall mirror, my short dark hair and my eyes wide with the pale gloved hand underneath it covering my mouth. He frogmarched me back into my front room and made me sit down while he looked at me.
I still had my knee length black leather boots, the new ones I got for Christmas, on as my dark tights stretched over my knees. The skirt of my dress had ridden up slightly as well. It was made from purple dyed wool, and I was just grateful the neck was a modest v-shaped scoop as opposed to the black one with the deep v-neck I had planned to wear that day. I could feel the sweat on my face as well, as I felt the short sleeves slipping down towards my elbows.
What is he thinking about? He can't be more than about twenty, which means I have a good fifteen years at least on him. He just stands there, looking at me as if he's too afraid to do anything – oops, spoke too soon. He orders me to kneel down facing the seat I'm in, and as I slowly move onto my knees I can see him pulling a length of white cord out of his jacket pocket.
I should have seen this coming – I'm been robbed, and naturally he wants to keep me secure while he looks round. As he pulls my hands off my head and holds them together behind my back, I can remember the first time I saw someone in my family been tied up – my own mother.
It was about thirty years ago, before I had started school, and she was playing with me in her bedroom. Her dark skin was warm and inviting to me as I looked at her, sitting on the floor with me in a green flying suit with short, capped sleeves and a wide black belt around her waist. She was wearing a pair of short heeled shoes on her feet – I can remember that most vividly – and around her neck was a green and cream silk scarf tied like a cravat.
I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, as far as I can recall, and everything seemed fine until she looked up and said she thought she had heard something. My dad worked for a firm of jewellers, so she was always very cautious and careful when he was away.
I remember her listening for a while, and me asking if she was all right. She turned and smiled, and said we needed to play a game of hide and seek for a while – one with a difference. She told me to go into her walk in wardrobe, close the door and stay there until she told me I could come out. Whatever happened, I was to stay there until she said so. I nodded, stood up and picked up my teddy bear, and walked into the wardrobe, closing the door as mum stood up and left the room.
The door was wooden, with little gaps between the slats, so I could see her bed quite clearly and both hear and breathe without any difficulty. As the bedroom door opened again, I was going to come out, but I stopped myself when I saw mum been pushed into the room, by two men, dressed in dark suits, but their heads seemed to have something dark pulled over them.
One of them had his hand on mum's arm, and he pushed her onto the bed as she looked at them. I watched as they seemed to talk about something, before the second man did something I had never seen before.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a clean handkerchief, folded it into a pad and stood there as the first man pulled back on mum's hair. She opened her mouth to cry, but the cloth went in first, before he removed the scarf from around mum's neck and rolled it into a band. I watched, too scared to move now as he pulled the band between mum's lips, passing the ends behind her permed black hair and doing something to them at the base of her neck.
As he did this, the first man pulled her hand behind her back, grabbing her other arm and doing the same, before taking what looked like washing line from his jacket pocket. From the way she was sitting, I could see him wrapping the white cord around her wrists, like some is been wrapped round mine now, but to my young eyes to looked as if he was trying to hold them together.
By this time I could feel the tears running down my face, but I kept quiet as she was pushed over onto her side and her legs pulled back, making the bottom of her pants rise up as I watched the man tie her ankles together. As he did this, the first man was searching through the drawers in a big chest, taking out what I knew were her jewellery boxes and emptying them into his own pockets. I bit my own lip at that point – these were bad men, and I didn't want them to find me.
Eventually they left, as I watched my mother rolling over onto her other side and making sure they had left the room. I sat still, not wanting to move in case they came back and found me, but after a while I heard her say "Cmt, thrgn." Opening the door, I ran over and climbed onto the bed, hugging my mum as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
"Dntcr,bb, dntcr," she said as I snuggled in next to her. I could see her lips closed over the scarf as tears came down her face as well. She looked at me, and then said "pltst, hne". I looked at the scarf, and gently pulled at it with my little fingers, easing the band down her chin and letting it hang around her neck before watching her spit the cloth out of her mouth.
"Good girl," she said as she looked at me. "Now, I want you to run next door and get Mister Polton. Tell him mummy is in trouble, and he is to call the police and then come with you. Can you do that for me?"
"What about you," I said, to which she smiled and replied "I'll be fine for a little while longer. Hurry now – I'll still be here." I climbed off the bed and ran next door, telling our neighbour what mum had said. He nodded, made a phone call and then came with me...
I feel the last tug as my elbows are forced together as well, making me gasp as I feel my shoulders been pulled back. As I look round the room, I can see he's already had a good old fashioned search here. Why I didn't see it before, I don't know, but my newspapers and magazines are scattered all over the floor.
As he tells me to sit on the floor, I slowly twist myself round and look at him again. Yeah, only about twenty I reckon, in a dirty t-shirt and jeans that have seen better days. That doesn't stop him grabbing my ankles and crossing them as he takes another length of rope out and doubles it over, looking at me with a grin as he wraps it around my leather clad legs and pulled the end through the loop in the middle.
That sound – the sound of squeaking leather as my legs are forced to rub against each other – I remember the first time I heard that sound as well. That was when I went to spend a few days with my older sister at her college digs.
I was sixteen by then, and was sat in her room in a white linen skirt and blouse, watching her as she got ready to go for a night out. She's five years older than me, and was wearing a silver metallic strapless mini dress with silver leather ankle boots that laced up the front. As she sat there, putting on her makeup and lipstick, she was telling me all about this wonderful boy she was dating at the time – Dave, his name was.
At any rate, we were sitting, chatting and laughing as girls do, when there was a loud bang downstairs. She looked at me, I looked at her, and she told me to get under the bed and don't move. Well, what was I going to do? I dived to the floor and hid as the bedroom door was literally kicked in, and I heard my sister screaming.
I'm not going to mention what I heard there, but the next thing I saw was my sister lying on the floor, her terrified face looking at me as somebody big and burly sat on top of her, forcing her arms behind her back so that she held her elbows in the palms of her hands. There was a ripping sound, and I saw him start to tape her arms together, from one wrist to the other, overlapping the bands as he went along.
As he did this, he just kept saying "Where is it?", to which my sister kept saying "Where is what?" This just seemed to make him angrier, as he turned her over and I heard the ripping sound again, as well as that squeaking sound that I can hear now. For a moment, I look down and see my own attacker wrapping more rope around my legs, just below my knees and over my stockings, and I get a taste of what it must have been like for her.
Back then, I watched as her legs were taped together above her knees, and then this brute pushing a length of duct tape over her mouth. That was when I heard someone calling her name downstairs, and the man literally ran out of the room. I lay there shaking as much as my sister was at the noises that were coming from down there, before an eerie silence fell over the room.
When I was five, I was too scared to move, but my mum stayed calm even as she told me to come out. This time, the silence was punctuated and broken by the stifled, terrified sobs of my sister as she turned her head to look at me, her mouth and lower jaw a mass of silver and the mascara running down her cheeks with her tears. "Hlpm" she said as I crawled out, coming to her side and cradling her in my arms. Yeah, I know – but she was my sister, so we sat there as she sobbed and cried her eyes out after I removed the tape from over her mouth. That was her flatmate found us some hours later, when...
Shit – that bloody hurt. The bastard had pushed me over onto my side, and now I can feel my legs been pulled back. I lie still, panting as he does something, but when I look up and see him walk in front of me I can't move my bloody legs back. The rope is like a vice below my knees, but there is no bloody relief, and as I look over my shoulder I can see why – he's tied my ankles to the rope around my elbows with a short length of white rope.
I watch him as he runs up the stairs, having first turned my stereo on and started to play Radio One. Bloody Radio One – I hate dance music, but he's turned it up loud and not only can't I stop it, I can't make myself heard over the sound of it. Smart, bloody smart.
As I listen to what sounds like him emptying the contents of my cupboards onto the floor, I try wriggling round, but with little success. My skirt is falling slowly down my stockings onto my knees, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. So I stop and try to stay still, hoping the cramp will pass as I lie there.
I remember my friend Clare telling me about the time she and her mother were robbed, walking in on the two robbers as they ransacked their house. They were left in a slightly more comfortable position, sitting side by side on the couch in their white jumpers, jeans and boots. She had her wrist tied together in front of her, and secured down to the rope around her legs, while her mother had her arms pinned behind her back. Both also had scarves stuffed into their mouths and then pulled between their lips, like my mum all those years ago,
The way she described it, they were incredibly polite, and they weren't physically harmed beyond the rope burns on their wrists, but she stayed calm and clear throughout the time they were there, as well as the couple of hours after they left them, but a day or two later the shakes started for both of them.
They got better over time, but I'm thinking of her now, as well as mum, and even my sister. They all thought of others – myself or their mother – and tried to stay calm for them. Now I guess it's my turn, to try and stay calm as I go through this ordeal.
Looking up, I see my attacker coming back in, with a flannel in his hand as well as a roll of gauze bandage. Nodding, I open my mouth and offer no resistance as he stuffs the wet cloth in, before starting to wrap the bandage around my lower jaw. I'm not going to show him I'm afraid – he's not going to get that satisfaction from me...