“Why are you doing this?” Kira was rooted to the spot, too frightened to fight back, trying to rationalise what was happening.
“You’re stupid.” Leon ran from the computer towards her and headbutted her for the fourth time.
Kira reeled slightly, but was dimly aware that her enormous bones were considerably stronger than Leon. As he retreated to take another run at her, she tried edging towards the door. Given that the only alternative room was the kitchen, she did not particularly want to lead this episode in that direction. There were knives in there. Her head, bruised from the headbutting and scorched by the two pints of boiling drinks Leon had already thrown at her, was now quite painful, but she had no time to think about that. She tried packing the remains of her stuff into her bag, with a view to leaving.
“Stupid, stupid bitch.” Leon continued his tirade, blind with fury after Kira had left an apple core on his new Ikea sideboard.
“OK I think it is time for me to leave now.” Kira tried to sound as calm as possible. All she wanted to do was remove herself from the situation. Leon had gone crazy.
This was not entirely a surprise, given the amount of stress Leon had been put through. His family had made horrific accusations against him, to the point that his wife had left him some months before. Kira had done her best to be a good friend to him, in the absence of the ability to make the problem go away entirely. It wasn’t even as if they were in love, particularly. He just didn’t have anyone else. Now she was to be a punchbag, for some reason. Kira picked up her bag swept some of the blood out of her eye, and moved towards the door. Leon was breathing heavily, apparently not seeing a further opportunity to attack her. Hopefully he was tired.
Kira slowly edged towards the front door. She had no idea at this point how badly she was injured. She knew that she had accidentally put diesel in her car the night before, so it was stuck outside the house.
As she descended the stairs, she wiped her hand on the walls. Some brown stuff, presumably brain, was coming out of the wound at her browbone. She wiped it on the wall of the close as she went down. If she died before she made it home, she reasoned, some trace of her DNA would be left. She had better phone the AA to deal with the car.
She stopped at a hostel on the way down the road to ask to use the phone. They took one look at her and refused. Feeling distinctly dizzy, she finally found a phone box a few streets away. She called the AA. Just as she had arranged for someone to come and pick her and the car up, she finally cracked.
“I, I’m burning.”
“What?” the AA assistant, sitting in her distant office was confused.
“The tea had no milk in it, I’m burning. My head, it’s burning.”
“What happened?” the AA assistant was even more confused.
“Leon, he poured two pints of black tea and coffee over me.” Kira sounded as if this was normal behaviour. “It’s burning.”
“OK.” The AA person sounded concerned. “I think you had better get yourself to a hospital. You can call us back about the car later.”
“Do you think so? I thought I should sort the car out first?” Kira was genuinely confused. She never mattered more than other things, particularly where money was concerned.
“Yes, get yourself to a hospital. I will put your call on the waiting list, don’t worry.” The AA person sounded comforting. “I think you are probably in shock.”
“Yes, my head is sore.” Kira put the phone down and staggered out of the phone box into the road. She had been lucky to find one at all.
Some ten minutes later, a kindly taxi driver stopped and bundled her into the back of the taxi. “No charge.” He took her to the local A and E.
“An ex-nurse you say? He knew what he was doing. He was trying to destroy your face you know. If your brow bone had shattered, you would have also had brain damage. You need to stay away from him.”
“Oh it isn’t a domestic. I split up with him weeks ago. He just went mad. I think I must have made a mess.” Kira started to cry a little as she realised what a mess she must be, given the pain.
Patched up, Kira sorted the car out. It was to be taken to a garage outside Glasgow, and then she decided she would go to Oban until it healed up. She headed over to see Aldous.
“What on earth happened to you?” Aldous, usually impassive, looked faintly horrified.
“Leon. I have to leave town for a few days until it heals.” Kira rubbed her head.
“Leon is a cunt.”
“He is just stressed by the allegations. I got him the best lawyer in Scotland you know.” Kira was quite proud of that.
Aldous was open-mouthed. Kira was always stupidly kind, but this was ridiculous. “You should report that. Harry was great friends with David, but he reported him and it wasn’t as bad as this.”
“If I do that, he will go straight to jail. I can’t do that.”
“He doesn’t deserve your concern.”
“Probably not, but right now I just have to hide this from mum, so I have to go.”
“I wouldn’t be worried about your mum if I was you.”
Kira had lived in Oban ten years before. She had been recovering from a violent relationship back then, so for some reason it made sense to spend a few days there whilst the burns and wound on her face cleared up. Her first port of call when she got there was the family she had worked for.
“No, you can’t come in. You will frighten the customers. Boyfriend did it, I take it?” Malkie, her former friend, stood across the door of the restaurant.
“Ex, actually, but it was a kind of random thing. So you are saying I cannot eat here?” Kira was hurt and confused. “You could put me at the back?”
Kira did not wait to see if he had anything else to say. How appalling. So far this experience had taught her that people did not like trouble, even if you were the victim of it. When she then drank with her former friends, they also assumed that she had somehow caused this. It was to be her last visit to her old stomping ground.
She had stupidly imagined it would look better in a few days. It did not. Kira looked like a lizard for several weeks, and she certainly didn’t feel like meeting any new people, a trait which did not change as the years went on.
Ten years later, Leon emailed to say that the conviction from his family’s false allegations had been overturned. Kira was delighted. His life was still ruined, he would still have the overturned conviction on his record, but at least his name was actually cleared. They went out to celebrate.
“What do you mean salad?”
“I am a raw foodist these days. Talking of which, would you like to go swimming?” Kira was interested in this Scottish idea that participation in friendship always involved consuming something. It had become apparent that consuming something was also quite a narrow activity in terms of one’s choice.
“I’m not sure I can. I’m just out of hospital. Aneurysms. I could be dead any day, you know. I’ll try, though.” Leon seemed a bit more suggestible than usual, even so Kira was aware that you could not tell him anything, so she did not try.
Several weeks of swimming meetings ensued. Leon seemed to think he was in competition with her, and so this became miserable. Kira eventually curtailed their swimming relationship as it was irritating in the extreme, swimming with someone who alternated between accusing her of killing him and competing with her to put her down. It was increasingly apparent that he objected to her diet.
Over the next two years they had an on-off friendship. Leon would turn up, be helpful with her mother, block anything creative she tried to do, especially if it involved any participation, and then she would become irritated and tell him to go away so that she could get some work done. Although Leon was good company, Kira always had the impression that he was waiting for some opportunity to hurt her, and she could not understand why. As there was no-one else in her life, she waited to find out, and watched as he smirked at every change, every contradiction, every bad thing that happened. He would sound so supportive, and yet she knew he was waiting for something….
Kira could not understand why she could not recover from the Sam Redwood incident. She had spoken only briefly to him. He was great fun, but she wasn’t getting much sense out of him. She just wanted to give him some work. She then tried to give him a gift of her artwork, and this was also refused by one of his staff. She felt utterly worthless. Her life had been curtailed by her lack of confidence and her parents’ illnesses, but this had become secondary to this one moment online when Sam had blocked her on Facebook. Everything seemed to end with that. She had been aware all the time that things at home had been getting worse, and yet this one thing haunted her. She struggled to stay healthy, wondering what was the point, since things only seemed to be continuing to get worse. She would never achieve anything, and now she could not even give her work away.
Leon seized his chance. He had not seen Kira for a while, but he knew that she was isolated, frightened and taking care of her mother. He decided to visit, bearing cake.
“Please don’t bring cake. Mother gets plenty of cake. You can eat cake at home if you like.” Kira had adopted a policy of ensuring her mother was indulged by choosing items that she knew she would not touch. She knew by Leon’s face that this was deliberate, but she did not know why. She was very tired, and very lonely. Her family were not supportive of her caring for her mother, and so she was in a constant state of terror as she cared for her.
“It’s not for you, it is for me and your mother.” Leon’s tone indicated that he was apparently testing her, somehow.
“I live here too, and if I am not well, none of us can be here because it won’t exist.” Kira had worked too long and hard on her health not to put up some kind of resistance.
“I could be dead any day. Your mother likes cake. I will do what I like.” Leon’s face was contorted with a strange expression of smug rage as he created this odd stand-off.
Kira suspected that this was simply an opportunity for conflict. She looked at the kitchen. Could she remove him quickly without causing any stress to her mother? Her mother liked him. He was a well trained nurse after all. She stood in the kitchen, confused by her mannerly upbringing. Why would a cake be a reason to physically remove someone from your home?
She guessed she should probably just let him do it, but tried to stand her ground anyway. “This is my home. Please do not bring cake if you are visiting.”
Leon was, by now, eating his cake with her mother. They looked very happy. Kira felt terribly depressed. She had already explained to him that even one mouthful of bread could set her off on several years of bad eating. He knew that she had a problem. Why was he trying to force the issue, over and over again?
The third time he did it, Kira had some too. After this Leon and Kira would go and buy ingredients and Kira would cook for him. She had no life to speak of, nobody cared about her, and Leon was extremely keen on eating, whether this was out or in. Kira’s weight started to balloon.
Three years later, and despite eating much the same thing, Leon had gained 14lb and Kira had gained 140lb. They wondered why this would be? Several times during this period Leon would ask her to cut new notches in his belts, to show how much thinner he was and put her down further, especially around her birthdays. He would also refer to his fertility in response to her worries about aging and not having any children because of her fear of relationships and not getting out. Why was he doing this?
After she had had oral surgery, he also felt the need to attack her again, this time shouting about her being a bully. Kira now wondered why he was so fixated? She was aware of not feeling at all safe, but since he was such charming company at other times, she could not pinpoint why this would be? She had tried involving him in more constructive projects, but he would always find ways of delaying or preventing them. What was going on? Kira noted that he always had the same expression as he did it.
The last straw finally came when Leon accused her of having an eating disorder as she explained to him for the umpteenth time why it was not acceptable to bring things into people’s home when they have asked you not to. It was at best mannerless, she said and at worst to be considered another assault. It was the height of disrespect, she said. He had sullied the somewhat shaky safety of her home, and for what? The gift of his frightening company? In what way was eating healthily, so that you did not succumb to stroke or a heart attack, an eating disorder? Why could he not understand that being well was better than being ill? Why did everyone else’s pleasure have to be at Kira’s expense, especially when her life had long since failed?
Kira no longer had a choice. She would have to repair her health, or die having done little that she had actually wanted to do before circumstances had overtaken her. It would probably be her last great project. Financially questionable, but this time entirely necessary. Leon would have to go. Permanently. Even thinking about it caused her cortisol levels to drop and her weight to improve.
Sometimes, Kira realised, friendship is a matter of life or death, however subtle and educated the abuse.