I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand as I walked into the church hall. The lights went on. I ran. I ran until my lungs ached and threw me forward into a coughing fit. My jacket caught momentarily against the rough brick as I slid down to the ground. In an alleyway, breathless, shocked and upset, this could be my life in 2004. They had wanted to do something good, something nice for me. I could see that. They didn’t know.
15th August isn’t my birthday. My new friends have been so good to me. They don’t even know my real name. I’ve been Mark Bentley since 2006 and who I was before died a long time ago. He is lost.
Who I used to be was a supervisor in a bank. I was about to embark on the bank’s management training scheme. I had a fiancé – a natural blonde with a great taste in clothes, I had a town house – with a reasonable mortgage – in the newest estate built by the river, I had two N-reg cars and a good group of friends. I had to leave all that behind to stay alive.
I had been given an option, but as events unfolded, it became clear that I would have to go into the witness protection scheme.
At first, I hadn’t seen a problem with becoming Mark Bentley. OK, I had to lose Emma-Jane, but that was no big deal, really. She was becoming a bit clingy and whingey and I wanted rid. Mark Bentley was born in the shadowy brown bedroom of a safe house in Yorkshire, complete with passport and National Insurance number. I felt relieved and excited at starting a new life. No one told me what the reality would be.
The reality is a maisonette on a tough council estate. The reality is joblessness. I have a new name and a new National Insurance number. The problem is Mark Bentley has never had a job, and he didn’t go to school. I’ve worked hard all my life, but Mark Bentley hasn’t. Mark Bentley relies on handouts from the church while he goes to night school.
The church people poke their noses into my business, but my backstory is robust and well-rehearsed. So how did they find out that 21st July is my real birthday?
For a course exercise I was given the situation that someone has a surprise birthday. Of course I had to make it one of someone living under the shadows!