I felt no pain as he drove the knife into my chest. Just a sensation of pressure, and a feeling of profound disbelief as I saw my own blood.
The next thing I remember was my would-be killer talking to me.
He was a young man whom I’d never met before that day when he had charged up to me on the street and demanded money. I had refused, feeling a blinding flash of fury at his temerity. And now here he was again, standing in front of me. And strangely enough, even though I knew he’d tried to kill me, I wasn’t the least bit afraid of him. He was just a young terrified boy.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said to me. And in that moment I could see by the way he was staring at me that he really meant what he said. He was much younger than I’d realised, about the age of my son Kevin, when he had died in a motorcycle accident last year. He had no weapon, his hands were clasped together, tightly squeezing each other in anguish. “The others in the gang, they told me I had to do it, to prove myself. They’re my friends, see? They was watching me. I’d just joined the gang so I couldn’t back down in front of them. But I never done nothing like that before. It was like a kind of madness, see? I’m really really sorry. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Will you forgive me? ”
And he started to cry almost uncontrollably. I could see that he wasn’t lying. And although I should have hated him for his unprovoked attack that could have killed me, somehow I couldn’t. He just looked lost and lonely and scared. As lost and lonely and scared as my son Kevin must have felt in the seconds before he’d skidded on ice into the back of the lorry. Kevin had died in the evening just after he’d told me he’d joined a gang, and I’d felt a cold chill in my heart and a deep abiding terror so real that I could still feel it now. After he’d told me that he’d joined the gang, and they were now his best friends, I had yelled at him, told him he wasn’t my son, and he could get out of my house. He had sworn at me, then punched me, and stormed out and leapt onto his motorbike and roared off into the night. It was the last time I ever saw him.
Kevin had always been a lonely boy. This boy in front me, I could sense that he was lonely too. Just like my son Kevin, he had joined a gang to have friends. And now he was sunk in deep dark misery, and his friends weren’t around.
And in that moment I felt no animosity of any kind, because I could see his total and complete defencelessness and utter sincerity. He was lost in loneliness.
“Of course I forgive you,” I told him. “Look, I can’t be too badly hurt or I couldn’t be talking to you, could I? Don’t be upset about what happened. I understand.”
“You understand?” He looked up at me in amazement. “I couldn’t believe what I’d done. Soon as I done it I tried to phone for help.”
“It’s okay. Everyone’s done stupid, dangerous, terrible things in their lives – I know I have. You made a mistake. We’ve all made mistakes.” I clasped his shoulder and suddenly I felt the strangest sensation. It was as if a surge of pure love flowed from me to him, and all I wanted to do was to ease his pain. “What’s done is done. I don’t hate you at all. I won’t press charges. I don’t want this to ruin your life.”
“You forgive me?” He stared at me as if he couldn’t understand.
“Of course I forgive you.”
As I fell asleep I saw a strange peace settle on his features.
~ ~ ~
“He’s awake!” I heard the soft voice of the nurse from above me.
I was lying in bed, and it looked as if I was in hospital. I knew that time must have passed, but I had no idea how long I’d been lying here.
A man – presumably a doctor – joined us, and from my horizontal viewpoint I noticed that just above the collar of his white coat there was a stray whisker on his throat he hadn’t managed to shave that morning.
“Good morning, Douglas,” he said to me in a hearty voice. “Do you know what’s happened to you?”
“You’re recovering in hospital. We’re not quite out of the woods yet but you’re going to be fine.”
I frowned, all my memories were jumbled and disordered. “What happened?”
“You were stabbed last night. You lost a lot of blood, but we luckily they got you in here pretty damn quick, and we did an emergency operation to repair the internal damage, and everything is okay. You were lucky – another centimetre to the left and he’d have severed your aorta.”
“H – he apologised to me,” I mumbled. “Tell him it’s okay, I won’t press charges.”
He gave me a confused smile. “Never mind old chap, you’re bound to be a bit confused, you’re still in shock. Try and rest.”
He stood up and I heard him muttering to the nurse that I was probably traumatised, and not acting rationally.
I fell asleep and the next time I woke up there was a policewoman sitting beside my bed.
“Mr Thomson, I was wondering if you feel up to making a statement,” she asked me gently. “No rush.”
“Statement?” I was confused. “All I know is that I was in the street and someone stabbed me.”
“You’re not to worry about a thing, because there were witnesses,” she told me, putting a hand on my wrist as she spoke gently and kindly. “Three people saw exactly what happened, so I want to reassure you you’re not in any kind of legal trouble. It was clearly self defence.”
“Self defence? What are you talking about?”
“According to the witnesses, a man stabbed you in the street. You then pulled out the knife and stuck it into his chest.”
“I stabbed him? After he stabbed me?” I asked incredulously.
“You acted in self defence,” she asserted firmly. “His hand was in his pocket, where there was another knife, so it looks as if he was about to stab you for a second time. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”
Then it came back to me. The all-consuming fury as I felt the knife go in, and then seeing him put his hand in his pocket. I’d known I had to act fast before he stabbed me again.
“How is he?”
“He died. It was all very strange and bizarre. The medical teams were working on both of you at the same time, in adjacent operating theatres. They told me that before he lost consciousness he kept saying he was sorry, that he wanted you to forgive him. He kept saying ‘Will you forgive me?’”
“To forgive him?”
“The nurses were quite affected by it. He was so young, too. But, as I said, you have nothing to fear, because we know you acted in self defence. Although we’re obliged to investigate the matter fully, I’ve been told unofficially that we’ll not be taking things any further.”
“Was there anything else in the pocket?” I asked. “Apart from the second knife?”
“Just his phone.”
I felt my throat constrict and tears began to fall.
I started to cry.
And I couldn’t stop.