Solveig slips her hand into mine and I’m grateful. There’s nothing to be scared of, he’ll be behind a thick window and the place is crawling with police – being a police station and all. I’m perfectly safe and I’m perfectly fine. I handled it when he attacked me; I kept my wits about me and I used my training and I survived. I’m not about to go to pieces sitting in a room with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits in front of me, and Solveig holding my hand.
I’m perfectly safe and I’m perfectly fine.
All the same, when the door opens I jump a mile. Mila slips in and gives me a brief smile. I didn’t have much of an impression of her from the first few times she interviewed me a couple of weeks ago, I think I was in too much of a fog. But there’s something no-nonsense and business-like about her that’s reassuring. I feel as though she won’t bullshit me. As though she won’t tell me everything’s going to be okay unless it actually is. As she offers us more tea and apologises for the slight delay, it occurs to me she reminds me of Mary Poppins.
Granny and Nate insisted on coming with me, they’re somewhere in the station, in some relatives room, probably with tea and a plate of biscuits just like mine.
The guy they’ve arrested has refused to speak so far, I know that much. He was caught trespassing by a farmer and it took the farmer and three strapping sons to bring him down, then several police officers to wrestle him into a cell. When we first arrived, I overheard a young police officer, still red with exertion and wiping sweat from his brow, excitedly telling the story to the older desk sergeant.
“Half the bloody station’ll be black and blue if we have to hold him for long,” he was saying, proudly rolling up his sleeve to display the bruise on his forearm. The desk sergeant glanced at me then, and whispered something to the first guy and they both went quiet as Solveig and I passed.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in a building full of folk all flabbergasted you’re alive, I’m here to tell you it’s about as weird as you’d think.
The DNA results, even with a rush on, will take at least a day or two to come back, Solveig said, but our pal isn’t exactly doing a great deal to convince anybody of his innocence. However, the fact that he’s clearly a maniac and they are searching for a maniac isn’t enough to hold him – so if I can’t ID him. they’ll have to release him to set upon the good people of Glasgow for his lunch. No pressure, then.
Mila is explaining the procedure, reminding me I don’t have to pick out anybody at all if I don’t definitely recognise him.
“It’s not multiple choice, then?” I mutter, my eyes fixed on the window where, any minute now, he’s going to be. I’m not going to be sick. I’m perfectly fine, I’m perfectly safe. My heart is thudding painfully against my ribcage, almost as though it’s swollen, taking up space where I should be able to breathe. I can still breathe, I remind myself, even if it catches in my throat. I’m not going to faint.
I’m perfectly fine. I’m perfectly safe.
Then a uniformed officer, tall and gangly, her platinum blonde hair in a neat bun, appears through the window. I didn’t even realise I jumped until I felt Solveig grip my hand. The officer gestures something to Mila, and Mila asks if I’m ready, though her voice sounds distant and tinny, like when the sound went funny on our ancient TV when I was wee. I think I nod, I must have nodded. I feel a sharp pain in my neck as my muscles protest at a jerky nod that probably made me look drunk.
Then they’re there. There’s a ginger one who’s sort of good looking in a way that noticing it makes me want to reassess my life choices. The others I barely see – two have shaved heads, one a prominent Bugs Bunny tattoo on his neck I’m certain I would have noticed, and anyway, I know which one they mean. He stands out a mile.
He’s a huge dude, not just tall but broad shouldered, and strong. Not the puffed up kind of muscles that practically deflate after a competition; he’s tough and grisly. He could carry a cow. He wears a cheap tracksuit, several sizes too wee, painfully stretched over his frame, presumably nicked from a washing line. And he’s no stranger to combat: his face and arms are a maze of scars, some faded to white, others raw and angry. His dirty blonde hair is roughly tied back, deep blue eyes stare sharply from a filthy face. He’s still, deeply still, like a snake coiled ready to spring as his eyes dart around, analysing, processing, evaluating.
But it’s not him.
Disappointment washes over me like a bucket of freezing water.
Followed by a swift chaser of terror.
Because if it’s not him, then he’s still out there.
I finally understand what crime dramas mean when they talk about circumstantial evidence. He ticks every box for it to be him, but it’s not. There just isn’t a flicker of recognition anywhere in me.
I feel tears rise up, and I’m almost about to give in to them when Solveig’s hand slips from mine. She stands and walks slowly to the window, then presses the intercom button. “Could you ask them to speak, please?” she says.
They do. The ginger guy mutters how now brown cow, the two bald ones take the opportunity to make dirty jokes about the officer supervising them, and Mr Bugs Bunny shouts his undying fealty to his football team.
Then it’s his turn. The one who isn’t. He’s been listening to all this with a puzzled look, but when the officer asks him to speak, he stares at her blankly. She repeats sharply, advising him to cooperate, but still he stares.
Then Solveig presses the intercom again, and speaks, in Icelandic.
“Hvaðan kemur þú?” she says softly, and he stares at her with this expression of wonder and relief that, just for a second, despite his size and his scars and muscles, makes him look sweetly vulnerable, a lost little boy hearing his mother’s voice in a crowd.