The cinder path ran along the line of the wall of the school playground towards the fields beyond the village.   Sophie had slipped away from her mother – she wanted to pick some flowers for Mummy’s birthday.   The footpath was little used, and cow parsley and long grasses encroached across the cinders.   Sophie was oblivious to her wet shoes and school dress.   Big white daisies were what she wanted, and she saw some ahead of her.

The path ended at a rusty gate leading into a field scattered with hawthorn and wild rose bushes.   Ahead of her was a carpet of white daisies.   Sophie squeezed through the bars of the gate, and began to pick the flowers.   She hadn’t realised how far she had gone until a man appeared in front of her.

“Where’s your Mummy?” he said kindly.

“Waiting for my big sister to come out of big school” said Sophie.   She thought the man looked like her Uncle Joe, who was great fun.  “She’s on her phone.   I’m picking some flowers for her birthday.”

“There are some very pretty blue flowers round here” said the man, taking her hand and leading her away.   Sophie’s mind was still fixed on her flowers and she walked willingly with him.

“You are a big girl,” said the man, stopping by a bush.

“I’m in Mrs. Frencham’s class” said Sophie proudly.  “It’s not the baby class, you know” she added earnestly.   She rather hoped this nice man would take her back to Mummy.   She couldn’t see the school at all.   It seemed a long way away.

“You are a big girl then”, said the man.  “I can see you’ve got a big girl’s dress on. It’s very pretty.”

“It’s my school dress” said Sophie.  “I’ve got prettier dresses at home”

“I’m sure you have”, said the man.” I expect you’ve got big girl’s knickers, too, haven’t you?” and he slid his hand up Sophie’s thigh.

Sophie was suddenly quite sure he was not a bit like her Uncle Joe, and frightened, she moved back, but the man pushed her and she landed on the grass.   She began to cry, but the man, who didn’t look at all kind now, put his hand over her mouth.

“Shut up!” he said, and pulled her skirt up over her head with his other hand.

“Leave that child alone,” came a voice.   A commanding, authoritative voice.

The man needed no telling.   He straightened up, and ran down the field.

“Mummy! I want my mummy” sobbed Sophie.

“We’ll go and find your mummy” said the voice, gently.   Sophie found herself picked up in strong arms, and resting against a soft comforting body.   Her tears dried up as she looked into a loving face, just like her Gran’s.

They didn’t seem to walk down the footpath, but suddenly, there was Mummy.

“Sophie!” screamed her mother, “What’s happened, where have you been?

“You’re in trouble” muttered her big sister, as the woman put Sophie down, still holding her hand.

“She’s quite all right, Mrs. Winter”, said the large, chubby woman, wearing walking boots, and with what seemed to be a rucksack on her back.

“She’s had a bad fright, but I assure you, no harm has been done.   But be kind to her; be gentle. No recriminations.    After all, you didn’t see her go, did you?”

Her voice sounded so much like her old Headmistress that Julie automatically said “No, ma’am, I mean yes, ma’am”

“And that applies to you too”, the woman said to Sophie’s big sister, who coloured bright red and slid behind her mother.

“And she picked these for you”.   She handed to Sophie’s bemused mother the bunch of flowers Sophie had picked, but which had been scattered when the man attacked her.

Sophie’s mother bent down to hug Sophie, the flowers clutched in her hand.

When she looked up to thank the woman, there was no-one there.   She took the children’s hands and walked to the car.   The two girls got in and put on their seatbelts without the usual squabbling.   Julie drove home, her mind bemused, but strangely calmed.

For days afterwards Sophie chattered happily about her “Angel Lady.”

And Julie came to the surprised conclusion that angels came in strange disguises.

© Gillian Peall

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