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‘YOU must leave before they come for you—’

Her mother’s hands were biting into her shoulders making Lisa cry; silent tears that trickled down her cheeks unchecked, while her gaze remained locked on her mother’s face.

‘You must go to your father in the city.’

‘My father?’ Lisa’s face turned suddenly fearful.

This was all the more shocking for her mother to see, because the child she called Willow had long ago learned to govern her feelings.

Lisa regained control quickly. She hated letting the mask slip. She only felt safe when no one knew what she was thinking. The mask was the shield she used to protect herself in the dangerous society in which she lived—a place where a careless glance or reckless laughter could lead to humiliating punishment in front of the whole community.

But if she was frightened of her ruthless ‘family’, Lisa was even more terrified of leaving her mother to their mercy. She was terrified of her father too, because he was a stranger her mother had fled from seven years before. Was her father wicked? Was that why her mother had run away? Was he even more wicked than the people who lived here?

Lisa stared fearfully at the open door. No one was allowed to close doors in the commune, let alone lock them.

‘Please, Willow, please, you must go now, or they will be here.’

Her mother’s voice had the desperate, pleading sound Lisa associated with horrible things, and her once beautiful eyes were bloodshot and watery. Her lips, tinged blue from the latest blows, were twisted in a grimace of desperation.

‘Please, Willow—’

‘Don’t call me Willow. My name is Lisa… Lisa Bond.’

Hearing her mother’s sob, Lisa wished she hadn’t been the cause of it, and that she knew how to make her smile again. But she could only stand behind the barricades she had built in her mind, and watch her cry.

‘I kept back some money from the market stall.’

Lisa looked on in horror as her mother dug inside the pocket of her flowing robe. ‘But that’s stealing from the community. You will be punished—’

‘If you love me, you will take this and leave here.’

The coins hurt as they bit into the soft flesh of Lisa’s palm. ‘You’ll come with me—’

‘Come with you?’

For a moment, her mother’s eyes brightened, but then they both heard the voices coming closer… men’s voices.

‘Climb through that window,’ Eloisa instructed. Her voice was fierce and determined for the first, for the only time in her life. ‘And don’t stop running until you reach the bus depot. Here, take your father’s address.’ She pressed a slip of paper into Lisa’s hand.

‘But what about you?’

‘I’ll… I’ll keep them here until you’re far away.’

They exchanged a glance. There was no time for more. The leader of the commune had announced Lisa’s initiation into womanhood that night at supper. It was an entertainment for everyone to enjoy, he said.

‘My name is Lisa Bond. My name is Lisa Bond. My name is Lisa Bond.’ Lisa chanted to herself as she hurtled down the pitch-black country lane. It was the only way she could block out the inner voice begging her to return to the commune and save her mother. Another, more rational voice insisted that if she did go back she would only cause her mother more pain.

When the lights of the small, local bus depot came into sight she sprinted the final few yards and launched herself onto the running board of the last bus to the city. There was no transport at the commune. She knew they couldn’t get to her. At last, she was safe…

The man on board the bus took her money without comment. If he wondered at the grubby child clutching a slip of paper in a fist turned white with tension, something about the set of her mouth warned him not to intrude on her silence.

As Lisa gazed out into the darkness she was sure she could feel her mother’s will urging her to turn her face to the future. And in that moment she knew for certain that somewhere deep inside her a person called Lisa Bond still existed. She would find that person, and nurture her like the seedlings she cared for in her own secret plot back at the wasteland the community called a garden. She had guarded them fiercely and controlled the weeds. In secure surroundings her plants had thrived, and so would she.