Prologue - The Last Butterfly
Twenty-four years ago, Acacia Avenue, Tottenham, London.
Like bleached out of its sins, the city was unrecognisable. Pristine.
“It’s beautiful!” cried out Chloe with joy.
She was looking through the window of the small but cosy one-bedroom maisonette she occupied with her father in North London. A thin immaculate layer of white snow had covered the streets of her popular neighbourhood and the roof of the facing St John and St James’ Church on the other side of the road, making it look like a candy house. Something not that common in London. So unusual, that in all of her short life, it was the first time Chloe was seeing snow and she couldn’t be happier. Seeing the snowflakes slowly falling down while Tears in Heaven was playing on the cheap kitchen radio brought the brightest grin a six years old girl’s face could bear.
“Finish your porridge, you still need to brush your teeth after that. It’s already 8 am. You don’t want to be late for school, do you?” said her father while reading the paper in the kitchen. The disappearance of the twelve-year-old son of Nathan Raum, member of the Parliament, was on the front page.
Chloe was small but she was smart enough to ignore her dad’s condescending tone. She knew he was simply trying to set a good example. To show her the way to be a big girl. This is what he had been doing since her mother left when she was still a baby. He had always been there for her. He was sometimes harsh to teach her a lesson or when she misbehaved but deep inside, she knew he loved her in the unconditional way a father loves his little angel. That was the reason she had her own room while he was sleeping wherever he could in the house. The reason he sometimes simply watched her eat a meal with no plate of his own or spent their last pennies on some new shoes for her. Chloe knew that and she loved him too, although it was hard for her to show it as she was a shy and reserved kind of little person. But yes, he was her whole world. She simply wished she could say it to him. Deep inside, she knew one day she’d be strong enough to.
When she finally realized he was staring at her with insistence behind his newspaper, she stopped daydreaming and simply replied with a smile, squinted her cute little hazel eyes and started to gobble up her breakfast. He smiled back at her when the phone rang.
She continued to watch the snow fall while eating but listening to the radio started to become difficult due to her dad’s conversation masking the song. When she was done with her plate, she dropped it in the sink, then found her way to the bathroom and started brushing her teeth. She could hear her dad shouting on the phone and Chloe didn’t like it.
“You can’t be serious, there must be a mistake! And what does this have to do with me?” he said with anger.
She couldn’t stand people shouting. She spat the bit of toothpaste in the bathroom sink, rinsed her mouth, and went to her bedroom to get dressed, trying to ignore her father’s conversation
“Chloe, speed up, you’re gonna be late!” shouted her dad as he hung up the phone.
He showed up at her bedroom door only to realise she was already dressed and waiting for him. This put a proud smile on his face. He grabbed her hand and they started to make a move toward the front door.
They walked to her school, playing with the snow all along the way. Her dad showed her how to roll a snowball to make it bigger. They started a small snow fight and ended up diving in the snow, moving their limbs to make snow angels. Chloe was in Heaven.
They arrived at her school and Chloe noticed a big black car. As they were getting closer to the school building, the car’s rear doors opened and two men got out of it. One was small and slim, with black hair and a piercing gaze, dressed in a red long coat with a red scarf, hiding part of his face. The second one was a tall Asian man with a light beard, strongly built, in a dark business suit with an overcoat. Chloe noticed her dad’s grip on her hand tightened as soon as they got out of the car.
At the school gate, her father held her in his arms firmly. He gave her a big kiss on the cheek and another on the forehead.
“Remember, I love you Sunshine. I will always love you,” he said with a forced smile.
He grabbed her tight in his arms one more time. His eyes were getting wet.
“Now go to school,” said her father.
Chloe went in, put her coat on the hanger and went straight to the classroom’s window. She watched her dad walking toward the black limo and saw him talking to the Asian man, making big gestures and raising his voice. Then the man in red opened the car door and her dad went in with the rest of the crew. As she stared at the car driving away, Chloe had butterflies in her stomach. But one of her teachers called her name as she started the day’s lesson and Chloe went on to sit with the other children with resignation.
Around quarter to four, though it was late and she was the last pupil in the school, scared little Chloe Thorn was still hoping that her dad would come and pick her up. After all, he had always been there for her.
Suddenly, she overheard one of her teachers and the head of school talking on the phone.
“Oh, hello. Social services? My name is Linda Strutt, I’m the headteacher for Risley Avenue Primary School, we have a bit of a situation with one of our students.”
Chloe’s hopes shattered.