‘Disabled Rider with Horse’
I knew I shouldn’t have allowed the journalist to use that photo of me in the ‘Horse and Hound’. If Jess could find me then it meant that they could too. I had relaxed lately. My life appeared to be back on track. My body was healing, I was still working with my beloved horses, and my time in Afghanistan seemed like a lifetime away.
My father worked for the British government, as an Intelligence Officer, and had been posted to Afghanistan. While they were there my mother had become ill and I went to join them to look after her. I have fond memories of the first few weeks. Mum and I were on our own most of the time. Dad was rarely around and when he was, he was distant and preoccupied. Eventually he said it would be more sensible for him to stay at the embassy. We later found out, of course, that he was worried for our safety and was trying to distance himself from us.
I enjoyed that time with mum. Having been at boarding school and later, university, meant that we were not close, but this time together improved our relationship. She recovered well, and we spent most of our time together. Little did I know, my whole family were in great danger as my father had infiltrated a terrorist cell.
I was driving back from my ride at the local stables when my brakes failed. I don’t remember many details but I eventually recovered to find myself in this wheelchair. As soon as he could, my father had arranged for me to be flown back to the UK to continue my recovery. It was possible that my ‘accident’ had been a warning to him and he wanted me out of harm’s way. He and my mother were posted to relative safety in Paris.
We all assumed that now he was out of the way we could carry on our normal lives, but I still shouldn’t have allowed a photo of me in my wheelchair with my beloved horse, to be used in that way. Although I doubt if many terrorists read ‘Hare and Hounds’!
During my time in Afghanistan I had lost touch with friends in the UK, and after the accident I really didn’t want to involve anyone in my life. It seemed like our family were under threat and I didn’t want to put anyone else in danger. Jess had found me, though, and I was very excited to see her again.
The years fell away as soon as I opened the door to her. Aside from the fact that I was in a wheelchair it was like we had never been apart. We chatted long into the night. Of course I did most of the talking. She wanted to know my whole story, and it was a relief to be able to talk to someone about it.
“So you think someone tampered with your brakes?” She couldn’t believe it. I explained that there was no conclusive evidence but it was certainly a possibility. Dad’s boss had believed it could be true and got us all out of there as soon as he could.
“But your mum and dad are safe now?” she asked. I hoped that they were.
The next morning I took her, in my specially adapted car, to the stables where I worked. The horses had got me through the low times, when I was scared about the future and wondered if I could go on. I was content now and it was only the fact that Jess had managed to find me through that photo that all the feelings of panic and fear had come rushing back. I was glad she had though, my life would be richer with my friend back in it.
We had a great weekend and, as she hugged me goodbye, Jess promised to come again soon. It was easier for her to come and stay with me here as my home was specially adapted for a wheelchair user. And so, a pattern emerged, where Jess would come and stay almost every other weekend. I looked forward to her visits tremendously. Jess often asked after my parents, as she had stayed at our house many times when we were at school, so one day I made a suggestion.
“How about a trip to Paris?” Time had passed, my dad was not in such a high profile job any more, and we felt it would be safe. I hadn’t physically seen my parents since being sent back to Stoke Mandeville hospital after the accident, although we were in weekly contact via Skype.
Jess was very excited by the idea and we spent that weekend planning the trip. It would certainly be easier for me to travel with her help and it would be the first time Jess had been to Paris. It was only a short trip but we were as giddy as a couple of teenagers setting off on their gap year! I really must get out more!
We had a great few days. Dad actually took time off and we went out together, all four of us, visiting all the tourists spots and some lovely restaurants known only to the locals. Best of all, Dad had some news for me.
“All the members of the terrorist cell I was investigating have been arrested and charged. There was a lot of Intel collected and it looks like they had nothing to do with your accident. It seems that it was just that, an accident.” I broke down in tears of relief. I didn’t realise until that moment how worried I had been about my own safety and that of my parents. Dreadful though the accident had been, leaving me with a disability I would have to cope with for the rest of my life, at least I hadn’t been targeted. No-one had actually wanted this to happen to me.
It was a great holiday and we spent the flight back planning our next trip, further afield this time.
That was in January 2020. Little did we know what was just starting to spread all over the world and how long we would have to wait before we felt it was safe to fly again.