I had an inkling something was amiss when Ru went silent on social media (there was a noticeable absence of daft TikTok videos and cute photos, which he ‘might delete later’), but it wasn’t until he sent me a desperate plea that I learned of the circumstances he was in.
I was on lunch, about to tuck into a mishmash of leftovers, when I got a message:
‘I’m about to end my life, I can’t go on any longer at all I promise you I’m not lying… I can’t do it anymore. I’ve never been so desperate in my life.’
It transpired that an estranged relative suspected Ru was gay (a big no-no in his close-knit community… well, at least that’s what they tell the wives). He was threatening Ru and his immediate family and demanding money, to the tune of ten thousand pounds.
The threats and extortion had been going on for weeks before Ru reached out for help, by which time he had already parted with over a grand.
A flurry of messages were exchanged that lunchtime:
“You have to go to the police.”
“No, I won’t. That would put my family at risk.”
“Don’t pay him anymore. He will just see you as a victim and it will never end.”
“I have to pay what I can, otherwise he will kill me and harm my family.”
“The only choice you have is to go to the police.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Who have you told about this?”
“Nobody! I have no one.”
“You need to tell your family. You are out to your parents and sisters already, so you can tell them what is happening.”
“No, I can’t. I don’t want them involved. I don’t want them to live in fear like I am.”
“They are going to have to be told!”
The last text I got, before he had to drag himself into work, was, “I give up… I just can’t live like this.”
I had lost my appetite.
We were in constant contact for the rest of the week, with me repeatedly drip-drip-drip-feeding him the advice about payments, parents and police. Thankfully, he did suspend payments, but the other two points were a work in progress.
I felt out of my depth, so called the police adviceline.
The woman on the other end of the phone informed me, “Although we will log this call, a case would have to be opened before the police could take matters further. You can do that on your friend’s behalf, and we could send officers around to investigate.”
“I’m sorry, but at this point I can’t break his confidence,” I explained, “but if things get worse,” my voice cracked, “I am prepared to lose a friend.”
With genuine sympathy, she told me, “I understand, we are here to help.”
“With all respect, it took over forty-five minutes to get through to you. If I had been someone less determined or in difficult circumstances, I would have given up and put the phone down.”
She gave me a direct line to circumvent the queuing system.
After the weekend, I was relieved to hear Ru confided in his sister. She was concerned that he was noticeably troubled and not eating, so challenged him… and it had all come spilling out.
With his sister’s support, he stood up to the extortion and refused to pay any more money.
“I know you haven’t been able to keep a record of the threats (*Apparently, the other party knows if you take a screenshot of conversations on Snapchat… or something.), but now your sister is involved, you can use her phone to take photos of your screen for WHEN you go to the police,” I suggested.
“I’ve got two phones,” Ru responded. “I can do that anyway.”
“Then why the Hell haven’t you been doing it all along… YOU MUPPET?!!!”
Things seemed to be getting better, but then I received a phone call, as I boarded the evening train after work.
The threats had suddenly escalated. Ru was afraid to return home.
“Where are you now?”
“I’m at work.”
“Then get in a taxi and come to our house,” I told him. “You can sleep on the sofa tonight and then we can sort out the spare room.”
“I can’t just leave,” he replied.
“Ru, you are in no fit state to be at work.” I could hear the distress in his voice., “Speak to your manager and tell them what is going on.”
“I can’t! There is no manager here.”
I realised that there was no point pursuing this, “Okay, just promise me you will come straight to ours when your shift ends.”
There was a long pause, where I could hear him crying on the other end of the phone, then he feebly consented, “…Okay.”
I messaged my partner to inform him of our impending houseguest.
When he arrived at our house, he was broken.
Ru looked grey and gaunt.
Those beautiful eyes, usually shining with sass and mischief, were dull and bloodshot.
The boy had lost the hearts from his eyes… and I was heartbroken.
Without saying a word, he crumpled, trembling, into the sofa and began to weep.
All we could do was offer support and safe haven.
Having not eaten in days, I hoped to tempt him with freshly baked peanut butter cookies, but even these failed to entice.
As the evening progressed, he visibly calmed, until finally slumbering on the sofa, swaddled from head to toe in a blanket. It was impossible to work out which end was which, putting me in mind of a silly joke about how to determine which end is a worm’s head… Tickle it in the middle and see which end laughs.
The next morning, my partner came downstairs to find Ru with a glimmer of his usual sparkle and on the phone to the police. One night of respite was all he had needed to muster the resolve to fight back… but he still stayed, a welcome guest, for three weeks.
He rapidly became his old self: daft as a brush, feisty after three beers and back on TikTok (sorry everyone). He gasped with such gay abandon when Cher appeared on a music channel one evening, that I told him, “I’m going to message that relative of yours and tell him to demand an extra two grand just for being soooooo gay.”
We gave Ru a key and he became one of the family, even inviting him to pee in the compost, a privilege only afforded our closest friends, but the offer was greeted with the same look of disgust I assume you are now wearing. Hey, the ammonia in urine helps the composing process. Stop judging me!
One drizzly Sunday, Ru and I went on an extended dog walk.
A six-month-old puppy attracts attention, and it is obligatory for every puppy owner to welcome all who wish to indulge in a spot of therapeutic petting. With each successive stop, chat and tickle, Ru and I found ourselves more adept at succinctly covering the standard topics of housetraining and the horrors of teething, deftly alternating lines and finishing each other’s sentences.
“You do realise that everyone thinks we are a couple,” I told Ru, after the dozenth or so encounter, “and they are all thinking that you are punching way above your weight.”
This comment was greeted with an exaggerated eyeroll and a dismissive, “Oh Pleeeease… I don’t think so!”
When I repeated my comment to my partner, upon returning home, he quipped, “They were more likely thinking he must be costing his sugar daddy a fortune.”
Ru wholeheartedly agreed.
I hate them both.
Involving the police put pay to the threats and extortion, without even having to press charges. After several weeks, Ru felt confident enough to return to his parent’s home.
“If he was going to do anything, he would have done so by now,” he reasoned.
On his final night, we barbequed and had a fire in the garden.
“It has been great having you here,” I told him fondly. “You have lifted the tedium of lockdown. It has been refreshing to have someone else here, thank you.”
“No,… thank you,” he replied. “If it wasn’t for you guys taking me in, I don’t think I could have got through this. I’d have done something to myself. I wouldn’t be here right now.”
He stepped out of the flickering light of the firepit, and I heard a tell-tale tinkle in the shadows.
“Are you peeing in the compost?”
“LOOK WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO ME!!!”
The next morning, he loaded his bags into a taxi and headed off.
We had taken him in, patched him up and now it was time to release him back into the wild. We done good.
“I’m going to suffer Empty Nest Syndrome,” I commented to my partner, as we waved him off.
“He’ll be back in a few weeks with his laundry,” he replied.
On that night he first came to us, a sad shadow of himself, I got an indication that he was going to be alright when he managed a weak smile and said, “You are going to write about this in your blog, aren’t you?”
“Well, it had crossed my mind,” I confessed, “but I thought, Too soon?”
Now, with consent and consultation, it feels the right time to tell his tale.
He still has a key to our house… and hearts. X