Just in less than twelve hours, M. had managed to find us a place of our own, to dress us more properly, and to get us some money. And what have I done? Gone to sleep. I did feel a little ashamed of myself but mostly proud. I also felt so thirsty. I got up slowly, allowing the blood to rush out of my head and walked toward the sink in the corner. The water was rusty-tasting but felt good on my throat, tickling the fibers. I took a long pause just enjoying the wetness on my lips, stood up with eyes closed. I opened them to a stranger staring at me from the mirror. A girl with short straight hair, black as night all-Egyptian style, bangs and everything. But it was my face – pale, almost transparent skin, wide purple eyes and a small round mouth, looking so…symmetrical and alien. So, she had managed to get us a new haircut as well. Smart girl. I also believe to be a lot taller, if that is possible, and seem to have outgrown the clothes I was wearing.
I look nothing like myself – the short, a little chubby on the cheeks, girl with the long wild butterscotch curls. I used to look like an Anna. Now I look more like her, dark and mysterious but also kind of mesmerizing to watch. Then I looked out the window. The place was way up in some kind of a semi-abandoned building in a semi-abandoned industrial neighborhood. It was all very grey and tall and miserable, lit by the sun. I couldn’t say which city I’m in, if I tried. I bet she could. She would think of an article I read somewhere about how this place used to be a prospering neighborhood but soon the air went toxic and they had to evacuate everyone before they turned all zombie. I was just about to go through the first page of the yellow envelope, when someone knocked on the door…
“Helloo? Helloo, Em? Are you OK?”- A guy with a strong Indian accent was shouting outside.
“Erm, I’m fine. Thank you, I’m fine”, I blur out, my voice struggling to sound healthy from the dryness in my throat. But it’s good, sounds like he just woke me up. So he apologizes over and over again, says he’ll come around later?, and leaves. I guess there are still people living in this place. I’m not sure whether to feel good about this, or not.
I don’t know what to do next. I know I can’t stay in here forever. I need to get some food, and water. Perhaps accesses to Internet. But first, normal clothes …and a recording device.
I am outside…And it’s kind of cold…Definitely not what I always imagined – blue sky and green grass with lots of trees and people everywhere. But it is better than the ward’s garden. It seemed inviting, and pretty, and real, until you realized it wasn’t. They used to teach me how to behave and interact with other humans in a public place. They’d put plastic dolls of people walking around, mothers with their babies, couples in love and you had to wave and smile back at their frozen smiles. Fake trees, and fake grass, and fake fucking people to exchange fake gestures with. Human interaction lessons with dolls. No wonder why I’m so fucked up.
I just walk down the street, imagining passing by regular people and my heart is pounding so hard I don’t hear the shop assistant at all when I come in the clothes store. So I just smile politely and walk as far from her as possible. The shop is small and overstuffed with clothes who look like they’ve been worn before. Smells like it too. I find a baby-blue turtleneck, some ugly-ass flat skirt and a khaki coat two sizes too big which seems to fit me now, and walk out of the store, having spent five bucks. I go around for a while, trying to find a market or ultimately some place which sells food, when I go right pass by a small pub that smells like steaks and tobacco…I guess. “Lou’s Shack”. the sign says. A large wooden door with the menu written all over it leads me in. It’s dark but I guess suiting for a bar. My eyes work better in there, no background headache. Just a few tables full, people drinking silently, a girl circling around the place taking away empty glasses, and a man working the bar.
But there’s this person, a bearded motorbike-sort-of guy who squeezes his eyes in my direction and when suddenly seems to recognize me, shifts uncomfortably in his seat. I linger at the door for a second before I decide whether I want to go in or run away. The second seems to last too long because he stands up and makes a hand gesture. Come in.
“Sit down. Quick!” He hisses impatiently as I place myself, still hesitating awkwardly across the table. I feel everybody’s staring at the back of my neck. Must be bizarre for a twenty-something girl to share a table with this guy who looks like he only shares tables with street wrestlers and criminals. Then again, I might be stepping into the latter category. I won’t lie, I feel kinda scared and instinctively press the money in my pocket with the palm of my hand. Sweaty fingers.
He narrows his eyes again.
“You look different”, he states. Then snaps a picture of me with his phone, the flashlight burning my pupils. I’m so shocked I forget to blink afterwards for a while. “Don’t change appearance again, or you’re gonna wait for this forever. You need to lay low for now, I’m working on the thing. You bring the money?”
“What-what kind of thing?” I ask sounding bird-like, like I’ve just crapped my pants.
“Don’t shit with me, kid. Everything is arranged, just as we spoke yesterday. You know what cost me meeting you here?” He taps on the table with his big fat finger, digging holes in the wood. “Two hundred dollars cash today, more later when you get round to it. And don’t forget, I know where you live!”
What has M. done? I try to jiggle my brain and hope for some kind of a flashback, but there’s nothing. Just a memory of someone giving me a key and me shaking his hand…then I see the same big and strong fingers making tiny dots on the surface of the table and I know it must have been him. Great, so she must have asked him to meet up here, knowing I would come in for a meal. God, she knows me well. And I have a little over the sum he requested. So I reach into my pocket and hand him the money, leaving a twenty dollar bill halfway out. He just places his gigantic hand on top and the cash’s gone. The guy stands up two floors high and hairy, leaving a plastic round phone on the table along with a charger. “I’ll call you when it’s ready. You stay put and don’t talk to nobody on the phone. You can record your stuff on it.”
I just stare at him as he leaves. So does everyone else at the bar.