Chapter 1: Pieces from the past
“Days and nights wandering from home to home. When I say “home” I mean orphanage. I don’t remember a lot from my childhood years, but what I do remember is that running was always the solution. I changed families, cities, and then I reached the stage when I was changing jobs. From daily jobs at the gas stations to restaurants. Twenty-five years of running, that’s how I can describe my life so far.”
A loud bang interrupts me from writing the lines of my life. I feel my palms sweating again when the door slams. Restlessness associated with a powerful roar, like the beginning of the autumn. It’s a feeling that I have a lot lately.
“Do we have something to eat in this house?” yells Daniel slamming the door after him.
I look at him in a different way now. Something has changed between us. He passes by me and he throws on the bed, on the changed bed sheets. He makes a sound that is supposed to be a laugh, that it inspires me more fear than amusement, then he throws his T-shirt on the floor. He puts his hands through his short hair and I can feel his brown eyes fixed on me. I can see him struggling on the couch, but I keep ignoring him.
“You’re pretending not to hear me?” he continues with superiority.
“There’s food in the fridge”, I reply without looking at him.
What comes next is a moment of silence, which should make me think or at least raise my eyes from my ragged laptop. But I don’t do it because I am too concentrated in writing the story of my life.
“It’s there for two days!” he continues offended.
“If you need someone to cook you every day and to play the housekeeper for you, then we have a problem. I can’t manage to split my job and the home stuff so well, as you can obviously see. But since you’ve started, tell me, where have you been all night?”
Daniel changes his facial expression as if I’ve murdered his whole family.
“You’re doing boring stuff again?”
“When I’m asking you as your girlfriend where have you been all night?”
“Not that. The part where you write nonsense on that laptop all day long.”
I moved my eyes from the screen, pretty offended.
“It’s not nonsense. It’s a hobby. You know I like writing.”
“Yeah, sure. You dream of being famous, to appear in the newspapers, and so on, to walk on the red carpet, stuff like this, no? Cut the crap and do what a woman does in a house!
I ignored him, a thing that made him terribly angry. He quickly stood up from the bed and slammed the flap on my hands.
“I need you to be a woman now, not later!”
In the next second, my laptop was thrown on the floor, in a corner. This was the reason it looked like that, because of the multiple hits it has been put through. Usually, I protested, yelled, threw with stuff, but this time all I did was to stand up, and with a cold look on my face I passed by him, on my way to the kitchen.
He throws his clothes on the floor and gets into the shower. He didn’t even answer my questions.
“That’s what I deserve…” I mumble while I put two eggs into the frying pan.
I had moved with Daniel after three months of a relationship. At the beginning, it was all fun, that crazy love from the start, but I had moments in the present when I was wondering what was wrong with me the day I did that. The situation was a lot more complicated because lately, he was missing from home for days, without any explanation. He didn’t have a job, but he brought money home. Sometimes I was scared to ask him what was he doing to get the money, but the fresh hits of his arms were telling me to keep my mouth shut.
When he gets out of the shower, covered in a red towel, he throws himself at the table.
“I want a beer”, he grumbles with his mouth full of food.
Before my eyes was a horrifying image, and probably on my face appeared involuntarily a grimace.
“Are you deaf?”
I winced. This man wasn’t the man I had met three months ago. Maybe what attracted me to him then was that tough guy face, known and dreaded in the neighborhood. Now I was thinking how I managed to keep my eyes closed and to stand this much, and I started to regret leaving my little studio, where I had lived for almost a year. Whatever, a studio is a lot to say. It was more like a room with a cooker stove near the bed, and a bathroom on the hallway of the block of flats.
“We don’t have any beer left”, I responded.
“Go and buy some. In fact, why haven’t you done this already?”
“Because I didn’t get my salary and I didn’t move here to be your servant!” I raged with anger. “Don’t you think it’s about time to tell me where the hell have you been?”
I felt him boiling on the inside and I realized it would have been a better option if I stopped talking. But for how long was I supposed to shut up? I was feeling like in one of the novels I used to read some time ago, where the main character was a woman who was abused by her husband. Physically and mentally. Thank God, I wasn’t so idiot to marry him, but I was fool enough to move with him.
“Your job is to keep this house together and to act like a real woman! This is why you moved in with me!” he shouts throwing the fork into the jars from the table.
In that moment, I felt a shiver. The noise probably woke up the neighbors, but it also woke me up to reality. Who was this man? Why did I think that was what I deserved? A million questions flew through my mind. I throw him a look full of hate, and behind that were a thousand images with me smashing a plate into his head. I turn my back on him.
I put on the jeans and a T-shirt, I grab my bag and I leave the terror house, slamming the door after me. I walk down the stairs grumbling and swearing, then I walk on the street, heading to Jin’s, the bar where I was working as a waitress for six months.
When I arrive at the street, I look both ways over the parked cars, then I step on the hot street. My shift started at four o’clock and it ended when the last customer left. I was working in shifts and now I was on night shift, as I used to say.
Because that day’s schedule and the thing with Daniel confused me somehow, I was walking like a robot on the middle of the street.
I hear a sound of wheels from my right side, and a car suddenly appears from the corner. Behind the wheel is a black-haired man, with sunglasses, and he has no intention to stop the car. A normal person’s first instinct would have been to run forward, to save himself, but as I can’t say I’m a normal person, I stop for a second and I take two steps back. The car hits another parked vehicle. It was the place where I should have been if I didn’t listen to my instincts.
Before I fall out of the shock, the man drives backward, looks at me in a weird way, and when people started gathering around, he drives away quickly. Just then I see that the car doesn’t have license plates. It was a black Ford, with black windows, just like in the movies. I remove this thought from my mind and I want to leave, when I feel I’m pulled by the arm.
“Wait”, says a lady at about her fifty’s. “Are you ok? It was so close! What an asshole!”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“The police is on the way. If you want to tell them something you should stay.”
“I don’t want things to get complicated”, I say. “I don’t really trust police’s abilities”, I grumble more to myself.
I step on the sidewalk and I see a man picking up a license plate. The number on it remains stuck in my head. Maybe it had a number after all. This is how they can catch him. I should stop being so paranoiac and start trusting the police and the rest of the institutes from this country. But it’s not in my blood to do this, so I continue my way, with the thought that someone tried to kill me, for I don’t believe in coincidences. I have always felt stalked and I spent my life looking behind my shoulder. I don’t know why, but this is how I am. A little paranoiac.
My friend, Ania, always tells me to get my feet back on the ground, that no one would waste their time to try to kill or stalk a poor waitress. I had moments when I thought she was right, but I also had moments when everything that was happening around me was extremely weird.
„Hey. Cara! You’re late again!” shouts Ania from the other side of the bar.
„Sorry. I almost died, again”, I say more like a joke.
„You have to stop using this excuse every time!”
„I mean it! It was an accident down the street. You will read in the newspaper about it. It was like that man was trying to hit me as if we were playing bowling!”
„Are you ok?”
”I’m here, as you can see, so yes.”
„How come all the bad things happen only to you?”
„I wish I knew...”
Our conversation was interrupted by a hoarse cough. The bar manager, Jin, was standing on the doorstep. His face told me that I should start working right away. I put my working shirt and I run in the back, with Ania after me.
Jin is a tall guy, at his forty’s, serious, but he is kind of a good person in his own way. A piece of his black hair is hanging on his face in a disturbing way. He used to come at the bar at least twice a week to check how’s everything working.
“Cara!” he shouts from the back of the bar.
I walk near him, waiting for a reproof for being late.
“How did you sleep?” he asks me out of the blue.
“Well, not fantastic. Why?”
“Because I see that you’re distracted. I hope that whatever problems you have back at home, you won’t be disturbed or spill the drinks on my clients.”
That was meant to be a joke, a thing that he was very bad on, but I understood it and I smiled.
“I don’t have problems at home.”
“Fine. But if you do, you know that we can talk anytime.”
I nodded my head and I walked by him, trying to get into the kitchen to Ania.
“What’s up with you?” she asks.
“Oh, not again!”
“I don’t know, but he’s acting weird. And in a bad way. What was on my mind when I moved in with him?”
“I don’t want to say it, but I told you! He doesn’t deserve you!”
“Because I’m a princess and I deserve a prince riding a white horse?” I laugh.
“Seriously, Cara! He’s not for you. I always told you this. I honestly don’t know what you see in him.”
“Honestly, I don’t know either. I will see if I can sort things out with him tonight. If I don’t…”
“You can come to my place. You don’t have to stay there. I also can’t afford the rent. I’m looking for a roommate.”
I thanked her with a warm look. Ania was a short but tough woman. She was working part-time at the bar, and when she had the time she also went to faculty. She was struggling to pay for it, but she never complained. She was naturally blonde, but she was dying her hair black because she didn’t like her natural color.
It was the time when the customers started to show up. The hour when we became robots, just like Ania used to say. I was running with the drinks and food among the tables, thinking about what Jin had told me earlier about spilling them on the customers.
Into the crowd of people who were getting in and out, I saw a familiar face. I didn’t know the man, but I could swear I have seen him before. Andreea’s voice calling my name made me turn around and lose him from the sight. Andreea was the cooker, a woman at about thirty years, very skilled in what she was doing. I went and took the order from her, giving it to Ania.
“I need a break. I’m going outside. Cover me for five minutes?”
“Sure”, she replies.
I get out on the back door, trying to keep my feet on the ground. The cold air of the night brings my senses back to life when I breathe in the fresh air. My mind is full of contradictions and confusion. I think about Daniel. I have to move out. Ania is right. I can’t live like this. I lived under the impression that if I stayed all my live in orphanages and I didn’t find my place anywhere, I should be pleased to live near someone like Daniel.
“It’s been more than five”, I hear Ania behind me.
“Sorry, I’m coming in now.”
“No. Stay. I will keep you company. There are just a few people left, who already paid. We just wait for them to leave and then we can clean up.”
“Oh. Have you ever thought that we are pleased with so little?”
“I don’t do that. I just keep my money under control in order to pay my studies. But you, you think you don’t deserve better.”
“You’re right. I’ve been thinking… I will decide.”
Among Ania’s words, I saw two headlights in the parking lot. A masculine voice was grumbling something.
“No! I can do this! Don’t be mad! I saw her! It was just an error!”
Something was so familiar, but before I realize what, the car moved away. The grumbling was gone too. Ania was talking to me. I saw her moving her lips, but I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. In my head happened some connections and I winced.
“Wait!” I yelled and I ran after the car.
It was going away pretty fast. There weren’t any license plates on it, and I had a feeling that the police didn’t catch the one that caused the accident that day. Of course, the car was gone, and I was standing in the middle of the road, in the darkness. Ania was running behind me.
“What was that?”
She was looking at me like I was crazy. I knew there were moments when she considered to take me to the madhouse, but she was my only friend and she couldn’t afford to do it.
“You had that man’s table?”
“Tall and with black hair.”
“I had a lot of tables tonight, Cara.”
“I saw him coming inside and I thought I knew him. And now I saw the car! It’s the one from the accident!”
“You’re imagining things again?”
“No! I’m sure of it! He came here to see me! But why?”
She looks at me in a weird way. Sometimes she makes me wonder if I really enjoy making a drama out of my life.
“Let’s get inside”, I mumble when I see she doesn’t believe me.
When we got inside, the last customers were heading out. Andreea was cleaning up in the kitchen and the key left by Jin was on the bar. It was Ania’s turn to take it. I grabbed sadly the dirty glasses from a table. After three steps, my hands lost the fight with the dirt on the glasses and I dropped them on the ground. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, Andreea was already looking angry at me, with her hands on her hips.
“I’ll pay for them, don’t make that face!” I started arguing.
“Of course that YOU will pay for them! We won’t pay for your mess!”
I was ready for a fight when Ania shows up and pushes Andreea on the back.
“We got this. I see you cleaned up in the kitchen, so there’s no use for you to stay.”
Andreea makes a pirouette and shows me her ass, then she slams the door. I roll my eyes and I bend to clean the pieces of glass.
“Sometimes I ask myself if everything weird that happens to me is connected to my parents.”
“Meaning, I don’t know, I just want to find out that they didn’t leave me in the first orphanage and there’s an explanation for everything. I want to find them, but you know how hard I looked for them. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Maybe deep down in my heart I don’t really want to find them and to know what really happened. Maybe I hate them.”
“What if everything you call ‘paranoiac’ is about them? What if they’re looking for me?”
“Cara, I don’t want to upset you, but don’t you think this doesn’t make any sense? If they abandoned you, they did it for a reason. I don’t know, maybe they didn’t have enough money, they couldn’t offer you a life...”
“And look what a great life I have now!” I grumble.
I threw the glasses into the bin and I turned around to look at the bar. It looked better when it was empty than when it was full of noisy people. We had two more tables to clean up and I was already thinking about the bed back home. Then I felt I wasn’t going to have a peaceful sleep if Daniel was home.
“Sometimes I think about what you tell me and the things that keep happening to you, and I try to be you and I get it why you feel stalked. You want this. You want something to be there, someone who’s looking for you. Maybe this is why you connect them all like this.”
“Maybe”, I say wiping the last table.”Let’s go.”
“Come on. I’ll pay for the cab. I will leave you home.”
Ania closes the bar and we get outside to wait for our car. I take a deep breath, then I let a long sigh come out noisy, breaking the silence of the night. I feel a hand on my shoulder.
“It’s going to be fine.”
I gather my lips as if I disagree with her. I have a lot to say, but I can’t say them out loud, so I keep them inside. I walk two steps to the headlights that are coming to us. Ania gets inside on the back, and I walk to get on the other side. A noise under my foot makes me look down. I had stepped on something hard and glossy, so I stretch my hand for what I thought to be some treasure which could have saved me from that waitress job. But instead, I touch a piece of a headlight.
“Now do you still believe I’m crazy?” I ask Ania.
She googles her eyes and takes the piece from my hand.
“This is where that car was parked. Now it makes sense.”
“So? What do you think?”
Ania hands me back the piece. A car that had been into an accident earlier has all the chances to start dismembering.
“Hey, I turned on the clock. We can stay here until the morning or you can tell me where do you want to go”, says the driver bored to death.
Ania mumbles the address among her teeth, with a lot of swearing between the words, then she looks at me seriously.
“Look what. Tomorrow you can come by my place to talk. We have to figure it out. Something’s wrong here.”
“I’m glad that you don’t think I’m crazy anymore.”
A sudden break stops our conversation.
“Idiot! Don’t you see I have a green light? Where do you think you are?” screams the driver from the bottom of his lungs.
A shiver goes down my spine and I look at Ania terrified.
“Don’t start! It has nothing to do with it!”
“Have you seen what car it was?”
“And the one who almost hit me a month ago?”
“Cara… I believed in coincidences until tonight. Be careful.”
“Do you remember when I told you that I felt followed and my phone went crazy? After I changed it, it was quiet for a time. Then when I forgot my wallet and I went back home and I found the window open, even if I knew it was closed?”
“Yeah, I’m all goosebumps. Who are they and what do they want from you?”
“Good point. From me. Just a simple waitress.”
Another break lets me know that we arrived. I say good-night to Ania and I close the cab’s door carefully. I know how grumpy can drivers be when it comes to the cars, and they’re not entirely wrong. I look at the first floor, where the lights are all on. I feel already angry. Who pays the bills? Cully Cara! At least in the last two months. What would he have done if I haven’t moved with him? I take a deep breath and prepare to go up, into what can become “the scary house” for me.
I repeat my speech, strangling my fists and sticking my nails into my palms, because of the emotions and anxiety. How was Daniel going to react when he hears my decision. A decision I had made a long time ago, but I was afraid to admit it or to leave, for I was under the impression that I deserved all of this.
Luckily, Ania made me open my eyes. I was already regretting that I couldn’t listen to her months ago when she told me not to move in with him. Even if she saw him only a few times, and that by accident, she read him from the start. She warned me that he wasn’t more than a hooligan, who was ready to take advantage from my little salary. But I let myself taken by the wave, and I ended up with him, and now I was regretting the worst decision from my life.