Chapter 2: Appearances
A lot of stupid questions come across my mind while I walk up the stairs. I head unknown and harsh voices coming from the apartment. I search for my keys in the bag, but I can’t find them in time and the door opens. I see three big and tattooed guys, full of piercings, and with weird haircuts coming out. The shock is even bigger when I see my laptop in one of their hands, the TV in another’s hands, and the microwave oven at the third guy.
“What the hell?!” I smash.
“I’ll explain everything, but now get out of the way!” shouts Daniel.
“No! I don’t care what are they doing with the other stuff, but my laptop isn’t going anywhere!”
“It’s not going alone, Raed is taking it”, continues Daniel, pointing at the man who was holding to the laptop like a dog to his bone.
“No! Here is all my work! I won’t allow you to give it away like this!”
Daniel snaps and pulls me by the arm. He takes me inside screaming from the bottom of his lungs.
“I have deleted everything from that laptop! Now move!” he screams again and slams the door.
I was wondering how long could last that door if he kept slamming it like that.
“I can’t believe that you gave away my laptop!”
“I didn’t give it away. I sold it! We needed stuff.”
“What stuff?” I ask angrily.
Then I look in the kitchen. On the table were some beer boxes, arranged in a nice way. I feel like I’m about to catch fire. My book on which I was working for almost half a year was now gone with the wind, and so was my laptop, bought from my hard worked money, and all of these for just a couple of beers.
“Don’t tell me that you’ve given away all of our stuff for some beers!”
“I had other liabilities.”
“What? Since I’ve moved in with you I paid for everything! What’s this about?”
“It’s my problem…” he says and throws on the bed.
I feel my cheeks on fire, my veins pulsing blood, and above all of these, I see my clothes on the ground, in a corner, because the wardrobe isn’t there anymore.
“What have you done with the furniture?”
“I gave that away too.”
“If you wanted me out, you should have told me so! You shouldn’t have given away the wardrobe and threw my things on the floor! What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I don’t want you gone, but I needed the money.”
Daniel’s moods were changing too often, and I was afraid to stay near him or his buddies. I remained standing for a few seconds. I had made the final decision.
Daniel stands up and comes closer to me. I can feel his breath on my face. He smells like alcohol and perfume. He is that type of guy from whom I have run all my life, but now I’m standing in front of him, and more, in his house. He puts his hand on my neck and kisses me on the neck. But I don’t feel attraction anymore. I feel more like anger and sickness. I reject him, pushing him away.
“No. It’s over. I’m done.”
“What’s over?” he asks between his teeth.
I take two steps back so I can see his face. The blood is gathering in his cheeks, and his face seems to explode when he hears my words.
“I’m leaving, Daniel. I can’t do this anymore. This is not a life.”
“You think you can leave just like this, whenever you want? Where would you go? You don’t have a place to stay!”
“I’ll find one! I can’t stay here and watch you selling my things, and treat me like a housekeeper! I have plans with my life, and it seems that you don’t! I want a future, one that seems I can’t have with you!”
The person I saw in front of my eyes in that moment was not Daniel I had met some months ago. I turned around and I pulled the suitcase under the table. I started packing my things when I saw his shadow approaching in the pale light from the room. I didn’t turn around, a thing that I should have done. I felt his hands squeezing hard my neck, so hard that I thought he was going to break it.
“You don’t leave when you want to!” he shouts.
“Let me go!” I scream choking.
But he pushed me into the wall, turned me with my face into his face, and continued squeezing me. I thought I had to do something, otherwise, I was going to end up there dead. I hit him with my legs in his belly, trying to get away. Finally, he gave up, but not because of my hits. I fell on the floor, choking tears and saliva.
“You are a wretch!” I said hoarsely.
He takes a bag and puts inside the few jewelry I had, my cellphone and my bag with my identification acts. I was staring at him terrified from the corner I had fallen. I saw incertitude on his face. If he was the one who wasn’t sure of what he was doing, what about me?
He walks a few steps to the door, then he turns around, moving around in the room. My heart starts bumping in my chest, but soon I feel it going up to my throat. In the next second, I get up and grab the lamp. I hit him in the face and I run to the door, but I realize it’s locked. I hear Daniel’s steps behind me and I know I did a stupid thing by hitting him. I start screaming for help, but his hands cover my mouth and he hits me in the face.
“Shut up!” he shouts and shows me a sharp knife.
In front of me was a madman, but he had a spark on incertitude in his eyes.
“What the hell? Why? I can’t…” he grumbles.
I had no idea why he was saying those things, but something was extremely odd. I felt him letting me go, so I took the one chance I had. My leg hit the hand where he was holding the knife, then I got out from his hands. I dragged myself on the cold floor until I put my hands on a chair. I took it and I blocked Daniel just before he attacked me. After that, I stood up and I hit him. And I hit him again, and again until he stopped moving.
I had left behind me a horrible image, one that made me shiver and tremble. A loud noise made me wince and fall from my feet. It came from the other room. I took a moment to realize what I had done, then I realized I might have been a murderer.
I ran into the room from where the noise came, and I saw revolted that the bag with my acts, money, jewelry, and the phone was gone. The window was wide open, and my memory couldn’t help me. I had no idea if I let it that way or if someone was there while in the other room were happening horrible things.
After I searched the room with my eyes again, I was sure that the bag wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t have the time to think straight, so I ran to the door. I pulled it but I realized I still needed a key to unlock it. As my key was in the bag that had disappeared in a mysterious way, I put my hand in Daniel’s pocket. I took the keys and headed to the door, trembling with all my body.
I hear a sound behind me, just when I started unlocking the door. I turn around and I see Daniel moving. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to be dead or not, but I knew that I was too desperate. I slam the door and lock it after me, to be sure that he can’t follow me too soon.
Only with the clothes I have on me and full of bruises and scars, I find myself running to Ania’s place. A good thing was that Daniel had no idea where she lived. He was never too interested. I was running like a robot on the empty streets, while it was starting to light up. After a while, I stop. A beggar who’s rummaging through the garbage looks at me in a strange way. I take a look at his feet, then at mine. He had shoes and I didn’t. A weird sensation comes across my body and I look back. I nod my head and want to leave, but I see in the old man’s hand a bag just like the one which had disappeared from my place. He shakes it and puts it away. Then I realize that if it was something in there he would have taken it.
My legs want to move, but something’s holding me back. The beggar continues his way, hitting with a stick the block’s wall. I get close to the bag and take a look at it. It’s empty. I take it with me and start running again.
Without knowing when I find myself at Ania’s door. The door from the block was open, so I made sure that it was closed after I entered. My hand is stuck on the doorbell for about two minutes when I hear a hoarse voice from the inside.
“What the hell?”
Then I see the light, then the eyehole turns dark, and I don’t get the chance to say anything because the door opens.
“Holy shit! What happened to you? Cara!”
I stepped inside, locking the door quickly, and checking it twice.
Some nights seem to be an eternity, but they are just our fears turned into seconds, which turn into small steps, guided like robots. At six o’clock in the morning, when the pale light started to get inside through the dusty windows of Ania’s dining room, she puts her head between the palms. There are tears in the corner of her eyes when the hands cover just the nose.
On the table are two overturned cups of coffee, and from a glass are pouring some drops of red wine. Dozens of crumpled napkins are on the floor, and the TV is turned on but on silent. A negligent image, but we couldn’t care less. Ania wasn’t expecting guests, or at least she wasn’t expecting another surprise full of bruises and barefooted at her door.
“I have a friend…” she says tinkering her voice.
I look at her hopeless, waiting to continue what she had started. She bites her lips and wipes her face, which looked tired, but not that kind of tired when someone wakes you up in the middle of the night, but that kind where all the problems in the whole world are on your shoulders. She was too involved, putting herself in my place and feeling what I was feeling, even if we were friends for only six months, since the moment when I started working at Jin’s.
“She works at the police station”.
I look at her again, but this time bored and demoralized. She knew damn well my opinion about politics, government, police, and all the rest. I just couldn’t have trust in them, and my “paranoia” was beyond the usual limits. Or maybe not. I was slowly receiving evidence that a part of what my mad mind was cooking was actually true.
“Before you say no, please listen to me. I know her since high school and she’s the bookworm type. She doesn’t get involved in bad situations without thinking a lot. I’m confident that if we tell her all of it she will try at least to look for an answer. She owes me something…”
“Is it relevant to ask what do you have on her?”
“Well, she has that job because of me. It’s a long story. I was supposed to be there, not as a police officer, but as an assistant, but she wanted that job so much and I made it happen…”
“Ok, Ok, fine! I will do it! Maybe I can find out something to start with.”
On Ania’s face appears a shadow of a smile, but it can’t cover the fatigue and the dark circles. She takes all the cups and glasses from the table at once, for she was used to it. Then she heads back to her room, from where she comes out after two minutes.
“Come on! Clean up!” she says throwing me a clean towel, a pair of jeans and a shirt.
“Don’t thank me yet. I have to make up to you for all the time when I thought you were crazy. I hope this works. I will make a phone call and when you’re ready we will leave and meet Michelle. I hope she will be delighted to hear my voice again because she will see me anyway!”
A glance of hope startled in me. I got into the big marble tub and I let the water flow. It was hot, but I didn’t mind. The noise of the water covered some sights that I let out. What can a man possibly want after a night like this? A peaceful sleep. Of course, not my case. I want that all the hate that I have for Daniel and for what I don’t know to flow away with the water, but this nightmare is far from over. When the soft towel touches my skin I feel a sting and a shiver. A few drops of water flow on the steamed mirror and I can see the marks left behind by my fight with Daniel. My neck is the most affected one, where some red marks remind me of the terror that I went through. I gulp and I put the clothes on.
When I step out from the bathroom, Ania welcomes me fresher than ever, as if she had never stayed up crying and talking to me. “My suffering sister”, I think as a bad joke.
“Come on. Michelle is waiting for us”.
“How fast and convincing you were!” I smile with half of my mouth as if I had already forgotten the terror I had been through that night.
“Oh, fast… yes. Convincing, I still hope that”.
The cab that Ania ordered online was already waiting for us. I looked suspiciously at the driver, and I still had retention to get inside. It was something new to me, and I wasn’t used to new. I wasn’t opened to anything related to technology because I didn’t trust it. I preferred the classic way, even if it wasn’t too comfortable.
“Cara, come one! This time you’re being paranoid!”
I roll my eyes inside my head and I get into the car.
“I have another phone back at the apartment. Remind me to give it to you when we get back.”
“I don’t want to hear about a phone ever again! I prefer to go and live in the jungle! Anyway, if I didn’t need money for food, a job…”
“You can stay at my place as long as you want. I have all you need. And if I don’t, we will get it! I don’t think you want to go back in Daniel’s house ever again.”
“You thought right. If I ever see him again, I’m sure it will end a lot worse than last time for one of us! And considering the thirst for revenge that I have inside me, I’m sure he is the one who’s going to pay.”
Ania looks at me and she makes a face as if I was playing Superwoman or something like that. The driver raises an eyebrow while he’s looking at me in the mirror, then he puts his eyes on the road. I realize that now’s not the time to play the tough one, considering the way I looked just a few hours ago when I had arrived at my friend’s door looking like hell.
The cab stops in front of a weird building, a squared one, covered in windows on the outside. I see my reflection as soon as I get out, and I start arranging my hair, which is still wet on the back of the neck.
“You have to know that these are that type of windows through which you can’t see them, but they can see you”, laughs Ania.
“Crap!” I say trying to cover the redness from my cheeks.
I step behind her, on the long hallway, until we arrive in front of a desk. There, a bored gentleman, at about forty years old, is sitting relaxed on a timeworn brown leather armchair. In front of him are a few screens with images, where I spotted the entrance to the building. “Great. I assured his entertainment for today”, I think straining my nose.
I try hard to hide my disgust for this institution, and I hope that my face won’t betray me. At least not soon.
“We’re here to see Michelle Ross”, says Ania with a fake smile on her face.
The man moves his hand over a cup of coffee, grabbing a register as brown as the chair, without moving his eyes from the screen.
“Sign here”, he grumbles.
Ania writes down something on one of the pages, then she pulls me after her on another long hallway. When we arrive in front of a yellow door, she turns around at me.
“Just pretend you are not shocked if you see me losing my temper or if you hear something weird. Ok?”
I nod my head wondering in what kind of mess I let myself dragged into. Ania opens the door and inside we bump into a woman at about her age, with blonde hair and a pair of glasses on her nose. On her desk was sitting a police officer, young as well, who jumped as burned when we entered the room. He looks at us curiously, and then he takes some papers from the desk and closes the door after him.
“Ania Ivanov. We haven’t seen each other since when? Since you needed the last favor from me?” says Michelle not so pleased.
“I have an undeniable proposal! If you help me with this, I promise you it would be the last!”
Michelle puts aside the papers that caught her attention earlier. She takes off her glasses and looks at us with her brown eyes.
“This is Cara Vandis, my friend. For her I need the favor, so please look closely for information”.
“Vandis? Is it Greek?”
“I think you can tell me that”, I open my mouth for the first time.
Michelle makes a face, then she looks at Ania.
“Look how it is. Cara here is followed by some weird people. They try to kill her for some time. At least this is what we think. Now, more than ever, we need to know the truth. Who are her parents, if they are alive if they have anything to do with what’s happening to her…”
“What Ania’s telling me seems taken from the SF movies. If I had no idea how things work around here, especially when I’m working in the police, I would tell you that you’re crazy. I can’t access all the information, but I can look around for you. But it will be the last favor for Ania.”
“Fine”, says Ania briefly.
“Thank you”, I add. “Any detail about my parents or about the people who are following me is welcomed.”
We continued talking for about twenty minutes, while I explained her about the mysterious man with the Ford car, about my fight with Daniel, and about the disappearance of my documents. I ended up by making a complaint against Daniel, even if I was under the impression that he was long gone. I didn’t have faith that someone will ever find him somewhere if he had no intention of being found.
Anyway, I keep the complaints and the reproaches to myself and I thank the lady again. When we got out from her office, we bumped again into the young police officer. He passes his hand through his black and trimmed hair, and then he stops at the coffee machine. Ania pulls me after her as if staring was some kind of illegal thing.
“I thought you can’t trust cops”, she says smiling.
“I don’t, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t watch!”
We are almost outside the police station and I can feel some weird looks on me. The cameras from the corners are invading my privacy, so I start walking faster. Michelle was going to get in touch with me on Ania’s number, as I didn’t have or want a phone.
“I’m trying to understand you, seriously”, she says looking for the cab.
“I know that you’re feeling confused, stalked, but I don’t get how you can live without a phone!”
“I don’t feel so good either, but at least for a while I will stay hidden. I don’t know from whom, but something’s obviously not good! I hope I can sort things out with my identity card tomorrow. I will announce it lost.”