Chapter 6: The streets and a wandering soul
It’s two o’clock and I’m lying on the grass, with the tears dried on my face. A bunch of teens passes by me, but they don’t notice the bad shape that I’m in. “Maybe I don’t look like a homeless person yet”, I think. I get up, staring at the clock from the park, which indicates ten minutes past two. I start walking to the bar because I don’t have a lot of options.
I’m thinking terrified about where I’m going to spend my nights from now on, but I’m grateful that I still have a job. The problem is that the money I have left is not enough for food, so I stop thinking about rent. Then I remember that I have started over so many times, without money, a home, or a job. I had the last one now, even if I haven’t had the money for the last month. I trip on a curb and I find myself on the street. The jeans tear in my knees because of the fall, but I don’t have other clothes, so I get up mumbling and I continue my way, paying more attention where I step this time.
I walk into the bar and I go in the back, in the kitchen, where I find Andreea talking to Joana and Silvia. They were still working.
“Cara! What are you doing here?” shouts Joana.
“The police told Jin about what happened”, says Silvia sadly.
“What are you doing here? Go home and relax. We’ve got it covered for you.”
I gulp. How am I supposed to tell them that I have no place to go? My pride won’t let me do that, so I put on my serious face.
“I can work. In fact, I want to work more because I want to keep myself busy.”
The girls look at me in a weird way, and even if they don’t understand my decision, they nod their heads. They have no idea how guilty I feel to use Ania’s death as an excuse to stay there.
Jin approaches and touches my shoulder. I startle because I haven’t noticed him there.
“I’m sorry. I can’t find the right words…”
“I know… Me neither. I know that’s going to sound insane, but I want all the night shifts. The girls don’t like them anyway. I can handle it alone. I need to work”, I say.
“Sure. I’ll talk to the girls.”
He walks away, without any idea where did that pleasure for work came from. My plan is a lot more than making money, and that is to make a small place to crush in the back, in the kitchen, where I can spend my nights.
There’s not long until it’s my turn to take over the shift, and Silvia comes near me.
“Cara, here’s the key. How do you want to proceed in the morning?”
“I’ll see you at eight in front of the door. I’m starting to run every morning. I’ll be here and I will bring it to you. Don’t worry.”
She’s suspicious about the running part, but she hands me the key and leaves. I take a deep breath because I didn’t do anything stupid, then I start working. I feel Andreea’s eyes on my back, and I imagine her telling me not to break something. But I don’t do that, and she doesn’t either.
There are not a lot of customers, so I get a few minutes to sit down. I pour a cup of coffee, and I add only milk, without sugar, then I grab a cookie from the fridge. I rush to eat it, for I don’t want Andreea to see me. I don’t think she would have said anything to me, but this was only the beginning.
The bulbs are flashing pale, in the room which is going to be my home. I grab a rag and I wipe the bar, while a customer comes near me and puts the bill into my pocket, plus some tip. I thank him politely and I go in the back to let Andreea know that I want to close.
“Will you be fine? Do you want me to stay around?”
I look strange at her. I didn’t know that she had a sensitive part too. Before I can reply, she comes and hugs me tight. I’m shocked because no one had ever hugged me before, so I don’t know how to react. I put two fingers on her shoulder, trying to hide my facial expression when she lets me go.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
She leaves, and I lock the door after her, insisting on cleaning up on my own. After I finish in the front, I turn off the lights and I go in the back, I pass by the kitchen and enter the little storage where Jin used to keep the cans. I move three boxes, then a big crate, and I find some kind of broken and fuzzy armchair. I knew I had seen something like that around here. I pull it to the front and I hit it with my hands, proud of my discovery. There’s a lot of dust coming out of it, and it makes me sneeze, but I don’t give up. I drag it on the back door, where I manage to clean it up. I put it back into the store and I put on it an old T-shirt, probably Jin’s, which I had found in the closet from the corner.
I undress because I don’t have other clothes, but the clod says its word after two hours of uncomfortable sleeping, so I put on the old T-shirt.
My sleep is not deep, it’s more like a rabbit sleep because I’m stressed not to be caught in there. I realize that I might need a clock, but I already need too much. I fall asleep again and I wake up at seven o’clock. At least that’s the hour indicated by the clock from the bar, and usually, it doesn’t lie.
I get up and go to the bathroom, where I try to clean myself in the small sink, using a lot of soap, which was replaced a day before. I put on my clothes, then I check my pockets. I don’t have a lot of money, but I have enough to buy a toothbrush and some toothpaste. I get out on the back door after I leave everything in place, and I rush to the shop from the corner. I buy the two things I need for my personal hygiene, and I still have some money left for a deodorant. I leave that place pleased, and I arrive in front of the bar at the same time as Silvia.
“Morning. Here’s the key. See you when we change shifts. I might arrive earlier.”
“You have the lust of work. This is your running outfit?” she asks looking at the clothes I had yesterday.
“Oh, no. I haven’t slept home last night, and I’m heading now to change my clothes.”
She waves at me, and I continue mission “surviving”. My legs take me to the subway entrance. I have with me the bag with the stuff from the supermarket, which I have to carry around with me until in the evening. I sit on the chair, the one from outside the barrier because I don’t have money to get inside. Anyway, I wouldn’t know where to go. I put my head between my knees and I wait silently for the time to pass.
I don’t know how much time passed, but something cold and noisy slaps my ear. I wake up freaking out, and I realize that a bill was stuck in my head. I look around, but the underground railway was gone, and so was the owner of the bill. I smile like an idiot, like in the childhood, when I lived better times on the streets, then I leave victoriously with the bill, looking for a shop where to buy at least two things to wear. I don’t want my colleagues to doubt me. I inspire some polluted air when I get out and I see light, but at least I don’t smell mold anymore.
After an hour of walking down the streets, a second-hand shop makes my day better, and I can afford a shirt, a T-shirt, and a blouse. I can’t afford another pair of jeans, so I think I will buy it next time when the luck strikes me again. At least I hope it will.
It was passed lunch when I find driven by boredom near my working place. I have changed my blouse, so my lies were going to work. I enter and I start talking some nonsense, about the fact that I can’t be alone in the house when Jin comes to me.
“I didn’t see you walking out from the bar last night”, he says seriously.
I feel my face burning, but I quickly come back to my senses. I had forgotten about the surveillance camera from the entrance.
“This is because I locked from the inside and I got out on the back door.”
Jin doesn’t ask another question. He just lifts his shoulders and walks out the bar. I breathe relieved. It was close. The next night everything is fine, the same is the next, and the third, and on the fourth night I already feel like home on the armchair from Jin’s storage. I got used to setting my biological clock, to prepare an old bag, found in the closet of course, for the next day, where I used to put all my stuff.
I prepare to get undressed because I know that no one comes around in the night when I hear a sound like a scattered dumpster in the back. I get up suspiciously because I had had some quiet days lately. I open the back door and I take a look around. When I prepare to head back inside, I see two men rushing inside. They probably thought that I was about to close and lock them inside, without seeing them.
I’m angry and I realize that I’m the one to blame because I had left the door wide open. I run to catch them from behind, and to get to the phone from the bar too, to call the police.
“Take everything you can!” shouts one of them.
I sneak between the tables to the phone, and I call the only number I know: the police. I can’t hear it ringing because I feel grabbed from behind and I see the phone is plucked from the wall.
“Really? You would risk your skin for some drinks?” asks the man who was holding me.
“Just keep her there until I fill the bag”, says the other one.
In all this time, I can’t think what decision I can make. To fight back and try to run, to save me or to try and stall, if the police got my call. I was disappointed again because I couldn’t trust the system. I make the final decision and I hit the man who was holding me with my elbow, and I run to the back door. One gets out and follows me, while I reach the front door, where he catches me and puts me on the ground.
“What do we do now?” he yells at his friend from the other side of the door.
The door is locked and he asks me for the key. I try to lie and buy some time, but his hand seems to have a problem with my hair, so I’m forced to give him the key from my pocket. He unlocks the door and drags me with him, but I block in the door and I start screaming for help, even if there are no houses around. Hope dies last, and in my case, I was waiting for a miracle, something or someone to pass by.
I hear a loud bang, and then I feel something wet on me, and I notice that the man had thrown a bottle of alcohol at me. He throws another one in the window, and I see it cracking. I feel my hair lifting up from my skull, and all I can think about is what Jin would say about it, so I try to stop him from doing another disaster. I slip while I try to get free from the man’s hands, and we both fall to the cracked pieces of glass. I feel an awful pain in my elbow, and I can swear that the liquid I’m sitting in is not only alcohol but blood too. Of course, it wasn’t just mine because I can hear sounds of pain behind me. I stand up and I throw on the man in front of me, but before he falls he throws another bottle in the shelf where the drinks were. There’s a loud noise, and I’m sure that if no one had heard me before, now I had their attention.
The man sits on me and he’s ready to hit me, but the police siren and a familiar voice stopped him from doing that.
“Hands where I can see them!” shouts the voice.
Then I see Dominic dragging the man off me, and another cop catches the other one. I see Dylan behind them, shocked by the disaster they had left behind. I get up and I shake the dust off me, as much as I can, because I’m dirty, hurt and I smell of alcohol. I look more like a cocktail than like a woman, and I try not to laugh when this thought crosses my mind.
“How come that all the problems bring me to you?” asks Dylan astonished.
“How come it took you so long to get here?” I ask sarcastically.
“We usually don’t mind to check the calls that ring one time or the ones which call and don’t speak. But I was nearby when you called, and I recognized the address”, says Dominic.
“You were lucky”, continues Dylan. “If he didn’t recognize the address or if Dominic wasn’t near the phone, we wouldn’t be here now”.
“What a system! What a country!” I snap.
When I look around I see a total mess. I feel something in my throat when one of the cops calls Jin, to explain to him what a big hero I was, trying to save the bar with my bare hands.
I sit on a chair and I wait patiently Jin’s arrival. Dylan comes near me and he puts his hand through his arranged hair. A strand of hair falls on his face, and I feel the need to move it, but I don’t. I can’t afford to do this with him, so I look on the ground.
“Seriously now. I looked for you in the past nights. I didn’t see you around.”
“I closed earlier.”
“I thought that I saw something moving in here last night.”
“You thought wrong. Why did you look for me?”
“Well, I didn’t forget about you, you know. But it’s been a problem. When I looked for you in the database, I saw that you disappeared. You were right. And there’s more.”
“Dalia Petrović. She’s not in the database either. But, as I told you, I work in IT, and I took a closer look, and I found out that the woman changed her name and she lives downtown.”
“Dalia Novak is her name. She tried to get out from the country several times, but she was stopped at the border because of her fake name and the fake acts. She was arrested for some time, but not in this town.”
“And how do you know that she’s the same person?”
“I used a program with facial recognition, I put her picture inside and I searched the surveillance cameras, you know, my kind of stuff.”
“Honest police stuff…” I add sarcastically.
“Do you want me to continue?”
“And this is how I found her. I found her address. Linden Street, number five, apartment number seven.”
I memorized the address and I wanted to mumble a “thank you”.
“If you want, I can come with you to the address. I didn’t have the time to go and check. I thought it’s better if I tell you first.”
“I’d rather go alone. I don’t think that she will be happy to see a police officer standing at her door.”
“Who said I’m coming as a police officer? You can introduce me as your boyfriend, husband, I don’t know…”
“Husband?” I start laughing.
Dylan wants to say more, but I see Jin entering the bar, and he doesn’t look happy at all. He comes to me, passing by the cops without a sound.
“Cara! What have you done again?”
“She saved your bar from the thieves!” Dylan defends me.
“Please don’t interfere!” yells Jin angrily. “Cara, you know that I have welcomed you here six months ago because you needed a job. You’ve always been honest and you didn’t steal, you worked double shifts, as you did now, but it seems to me that lately, all the problems with my business keep coming back to you!”
“But Jin…” I say.
“Please! It’s very hard for me to do this, but this time the mess is hard to cover! Please leave this place! I don’t need you anymore or your services. Find yourself another job!”
“But she defended your bar and she kept the thieves here until we got here!”
“Look what. I know that she’s a good looking girl, but you should probably ask what she was doing here at this hour!”
His face was telling me that he was about to say something bad and I started talking.
“It’s fine. I’ll leave.”
But Jin doesn’t stop, and he continues my public humiliation.
“You think that I haven’t noticed that you’ve made a shelter from the back of my bar? I passed by two days ago and I saw what you did there! I’m sorry to do this to you, but it’s business! I can’t afford to lose money because of my sympathy for you!”
I put my hands on my head when I see Dylan’s face. I run in the back and take my backpack, where I have my personal stuff. I rush to pass by them and I run outside. The tears are ready to flow on my cheeks when I hear Dylan behind me.
But I don’t stop. He runs and grabs my arm.
“I asked if you had a place to stay!”
“And I told you that I’m fine!”
“Why are you so stubborn?”
“Why do you keep getting into my life?”
“Why you don’t trust people? Me? All I’ve done since I met you was to try and help or understand you!”
“Maybe this is the problem! Maybe it would have been better if I haven’t met you! Now let me go!”
Dylan doesn’t let go, but I can see the shock on his face. I pull my hand.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, but it’s time to leave me alone! And I mean it! There will be consequences!”
“Now you’re threatening me? Do you hear yourself?”
I walk away on him. I can’t tell him that wasn’t a threat, but he seems a nice guy, even if I don’t trust him, and I can’t feel guilty if something happens to him. Everyone who knew the truth or who helped me was dead. So I decide to end the crimes and to continue on my own. The only way I can make sure that he stays away from me, and my problems, is to be mean.
I continue my way, with tears on my cheeks, until I reach the main street. The cold wind makes me shiver, and I bet it’s not only the cold. I turn around and I see two headlights behind me. They follow me when I turn left, and that’s a sign I should start running. But the car still follows me and I try to run faster.
“Cara!” I hear behind me.
But I don’t stop.
“Cara, wait! It’s me, Dominic!”
Then I suddenly stop, turning around and breathing heavily.
“And you couldn’t tell this from the start so I wouldn’t run like an idiot? Ha?” I ask revolted.
“You have a point there, but I didn’t expect you to start running like hell”.
“What is it? Dylan sent you?”
“Dylan went back to the section. When I asked him about you, he said that you don’t want to talk to him ever again.”
“That’s right. But why are you following me?”
“Gibson wants you in for some questions. He just called me. It’s good that I found you because he would have put ‘wanted’ posters with your face all over the place. The man is nuts. Come on, get in!”
I look at him and I make a face. I would like to tell him to stop treating me like a child, but I nod my head and I get up. I can’t afford to make more problems, especially with Gibson.
“Dylan’s angry, you know.”
“I don’t care.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look what. Ania and I had some good time together. She was a simple woman, but she had a good heart, and that’s what we look for in a woman. You’re just like her, but you’re a little bit weirder.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
“Don’t be ironic. The point is that Dylan likes you. I haven’t seen him so interested to help a customer so far, and I’m sure it’s something more. Why do you like playing around?”
“I’m playing? Dominic, I don’t like Dylan. I don’t want to hurt his ego or his feelings, but I didn’t ask for his help. Please, let’s talk about something else.”
“Fine. But you have to know that one of the reasons I got this job was that I can recognize the liars very fast.”
“Just do your job!”
“I don’t believe you when you say this either”, he laughs. “I don’t know your reasons, but you have to know that you can trust us. Or him at least.”
I let my head on the window, and I try not to hear him. All that’s happening is a beautiful illusion, and I would be an idiot to believe that I can have something with Dylan. We’re not in fairytales, and it won’t happen like in Cinderella, where the price comes and saves the poor girl, “homeless” in my case. So I swallow my tears. Tears of anger and stupidity because I let myself believe for a second that Dominic was right.
He arrived at the section again, and he walked me to the interrogatory room. There was Gibson waiting for me, bored and sleepy. He waves at Dominic to close the door. I sit on the chair and I look at the big mirror in my right. I realize it’s like in the movies and there’s someone on the other side who hears and sees everything I do and say.
“So, let’s clarify things. You tried to kill Daniel in his apartment.”
“But it was self-defense and I didn’t kill him!”
“Answer with yes or no!”
“Yes or no! Did you try to kill him or not?”
“Good. The next thing. You were heard screaming that you want him dead.”
“How do you know this?”
“Is it true or not?”
I was so angry. Probably Dylan made him call me in, and he was trying to get his revenge on me because of the way I treated him. Only Dylan, Dominic, Ania and Daniel heard that.
“Were you alone in the hallway when the power went off?”
“So you can’t prove that you didn’t actually enter in that room and killed him?”
“Did you find your friend dead in the apartment?”
“And you said that she ate your ice cream, but they didn’t find any box of ice cream there. But your hand looks damaged, and this is a sign that you’ve been in contact with the poison! The doctors said that she had a pill overdose, but now that I remember what you said that night, I realize that you’re involved in her death too.”
“But this is absurd! You’re wrong!”
“And if I dig deep enough, I bet I can find some connection between you and Michelle’s death!”
“You can’t do this!”
“Cara Vandis, I arrest you for murdering those people!”
The sky falls on my shoulders when he gets up and comes near me with the handcuffs.
“But I’m not guilty! I want a lawyer!”
He cuffs my hands on the back.
“You can’t afford one!”
“A free one!”
“We’re out of lawyers!” he laughs.
“You can’t do this! You can’t treat me like this! I have rights!”
“Ok”, he laughs again, tightening the cuffs.
I think he enjoys my situation, but I try not to do anything stupid. He opens the door and drags me on the corridor, under Dominic’s stupefied look.
“I’m innocent!” I shout desperately.
“Oh, shut up! I will put you in a holding cell and I will keep you there until you admit you did it! And believe me, I have methods to make you talk faster!”
“You’re a wretch!”
“I will add you some days for the way you speak to me!”
I feel him dragging me with hate as if I had killed his whole family, and I just can’t understand how it can be so much injustice in this country. He prepares to put me inside a two-square-meter cell, where it’s dark and it smells of mold. While he’s looking for the keys, I think if it’s good to hit him and to run, if I will ever get out of there, or how many rat-friends I will meet, and not “if” because I’m pretty sure I can hear at least two of them squeaking in the dark.
“Wait!” I hear Dylan shouting.
Gibson turns around with a unpleased face, grinding his teeth.
“I told you not to interfere! It’s my case now!”
“But I have proofs that she’s innocent!”
It’s like the weight is lifted from my shoulders and I feel like I want to hug Dylan, while on Gibson’s face I can clearly see the opposite. Dylan hands him some papers.
“Look. The night Ania was killed Cara was with me at the bar”, he says showing him a picture with the hour and the date, probably taken from the camera outside the bar.
“And after this?”
“I followed the cab number in which she was, and look, it stops in front of the block of flats at one and five minutes. I have the video here, and I have the whole movie on the stick, and you can see clearly that the cab has no stops on its way. At the hour when Ania died, twelve and fifty-five, Cara was in the cab, on the crossroads Muller with Roadies.
Gibson grabs the papers with his eyes nearly jumping out of his head.
“I will keep her here because I’m not sure about Daniel’s death.”
“I have proofs for that too. The system shut down, the power went off, but we still have a backup system. I couldn’t see who got in there, but I saw the two officers got out, then nothing.”
“And this helps her how?”
“Well, I didn’t recover the video from Daniel’s room, but I recovered the one from the corridor and it shows clearly how Cara’s staying quiet on the bench all the time when the system was down.”
Gibson still mumbles something about Michelle.
“I will look for something to prove that too. Cara and Ania were together those days, and I can confirm it by tracking Ania’s phone and looking at the surveillance system on the streets. If they are not together, I’m sure I can find a solution.”
“I was to solve things with my identity cards.”
“I can check the system over there. It won’t take long. I’ll go and bring them to you. Five minutes.”
Gibson grumbles again.
“I’m waiting for your report.”
“Now you will let her go and concentrate on finding the real murderer?”
“Now you will leave me alone and you will not interfere again in my case!” he yells unlocking my cuffs angrily.
He walks away, and I just remain there, with tears in my eyes, shocked and stupefied.
“I can’t believe it…” I whisper.
Dylan looks angrily at me, but I can’t help it and I hug him.
“Sorry!” I say coming back into my senses and letting him go.
I was shocked, but he was too, and before he could say anything, I start running on the long corridor. I see my backpack on a chair and I grab it quickly. I wonder what’s doing there because I thought it would be in some place called “evidence” or something like that. That’s where I knew they use to put things which belong to “dangerous murderers” like me.
“Thank you!” I yell from the end of the hall.
I hear footsteps behind me, I hear my name, but I don’t turn around. I run on the quiet streets, disappearing into the night.
My soul is troubled, as troubles as my face, but I don’t have time to be sorry for myself. I’m sorry for how I treated Dylan, and most of it because he tried until the last second to prove my innocence. What had I done to deserve a redeeming? What about his blind fate in me? I was just a girl, a homeless girl, and I couldn’t see why a man like him would want to help a woman like me. Then I thought about what Dominic said and I couldn’t be more disoriented because I couldn’t understand how Dylan could like someone like me, even when he knew a part of my past.
My mind filled with questions without answers, while I was lying on the grass, at the city border, and above me were shining the stars. Leaving aside everything that had happened until that moment, it was beautiful. Exceptional, I might say. I hadn’t seen the sea in my entire life, and I wanted like hell to see the stars from the shore. I wanted to look for my inspiration on the seashore, for the book I was dreaming about, but it was everything just a dream.
“The dream of a homeless girl”, I think as a joke for a title to my book, then I fall asleep with the sky above me, thinking of a better life, but also aspiring to the ideal, remembering the days when I actually thought I would be able to succeed with a book, just as the big writers, because most of those who put their stories on paper were successful. I didn’t even have a paper at the moment, so I let go of the dream soon.