The ceiling is white, in fact, the walls...they are so blindingly white.... I have to blink quickly to keep the tears from spilling out of my aggravated eyes. The wall looks sleek and smooth, in comparison to my rough dirt in the prison. There are darker lines that remind me of the veins in my arm in the way they disappear and reappear so naturally and beautifully through the stone.
The brightness of the room is not coming from a dull candle or torch, but a natural source shining from multiple open cuts on one wall. The Sun...I feel it’s faraway heat radiating onto me, warming me inside and out. Did I realize before I was imprisoned what a blessing it was to see and recognize that ball of fire in the sky?
White and dark spots dance around my vision; I have been staring at it too long. When I look away, the room is somewhat darker in perspective. There are vibrant colored fabrics hanging next to the openings in the wall looking outside, and there is darker colored fabric on the floor: dirt, tree and blood colors that cover the ground in swirl and curvy patterns, ones that remind me of my art in the cell. I sigh and remember that there is an outside I can look out to. If only..if only I could get up and see it for myself.
I test my weary feet and try lifting them off of the comfy chair, but I quickly realize I need assistance. I feel that there is still something internal within me that aches and hurts every time I move. I cover my face in my hands and then gasp. My face was never touched, and it is still smooth, but my hands….. I take a proper look at them. Perhaps they have been harmed the most.
The skin is deformed from large burns, both old and new scars cover both sides of them. My fingers are stretched out into thin, gnarled sticks. I can see every internal body structure there: veins, tendons and even my bones. All are terms I can not forget because the Dolor damaged so many of them in my body so often, and he explained what I needed to do to heal and recover before he could harm me again.
The nails, as it is a habit, are bitten scraggly. Sometimes, I would eat them because it gave my mouth practice for chewing actual food, or sometimes I was bored, or nervous, or scared out of my mind. I look at the back and front of them, despising them entirely. How ugly and wretched they are! I hide them underneath the blanket so I don’t have to look at them again. Instead, I stare at the blanket. It is also bright but smooth, and I run it over my cheek, still covering my hands.
The chair is not so a chair, but I envision it is for lounging about with comfort and laziness. I look to my right and there is a shiny object that is made of the material of my Rescuer’s dagger. I tentatively pick it up, hoping not to drop it with my cloth covered hands. It makes a light noise and I shake it more; it makes a beautiful, yet shrill cry. It feels like it belongs with Cantor’s folk songs or the tunes and chirps outside. I am still ringing it when someone bursts through the door.
I gasp and drop the object on the floor, which makes a loud clang. I quickly draw up the fabric warily around my body, so that only part of my face is showing. Then, I finally look at the person who came in. Is it the man who rescued me? Where has he gone?
I’m surprised to see a girl watching me with an indescribable expression. She frowns and opens her mouth to say in a very strong accent, “ Well, senhora, what is it you want first? I reckon some food….a banho…..change of clothes….?” I blink and shiver suddenly. The onslaught of questions and foreign words overtake me quickly.
“I want answers first,” I tentatively demand. The girl is young and bold in the way she carries on, and I tense up as she snorts and sputters out laughing at my request.
“Desculpas, senhora, I’m not the one to be talking to regarding everything that’s happened. Better wait for Mestre Frigidianus. He’ll explain everything.” The girl comes closer and I can see the red on her cheeks when she speaks her master’s name.
“I reckon, you want me to do your hair, senhora?”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” I demand. The title bothers me to no end. I’m sure no ’senhora’ ever has the thoughts that I do, looks or acts the way I do.
“Again, I’m no good for answering questions. I was told to by the mestre, and I follow the mestre. Very good man, he is,” the girl states with a manner of loyalty and fondness. She strides purposefully behind me and starts to finger through my hair.
She huffs as she goes through the mess, trying to make sense of the tangles and clumps that don’t look like very much like locks. I sigh and apologize, “I’m sorry...about my hair. I think it would be better if you just cut it all off.”
She clucks her tongue, and I feel her lifting thick, long layers of sticky, greasy hair in confusion. “There is certainly very little to save of this a confusão….of whatever you call this,” she mutters.
“Edite? Is she awake?” A male voice that sounds like my my own tongue calls through the wooden door she had barged through minutes before.
“Sim, Mestre. Though I fear there is very little I can do to better her appearance,” she calls over my head. I cover my body up more than before. The Edite girl, well, she is female, and no female ever hurt me in that prison. But adult men...what they could do to crush a soul!
“Would it offend if I intrude?” He cracks open the door an inch, but I cannot see him. Edite looks down at me expectantly and I nod my head.
“Sim, you may enter,” she answers for me.
He walks in, brown hair and darker eyes set off by a light skin-tone. He approaches with his hands behind his back. He gives a large smile and kneels a few feet next to my comfy chair. How easily they throw around laughs and smiles here. I don’t think I could bare to twitch even a grin, even if I wanted to.
“I thought, I might give these to you, Amalia.” My eyes widen unbearably. Did he...know me?
He pulls out a bundle of stems from behind his back with colorful tops that reminds me of thin pieces of paper, and holds them out to me. I almost reach for it but remember my hands and jerk away. I look over to Edite and nod to her to take them.
He loses his smile quickly and shares a concerned frown at Edite as she moves to take them to a vase.
We all watch each other, unsure of what to do next, and finally, it occurs to me that I don’t know who he is.
“Aren’t you planning on….telling me who you are?”
“Introducing myself? Why would that be necessary, Amalia? Edite is my servant. She knows my name.”
“I mean...to me. I assume you’re Mestre Frigidianus, but-”
“Wait….Donato didn’t report memory loss as a condition,” he is now frowning at me, like it is my fault.
“Excuse me sir, the last thing I remember is being taken into the light of the sun and sky as the man carried me. He had nothing to report on, since I was unconscious until just now.”
Frigidianus squeezes his eyes tightly and quickly exhales. Is he angry? What will he do? I shrink back against the cushions more as I wait for a response.
“So…” he opens them, looking towards Edite, “You do not know…..” he sighs and turns away, “You do not remember who I am? Who I was to you?”
“You are Mestre Frigidianus, but I do not have any recollection of you...or her...but...tell me. Was she..Was I called Amalia?”
The man scrutinizes my face, like he is trying to tell if I am lying. No, the Dolor whipped the word “lie” out of my vocabulary quickly, or even thought process. To lie was equal to pain, experiments and torture. I don’t remember lying very much.
“Yes, you were called Amalia by everyone. And we...you were my fidanzato.” He paused for a moment as if the memory was relaying in his mind. He continued with a bitter smile, “On the eve of our nuptaie they cruelly took you from me. And then I-”
I shake my head ferociously. What does it mean to me now? Why did he have to tell me that? Can’t he know that I am not the same woman he was going to marry? That I’m not Amalia anymore? I am Prisoner 164, who does not recall her name, her parents, her home, her age, the justification of her punishment or two faces of significant men.
“I-I’m sorry,” he comes closer and kneels right next to me. I just stare and blink, wondering what Amalia had thought about him before I came into existence. I don’t remember crying over the separation and disappointed hopes of losing my fidanzato in the prison. How had the Dolor and his methods affected my memory and even reactions to my past to be forgotten so easily?
“You need to be taken care of, to be waited upon and I’m just creating problems for you. Perhaps Edite may take you into the lavatio while a meal is prepared.”
“And then you will answer all my questions?”
“Within my power, yes,” he smiles tightly.
He turns to leave for me to bathe and then stops and says over his shoulder, “As long as you answer some of my own in return.”
I squint my eyes at him and respond, “Within my power to recollect them for you, Mestre.”
“Of course. I am sure I will have a great many more answers to provide for you than you will for me. And please, if you must call me by title, please do not use that infernal phrase. Maestro is how we say it here. Edite, though dear to me, is from Portraia.” the man takes his leave, whistling as he shuts the door.
I turn to Edite and nod for her to continue. “If you do not mind, senhora, I must lift you into this chair to take you to the lavatio. The Medice will not let you stand yet.”
“I agree,” I whisper, remembering how my body was played with indescribably by the Dolor.
“So if you could, senhora, please sit up straight.” I obey slowly, testing out my abilities and back. I remember there were times when I couldn’t move my legs without my back sending pain throughout my body in jolts. That was one of the most chronic injuries I gained from his manifestations, and I can still feel the old pain if I strain myself too much.
She, for someone younger than me, is very strong, or maybe I really am smaller than I used to be. She lifts me up easily, just like my rescuer, though I hear her sigh heavily when she puts me into another chair I hadn’t seen her move there as I talked to Frigidianus. I make sure my hands are hidden in between armrests and my thighs. I can only imagine what Edite’s reaction to them would be.
She pushes on the chair behind me, and I roll forward easily. I gasp at the novelty and she laughs. “Don’t worry, senhora. it was made especially for your recovery.”
“I just...didn’t expect it, or him to be so…..” I fish for the right word. Kind wasn’t it. Not after discovering I was of no use to him. “Accommodating.” Edite hums in response, though I wonder if she understands my meaning.
She doesn’t roll me out the same way she entered, but turns me to the back of the room where a curtain the color of bright blood hangs from the ceiling to the floor. She drapes it back with a tie and leads me into an entirely different room. Large open slits in the wall bring in more sunlight to a room with more places to sit while fabrics cover the wall. In shelves are slippers and boots, so many that I cannot imagine numbering them.
But we do not stop, and I can hardly admire the art on the wall, or the fabric covering the floor, with different shapes and patterns and colors. She ties back another curtain that leads into the lavatio, a very white room with steps leading into a large hole in the center. Doorways with see-through curtains view a pathway outside, though from what I can tell, it is far from the ground. My eyebrows tighten; I find it ironic that they put me so far above ground when I’ve been beneath it for so long.
"Would you like for me to set you outside while I get the water for your banho ready?"
I nod imperceptibly, almost scared of what I will find. Will I pass out from exposure again? Is it in an area covered in clay and dirt? If so, I don't think I could stand it out there for very long.
But I remember smelling the delicious breeze coming into the room when I awoke. It smelled like a sign of life. She pushes me through the transparent curtains hanging over the doorways. The doorway is curved on top, like a half-circle on top of a square.
She pushes me outside and I flutter my eyes shut momentarily, at least until she goes away. I want to be alone to take it all in. I hear running water and her mumbling from within and peek an eye open. I am blinded, for a moment, before I see everything.
A beautiful city. Not because of the rolling waves of water that quenches my thirst just looking at it, but because it has life. People, ordinary people roam the narrow stone streets. Children play happily, smiling and laughing in the corner of plazas as their parents conduct their daily business. It seems so familiar....was there a time my life had been as simple as theirs?
I try to ignore the people.....and focus on the structures, the color of the sky, the warmth of the air.....but that is indescribable. So many details. So many places.... so big.
For the most part, the houses are close together to the point where they look like they are tilting to the streets. The tops are colored blood and sun in contrast to the whites of the walls. Odd little trees surround the bigger structures, and sometimes there is a nice cluster of them, creating a spot of tree color in the city. Then I see the objects in the sparkling water. They have many white wings if they are big and some only have one. Yet those are the small ones. They somehow float without sinking and I marvel as I see little men walking off of little bridges onto a wooden street where many of the objects are being tied.
"Senhora? What type of oils would you like?" Edite pulls me out of my stupor and I frown.
"Does it matter?"
"To some women yes, but I will pick my favorite scent for you, if you don't know the difference."
"If you are prepared, senhora, your banho is ready."
"Good. Just move me in there."
As she pushes me back inside I ask, “What is that thing called?”
“You are going to have to be more específico, senhora.”
“That place that you just put me on. It is like a room outside,” I sheepishly describe, not able to find the best words for it.
“Ahh, the varanda. Though, I do not know what Mestre Frigidianus would have me call it.” Edite lifts me out of the chair again and carries me to the edge of the hole that is slowly filling up. As she sets me down, I realize my hands are around her neck. I quickly withdraw them and hide the deformities in the space beneath my knees.
“If you don’t mind, senhora. I must undress you now.” I nod; I never had any privacy with the Dolor. He usually stripped me of that garment to get fuller access to my body. Then, I realize…Edite couldn’t be expecting to see all those scars and raw wounds that never healed all over me.
“Edite… I must warn you,” I say over my shoulder as she puts her hands on my back. “My time in that prison altered my mind, but it also changed my body. Just…be prepared for the worst.”
“Don’t worry, senhora. I’ve already seen it. well, at least...most of it. Someone had to change you from the cltohes repugnantes.”
“And…” I gulp away the nervousness, “my hands? You saw those too?”
“Sim. But I do not judge you for it. Terrible injustice to you, senhora. I hope mestre finds the ones who did it to you.”
“The man who did it, the Dolor…he is dead already. I saw his body.”
“The man who tortured you, this...Dolor man…he is not the one behind it. Another man, more powerful ordered him to do it to you.”
I frown…the Dolor seemed to me like he was acting from his own sick curiosity. And he never mentioned that he had a maestro…
“So it was this man, not the Dolor…who wanted me to forget...everything?”
“Sim…at least, that is what I understood from what mestre told me.”
I nod, still struggling with the new information. “Can we start, Edite? I feel anxious to clean myself.”