Safehouse – chapter 1

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I must really hate my life. After Saturday night, this was my only reasonable answer to the question why I moved here. It wasn’t the low income or life experience – it was pure hatred for my own life. Especially if the first thing that greeted you on Sunday morning was the puke covered blocked toilet with copper water rinsing down the sides of the water tank. Yup, I hated my life.

It reeked of vodka mixed with cognac, downed with few hamburgers. What in the world was in that combination to get it smell so acid and block the toilets altogether?

My ear caught a quiet burp running up the pipe in the toilet on the right. Something appeared under its watery plug and moment later I was dashing away from the brown liquid pressing past the clear surface in the pot. I backed out of the doorless latrine and slammed into the girl standing behind me.

Hey! No pumping in early morning!” her voice slurred under her pillow hairdo and I shrieked, pulling aside. She was wearing nothing besides tiny striped panties and shirt that hardly stood up.

I-I wouldn’t go there…” I warned her, eying her bare toes only centimeters away from the growing pool of shit.

Oh hell! I want to pee!”

Like we all… I let myself feel sorry for her, shoulders slumbering in the awe for the tiny girl, who seemed not even impressed by the burps in the other remaining pots and the even flow of brown slug.

I chose it, I reminded myself, and pulling the thin cardigan higher all the wishing didn’t make it any better. At least not until I found a solid job and got some cash.

I shall never enjoy chocolate pudding again, I sighed.

Will you do the honors or should I?” the girl asked, eying me with her less reddened eye. “You do it.” She decided, pushing me out of her way suddenly and running down the corridor, yelling to me. “I need to pee!”

That decided I headed for the front desk and the uninterested lady that grunted her greeting to my polite hello, eyes continuously glued on the screen.

Yes?” She drawled and then looked at me with bright smile, which pulled her full lips thinner, but curved the edges higher and despite her earlier obvious dislike, she looked beautiful now with the sunlight sharpening her features.

It was test of courage, living in this house. You could not mix up this house with anything on that street – orange white striped walls with windows ready to fall on the gentlest of touch with half of them missing.

The toilet is…” I was not sure how to describe this shitload fountain in the end of the corridor.

Her smile fell, forming into disgruntled pout and she sighed audibly. “Which one?”

In the long corridor.”

Girl’s?”

Her question seemed strange. How could it be considered girl’s if none of the latrines had a door?

Aren’t they unisex?”

She didn’t find it funny. “These days, indeed, who cares?” tone of sarcasm added velvet to her silky voice. Before I could add anything, an apology, she reached for the white square phone on the edge of the table. “I’ll call the men and they’ll come and fix it in a day.” Then her eyes fell back on me and she ran me over with her cold grey orbs. “Until then, if you have free day, I suggest library.”

Good day!”

I stood there for half a minute longer, stricken by her sarcasm. Should she even use such a language? Wasn’t she afraid of someone complaining?

Her left eyebrow climbed with question in mind, when her gaze returned on my face and I felt goose bumps forming under the blue t-shirt hardly enough to pansy around in these wind chime corridors.

Oh!” I woke from my stance and backed out of her eye’s reach until I was standing next to the staircases and dragged my feet back on third floor. I looked on both corridors and felt the urge to follow the dark haired girl’s lead. I heard my feet patter fast towards the saving grace of the toilets on the short corridor’s end, only to run into a massive back backing out of the men’s latrines.

Fucking hell!”

He smelled like fresh laundry and gleamed in pure white sleeved shirt which was ripped in the backside. He was like a vision of purity among the grotesque backdrop.

He span around, knocking my nose hard. God that hurt! So much of my dream of using toilet in my own home.

Watch where you’re going!” He barked, immediately backing in the shadow of the door.

They had a door and we didn’t? What privacy did men need that we didn’t? But on that moment I pulled my finger over the bridge of my nose and was reminded of more important issues.

You hit me!”

Sorry ‘bout that.”

If my eyes weren’t watering, I would have seen the massive brown leather running over his broad chest, over his shoulders and all the way down to his nape, where it created mesh of thin striped harness, all ends running to the back.

You need help with that?” He tried to be polite. It flattered my heart. I had to grudgingly approve his choice of place to hit his elbow. At least now I was spared of the bouquet of aromas rising from there.

Something wet ran between my fingers and I pulled the hand away, observing the thick red blood.

I felt something nudge against the back of my hand and realized he was offering me a handkerchief.

Thanks.” I pressed it against the nose and turned, heading for my room. “You won’t get it back.” I called him, muttering far worse exclamations he’d earned into the cotton.

I can live with that. Now, if someone could crash my nose as well…” he muttered, throaty and I let out a chuckle, regretting it instantly with pain cutting horizontally through the tender muscles.

Now that the toilet break was out of the question I hurried to get dressed and headed for the nearest university house we had across the street, right over the empty spot of gravel. I didn’t have time to sit quietly and wait until the nosebleed would stop. I. Had. To. Go. Now!

After I finally got what I wanted and was sitting on the bench in the park only meters away from the white building I could finally concentrate on holding my head in place and breathing slowly through the nose to dry out the flow. I had developed a headache, but I didn’t want to go back in the dormitory that howled from the wind that tickled it from the inside. I wanted to sit outside and enjoy the early morning silence.

Oh dear!” An old lady stopped on the pavement between me and the river. “Are you alright, dear? You did call the police, right?” she coached, her hand coming closer to my puffy nose. My eyes were still watering, so I couldn’t really see her face, but she sounded sincere in her blue outfit from head to toe. “Do you need a doctor?”

I shook my head, drying up the tears scratching their way over the cheeks and pushing the auburn waves off my face. “No-no, I-um, I’m fine. He didn’t mean it.”

Don’t fool yourself, dear! If he beats you, it is wrong!” She paused, leaning closer. “At least you hit him back, right?”

I thought about telling the truth, but realized how crazy that would sound in the light of my injury, so I nodded instead, drying out next set of tears. An odd musky scent crawled up the nostrils and I stopped, feeling sudden joy from the unexpected scent.

Here, dear,” I felt a piece of paper pushed between thumb and the handkerchief. “When you’re ready, you call, alright?”

I stared at the business card, trying to make sense to what just happened. I expected it to belong to women’s shelter, but instead it was a pastor’s card with inked phone number on the side of it.

The clock in the city hall hit ten.

Oh!” I got up quickly, running back to the dormitory. The disordered steps that begged to be dripped on and the resilient door were welcoming site and hideaway from the peering eyes of old ladies on their way to churches.

I buzzed the small button and the lady let me in. I kept calling her a lady, although I doubted she was much older than I was. But her eyes! They reflected decisions and experiences I couldn’t even begin to match. Of course, the attitude was a match – following rules and constantly repeating them to others must have turned her into a replacement for a robot. I felt an irresistible urge to test that theory out.

Thank you, I forgot my card.” I apologized to her quickly, pretending to be interested in a poster on my way to the stairs. It was good I had only started renovating the room – that gave me a good excuse not to come out of it for few days.

After hanging the black coat up next to the door and determined that my nose was no longer falling off, I began the hardy process of changing this dump into my nest. One twig and a feather at a time.

I took the wallpaper off with scalpel left so conveniently on the kitchen cupboard by the previous owners. I couldn’t find anything else sharp enough. I had finished pulling off the last of four layers, feeling exhausted from the rumble, when my eyes fell on the two large cans of purple and my shoulders sank.

Balls.” Getting that on the wall will take another four hours at least.

The smell of the turpentine was making my head swarm less than an hour later and I had to get out of there. I left the sneakers on and didn’t bother to wash the paint off the hands. It had splattered everywhere, creating abstract patterns on her blue jeans and oversized t-shirt specially bought for the occasion. It cost hardly a euro in the second hand shop near the green Orthodox Church.

The door to my neighbor’s room was open. It was like light in the darkness, demanding a second look. It froze me on the spot with its clean interior, it’s perfectly matched two beds, fluffed pillows and matching curtains. The room was painted light grey from floor to ceiling and it was as horrifying among all the rest as a loony pin would be. It had nothing but beds and two night tables. I backed out and moved on.

I sat on the stairs and let the breeze clear my head. The house had some deep love for ugly color combinations. But it was honest in its blunt emptiness. There was nothing more than minimally needed for survival- even the stairs followed the same principle, with green exit signs becoming part of the wall. You could easily rip them off with the paint cord painting its own world maps on the wall.

It took me awhile to get used to the painted numbers on our floor. Or the fact that the entire wall was an exit sign with the white arrow simple unpainted spot among the green exterior. But the three toed foot print next to the painted number provided me with endless interest

Together with the fading green footprints leading towards my corridor. Had they really not been there when I moved in yesterday or was I too busy to notice? They were similar to mine in shoe number, but far wider on the arch and its nails hadn’t been cut for a while either. It looked eerily similar to the foot print on my scratched door I realized, eying towards the empty corridor.

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