“Life” Part II
Angela Miller/the one who served justice for women. The storm was coming sooner than anyone expected. Garbage bins, branches, and road signs flew through the air as she drove her rented white Ford Cabriolet. She ducked her head in fear of getting hit by the flying objects.
“Why did I come? Damn it. I knew this was coming,” Angela whined to herself while trying to keep the car on the road.
She could hear the cyclone coming closer and closer. Her heart beat fast. Fear had conquered her whole body, and she couldn’t focus.
She hit a tree, and the car stopped. She looked around. The air was thick with dust. She coughed; her lungs were full of filth. Her right leg was stuck underneath the steering wheel. She tried to free herself, but it was impossible.
“Damn it. I’m stuck here, and there’s no one to help me.” Angela cried.
“Let me help you, ma’am,” a voice said.
She looked up. It was a young man. He knelt beside the car, pushed the wheel up, and her leg was released.
“Thank you, boy,” Angela said.
“Let’s hurry, ma’am. The storm’s coming closer. Let’s find shelter.”
He picked her up and ran to find safety. He spotted a house nearby that seemed like a good place to wait out the storm.
“This house looks sturdy. Let’s see if we can get inside,” said the young man, breathing heavily. He put Angela down and guided her toward the house.
The front door was open, and they rushed inside. Nobody was there.
“Smart fellows. They left this damn town,” Angela said.
“Let me see if there’s a basement. We aren’t safe upstairs. The cyclone will swallow everything.”
“You’re right. Go check. I’ll be right here.” Angela sat on the couch and looked at her bleeding leg. It’s not that serious. I’ll survive, she thought.
The cyclone was approaching. It sounded like a monster shouting in rage. The walls shook and cracked.
“Where are you?” Angela screamed. “It’s coming! It’s here!”
The young man grabbed her hand and pushed her ahead of him down a narrow staircase. As soon as he closed the door, they heard crashing, banging, and destruction outside.
“It’s here,” said Angela.
“We’re safe now, hopefully.”
“I hope so too, but it doesn’t feel like we are.”
It was very dark. They couldn’t see each other; they could only hear the cyclone’s shrieking.
“I’m scared,” Angela said. “It feels like we’re buried. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am. Can you find a spot to sit down and rest? I guess this is going to last.”
“Last? It’s over. We’ve been trapped by debris. We’ll never get out. We’re stuck in here, in this damn darkness, and I can barely breathe.”
“It’s all right, ma’am. Someone’s going to come and get us out. Let’s wait until the storm is over.”
“Where are you? Can I sit near you? I’m scared. Who knows how long it will take for someone to find us? We have no water, no food. We’re going to run out of oxygen. Touch my hand, please.”
“Here I am, ma’am.”
They listened to the wind howling outside, holding trembling hands.
“I never believed I’d die in such an awful way. I always thought I’d die of old age, lying in my bed.”
“Do you live near here, ma’am?”
“I used to. Today I came to visit someone. I knew the storm was coming—it was all over the news—but I had to come.”
“Ma’am, it’s going to be all right.”
“What were you doing when you saved me? I didn’t see a single soul on the streets. I guess they’ve all been evacuated. It’s just us—two stupid people.”
“I’m a visitor too. I happened to be there and helped you. I hope everyone else is safe. This storm seems like it has no mercy.”
“Would you happen to have a match?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t.”
“I didn’t have the chance to see your face. All I remember is the blurred air and a black shadow rescuing me and holding me—a shadow that was breathing.”
“It’s because I’m wearing black, ma’am.”
“I feel so calm when I’m holding you.”
“Me too, ma’am. Me too.”
“Do you feel like we’re running out of air? I never thought about how important air is, until now. Do you feel like we’ve taken everything for granted?”
“Do you have any regrets, ma’am?”
“I don’t know. I never thought about regrets. I had no time. I was too busy thinking about myself.”
“Maybe you don’t have any.”
“Why do I have this feeling, this urge, to think about my life? I never did before. I was an expert at leaving everything behind. Whatever happened, happened. I never cared about whats and whys. Why do I have so many questions now? Maybe it’s the lack of air.”
“Maybe, ma’am, maybe.”
“My life just happened, without my being aware of it. Now it feels like I did everything wrong. It seems a lot clearer now. Uh—this air—I need air, clean air.”
“It’s going to be over soon, ma’am. We’re going to be rescued.”
“My car’s broken. Maybe police or soldiers will bring us home. If we’re rescued, I’m going to appreciate life. Do you know what I’m going to do?”
“No, ma’am. What will you do?”
“I’m going to go to the beach, bring some drinks with me, drink them all, and just sit there until sunset. I want the ocean waves to clear my mind from all the voices in my head.”
“What are the voices saying?”
“They fill me with hate. They make me hate everything, and they just don’t stop whining.”
“Are those voices right?”
“There is no right or wrong. What’s right for me might not be for you.” Angela rubbed his hand. “We never introduced ourselves. My name is Angela Miller.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am. I’m Thead White.”
“Nice to meet you too, Mr. White. You seem like a very nice young man, and there’s something else—it’s an energy I’m feeling, an energy coming from you, and it’s calming, like a drug. I want to tell you everything. I want to tell you the truth—the truth I was never aware of, until now. Is that strange?”
“A lot of people tell me stuff. I’ve heard all different kinds of stories.”
“Are you a psychiatrist? Or maybe a priest?”
“No, Mrs. Miller, I’m neither.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. White, but I need to pee. It’s my bladder. Getting old hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. I’m going to go just over there. Please don’t watch me. Turn your head. I can’t hold it anymore.”
“It’s all right, ma’am. It’s dark. I can’t see anything.”
“Oh, this pee is too hot, and it smells. I’m sorry. I’ve never smelled or felt my pee before. Isn’t that funny?”
They both laughed. Angela sat back down next to Thead.
“Do you notice something, ma’am?” he said.
“Yes! It stopped. The storm is over. It’s so quiet.”
“I should try opening the door.”
“Yes. Be careful on the stairs. I’m afraid you’re going to break something.”
“I’ll be careful, ma’am.”
“Do you know where the door is?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t. I can’t see anything.”
“Try harder, please. I want to get the hell out of here.”
“I think I found something. I think it’s the door. Let me push it.” Using all his strength, he pushed against the door. “It won’t budge, ma’am. I guess we’re stuck here.”
“Oh, shit. Who knows how long it’ll take them to find us—maybe they never will. The inhabitants have been evacuated; no one knows we’re here. We’re going to die here. We’re going to die. No air, no water, and no food. I’m scared. And something smells.”
“It’s your pee, ma’am.”
“No, it’s something different. I could smell it the moment we got in.”
“Maybe there’s water or food somewhere in here. Let me check, ma’am. I’ll feel around.”
“You are a very smart young boy. Did you find anything?”
“No, ma’am. It’s just a wall, again a wall, a wall—”
“Oh, stop it. Come sit next to me. I’m scared.”
“All right, ma’am.”
“I feel safe when I’m holding your hand and can hear your breathing. Maybe we just can fall asleep, to save our energy—and then they’ll come and rescue us.”
“Yes, ma’am, try to sleep.”
“Oh, damn it. Without my sleeping pills I can’t fall asleep in my bed. It’ll be impossible to fall asleep here, sitting on the ground. I’m scared, Mr. White.”
“Don’t be. Just talk to me, if you want.”
“Yes, I want to talk to you. My mind is off somewhere far away—with my childhood at the orphanage. I was someone’s mistake, and they dropped me at the orphanage’s front door. The orphanage was administered by a Catholic church. Nuns took care of us. There were a lot of children, and I remember a lot, a lot of us were mistakes. We were mostly girls—people preferred to adopt boys. I remember how much I hoped that someday someone would like me, despite the fact I was a girl, but I never was adopted, and neither were most of the other girls. So, we were raised in the orphanage. We became young women there. Sometimes the nuns beat us. When we did something stupid, they beat us with a stick. It hurt, and we hated the nuns. We always said, ‘They are going to burn in hell.’ They taught us about God, about how He was everywhere. Once, I asked why God is a He and not a She, and they grounded me for a week. Back then, I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. But now I know.” Her breath quickened, and she laughed mirthlessly.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” Thead asked.
“I’m having trouble breathing, but it’s all right. As I was saying, I always imagined God as an old man, sitting in the clouds with a stick, watching us all—whatever we did, spoke, or thought, He knew it all. Being surveyed all the time didn’t feel right to me, so whenever I went to the bathroom, I would cover myself with my dress, and I showered with one hand covering my private parts. But when I felt afraid, I believed nothing bad could happen to me, because God was watching. I felt safe.
“When I turned fourteen, I did a very stupid thing.”
“What did you do, ma’am?” Thead said.
“Maybe this is my only regret. If I didn’t do it, my life could have been better. Our life is made by our choices. Life is like a tree, and the branches are our choices. We have a lot of choices, and our path leads us to the top of whichever branch we choose. Hold my hand. I feel safer when you do. It makes me feel like God is watching us.”
“I’m here, ma’am.”
“Mr. White, why I am so honest with you? I’ve never even admitted these things to myself, and yet I’m saying them now, in your presence. Why? Why I am being so sincere?”
“Maybe it’s the lack of air, ma’am.”
“Maybe. Yes, it’s the air. There’s something about this air. This smell.”
“It’s your pee, ma’am.”
“Stop saying that. It is not my pee. It’s something in my nose—my nose is so sensitive.”
“It’s just the air, ma’am.”
“Let me tell you something. The only mistake I made was that I stopped believing someone would adopt me. I stopped believing I deserved a better life. So I ran away. I ran as far as I could. I was just a girl, and I had no idea what life was like outside the orphanage. I had no idea.”
“What happened next?” asked Thead.
“I ended up in a small village—more precisely in a farmer’s house. I begged them to give me shelter and food, and I promised them that in exchange I would help around the house and with the farm work.
“The owner agreed to let me stay there with them, but he said, ‘If we aren’t satisfied with your work, I will send you back to the orphanage.’
“He had a wife and two sons. They were nice to me all the time. Although it was hard working in the field, it was still better than the orphanage. Sometimes, I felt like I belonged in that family, like it was mine. It felt good. I stayed there about a year. No one from the orphanage ever came looking for me. Then one night, the older son—he was probably nineteen or twenty years old—came into my room. I was sleeping. He woke me up, and he said, ‘I love you, Angela. You’re so beautiful.’
“It was the first time in my life someone had told me ‘I love you.’ It felt weird.
“He said, ‘Let’s take a walk outside. It’s a beautiful night.’
“I agreed, and we had that walk. We chatted a little bit about their dog, Mussy, and about the work at the farm. The moon was full that night. It had a rainbow-colored crown. It was beautiful.
“He pointed to the barn and said, ‘Let’s sit in there.’
“We sat on some straw, and he started to touch my face. ‘You’re so beautiful,’ he said, and then started to touch me further down. I resisted. I stood up and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’
“He got angry. He grabbed my hair and threw me down into the straw. He was very strong. He held my hands very hard. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t defend myself. I thought about God. He was watching. I was in so much pain, I felt sure God would help me, but He didn’t. He just observed my pain. I was the victim of my choices.”
“That’s a terrible thing, ma’am. I’m really sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry. It was a long time ago. And I did get my revenge.”
“What did you do? Did you tell his family, or the police?”
“Of course not. I ran away that same night. I ended up in a diner in a small town, without money, without an identity card, and with my heart full of hate.
“The manager of the diner agreed to hire me as a dishwasher for a half salary and a full-time schedule. One of the girls who worked there, Diana, offered to share her room with me if I would pay half of the rent. Of course I agreed. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was independent and working for myself. I had a great time there. Diana was a very good girl. She had her faults, but we got along. After I told her what had happened at the farm, she told me to be careful. So I stole a knife from the kitchen. I showed it to God and said, ‘See? I stole. Aren’t you going to do something about it? I’m a thief,’ but I got no response. I kept that knife with me at all times, because I didn’t feel safe anymore.
“I turned sixteen while I worked there. One day, a boy approached me and asked me out to dinner. I said to Diana, ‘Maybe I should give him a chance. Men aren’t all the same.’ So we went out. We chatted and had a lovely dinner. He seemed nice. At the end of the evening, he asked me to go to his apartment. I refused, and he didn’t argue with me. The next time we went out, he asked me to come to his apartment again, and I thought I should give him a chance. He started to touch me, and I withdrew.
“’I don’t want to make love with you,’ I said.
“‘What’s wrong with making love?’ he asked.
“‘I don’t want to,’ I said.
“’But you came to my apartment. Doesn’t that mean you want to?’
“’Would you do it even if I didn’t want to?’
“The boy raised his voice. ’Of course you want to, you little bitch. That’s why you’re here.’
“I got scared. I felt exactly like I had that night in the barn.
“’I’m going home,’ I said. I took up my purse, holding it tight against my chest.
“’You aren’t going anywhere. Come sit here,’ he said. He grabbed me and threw me on the couch. I took out the knife and stabbed it into his heart. His body shook, and his eyes opened wide. He murmured to himself until he was gone.”
“You killed him?” Thead said.
“Yes, and I’m not sorry. I turned myself in to the police. I said, ‘He wanted to rape me. It was self-defense,’ and I got only three years in jail.
“Mr. White, are you judging me right now?”
“I’m not judging you. You believe you did the right thing. Would you do it again?”
“You mean if I got to live my life over again. I don’t know. Even if I did the right thing, I wouldn’t want to live through it again. I would love to come back as someone else—someone with a peaceful heart, someone like you.”
“Mrs. Miller, what happened when you got out of jail?”
“Who would hire an ex-convict? I ended up in a bordello. Working there made me feel nothing but hate—hate toward men. I met so many of them, and they were all the same. That’s why God never helped me. He saw my suffering and did nothing. If God were a woman, maybe it would’ve been different. I didn’t serve sex to my clients; I served them the satisfaction of torturing a woman. They tortured me in different ways. If it weren’t so dark in here, I would show you all my scars. The men would cut me with razors, they would tie and beat me, or they’d burn me with cigarettes. I hate men. I hate the color red.
“When I got older and smarter, I said to myself, ‘I have nothing to lose, no family, no job, no home,’ so I promised to myself, to God, and to humanity that I would serve justice. I would eliminate the risk women face every day. So I traveled from one town to another, working as a street whore, without an identity. I caught clients for a cheap price, and while I gave them a blowjob, I would use all my hate as power in my jaws and cut off their organ. I didn’t want to kill them. I just wanted them to suffer for the rest of their lives. I took away their manhood, and I was so proud.
“Mr. White, it wasn’t an easy job to do. My mouth filled with their blood, and I couldn’t breathe until I vomited everything I had in my stomach. But it was worth it. There were fewer sex maniacs on the streets and fewer rapists in society. Do you know, Mr. White, if there were no clients, there wouldn’t have to be girls selling satisfaction? No, it wasn’t easy—but if I had the time and the strength, I would do it again and again.”
“This is the most terrifying story I’ve ever heard, ma’am,” Thead said. “I’m sorry you had to go through all this.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. White. Justice was served. I’m not afraid of the man in the clouds.”
“But God isn’t an old man in the clouds. God is in you. God is you.”
“I know. I know that now. I had a glimpse earlier . . . Probably it was just the air. I’m stuck here with you, with no air, and I don’t have any regrets. I did the right thing. I’m proud of myself.”
“Thead White. There’s something hidden in your name. I can see it as a picture, not words. There’s something in disguise. But I know what it is. I know you.”
“Yes, ma’am, you do.”
“Look, Mr. White, a light! They found us. They’re here. We’ve been saved.”
“Yes, ma’am, we’re saved. Mrs. Miller?”
“This feeling is so familiar, Mr. White. It’s freedom. It’s my real self, in my last breath.”
“We are one.”
There was silence. The door opened, and light flooded the cellar. Her hand dropped to the ground.
She was gone.
Part III concludes “Life” on Saturday, August 10.
Burbuqe Raufi is an award-winning Albanian author and an avid reader. Her first published book, Dr. Mind (Balboa Press), a self-help book based on her real-life experiences, gathered good and impeccable reviews from Amazon readers. Dr. Mind was published in Albanian as Fuqia e mendimeve and became a bestseller and won an award as the best book of 2016. Her most recent book is The Tavern: a Novella, a psychological and philosophical drama. Bubuqe has also published short stories in literary magazines, including “The Old, the Young, and Me” (Literary Yard),and “Me vs Me: A Healing Journey through the Power of Thoughts (Positively Positive). She lives in the Republic of North Macedonia.