*A short story I wrote some time ago. I was on the verge of sending it to a couple of writing competitions. However, I thought that my story is too immature, too shallow and just not up to the literary standard of other competitors. I waited until the deadline and just as I was about to hit the send button, I stopped, and succumbed to my insecurities. And so here is another short story by unpublished wannabe author Raiha…*
Cynthia Raines was lost in the world of her imagination. In the humidly hot summer night, her nose was slick with sweat, causing her heavy eyeglasses to slip lower and lower until, frustrated, she had to push them back up her nose. Her hand went back to the keyboard of her dilapidated laptop as she continued writing of dragons, damsels and angelic knights. A dark awry curl tumbled out of her messy bun and onto her sticky forehead; she let out a grunt of discontent and again lifted her hand that had been hitting the keys feverishly, to tame the offending lock. She gave her glasses a push for extra measure, before resuming her epic tale.
Twenty minutes later, Cynthia, or has her friends called her, Cyn, glanced at the bottom of the screen to see it was close to two in the night. She had class in six hours. Plenty of time, she thought, to finish this chapter, and get the couple of hour’s worth of sleep she needed to function.
She got up and went to the tiny crammed bathroom in her painfully small studio apartment. Splashing cool water on her hot face, she grabbed a headband that was lying on the side of the sink, and placed it far back on her head to keep the irritating tendrils out of her face for good. Then she took two bobby pins and placed one on each side of her head clamping the legs of the glasses to her hair and fixing the glasses to her nose, as she had done so many times before. She made sure to place a shoe in front of the bathroom door to stop it from moving with the slight breeze coming from the sluggish ceiling fan, and making an annoying squeaking sound. Making a mental note to ask the landlord to fix the door’s hinges and its lock, she went to the fridge, filled a glass with cold water, and finally made her way back to her unsteady desk.
An hour later, with no distractions, she was close to finishing the chapter and was completely unaware of her surroundings, lost in words as she was. At first, she didn’t even hear the disturbance going on beneath her window. It had been barred for safety as it opened into an alley that gave her the chills and was the hang-out spot of many young delinquents. She was roused out of her literary stupor with the loud screeching of tires. Her ears perked up as she listened carefully for other odd noises in the otherwise silent night in the criminal-infested area she lived in. She was just about to go back to the good Princess Maya’s other-worldly adventures when she heard the distinctive sound of a bottle breaking precariously close to her apartment’s window.
Cynthia was scared. She stumbled out of her chair and slammed her hand on the light switch, leaving the room lit with only moonlight. She didn’t want whoever was out there to know she was up. She didn’t think it would have any effect if someone was coming to rob her, but she still felt safer now that her window wasn’t the only one still lit up at this time.
She inched closer and closer to the window and peaked outside. Squinting in the dark, she saw a body sprawled on the concrete ground. Great, she thought, another inebriated idiot thrown out by a cabbie, no doubt, when he didn’t have any money to pay the driver. In her analytical mind, she thought that this was the best guess. It would explain the tire screech, the thrown bottle and the unintelligible mumbles that were now coming from the person. She quickly slipped her hand behind the bars and snapped the window shut. She had opened it just a few inches so she could breath in her stuffy room, but she figured now that bearing the heat will be better than the chance of any other flying debris landing in her room.
She was just about to turn back and head to her illuminated laptop screen when she heard a strangled scream. The person beneath her window got on all fours and tried to stand up on wobbly legs. Cynthia was surprised to see that it was a woman and a feeling of dread crept up her throat as she noticed the blood-spattered and bruised stranger look up at her through the bars.
As her horror-stricken mousy eyes met the woman’s glassy hazel ones, she gulped. The tall woman’s mouth moved as if she had said something, before she slumped to the ground again, her back pressed against the brick wall opposite Cynthia’s window.
With a shaking hand, she again opened the window a few inches. Hearing the scrape, the woman looked up from beneath her hair, and she muttered a single word, “Please.”
With her compassionate heart in her throat, Cyn turned on her heel, flicked on the light switch and went to the door of her apartment. In her furry slippers, she rushed down the hallway, out the front door, around the building and finally skidded to a halt at the mouth of the dreaded alley shrouded in darkness. She cursed herself for not bringing a flashlight. Taking hold of her adrenaline-fuelled courage with both hands, she ventured into the darkness. Glass and other junk crunched beneath her feet, poking the soles of her feet through her thinly-soled slippers.
Feeling the constricting walls with her fingertips, she guided herself further in until the faint glow of her window illuminated her path a little. The huddled figure came into view.
She quickened her pace and crouched beside the barely-conscious woman at her feet. She reached out and gently touched her bare arm. “Are – are you okay?” Even she was appalled at the absurdity of the question that had tumbled out of her mouth. “I – I mean what happened? Is there anything I can do?” she rushed.
The woman looked at her finally and whispered. “Call…” “Call who? The Police? Oh my God! I should’ve done that earlier, I’m just gonna-” She was cut off when the woman grabbed Cynthia’s hand and tugged her down till their faces were centimeters apart. “No police. You got that? Please, no.” She said.
Cynthia furrowed her brow and was just about to interrogate the woman further when the stranger shook her head and leaned back with her eyes closed. After a couple of seconds, she opened them again and shook her head once more as if to get rid of the fogginess that seemed to envelope her.
“I have the number. I have to call him. Do you have your phone?” The lady asked.
Cynthia shook her head, “No, it’s inside. I can go and get it.”
She stood up and was just about to leave when she let her gaze wander over the shivering woman, clad in only a tiny golden sequined dress and golden stilettos. Her foot was twisted at an odd angle and her knees were scrapped. Her dress was ripped and rivulets of blood had dried on her forearm, coming from an ugly gash just above her elbow. Her black eye, disheveled hair and vicious hand prints on her neck left no doubt of what had happened to her.
Cynthia gulped, and briefly wondered if the woman was in the profession. She bit her lip, even if she was a prostitute, nobody deserved to be treated as this woman had been.
Her heart somersaulted in her chest once more. She bent down and placed her arm behind the woman’s shoulders. She tugged. “Well, actually, I’m not going to leave you out here. Come on, get up”, she grunted.
The woman refused to take hold of her weight and instead let out a wry laugh. “Don’t worry about me. Just call Andre, he’ll come get me”, she sighed.
Cyn, ever the stubborn girl she was, shook her head. “No, my conscience won’t allow me to leave you here. Even though it’s hot, you’re way underdressed and beat up to be out here.”
“Don’t waste time, girl, just go and bring me the phone. Better yet, I’ll tell you the number through your window and just dial the a****le and tell him to pick me up. Stay inside. Don’t come out again”, she said harshly.
Cyn narrowed her eyes. “No, I’m not a coward. You have two options, either I call the Police and an ambulance, or you come in with me.”
Cynthia was surprised at herself. She had always been aware that she was a humane person, but even she couldn’t explain the feeling this battered woman woke in her. She just knew she had to help her. She would never forgive herself if she abandoned her here.
The woman glared at Cynthia. Cynthia met the woman’s eyes with a defiant look in her own, and stood straight with her hands on her hips, staring down at the pile of golden hair and golden sequins.
She let out a sigh and held out her hand to Cyn. Cyn took it and pulled her up. Staggering in her stilettos, the woman towered over Cynthia. Putting an arm around her waist to support her, Cyn guided her out the dark alleyway and into the building’s small front hall. She quietly closed the door behind her and went to her room, the second in the hallway just down the hall.
Cyn guided the woman to the battered couch in her living room/bedroom/study room/kitchen and looked at her closely in her room’s bright light. Had the lady not been so screwed up, she would have been exquisite. Cynthia felt anger unfurl in her guts as she thought of whomever the bastard was that did this to her; to a fellow human being. She inadvertently let out a string of curse words.
Goldie chuckled a little. “Don’t be angry, there’s nothing you can do for me. Just hand me the phone will you?”
Cyn quietly took her old cell phone off her desk and handed it to the woman. Holding it in her hands, with red painted fingernails, the woman looked down at where they rested in her lap.
A minute passed. Cynthia noted the woman’s need to delay making the call. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Maya. My name is Maya”, she replied in her light voice.
Cyn’s eyes widened at the coincidence. “Oh. Oh. Wow, okay.”
Maya had a quizzical expression on her face.
Cyn sighed, “Well, it’s just I ah- know a very different Maya than you”, she said thinking of her delicate, pampered Princess.
Maya didn’t say anything, so Cynthia got up from the ugly couch and went in search of her first-aid box. After finding it covered in dust on top of the refrigerator, she went back to where Maya was staring off into the distance.
Cyn coughed quietly to snap Maya out of her thoughts and sat down beside her again, with the bulky box placed on her lap. She opened it with a creak and took out cotton wool, disinfectant and bandages. She squinted to read the insanely small print on the disinfectant while hoping it hadn’t expired and turned into fatal poison.
“It’s alcohol. It doesn’t go bad.” Cynthia snapped up her head at Maya’s voice.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“The disinfectant? Its main ingredient is ethyl alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t go bad.” Maya was definitely more lucid now.
“Oh. Right.” Maya shrugged and unscrewed the bottle. Dousing the cotton swab with the chemical, she started to clean the poor girl’s wounds. Starting with her knee, she paused when Maya let out a painful hiss.
“Don’t stop”, she said between clenched teeth. Cynthia resumed what she had been doing and winced when she came to the ugly gash on Maya’s arm.
“You might need stitches on that”
Maya rolled her eyes. “I’ve had worse. Just clean it and wrap it up.”
Cynthia did just that.
“What’s your name by the way?”
“Cynthia, but you can call me Cyn.”
“Well Cyn, I feel as if there’s a story behind that name. Tell me; what sins has a good girl like you ever committed?”
Cyn rolled her eyes. “I haven’t. That’s the standing joke. I’m twenty-one, I don’t drink, I don’t lie, I don’t cheat and I’m a virgin.”
Maya laughed; a tinkling sound that seemed surreal coming from the broken woman.
Cynthia smiled a bit before asking her seriously, “What happened to you?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Well… But who was it? Why not go to the police?”
“I’m a whore, that’s why!”
Maya sighed at Cyn’s alarmed expression, and gave a sad small smile.
“You’re young Cyn; young and innocent. My story will do nothing but make you lose your faith in humanity.”
“Try me,” Cynthia shrugged.
Maya let her head fall back on the couch.
“I used to be a streetwalker.”
“Used to be?”
“Yeah. I quit. I took classes during the day, spread my legs at night. It got me through college. I quit as soon as I could.”
Cynthia balked at Maya’s indifference and crudity.
“So you have a job now?”
Maya squeezed her eyes shut. A tear escaped from the corner of her eye.
“I had a job. Until tonight.”
“I worked at this pharmacy. I’m a chemist. The man who owns the pharmacy, his son… he…” She shuddered.
She opened her eyes and they were no longer glassy. Instead, she had fire in her eyes; rage.
“Richard’s a dick. Literally. He wanted me to supply him with enough crap to get him and his gang of friends high and tamper with the inventory so nobody found out.”
“What did you do? You said no right? Tell me you said no?”
“I couldn’t. He knew what my profession had been a few months back. He threatened he would tell his daddy, who would then kick my slutty ass to the street, as he put it. I couldn’t lose the job, so I did it. His dad found out though, through the cams. He called me in, said he knew his son had a problem, and asked me if I was supplying him. He said he won’t do anything if I told him the truth, so I told him the truth.” She narrated quickly.
“I felt free you know; guilt-free. So I went with my sleaze-ball of a boyfriend, Andre, to this club, to celebrate. He found me, him and his gang of a*****es. They put something in my drink and dragged me away when I was high ‘cuz of it…”
“Oh my God. How are you so, so, so okay?”
“Crying and complaining never got me anywhere, honey. They felt as if it was their right to do this to me, just because I had been a whore then, I was a whore now. So like the good little whore I am, I just lay there and let them take turns.”
Bile rose up in Cyn’s throat.
“They were four, including little Dicky boy. They did it in an alley behind the club and roughed me up a little and threw me out here when they were done. I just zoned out and went back to my street days. I felt as if I had just had another clie-”
Cyn jerked up from the couch and rushed to the bathroom. She knelt in front of the toilet bowl and puked. Tears were streaming down her face and her head was throbbing. How, how can it not be a big deal to her? How can someone do that to a person? How was she so calm?
She felt someone kneel down next to her and rub comforting circles on her back. Cynthia slumped back and looked at Maya with bloodshot eyes.
“What are you going to do now?” Cynthia’s voice broke as she asked.
“I’m going to do what I’ve been doing my whole life, I’m going to get up, dust myself off and move on.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, just like that.”
Cyn sighed and thought of her own life. Her parents had never been around. But then again, they’d been working nonstop just so Cyn could go to college. She didn’t have many friends. There were just a couple of people who understood her and her need to stay off the radar, confined in her own cavernous mind. She worked as a waitress at a family-owned café not far from where she lived. She didn’t have much money but that didn’t stop her from taking care of her needs and splurge a bit sometimes.
She was so lucky. So damn lucky.
“Where’s your family?”
Maya, still sitting on the cramped bathroom floor, shrugged.
“I don’t have any. I was in foster care till I was 15. I don’t know who my parents were; probably a hooker, like me, and maybe her rich client.” She said in a monotone.
Her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish, Cynthia stood from the floor and stared at the woman. “You’re so… so… ugh!”
“Stonehearted? Callous? A b**ch? Sure, whatever.”
“No, God no. But how can you be so… indifferent and so… strong?”
“I have nothing to lose Love; I just take what life gives me and try my best to deal with it.”
Cynthia rubbed her temples and stepping over Maya’s long legs, went to the bathroom door. She turned back, “You can take a shower if you want. I’ll lend you some clothes too.”
“Don’t you want me out of your hair?” Maya was surprised. This girl was so innocent, so trusting and such a genuinely good person that she felt ashamed even to be in the same room as her.
“I’m in no hurry. You obviously need a break from your life. And I obviously need a reality check. Stay, the Sun’s coming out. You can leave when it’s light”
“Well I would really love a shower” Maya said and Cyn could see the sadness and the helplessness on her face.
Goldie wasn’t as unaffected as she was pretending to be.
Giving the woman a sad smile, she walked out and shut the flimsy door. Walking to her dresser, she took out a soft tee-shirt and sweatpants. Maya was so much taller than her, that these would be more like capris on her. She hung the clothes on a pegboard she had installed near the bathroom door, because she hated changing in the tiny bathroom.
Taking a look at the clock, she saw that it was 5 in the morning. Sighing she crashed on top of the quilt on her bed and slept.
Two hours later, her phone’s alarm started screaming somewhere in the one-room apartment. Cyn groaned and just as she was about to sit up, the alarm went quiet. In her sleepy mind she thought nothing of it and went back to sleep.
It seemed as if just seconds had passed before she was being shaken awake. A strange voice was telling her that someone was at the door. She opened her sticky eyes to look at the gorgeous blond woman at her bedside and let out a little yelp.
As she sat up, all the events of last night, or more precisely, this morning came rushing back to her.
“Oh my God, she squawked, “It’s my friend Nan here to pick me up for class! Crap! She can’t know you’re here, she’ll freak out!”
Cyn stumbled out of bed and went to the door, opening it a crack. Before she could say anything, Nan’s loud voice could be heard “What the hell Cyn? Why aren’t you fucking dressed? It’s already ten to eight we are gonna be so fucking late!”
Maya wanted to take a look at Cyn’s potty-mouthed friend, but she stayed put. She didn’t want her innocent host to get in trouble for taking in a stray.
“Look Nan, you go on ahead okay?” Cynthia replied nervously.
“What, no! No fucking way, what the hell is wrong with you? You fucking know we have that test today! Did you even study for it?”
“No I didn’t! And see, that’s why I don’t wanna go, because I know I’m gonna flunk so I might as well just save myself the embarrassment!” Cyn said all in one breathe.
Nan narrowed her eyes. “Have you got someone in there? Oh-em-gee is it some guy? Is precious little Nan finally not a nun anymore?”
“What? No, no, I- uh- I haven’t got anyone in there.”
“You’re a horrible liar Cyn and you know it! You have five minutes, come out dressed and we’re going to Uni or I’m coming in there!”
Cynthia quickly tried to shut and lock the door, but Nan was too quick and jammed her combat-boot-clad foot in the crack. “Now I’m respecting your privacy here, because you know and I know that I can come in there in a second, no matter how hard you push.”
Nan was right; Cyn was no match for the tall and strong second generation Nigerian woman she had grown to love like a sister. Cynthia also knew why Nan was insisting her to come with her and getting late just for her sake. She was flunking, badly. Her book and job took all her time and she was on the verge of leaving college for good; if it wasn’t for Nan that is. If Cyn gave this test, even without studying, she might get a few, badly needed, marks.
“Okay, I’ll be out in five, I promise.” Cyn sighed.
“My foot stays right here buddy.” Nan said, with her arms crossed over her ample chest. “You say goodbye to lover boy, I won’t listen”, she smirked, pointing to the earphones she had in her ears.
Rolling her eyes, Cyn retreated and looked at Maya, now sitting on her bed.
Without saying anything to her, Cyn gathered up her clothes and hopped into the shower. In record time she was out and dressed. Rolling her wet hair into a haphazard bun, she found her bag and keys and finally went to Maya’s side.
“You can stay here for as long as you like. I have class till 12, and then we can go to lunch once I get back!”
Maya just smiled at Cynthia and standing up from the bed hugged her fiercely.
“Goodbye Cyn. I hope you do well on that test.”
Cynthia, shocked at first, hugged her back and gave the woman a smile, already looking forward to seeing her again. She went to the door where Nan was sitting in front of the door and nudged her with her foot.
There was no sign of Maya.
At first, Cyn thought it had just been her imagination that had conjured up another Maya in her head. But then she saw the note on her desk.
I’m not going to call you Cyn, because you, my dear, are everything but sin. You are pure, innocent and a ray of light in an otherwise dark world.
I’m sorry I left like that, but I had called Andre while you were in the shower. And don’t even bother to look, because I made sure to delete his number from your phone. Don’t try looking for me. Your life is so much different from mine; you will never find me at the places you will search. I’m so sure you will look for me, because I know you will feel as if you let down every human being on Earth if you don’t save me.
I no longer need saving. You have given me a perspective on life that I have never experienced before. Blind trust, faith in people you have just met and not judging someone who’s like me, screwed up so bad that I have no idea what you saw in me. Helping someone like me, cleaning my wounds and talking to me like I’m a real person, not just a dumb whore who has no rights! It made not just my day, but my life.
I hope you won’t think I intruded, but your computer was on and so I wish you and Princess Maya all the luck in the world. I hope you’ll remember me through her.
I hope I have not corrupted you with my tale of woe, and I also hope someday you will help millions as you have helped me.
From a person who will never forget you.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Cynthia was sure that she will never forget the golden girl either. Maya had taught her a lesson in life that she would always remember.
She straightened her spine as she sat down in front of her laptop and started to rewrite Princess Maya’s character as scarred, ‘slutty’, alone, strong and real – and blonde.
Years later, when she had become a renowned author and philanthropist for girls in the sex trade, Cyn had a framed, worn note on her desk, that people always asked the story behind.
All they got in reply was a small sad smile…