By Zaira Mae Calub
I opened my eyes and, once again, found myself alone in my room. The shutters were partly drawn, and some of the morning sunshine slipped through it to become thin strips of light on the floor.
I sat up, feeling the stickiness on my naked body. The stickiness that came from the bodily fluids we had shared the previous night. I could also feel the pain in my breasts, which he had squeezed and pinched so hard, and the raw pain in between my legs from his playing with me all night.
I didn’t want any of it, but there was nothing I could do. He dominated me.
I got up and saw how messed up the bed was. Along with the tangled sheets were the things he had needed to heighten his pleasure. The “toys” were there. I didn’t even know how many times they had been used on my body. Along with these toys were photographs and a handkerchief. They were hers. The girl he was obsessed with.
Pictures of her he had taken from her social media accounts and a handkerchief of hers he had somehow gotten hold of. He would look at the photographs while using my body for his lustful needs. The handkerchief he would put over his nose from time to time.
He was crazy, I knew, but so was I for letting him stay in my life.
I got into the bathroom to take a shower, the memories flashing in my mind as the cold water consumed my body.
I could still remember when I was a helpless little girl. My parents died, and I had to live with my aunt, who abused me. Nobody knew about it. At first I was clueless about what she was doing repeatedly to me. I got older and learned that it was hideous. However, there was no one I could talk to about it, and I didn’t see what the point was, so I just let her do it whenever she wanted.
I never liked it. I hated it. I hated her.
I was twelve when he showed up. I always thought of him as a strong boy, ready to protect me.
When my aunt and I were waiting for the traffic light to turn red so that we could cross the road, he just showed up from nowhere and pushed her in front of a speeding truck. She died immediately. There were no other witnesses.
That was the day I was freed from her, thanks to him.
However, since the day my aunt died, he never left me. That psychopath. He’d be there from time to time, dominating my body while I couldn’t do anything but let him. He had killed my aunt and taken over.
I got dressed and went out for a walk.
I brought some of his money. He always had money, and I didn’t know where it came from.
I had no money of my own. I didn’t work. I wanted to be a nurse when I was little, but since I was molested, my self-esteem was shattered. I didn’t have the courage to apply for a job. I didn’t even like talking to people. Money was another reason why I was dependent on him.
I walked down the suburban road out of that house he called home, or at least based on the Home Sweet Home doormat that must have never been washed since it was laid down on the front doorstep.
I could feel my legs ache a bit in every step, but I managed to hide it.
I didn’t really know where they would lead me, until I passed by the university where she was studying. I guessed that because of the uniform she was wearing in some of the pictures.
It was peaceful, or perhaps it was the morning. I still found schools and universities quite inviting. It had been a long time since the last time I sat in a room filled with people my age. Lately I had been only doing it in my imagination—joking with others, building friendship, learning with them, growing older with them. In reality, the only person I had grown older with was he.
I slipped out of my daydream and entered a coffee shop. Here I would have my pancake, coffee, and anything I could pick up from the magazine rack. The rest of the morning I would spend here until it was time for lunch, and by then I must move to a fast-food restaurant.
But fate had other plans.
As I was finishing my pancake, the door of the coffee shop burst open, the chimes tinkling.
It was a woman my age, wearing a white shirt tucked in her tight jeans. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her face was frantic. Her eyes were scanning the room, and they stopped at me. “You!” she said.
I was scared. She rushed to me.
“Ma’am, please do not disturb our customers,” a waitress told her.
But the ponytail girl was already face to face with me, her eyes wide and pleading. She held my hands. “Can I have some of your time, please?” she said. “Do you have free time, an hour or so, Miss? Please please pleeease . . .”
I was so anxious that instead of saying what I should, I said the truth. I had time. “Y-yes.”
“Yes? Yes! You’re perfect!” She pulled me out of my seat, and before the waitress could complain again, she was already dragging me out of the coffee shop.
I didn’t have time to think clearly. I was suddenly taken away by the ponytail girl, the girl whose beautiful hair fell nicely to her shoulders on the pictures.
* * *
“You can open your eyes now.”
When I looked, I was in awe. Half of my face looked like a night sky spiraling with stars. I was like a galaxy.
“What do you call this?” someone asked, an old man with huge glasses.
“Day and Night,” she answered, smiling widely.
The old man nodded and proceeded on studying my painted face.
After the judges returned to their respective seats and the scores were tallied, the host of the program spoke again. “And the winner is . . .”
She had a genuine smile all throughout even if she didn’t win. She winded up second, but for me she was the best.
“I really want to thank you,” she said as we walked away from the crowd. We were heading to the restroom so I could remove the paint on my face. It would be a waste though. I wished I hadn’t have to erase it.
“No, I thank you,” I said, not stuttering at all. She didn’t know how alive I felt with her. I even forgot about him, who could just show up anytime. “It was fun, I didn’t . . . I didn’t know I could be this happy in my life.” I was all smiles.
“We don’t even know each other’s name, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed, and we laughed. She stopped to face me. I stopped too.
“My name’s Bella,” she announced, offering her hand, jokingly standing stiff, trying to look like an army general or something. On her other hand she was still holding the paintbrush and the palette, the paint stuck on the wooden frame even if it was held upside down.
“My name is Claire,” I said, grinning—naturally, I believe. “Nice to meet you, Bella.” I shook her hand.
“Nice to meet you too—”
A rumbling sound cut her off. It was my stomach. Her eyes widened. “Oh no, you haven’t had your lunch! It’s already one-thirty PM. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s OK.”
“It’s not OK! C’mon, I have an idea. We’ll eat at my apartment unit. I’ll cook.”
“No, really . . . There’s no need to.”
But she was already pulling my hand. “Come on. You don’t have anything to do tonight, don’t you?”
“Uhm, yes. But . . .”
“Someone’s waiting for you?”
“No. No one. I’m just . . . shy.”
She chuckled again. “Cute girl. You’re coming with me.”
“Now they’ll look at me. OK, let’s go.” It was my turn to laugh.
She took my hand, and we ran and laughed like crazy kids on an afternoon.
When we were outside her apartment, I wanted to stop myself. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this. But as her warm hand pulled me, her smile so inviting, I could not help but just put my anxieties away. I wanted to stay happy even just for a day. Please, I don’t want this to be ruined, I told myself. I’ve been alone for too long.
Inside her unit, after washing our faces, she let me pick from some of her clothes so I could change in her room. I chose a gray sweater and some shorts.
After I had changed, she let me sit in her couch to watch television. A few moments later, she got out of her room wearing something like a black shirt that had sleeves that she had cut off. It was quite large for her, and her shorts were much shorter than what I was wearing. Her outfit revealed more of her smooth almond-colored skin.
She said, “You see, people get attracted with the good things we do, with our good half, and if someone loves our other half—the messed up and fucked up half—then that someone is what makes us perfect.” She smiled at me and winked. “Please don’t underestimate my dish. Like what I am telling you, there is more to this than what you see.”
While eating, I couldn’t help but stare at her and wonder, Where did those thoughts come from? Has she fallen in love? Did she lose him?
I looked at the only painting hanging on the wall: two hands holding each other. The one which looked like a man’s hand was done in charcoal, while the woman’s hand was painted with colors. The combination of two mediums made it unique.
“He was also an artist,” she suddenly said. “He uses charcoal in his art. He’s the best, if you ask me.”
“What . . . happened to him?”
“He died.” The words seemed so hollow and empty.
I didn’t want to push it any further. “I-I’m sorry . . .” I stood up and was about to go.
“No, Claire. It’s okay.” She held my hand.
I took it back. “No, you don’t understand. I should not be here. I’m sorry. ”
“OK. Just wait a minute.” She rushed to her room.
Moments later, I could hear the tack-tack-tacking of a typewriter. I peered through the open door of her room. She was typing on a small typewriter. After that, she got the paper out of it and used a cutter to remove most of the paper. What was left was a small piece of the paper. She rolled it on her palms. It was half the size of a cigarette stick.
She gave it to me. “Take care, Claire.” Her smile was as warm as ever.
I opened the rolled strip of paper when I got back home, in my own room.
Hi, Claire! Just call me if you need a friend, it said in typewritten letters. Under it was her phone number, and under the number was her name.
“Bella Mendez,” I whispered. I have to burn this. If he sees this . . .
I hurriedly made my way to the door, afraid that he might get here anytime. That was when I tripped from the top of the stairs. The last thing I could remember was the world spinning around me, beating me up in every turn, and then everything went black.
* * *
The breeze was cool that afternoon. The sun was high, but the warmth was comforting to the skin.
The paper bag I was carrying was already making my arm ache. When I was in front of the door, I reached for the keys deep inside my left pocket and slipped it into the doorknob.
With a click, the wooden door creaked open to the dark living room. I put the bag on top of the kitchen counter, and though it was dark, I knew every step going up to my room.
The door of the room was slightly ajar. I could see some light that could only be coming from the lampshade on the bedside table.
When I opened the door completely, time stopped. My heart skipped a beat. My breath was taken away, and my eyes widened. “Bella . . .”
My mind didn’t know how to respond. Bella was lying naked in the bed, her hands bound together and tied to the headboard, her legs wide open, her ankles tied to the opposite corners at the foot of the bed. Her mouth was gagged with a piece of cloth. Her eyes were filled with horror and sorrow as they stared at me. I saw her tears when they reflected the light.
The toys he had used so many times on me were scattered there in the bed with her.
I felt my own tears well up as I stared at the helpless image of her. My knees lost their strength.
How long have I been . . . This can’t be . . . He . . . he raped her. And it’s all my fault. I was crying on the floor. This is all my fault. He used me . . . to get her.
On the floor, I could see the rolled piece of paper I had failed to get rid of. Why? Why should I bring her this kind of misery?
I could feel her helpless stare from the bed. They cut like knives inside me. I wanted to help her, to reach for her. I wanted to explain, but it was already too late. The harm had been done.
I ruined everything.
I stood up and wiped away my tears. This must end today. I must kill him, end him, now. I fished out my phone from my pocket and called the police. I described the situation. They said they would come immediately.
I pulled open the bottom drawer. Inside was the gun that he had been keeping for years. I gripped the handle. It was cold. I cocked the gun, ready to pull the trigger.
I turned to her. I was crying again, harder this time, and with every sob, I could see her eyes fill with tears. Those eyes could be speaking so many things right now, but all I wanted to hear from her was forgiveness.
“I’m very sorry, Bella. It wasn’t me. Believe me, it wasn’t me.” More tears fell from my eyes. I pointed the gun at my left temple.
And pulled the trigger.
* * *
Images flashed in my mind as I felt the cold steel bore through my skull.
I was back in her couch, eating the omelet she had prepared for me, and then I was up the stage, her face so close to me, I could feel her breath. The vision was erratic, like a television constantly changing its channels.
I could see the days and nights I had spent being myself. Random things I had done in my share of time within this body while he lurked at the back of my mind. Simple things that made me feel free, even for a while.
And for another time, the images twisted around me, and I found myself being that child again, lying in bed with my aunt naked over me. I knew every scene. She liked to be addressed as “Master.” She liked being referred to as a man, and I was the helpless little girl she liked to rape. I blamed her for torturing me. She was the root of all this. She gave life to my split personality. She gave life to him.
For one last time, the world spun around me, and I found myself lying on a patch of green grass. The scene seemed so familiar. A big hand touched my shoulder, and when I looked up, I saw a familiar face, smiling down at me. “Dad?” I spoke with a child’s voice. “Daddy?” Tears fell down my cheeks.
“Hey!” He chuckled. “Don’t cry now, my princess.”
His strong arms lifted me, and I saw my mother approach us. Her smile was always caring.
She put her palm on my head and kissed me on the cheek.
“Hush now, baby. You’re safe now.”
The last thing I heard was the distant sound of sirens approaching.
No. Bella was safe now.