When I awoke I was feeling more… alive than the previous day. Today was not going to be wasted sleeping.
If she was going to allow me to stay here it was the least I could do to try help out. The cupboards in the kitchen had cleaning equipment. The bathroom seemed like a good place to start.
It always surprised me how taxing cleaning was, even if you haven’t recently been shot. I was out of breath, the exertion made me too hot and prickly. My skin itched even more than my cuts. The grinding of my ribs made me grit my teeth, and that gave me a headache. Once I settled into a rhythm it became easier, my sweat started doing its job at keeping me cool.
Methodically I scrubbed, mopped and tidied everything I could find. How did the tops of cupboards get so sticky? The only thing I couldn’t improve on was the first aid kit she had packed. I didn’t want to disturb the mystical order she had it in.
Taking the rubbish out scared me; it would involve leaving the flat. I told myself I was being stupid but couldn’t force myself to open the front door and take it down to the garbage tube, if this building even had one. Coward.
The clock read past three, but I was still restless. I thought about the running I had done, that seemed to get me out of this mood. But that involved outside. Maybe I could still waste some energy in here.
I started with stretches I’d picked up at the martial arts class; it seemed like so long ago. Moving on push-ups, counting up to thirty before starting crunches – which hurt like hell. I did another thirty before moving to some squats then back to push-ups, repeating the cycle.
I needed to get stronger, faster. I could have gotten out of that whole situation if was. I should never have gotten into it in the first place.
Who runs away from a gun? That was stupid. You run away from a knife, you run towards a gun. I should have reacted properly.
Next time I need to be able to get to them before they can pull the trigger. I need to be able to take on more than one person, more than two people at a time. I need to be able to take them out faster; I can’t spend time messing about.
To do that I need to be stronger.
Thirty push-ups is nothing.
* * *
When my muscles started cramping up I had a short rest before starting dinner. I knew how to cook from the classes I took, for once I’d utilise something I learned. Go school! If Mz Gregory was going to give me her bed and food to eat I could damn well cook it for her…
I was half way through when the door opened, making my heart skip a beat, I knew it was Mz Gregory but other options flashed through my mind… I involuntarily glanced at the windows. Three stories up, but with plenty of drain pipes – the fire exit was through a neighbour’s balcony. I had at least two escape routes and three weapons close to hand – pan, boiling water and a six inch kitchen knife. When I saw it was her I put the knife back down, well of course it was. I didn’t notice my knuckles were white around the handle.
She looked around quizzically at the flat, and watched me, the smells and sounds of cooking were obvious.
“I hope you like pasta, I made some tomato sauce with it and mushrooms. What I could find in the fridge.” I said. Some left over’s from chopping onions drew my eye. I hastened to shove it in the trash.
“No, that’s fine – in fact it’s very nice of you.” She said, slowly. “But shouldn’t you be resting? Are you sure you are up to doing so much so soon? Jack said you should rest at least a week…”
* * *
It was getting late. I managed to persuade her that I should sleep on the sofa. No, I didn’t mind being woken up – in fact that was good because I had so much work to catch up on and she could take the dressing off my face. No, it didn’t feel uncomfortable. In fact the bed was far too soft and flat I was used to sleeping on a sofa. Also since I should apparently stretch my back so skin didn’t heal too tight it would do me good.
She gave in.
Sleep took longer to take me than the night before. I was no longer so tired and I had a lot to think about.
I’d nearly died.
I’d killed a man.
* * *
It didn’t take long for me to get used to not having something stuck to my face. I could now move my eyebrows, frown, and smile. It stung, but there wasn’t something holding everything immobile.
I couldn’t shy away from this. I didn’t avoid the mirror this time. I studied the reflection of my face, telling myself it could have been worse. The sore red skin would fade. I’d be left with a long scar but it was a surprisingly clean cut for a piece of broken glass. I guess I made good improvised weapons. I didn’t scar easily – I’d cut myself before, stepped on some smashed bottle and sliced my ankle open. That healed really well, leaving only a thin white line for a year maybe, fading over time. Mom caught me with a knife once on my chest just below my collar bone. It wasn’t deep and I had only had a scar for a few months.
The rest of my body was bruised. I hoped Mz Gregory or her friendly doctor hadn’t put the ringed yellow bruises and sore cuts on my wrists down to restraints. She hadn’t mentioned it anyway. Other bruises, either from my fall or from the fight were scattered around my arms and legs. Twisting around to get a good look at my back was confounding difficult with broken ribs. The idea of using a mirror didn’t seem to occur to me.
I’d spent enough time in here, days. A trip outside weighed on my mind. I needed exercise…
To get out.
I placed myself purposefully in front of the door. Right. Let’s do this.
Fuck. Doesn’t feel easy. I couldn’t overcome my reservations at opening it. I fail at self-motivation.
Let’s set a lower target, one within reach. Press-ups. Inside. Safe.
I managed thirty, continuing to sit-ups and squats, mirroring yesterday’s routine. I still wasn’t ready to try going outside so I started from scratch. I got so far as twenty before my arms gave in, they needed rest. I needed cardiovascular…
Ok door. It’s just you and me. Oh, and everyone on the other side of you that want my head. Shush. You and me.
What kind of idiot is too scared to open a door, yet is training themselves as some kind of dumb ass vigilante? I’m totally useless.
Fuck this. Need to do it before I can think of all this shit. As fast as I could I pushed the handle and threw it open.
A dark figure loomed in the frame, holding something out, pointing it at the door. Images of guns flashed through my mind and with a frightened squeak I slammed the door shut and dived to the side to get out of the line of fi-
Wait. That didn’t look much like some kind of hired assassin.
A package, wrapped in black plastic inched through the letter box, so slow as to mock me. With a dull thud it fell to the placemat.
Phew, disaster averted by nature of not being a disaster in the first place.
The banality of the situation spurred me on for attempt two. This time there were no shady figures delivering parcels and I managed to leave the flat unobserved. I started running.
* * *
I was beginning to understand why Beth and Mz Gregory were so shocked when I told them about how I lived.
They had it easy, so very easy.
Mz Gregory didn’t have to worry about food. In fact, she even had to actively try to not eat too much so she wouldn’t ‘lose her figure’. I went to the supermarket with her one night, she was just grabbing things and putting them in a cart without even looking at the price! She didn’t even go for the cheapest, but branded products that cost half as much again. I couldn’t even tell the difference. And so much of it she often threw stuff away. Sometimes it had ‘gone off’, which was nowhere near gone off to me, things I’d consider fresh. I couldn’t imagine too much food being a problem…
Then there was the stuff that wasn’t food. She bought books, bought them. Real books, not even digital ones. You could read them for free at the library, even take them home, though I never dared in case I lost it or it got damaged.
She was bored so we went to the cinema. She handed the cashier her card-chit and that was that. She paid for everything. I should have felt happy about it but… it was difficult. Every time she paid for something I had to grit my teeth. Every time I opened a tin of branded soup for my lunch I had to look the other way as if that might somehow make it all go away.
There were other things. I spent a lot of time on my jogging eyeing alleyways – watching people, preparing for the worst. After a while I realised it simply wasn’t that kind of neighbourhood. I saw the odd gang sign here and there, but nothing like the Island – of which I only really knew a portion of. The deeper you went the denser the symbols and markings were.
I even saw a few police cars cruising down the street. You wouldn’t see that where I lived. No one feared for their safety here, you didn’t need to be on edge all the time.
I was getting stronger, back to normal. I went back to my usual sleep-schedule. I could manage on four hours a night, but I preferred six. Normally I slept for longer out of boredom.
Now I had a goal. Every morning Mz would leave for work and I’d start my routine: push-ups, sit-ups, squats, holding positions, stretching, jogging and sprinting. I did it in the rain and then, later in the week, the snow.
When it came to the Friday afternoon I knew I was going to leave. I might have been being irrational but I couldn’t stand being… pampered. What right did I have to sit here, in this nice neighbourhood and be fed? I dreaded to think how much my presence increased Mz Gregory’s expenses.
Still… I didn’t think she would want me to leave. I’d worked out that for some reason she felt some kind of duty to protect me from the realities of life. She wanted me to be safe. I don’t know why, or what she got out of it. Maybe she was just lonely?
But I couldn’t stay, and I was too much of a coward to tell her face to face. Instead I wrote a note explaining that I was going and how thankful I was. I’d been adding up every expense I could and extrapolated the others, minus the medical costs, coming to a figure of two thousand three hundred and seven dollars. I wasn’t sure if it was correct but it would have to do. I didn’t have the money to pay her back, I wasn’t sure if I could warrant this to come out of the whatever-I-should-call-it funds. I suppose it was due to the injury, which might count. Anyway, even if it was I had to completely re-equip myself. I couldn’t pay her any time soon so I wrote an IOU.
The clothes I’d arrived in weren’t in good shape. I’d fished them from the bin and hid them that second night but even going through the washing machine twice hadn’t got the stains out. There was also the small matter of a jagged hole in the back. I’d probably attract less attention than wearing new clothes, but it was still something to look at so I put on one of the t-shirts and the pants I’d been borrowing for the past week. I added “+$90 for clothes” on the end of the IOU, they were worn and second hand but still worth something.
My jacket was still in a bag in an alleyway in the middle of the Island. Actually it would be on someone’s back by now. Hope they get as much use out of it as me. I’d have to manage without for a while.
I noticed how relaxed I was becoming and I didn’t like it. Yes there was good reason for it but…
The people at home, because my home was the slums of the island, they… Ok, maybe it was stupid to think that I could make a difference, but maybe my presence would make some kind of impact. I knew that the Kolmek had increased their prices because of me. That might mean someone couldn’t afford so much, so maybe they wouldn’t overdose?
Maybe someone’s mum might spend a little less time dosed up, might spend a little effort looking after their child?
No. I wasn’t naive enough to think that I was solving anything. It was a romantic thought, that what I was doing might ultimately help someone. It wouldn’t.
The real reason I was doing it? Revenge. I hated them, they ruined my life. They continue to ruin the lives of half a city. I want to make them pay. That was why I did it.
I wasn’t going to stop, this was merely a setback. I didn’t have anything to lose, not really.
I took one last look around the place, making sure I hadn’t left any mess, any sign I was here. I did feel sad to leave, I had been… happy here. Brushing my fingers along the counter top, in the back of my mind I wished I could just have stayed. Maybe it’s what a normal life is like.
I turned my back to the little flat with its warm, safe walls and stepped out into the dark hallway, flicking the light switch as I passed through the doorframe.
I wasn’t happy with safe.