Alicia snapped awake. There was a fine silk cobweb covering her face. It felt as if she was suffocating. She reached out, clawing at her face, scratching off the surface texture. She was down to the scars when the blood started to flow.
She sat up. Remembering. Glanced at the things about her. Familiar and yet strange.
She got off the mattress, but one leg refused to work. She punched it. It hurt. She stamped it hard. It hurt slightly less.
On the floor, beside the mattress, there was a ten-pound note. Kumar must have dropped it. He was always in a hurry.
She went to the window, drew the blind, felt the warm sun penetrate her cold body. Why was she always cold? Outside, it was a bright sunny day, reminding her of childhood. Not always a good memory. Scary.
“Alicia? Is that really your name?” He had asked.
She recalled that he had a moustache and breathed in little gasps. There was a smell about him she didn’t like. He smelled of rabbits and polo mints. Always polo mints. He would offer her one before jamming his hand between her legs.
Alicia switched on the kettle, but the power was out.
“Fuck.” She said quietly.
Placing cracked lips to the tap she drank. The water spilled across her face and chin, reminiscent of an encounter with an east European lorry driver. She wiped off the excess. There was a trickle of blood from somewhere above the eyebrow.
She went to the mirror with its fist sized crack. What a mess she was. An undistinguished mess of a girl. It was what one of the teachers had said. Kumar told her she needed to look good. She wore cheap make up and had brushed her rat’s nest hair into something resembling a style.
She stood next to the others on Carmichael Street. The cars flew past, but later the cars cruised past. A few times a car stopped, and a pair of eyes examined her as if she was a piece of meat.
She should have had a price tag attached. Or a barcode printed on her forehead.
After midnight, the dealer appeared. He was offering two for one. Later Kumar would drive by in his Porsche. There was always a long-legged woman in the passenger seat.
“Show me.” He’d demand, searching the women for what they had hidden. One or two were slapped. An argument might develop. He’d push the woman back against the wall, one hand around her throat.
“Don’t fuck with me.”
The woman in Kumar’s car would deliberately look the other way.
Legs aching, she’d suck in on a cigarette. Passing cars would hoot. Sometimes men would shout. Then, towards two in the morning the police would appear. Identities would be checked. Policewomen asking about new injuries, children, secure places they could go. Sometimes the charity workers came in a minibus. Always, the same line in chat.
What did she need? What do any of us?
She’d laugh and smile. Make a joke. A blonde young man always provided a smile.
“Alicia? Is that really your name?” He’d ask, offering his polo mints before jamming his hand between her legs. He smelled of rabbits; something alien to her own experience. And he told a story all the time he was in there. None of the stories resembled her own life. Afterwards it ached. She never spoke about it. Not the assaults. Not the blood, or the rope that burnt her wrists. The rabbit smell got everywhere. He covered it up with polo’s.
The older women were always nervous. Smoking, joking, hopping from foot to foot.
Sometimes, extremely late, the weirdos would crawl out of their holes. She’d see them staring. Fingering themselves. Throwing a brick, she hoped to brain one. Hoped to kill.
By then, the need would be on her. There was a door she could knock at, anytime, night or day. The person inside holding out a hand. The price was always more than she could afford.
“You can owe me.”
She owed everyone. She never got ahead. Always a hand out offering or demanding something. A voice in the corner whispering poison into her head. The man told stories. None of which resembled her own life.
From the mattress beneath the window, Alicia peered at the stars. The stars wheeling and blazing. The smack burning a path through her brain. There’s nothing left to think about. She doesn’t own this life, or this room, or the world beyond.
By rights, she should be dead. She is dead.
The spiderweb catches in her hair. It wraps around her body. She’s waiting for the spider to appear. There’s a man inside her. She pushes back a head to glimpse a face.
“Would you like another polo, sweety?” He asks.
The room she’s in smells of rabbits. She’d like to throw up, but there’s nothing to regurgitate.
Alicia pulls away from the window. She’s got a really bad headache. The sun outside is quite strong. There are polo mints beside the mattress, and she doesn’t know how they got there.
The room is spinning. This is where it will begin. This is where everything will end.
Alicia is growing smaller. Wrapped around herself. He can’t get inside anymore. No one can.
A man is standing there. He has his hand out. His voice is very far away and small.
Alicia snaps awake. There’s a fine silk cobweb covering her face. The pain in her leg is throbbing quietly. She needs to urinate but can’t get off the mattress. The memories are flooding back to haunt her.
There are rabbits in a sunlit room. She thinks they are lovely. It reminds her of childhood. She starts to cry. The tears wash away the blood. She sinks down until she is very small once more.
The pain in her leg has become unbearable.
Alicia hobbles to the door. The door is locked. The room is whitewashed and empty. It smells of pine. There are holes between the bricks she peers through. Outside, the day is bright. Patches of sunlight illuminate the trees. The wire fencing is shiny. Inviting.
Alicia throws up into a bowl. A clean one is placed before her. She meets the gaze of the man. He doesn’t smile.
“Tell me your story.” He remarks.
Alicia produces a ragged grin and doesn’t know how to begin.
“I know.” He confirms indifferently. “You’re no different to all the others.”
Alicia focuses on his tie. The pattern is blue diamonds on a red background. She fantasises for several seconds before being drawn back again. He has produced a packet of polo mints. She places one on her tongue, opens her legs and closes her eyes.
When she straightens up, the man has gone. The pain in her leg doesn’t let up for a second. She squats to urinate. There’s a ten-pound note beside the bed. Has Kumar been in the room?
Beyond the brick walls, the sun is strong. It feels as if something is calling. But she can’t get out. Maybe it will be this way forever?
Banner Image: Andrew Mason [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons