My Alterverse

 

Where were you last night? This may seem an innocuous question. Ok, maybe not, maybe it’s the start of every row in couples’ history. But I have no girlfriend. And I’m asking myself. If I asked any of the guys at school, I’m sure they’d give a pretty accurate answer: “I was doing my homework at home, out with friends, coping a feel of Jenny at a movie, drooling over the last topless picture of that actress on the web”…whatever. Me? I can’t even begin to truthfully answer the question. I never can. I go to school in the morning, and people talk about the previous night, and all I can do is lie. Because no one would ever believe what comes in my head when I ask myself this question. I mean, if I asked my parents where I was last night, they’d probably give a nice, normal answer: “You were in your room, reading that book for school, weren’t you? You went up after dinner. How could you not remember?” But that’s the thing. I don’t. I know that this answer should feel right, but it doesn’t.

Because what I remember has nothing to do with my room or with “Foam of the days” by Mr Vian. What I remember is running through the paved streets of those docks, with this girl at my side. I say “those docks”, but I can picture them as clearly as the back of the head of Kevin, who's sitting in front of me in History class right now. And I say “this girl”, but I know everything about her. How she got this little scar on her left cheek, why she runs a little weirdly, when she got that chestnut streak in her otherwise red hair, where she stole her dark-green buttoned dress…and why she was laughing like a maniac yesterday night. We both were. We were running and jumping and laughing, feigning to forget that just being there at this hour of the night was insane. We were laughing because the view was beautiful, huge fireworks blooms exploding above the dark shadow of the Palace, its crisp towers failing to act as a stern reminder that we were way out-of-bounds. We were laughing because rain, this precious rain that hid us, was pouring on our faces and we were splashing in puddles like excited puppies. We were laughing because this was the night of Presidential day, the highest security curfew night, and we dared to feel free. We were laughing as much out of fear as out of fun.

Except I was in my room last night, wasn’t I? And nobody I know here has ever heard of a Kendra. But these are my memories. This is real. I can feel the pavement under my soles, hear the echo of our steps under the deserted archways and see our elongated shadows on the walls. I can sense my elation at springing on the docks and jumping on board of a trawler on a whim, chasing each other in between nests and discarded crab debris, the sound of the fireworks covering our shrieks of delight. I can smell the pungent stink of rotting fish as I duck under a crate to escape Kendra’s reach and start crawling towards the other side. And my guts writhe in fear when I hear her cry out in pain, turn to watch and glimpse her hand caught by a much larger, much coarser hand.

My breathing gets shorter. I swiftly make my way backwards behind the crate. I know what Kendra wants me to do: she wants me to hide, to think of a plan, not to risk being seen. I’m no use if I’m caught. I peek from the shadows. The large hand is attached to a great mass of a man, all height, large shoulders and unkempt facial hair. Kendra writhes as she tries to free her wrist; spatting and clawing like a cat. But he knows she’s no match for him and he holds her at arm’s length while scanning her face. This is bad news. This guy apparently has the brain to match his muscles.

“ Well, now. Forgotten the curfew, have we?” His accent is not what I expected. It’s clipped and precise. This is no fisherman. I should have known: his clothes are too neat. I can tell by Kendra’s sudden stillness that she thinks the same. This is not going to be an easy escape. But it won’t be the first either. I know exactly what comes next.

“Please Sir, just looking for food, Sir. ” Kendra is buying time. I’d better hurry. I silently slide out from under the crate on the other side and make my way around the boat’s cabin, keeping to the dark. I have an idea, and I know exactly where to find the props I need. The little box is tucked at the bottom of the mast.

The man sounds unconvinced. “On Presidential night? Near the Palace? And did you have any specific fish in mind?” His sarcastic tone is not lost on Kendra, who changes tactics. She’ll be looking at him from under her eyelashes now; fake tears ready for the battle.

I open the box and sigh with relief. Now with the fun part.

“The…the fireworks, Sir. I had never seen them before. I thought maybe if I stayed on the boat for the night, I wouldn’t disturb anyone and ….and…”

The giant snorts. “Well, you’re in for some nice fireworks yourself, girl, let me tell you.”

“No, Sir”, I think, “ You are.” I crawl nearer, blending with the railing. I pull the pin.

The red flare lights up just in front of him, blinding him for a second. He starts and shields his eyes; the surprise making him let go of Kendra’s wrist. She ducks under his arm just as I pull her down to the side, throwing the glaring flare on the deck in front of the guy, hoping to distract him for an instant longer.

“Dress!” I whisper and dive into the shadows once more. She nods and starts running towards the front of the boat. There is no way the guy can have seen me in the chaos. He’s recovered, though and jumps after Kendra. For a moment, I think he isn’t fast enough. But he grabs her by the back of her dress just as she is about to jump overboard. And then he falls backwards with a resonating “thud”, her dress in his hands, all buttons undone, as I hear a reassuring splash below deck. The man swears loudly. I know he won’t get up in time to be able to locate where she disappeared in the murky waters. I glide to the back, let myself slide in the water as silently as possible, take a deep breath and dive.

The teacher is still droning about WWII as I shiver back to the present, as if the cold water was still surrounding me.

I know if I told anyone about all that, they’d say: this was a crazy dream, Leo, no wonder you remember it so accurately. But it doesn’t feel like a dream. It feels like the realest experience I’ve ever had. It is. I can’t even picture myself reading a book in my room. I can’t remember anything about last night here, or any other night for that matter. I guess I may as well check in to a psychiatric centre now. I guess that would be the sensible thing to do. But I can’t. Not if I want to find out what happens to me every night.

 

Savita Bernal

 

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