Khalas

The evening seemed to be hotter than usual tonight. This season’s wind reminded of a hairdryer blowing to the face. It blew from the desert.

The lights went out and the music stopped. Three silent seconds passed before the crowd broke into applause. It was a magnificent performance of an Italian opera.

Martha was all excited. She hasn’t been to the opera for ages. For this special occasion, she wore the pink dress. Her blonde hair flowed down the back like a golden river. She looked elegant and she knew it.

After the curtains closed, everybody was invited to proceed to the Cocktail bar for a celebration. The bar was outside, all lit up with a fancy set up. She decided to follow the crowd as there were no plans for the evening and she didn’t mind to freshen up.

She chose a small table just at the corner, when she heard a strong Arabic accent behind:

“Amazing, isn’t it?”.

She turned and saw a well groomed gentleman of an average age of 40. He was quite tall, wearing a black suit, with a precious stone on his finger. She smiled.

“Indeed. I loved it", she replied shyly.

He grabbed the chair and joined her table. He didn’t ask whether she minded or not. Her smile expressed everything. However, in her mind, she was a jot dubious.

“I like you," he started simply, “Where are you from, princess?”.

Princess?

“I was born in Serbia, but grew up in Africa. What about you?”, she pretended to be interested.

“Morocco! I am from Casablanca, have you heard of it?”.

Her eyes looked upset. Has she heard of Casablanca? Yes, at school when she was 10.

“Sure, I am a big fan of Ingrid Bergman and the movie ‘Casablanca’. Have you seen it?”.

She tried to commence a worthy conversation. The man didn’t seem to be truly enthusiastic about cinema; he preferred to switch his attention to ordering a champagne.

“The Crystal, please!”, he confirmed to the waitress. 

Martha wasn’t drastically happy about his choice and about the blooming events at that table. It wasn’t comfortable at all drinking champagne with a stranger like him. She nearly stood up to apologize and leave, but he gently held her hand and asked to stay. There was some kindness in his eyes. 

As they continued the conversation, he opened up and spoke about his family, the difficult childhood, the local traditions and culture. He didn't seem to be suspicious anymore. The feeling of relaxation approached her and she didn't mind him sitting there. Later, he wasn’t as bad as she imagined before. His pleasant smile and attitude made her trust him and share her life’s story. They laughed and danced. The night was getting darker, the music went louder.

At some point, she started feeling weak not defining sounds around her. The last thing she could notice and remember was the filthy grin. 

Martha fell unconscious.

The following afternoon she woke up with an extreme nausea, surrounded by the white walls and the bright light.

Her mom was next to her, crying. She heard some voices. The doctor entered the room and asked whether she felt ok.

Martha couldn’t understand what happened but suddenly she felt pain in the lower part of her body.

“What happened? Where am I?”. Tears appeared in her eyes, as the memory was coming back.

“Sweetheart, don’t worry, you are in a safe place now. Mommy is here”. Her mom couldn’t stop crying.

To all appearances, the gentleman of the yesterday’s night put a drug in her drink and she couldn’t control herself. He brought her to the hotel and invited some friends. The chambermaid found her all in blood at around 9 o’clock in the morning.

The memory foully started projecting the snapshots of the last night. Her screams were reflecting in her ears, the picture of the three bodies standing next to her was black and white.

“You need to go back home and take a recovery course. This place isn’t safe for you now”, the nurse interrupted her thoughts.

“But can we investigate and sue them?”. There was some hope in the eyes of her mom. Why she ever decided to stay back in that Bar!

“Unfortunately, in this country, the rules are against the unmarried women drinking alcohol with men," doctor paused, “in fact, any woman… or any alcohol. You can end up in jail if you raise your voice”. The doctor seemed to be on her side. But he was just helpless.

Martha looked away. She hated herself as well as she hated this world. She hated the grin that was in front of her face.

Natalia Udovenko