The tired and starving adolescents were stationery outside the school exit, some waiting for a lift home, some wasting time as they had nowhere to go except home, where they would be alone or in their parents’ company.
She came out of the school gate looking at her watch, worried because the teacher kept her longer to discuss an assignment, and she knew she would get in trouble now. It was now 13:32; she calculated that she could still make it if she started running and didn’t stop if the elevator was accessible and no one was holding her up. So she started running, and soon the fast breathing was making her chest explode and her throat burn. She could not stop. She had to run. She felt weak at the knees, scared of what would happen if she was late if she did not pick up the phone. She could not cope with yet another beating, another kicking session. So she continued running as fast as her legs would take her towards the place she was supposed to call home.
She saw the door of the large building so, breathing heavily, she ran the last 100 meters and searched for the keys, quickly opened the door and ran to the elevator, which was empty and that immediately started the descent towards her. She was praying under her breath while at the same time trying to catch a breath; she could feel her heartbeat’s thumping inside her ears, her windpipe on fire. She was verbally willing the old creeky elevator to speed up the descend as she knew arriving late and missing the call would result in more violence, one more beating.
She was nervously moving and pacing while muttering prayers to God to get home on time, to avoid yet another session where she would be the punchbag. Nowadays, she was always walking on eggshells trying not to do anything that could be a provocation of yet another session where he would push his frustration on her petite body and mind.
Finally arrived on the top floor, she quickly put the key into the lock and turned it to the right: one, then two and three times until the door unlocked and she could open it and run into the flat where the phone was already ringing. As she picked the phone up, his voice asked, – why did it take you so long to answer?
She started explaining that the teacher kept all students behind, and he abruptly interrupted her, uninterested and unwilling to listen as usual.
– Answer quickly next time – and he put down. The line fell, the call was closed, just like that, no goodbye and no end to the ongoing torturous never-ending conversation where he was the king, and she was the slave bound to obey his every order.
She started with the chores and the homework. The hunger, as always, churning her stomach. She went to the kitchen to have a drink of water, and she already knew the content of the kitchen cupboards and the fridge. She knew there was nothing for her to eat until dinner when father would cook one of the two dishes he knew how to cook.
Walking into the kitchen, as always, she imagined her mother’s body lying on the floor, head towards the door, feet towards the window. She had the same image playing in her mind every time she walked into the kitchen, she thought, this would be how he found her that day, returning from his skying trip. She had always wanted to ask him the gory details, what happened and how he felt, but she knew she could not ask these questions if she wanted to save herself from a beating. So, she carried on imagining her mother dead on the floor and try to avoid walking in the center of the narrow passage to avoid the place where she fell. She was scared of using the stove as this was the very same one that killed her mother. She was always worryingly sniffing the air in case there was a gas leak.
No leak today. Laura walked to the sink, where a flexy aluminum pipe ran the cold water into a chipped glass. She turned the glass onto the side without the chip and drank one, two, and finally three glasses of water that filled her stomach and alleviated, at least for now, the hunger she was constantly feeling.
After drinking, she walked back into her room; she lifted her gaze and, once again, she wondered why the wallpaper had a piece missing. Why her father had never replaced the missing part, leaving the room with a part ripped off the wall. When she asked him why the ripped wallpaper, she met resistance and silence, and, walking on eggshells as always, she refrained from insisting and accepted the missing wallpaper. It was one of those many things that would remain unanswered.
She picked up her Fiorucci backpack and removed her Latin literature and grammar book, ready to start on the first homework. She proudly and gently placed the backpack on the floor. This was her only treasured possession, a yellow, plastic starry bag she had begged him to buy for her last year. Finally, after numerous discussions, he gave in, and she now treasured this item as the only one she had chosen thus far.
She stared at the open books for what seemed like an hour, and she felt tired, exhausted, unable to start the mammoth task of translating the page. No motivation, as she did not choose her school. She had no desire to learn the dead language but was eager to learn and understand the pop songs she could hear on the television. But he said she could not choose language school as she had to become a notary. He had her life all planned out with him at the center of it, for eternity. If she was to follow his plans, she could never be free, and she would have to remain under his patriarchy for the rest of her life. She could not accept his structured plan that saw her attending grammar school, getting a degree in law, specialising and becoming a notary, opening her study to help her with invoices and accounts. Finally, she would marry and have kids while living with him. There was no escape from him in this plan. She would be under his control for the rest of her life.
Scared from the perspective, she had decided that, as soon as possible, she would leave and go as far as possible from him, his family, and this prison. So she would not end up dead like her mother.
She struggled to concentrate as the words jumbled up on the paper, and a persistent buzz was playing in her ears: stress? Tension? Anxiety? She was not sure, but she was not able to concentrate on the task at hand. The sudden noise of the old elevator brought her back to the present, and panic set inside her now dry throat. It was early; he should not be home yet? She checked the time and panicked, only to hear the elevator stopping on the fourth floor. She could hear the rhythmic clicking noise of the wooden doors followed by the loud thumping of the metal door.
Phew, sometime before his return – she thought. She tried again to concentrate on the text to be translated but struggled… Try as she might, she really could not make sense of what had happened to Julius Caesar. She didn’t care. She was only worried about what would happen to her on his return if she would be alive tomorrow if she would have new bruises to cover up.
The afternoon slowly turned into evening. As the outside light dimmed, Laura turned the table light on to carry deciphering the old language to ensure she would get a decent grade, and therefore she would avoid giving him yet another excuse to tell her what a failure she was.
She spent her days and nights trying not to give him any excuse to be violent, to get angry. The father she adored as a kid had become a terrible, persistently angry ogre nowadays. And she was alone with him, and nobody was willing to protect her. She wondered once again whether she would manage to get alive to be eighteen or if he would kill her before.
Her thoughts were in turmoil, wondering from what happened to Caesar, to her friends, to the conversations she had with Paul a few days ago; she could not focus on the book, so she put her head down onto the old table and closed her eyes for a minute. Then, the reverie started, and the whole conversation with the only person who cared for her resounded in her head. She thought she could even now hear his breath and the pauses between each sentence. She could see his kind and concerned brown eyes and the little askew smile while he looked at her trying to comfort her. Oh, she loved him so much. He cared for her; she could see in all his movements, in his rush to come to see her when she managed to get away for five or ten minutes, his visits to church with her where they would hold hands. A meeting between two lonely and isolated young people searching for what they had lost before the race had even begun.
Paul was her knight in shiny armour; only, instead of a horse, he appeared in front of her inside a white Ford car. He, older than her, was seeking his birth parents and, recently orphaned of his adoptive dad, was unsatisfied, uncertain of his identity. She was abused and alone, unable to feel a sense of belonging, missing her roots, missing the certainties her mother should have given her. The two of them had found themselves amongst the indifferent people hurriedly walking amongst Rome’s streets. Then, a gaze, simple electricity communicating without the need for words, and they started talking. He was the first person to show her love and respect.
Only a few days ago, as he spotted the new bruise covering her cheekbone, just under the right eye, he caressed the bruise and, at her flinching, Paul hurriedly reassured her he would never hurt her. He then went into a strange conversation, offering her a new perspective on what was happening at home. The conclusion of the chat gave Laura the thought that maybe there was hope; perhaps she had an option. At the end of this pivotal conversation, her view on her father’s beatings had changed; she had decided to leave to survive.
Paul told her that he had the same right as her father to hit her as her boyfriend. She refused this theory, and he asked her the reason behind her acceptance of FDM beatings. They called him FDM as Son of a Bitch. They refused to say his name or title to keep his presence, his mere existence outside of the spare and short peace moments they could find together. At this conversation, Laura understood that her father had no right to hurt her; after all, if he had the right, so would Paul as her boyfriend. After this moment, all the beatings were considered abuse, not the father’s right on a defenseless daughter whose only fault was to be born the wrong gender.
The evening after this awakening event, her father arrived home late as, he said, he had to drive around for over one hour to find a local car park. She was naive, so she accepted the explanation, not having a clear sense of the time or the parking context. He arrived home angry, with no reason given. She could sense his anger from the way he moved and from the pace he was moving at. She remained quiet; then, she looked at the door to ascertain the keys were in the lock; just in case she had to make a quick exit. The large bunch of keys was dangling from the lock, good.
He went straight into the lounge, where he placed his jacket on the back of a chair and removed his tie. He pulled his shirt from his trousers, kicked his shoes, and lay down on the brown and cream and brown velour settee.
- Turn the telly on – he ordered. She obliged.
She remained standing next to the television, waiting for this to warm up and turn on, ready to follow father’s directions to press the buttons that would change the channels until he would decide what to watch. She was to be his remote control.
He eventually found the channel he liked and gave her permission to sit. She favoured a wooden rocking chair as it was the furthest away from the sofa. She hated sharing space with him, and she hated his unwashed body and dirty socks smell.
They spent the evening till eight pm watching telly. I say watched, but all she did was to blank out and go into reveries thinking of the rare moments spent with Paul, their first kiss, his warm skin next to her lips. She evaded the present as much as she could these days as her life was not worth living. These few moments kept her alive.
She abruptly came back as he was shouting, telling her she was an idiot. He was demanding to know what she was thinking about and why she was ignoring him. She was not ignoring him; in fact, she had retreated into a different place altogether. This was her serene space, void of violence, a warm and safe place.
He was angry, and his accusations and insults quickly escalated to when he ordered her to go near the sofa so he could hit her. She refused, so he sat up onto the sofa and, increasing the volume of her voice, proceeded to stand up and menaciously walk towards her. He grabbed her hair, and amidst insults and spits, he punched her face, caught her on the nose that immediately started bleeding. He thumped her chest and, at her struggling to breathe, pushed her onto the ledge above the fireplace. She screamed in horror, and he shouted at her to be quiet. He told her she was a failure, a lazy loser. He would be better off if she died, that he created her, and he would kill her. The escalation had been so rapid she didn’t even realise what was happening. At that point, Paul’s words echoed inside her head, and she looked for an escape. Under his fists and kicks, she fell onto the floor. She could not feel the right side of her face. Blood covered her right hand, and she had an aching pain in her nose.
He released her as she fell and she realised this was her chance to escape and to run. She quickly run to the door, and after rapidly opening the lock, she threw herself onto the stairs running down and far from hell. Laura wanted to stay alive, and she knew she had to run, and run she did. Immediately she heard the noise of the elevator in motion, and sure he had called it to chase after her, she accelerated the descend and managed to run to the main door and ran out of the building. The young woman could not slow the run, though, as in her head he was fast, and he would certainly get hold of her and keep his promise of killing her. She run to the end of the road when the rain, which she had not felt for the first part of the escape, started falling hard. She stopped, thinking she had put enough distance from her persecutor, her dad. She thought to herself: – What should I do now? Where can I go?
The family was not an option as they were his family and always supported him. Her friends: surely their parents would ring him thinking he would be worried about her. Think, think. She decided to get a bus and go to see her friend Ernest. He lived on his own, but his home was far away. As she had no money, she could not get on the tube; however, Laura could try getting a bus and, if lucky, the controller won’t come up, allowing her to travel without a ticket as she was penniless, as usual.
She was lucky this time, and no controller appeared, so she travelled to the end of the line on the 85. She then waited under the rain for the 93 to come and take her to safety. She was soaked. She was shivering. She didn’t care, though, as the fear of being killed made her stronger in her resolution to live. Her last few years since she went to live with her father had been hell. At this point, she didn’t care. She would let herself die as this surely would be less painful than remaining at home with the man who killed her mother and who was slowly killing her.
At times, she felt void of any strength. She struggled to survive, never mind concentrating during lessons.
He hadn’t been this way all the time, though. When she was a young child, she loved her father, and she was besotted by him, by his attention and love. He traveled to see her every other weekend when she lived with her auntie and her family. He would take her on holiday and give her undivided attention. She wanted to be with him all the time; his home was her home. There was nothing he could do for her love for him to diminish. Yet as soon as she, at the age of 10, went to live with him, she witnessed, in a rapidly increasing pace, his nasty side, his obtuse angle, his deluded grandeur sense that dominated all his actions. And slowly, fighting against her heart, she had sadly learned to hate him.
The hero of her childhood dreams had become an ogre. Angry all the time, resentful of having to look after this daughter he never wanted. He was mad because his ‘crazy’ wife had killed herself and left him with the encumbrance of having to parent their child: a girl. What had he done wrong to get a girl? So, in time, the little girl was growing up, and the father struggled with his inability to father the young girl, even though, in public, he acted as the perfect father. His ego was stuck in a time warp where his father was still alive. He wanted to be the male child. After all, he and his brother were the ‘men of the family. He felt life owed him. So, why was he burdened with this unpleasant, sad, crying, needy little girl? Why was he not able to relax once back from work? Why had he to spend his hard-earned money for her? Why couldn’t she survive with the minimum and allow him to spend money on holidays and savings? Why was the child hungry all the time? Why did she cry all the time? Indeed he was doing such a good job… so, he decided the girl must have been crazy like her mother. And he never missed the opportunity to inform her of this diagnosis as he would feel again right once she had accepted his unsupported diagnosis.
He had done the same with his wife. When he saw her, a beautiful woman decided he needed to have her, so he chased her to the level of harassment until she agreed to go out with him. He loved having the stunning model at his arm to show off in his little village, where the other men had, instead settled with ‘normal ‘ women. He was so proud, feeling the admiration gazes of the men at the exit of the church. But soon, a monster jealousy starter wrapping around his heart, he felt the need to own her, to possess her, to destroy her so she would remain with him. He started isolating her from her family and friends. He showed displeasure whenever she had contact with anyone but him so much that she stopped calling people on the phone when he was at home. He decided to undermine her already fleeting self-esteem in an attempt to isolate her from the outside world. He stopped her from taking care of her appearance. He stopped her spending money and going out of the house without him. He did not love her, even though he thought he did. He loved possessing this beautiful peacock, even though he ripped all her beautiful feathers, one by one, and reduced her to look like a miserable featherless turkey. At that point, his job was done; she had fallen onto the hard rock floor and took the only possible way out. She said goodbye and left him with the onerous appendix of a not wanted female child.
Standing at the top of the stairs, he realised the daughter had run away from him now. He stood at the top of the stairs, thinking for a minute to chase her, then refraining on the thought in the certainty she would be back as she had nowhere to go. So he stood there. Once again angry at that woman who left him. How dare she leave him: didn’t she know who he was? She had been so lucky to have him. How dare she make him look stupid in front of the whole village? Worried of what people would have thought about him at her death, he travelled to the town where he bought all available newspapers that reported her death in an attempt to bury the facts. He resented people implying he had not treated her correctly. He needed the papers to vanish so nobody would know.
He believed she could disappear without anyone in the village wondering or questioning him about his beautiful wife’s whereabouts. He thought he was brilliant, so intelligent, that he could fool the whole world.
After all, his mother always told both his brother and him that they were special. She told them that heir family was the closest to royalty in the tiny village, that people respected them, that her husband, although dead at 50, was still the center of admiration for the ignorant folks in the town.
So he grew up convinced he was a superman, a macho man with a medallion showing on the hairy chest visible when he opened his shirt.
He had blue eyes, and this was a much-wanted feature in the village, just like the family that had money due to land they owned.
Because of the family’s position in the village, he had never struggled to have young girls happy to date him; however, after a while, they all left. He never understood he was being left, as he had a crazy ability to twist reality in his mind and recount the story in his favour. Once the story had been favourably edited in his head, he would tell the same story to whoever wanted to listen, and so, this edited story would become a reality.
He used this technique often. This repeated refrains, together with the isolation he placed his women in, the self-loathe and worthlessness he created into them, has caused many damaged people and, ultimately, have killed my mother.
He returned inside the house, locked the door, and placed himself in the lounge, on the sofa, ready to spend another evening watching telly. The thought of his daughter on the streets, without anywhere to go, didn’t ruin his evening, except for the fact that he had to change the channels as she was not there. He immediately forgot all about her as he got wrapped up in the scenes unraveling in front of his eyes.
She arrived at the building, hoping Ernest would be home.
She was drenched and was shivering when she buzzed the doorbell. Earnest opened the door and was taken aback by the vision of this shivering mess of a girl. To him, she had always looked like a poor chick but right now, all wet and with a stained face, blood dried upon her cheek, she looked a total mess. After letting her in, he quickly gave her a towel and a clean tracksuit to change into and wiped her tears after he hugged her for what seemed an eternity.
He started a pot of stew as he knew she was always hungry, and together, they sat in the small lounge, amongst piles of books where she told him all the latest happenings.
She started feeling warm, cosy, and, as the words left her mouth, a sense of relief started growing inside her chest, making her sob loudly.
This was the first time she left. Then, convinced by family members, she would return home, where the abuse would soon start again. On a loop. Until the day she had to choose: stay and die or leave for good and risk dying.