I am struggling to breathe. I am panting. I am trying, in vain, to pull myself up. There are a million sharp needles sitting tight on my chest. My throat is dry, with a heavy weight sitting tight on my temples. There are streaks of sweats already forming on my brows, my eyes wide enough, taking in all the saltiness.
Breathe, Juliana. Breathe!
I try to scream, but my voice disappears in my throat, and my mouth forms a large O, making saliva drip from its sides. A sneeze forms within my nostrils. It is not as orgasmic as it usually feels. It doesn’t send chills down my spine. It doesn’t form goosebumps on my skin. It is as raw as a painful death. Raw like broken dreams. Raw like a leaking sewer. It burns the inside of my nose, and just when I try to release it, my mouth closes abruptly and I feel the pressure at the back of my eyeballs.
Push, Juliana. Push!
There is a dark figure seated on my chest, its hands firmly pinning me down, with its pang-shaped teeth biting into my neck.
There is a voice in the distance. A voice too familiar, yet its nearness makes everything about it so strange and weird in the dead of the night. There is a clanking of metals somewhere on the staircase, and the sound of water dripping, like a waterfall, trying so hard to drown the voice.
There is no one here to save you, Juliana. This is how you die. You and everyone else that I send to you must die. Today, I take my crown.
I scream, trying to block the voice, and before I know it, I am running as fast as I can down the stairs. The sharp needles seem to have left my chest and found a new home in the soles of my feet. Still, I do not stop. I flash past the clanking metals, which in the darkness, look like children at a Gotham concert.
I do not see the section of the wall that slightly protrudes at the bottom of the staircase. Or maybe I do, only that I am chasing something else that takes away my ability to care. Something after my heart and soul. Something that is baying for my blood. Something I cannot see yet, but its presence anywhere near me reminds me of death by a metal rod. Its tears taste like rusted metal, and its tears on my skin remind me of a past I am trying so hard to run away from.
There is a bang. Then silence. More silence. Then a coldness I have never felt in my entire life. fills me up.
When I wake up, I am surrounded by a blinding whiteness all over. I struggle to readjust my eyes to the excess light. I squint and for the first time, I realize I am naked. My left knee is wrapped in a bandage, with tiny droplets of blood on the surface. There is a blackness I do not remember on my right thigh, and another on my left upper arm.
I try to make a fuss, then realize the white bed sheet neatly folded by my side, a glass of water, and white tablets.
Shit! Am I in hospital? Why? Since when?
Far back at the window, a familiar male figure stands, its back on me. His eyes, far and wide, with arms resting on the window seal. Before I reach for the folded sheets to cover my nudity, he turns to face me, and then begins walking towards the bed.
He moves closer, sits on the bed, and then places his palm on my forehead.
“I was worried about you. How is your head?” He asks.
“Why? What happened? Why am I naked?”
There is a distance in his gaze. I have known him for five years now, and his eyes are something that comes easy to me. I know when they are afraid. I know when they are sad. I know when they are excited, or when trying so hard to hide good news from me. I know when they have a want in them, and the satisfaction they radiate whenever they are happy.
I know, from his eyes, when the child in him wants to come out to play, and when the voice at the back of his head tells him there is nothing as satisfying as lying in the arms of the woman you love.
Right now, they are lying on the border of frustration and resignation.
“Again, how is your head?” He asks.
“I try to lift my head as he brings a mirror close to my face.”
“Jeeeeeez! What happened?” I almost scream, then the parch in my throat reminds me of calmness.
“Does it still hurt?”
I touch the circumference of my head using my right hand, and then shake the head slightly.
“No. It doesn’t,” I manage to say.
He places the mirror on the side table, and then unfolds one of the bed sheets and covers me from the waist downwards.
He takes my right hand into his left hand, strokes it gently, then says,
“Juliana, will you now tell me what is troubling you? I have known you for five years now, and every day, there is something that tells me I hardly know anything about you.”
There are silent tears at the corners of his eyes, although he struggles to blink them away.
My heart is beating. Fast. He strokes my hand, again, and looks me in the eyes.
“You have beautiful eyes. So beautiful. But today is not the day I massage your existence with my words. Today is not the day I live for the beauty of your eyes. Tell me. I have all the time. I am listening. What really is wrong? What is troubling you?”
I break away from his gaze. I am fighting tears, even though I do not know why. He is so tender, yet my heart refuses to break at his words.
“I do not know. Will you tell me at least what happened?”
He releases my hand, wipes the tear at the corner of his left eye, stands up and starts pacing around the bed.
“I have very scanty details of the happening, because it was fast and unexpected. One minute we are in bed, sleeping, next minute you are running down the stairs, screaming at the top of your voice, asking someone or something to let you go. Next thing I know, you are lying on the floor in a pool of blood, still screaming your lungs out.”
“Do you remember any of that?”
I shake my head.
“What about my clothes?” I ask.
“You were only in a light nightdress, and by the time we got here, it was completely soaked in blood. Still, you vehemently protested whenever I tried to cover you with any clothes.”
“Do you remember any of these?”
“Juliana, I really want to help you, and help us in the long run. Now, who is Jeanie?”
I shoot up and suddenly feel the pain at the back of my head. I lay back, slowly, still fighting the tears.
“Why? Why do you ask that?”
“Do you know anyone with that name?”
The frustration in his eyes is slowly turning into impatience, and a little bit of rage.
“Juliana, before you completely passed out, you kept mentioning the name. Crying even.
Begging to let go. Now, Juliana, who is she?”
I sniff. Once, twice, then manage to say;
“Probably it was only a nightmare.”
“I do not dispute that, but when it becomes this bad, I need to ask. Now, what happened?”
I want to cry, again, because the memories suddenly flood my mind. I feel the space around me getting swallowed by the darkness, and before I know it, my head is rolling over and over again, and a coldness fills my body, from my feet upwards.