Chapter 2

Chapter 2

A Chapter by pia

 

 

                                                             Two

                    The box

 

2018,  London

A steaming shower and a warm cup of coffee to fight off the bitterly cold weather


The first few drops of water splashed onto my skin, helping it restore its warmth after a long, cold night. I pulled the lever further down and stood still, leaving the shower to wash away my filth and dirt. It was soothing the feeling of hot water touching cold skin, watching the steam rise from my skin. I unravelled the knots in my hair using the tips of my fingers which were moistened by a rose scented shampoo. I gently massaged the top of my head, which was being tormented by an incessant headache.


For the past three days, something in my past had started haunting me again. It had returned back to bring me down onto my knees and feed off of the innocent child I once was. The memories were always obscure, causing a strange indistinct feeling to overtake my body. The memories were like the headlights of a fast car approaching towards an injured deer lying in the middle of a strange road.


 I stepped out of the shower, steam rising from above my skins. I wrapped a towel around myself and stared at myself in the mirror. The bags underneath my eyes had become more visible. My skin felt dry and scaly. I reminded myself to buy skin lotion I kept forgetting. Maybe it was time I bought some sleeping pills as well. I dried my hair and put on my dress pants and a white top. The headache was terrible. Being able to fully open my eyes was something I found taxing. The problem emanated from the lack of sleep and the daunting stress I had experienced over the weekend. Now, the latter problems were caused by a box a  box I had regretfully opened and was now trying to forget.


 I sighed to myself while buttoning up my shirt, then suddenly... I stopped. My fingers stroked themselves over a scar located on my chest, slightly above my left breast. It was shaped like a serrate leaf embedded below a patch of wrinkly pale skin.


Everything went blurry. A nebulous shadow appeared in the mirror and it took on to the shape of a man clutching a knife. The room around me started spinning as the shadow started reaching out of the mirror and towards me, with its arm raised above its head.  It got closer and closer to me.  A stinging pain spread across my scar and found myself shutting my eyes and letting out a scream. I opened my eyes and found everything back to normal. The shadow was gone and in the mirror there now stood a woman looking like thunder. The hallucinations were getting worse.


 I took a few deep breaths, consoled myself that the day would be over soon and completed buttoning up my shirt. I applied some light makeup to cover up the dark circles on my face and checked the time on my cell phone. It was eight thirty a.m. and I still had half an hour till work. I sighed again.


It was time for some coffee  -soothing warm coffee. It was like my stanchion, holding me up from falling into the wretchedness of a rough day at work got my blood pumping and handed me my motivation to walk up early in the morning and crawl out of bed.

I leaned over the kitchen slab and watched the coffee seethe in the mini-espresso machine until it settled itself. The invigorating aroma of coffee wafted throughout the kitchen, pulling me out of the folds of a longing sleep I wasn’t being able to enjoy. I poured the coffee into a small steel bottle, covered the top, grabbed my handbag and headed out to the bus stop.


London was alive and active early in the morning. Millions of unknown faces all heading out to start their day, leaving behind the long weekend where they either made their best memories, or they slacked onto their couches, binge-watching some overrated Netflix show with one hand in a large bag of crisps and the other hand either holding onto a drink or down in their pants or  some made their worst mistakes, and then, for the rest of the week and maybe lives, carry those mistakes with them. Sometimes, I could picture the ones with a sullen look drawn onto their faces, to be slightly bent down, carrying on the top of their backs achromatic bags with indiscernible words scribbled all over, words which probably described what they were feeling or what mistakes they had made. This, of course, didn’t apply to everyone, some just didn’t enjoy pulling themselves out of bed at 8 a.m.


Just casually eavesdropping on a strangers’ conversations would reveal a lot. In the bus, I would lean my head against glass windows and listen to people lament over breakups, cheating partners, hangovers, awful date nights or just incomplete assignments. Sometimes, I would watch people with a smile spread across their faces and moot with myself whether the smile was real or whether it was put on to conceal a scar.


I once came across a lady sitting alone on a bus, looking out the window. The seat next to her was occupied by a bouquet of purple flowers. It was early in the morning and the start of a hectic week. She looked out the window for as long as I could remember and then pulled an old torn photograph of a young beautiful girl out of her pocket and held it close to her chest.  Our eyes met, she knew I had been watching her, and she whispered out the words ‘I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my little girl.’ I saw her eyes fill up with tears. She picked up the bouquet of purple flowers, exited the bus and disappeared into a nonchalant crowd of people. I never saw that lady again, nor did I ever find out what had happened to her daughter, but I never forgot the mournful look on her face. The weekend was probably a life changer for her or maybe I had just grown to assume the worst in others.


Now it is not always necessary that the weekend is the established period of time where one ends up dreading to wake up and walk into their office or work the very next day because they did something they were penitent of. Most of my colleagues would laze around on Mondays moaning about their hangovers or unproductive weekends. Just the usual stuff you’d hear from young journalists. Busy working weeks hardly give anyone time to do anything stupid. You work nine to five, you get home exhausted and you rest or you cook or you sleep. It is the weekends where it happens. You spend a few hours alone with yourself and that open up large wells of unwanted memories or thoughts.


I never engaged in a youthful frenzy like my colleagues did over the few days they had an off. I would prefer spending my time tucked into a couch in my cosy apartment, sheltered away from the pinching touch of the winter winds, either sipping on warm coffee or reading a classic novel.  But last weekend was different. It was different in a way that it didn’t just leave me with a major headache or something that I could just get over. Neither was it something I could delete or someone I could block. It was something haunting me from my past and it tormented me the entire weekend. I felt a sudden fear grow inside me. A certain sickness manifesting itself deep inside my guts. It made me feel dirty and used. Stained and unwanted. And I carried the weight of this feeling with me, becoming one of those who I pictured carrying the weight of their mistakes. This time, I blended in with the sullen-faced strangers, hiding my pain behind a crumbling smile.


I reached work at around 9:10 am. Ten minutes late.  Not a big problem. Kurt’s Daily was not exactly the type of magazine outlet that strictly commanded its employees to be behind their desks at 9 sharp. Even my boss, the gorgeous and the picturesque, Emily Wilson would at times show up in the middle of the day, mostly cause she was the boss and the daughter of the man who owned Kurt’s Daily. She would walk straight into her office, show herself for a few seconds, shout out some orders and walk back in. For the past seven years, that I had worked here, I barely interacted with her, and I barely made any friends. I just liked the promotions I was getting.


Now what I mostly heard before I started working was how everyone’s bosses were horrible and exploitative. The minute I set foot in Emily’s office for the first time, I heard a voice in my head yell ‘B***H’.


I recalled my first job interview after graduating with a degree in journalism back in 2009. It was the summer of 2010. An opening at Kurt’s Daily was the first opportunity I dashed towards. I hurriedly filled out their online form, woke up the next day to find an email scheduling my interview. That was quick.  They were new and they desperately needed people.


Their building was not very hard to find. It was a freshly painted building squeezed in between two mundane looking buildings. Blocks of alphabets spelling out Kurt’s were placed above the entrance. I walked in, apprehensive and nervous, like a kitten placed in the middle circus ring. That is what this place looked like. Everyone doing their own thing.


The receptionist was a young boy dressed in a yellow suit. His hair was neatly slicked towards the left side, exposing his one of his ear piercing.


‘May I help you?’He said.

‘I was called for an interview..’ before I even completed my sentence, he told me about how I was the only person who had applied so it didn’t really matter whether I aced the interview as long as I could write in English. I was also told how my ethnicity was good for the business. He got up from his desk and asked me to follow him.

‘Diversity’ he said. ‘Is what we are looking for, it’s lovely to have an Indian working for us.’

‘Actually, I’m Pakistani. There is diversity within the subcontinent as well.’ He didn’t really seem interested so I stopped talking. I was escorted further into the building, passing through different kinds of offices. There weren’t a lot of people here, but that was what I actually liked, fewer people to interact with.  I reached a room concealed behind a wooden door.


‘This is Ms Emily Wilson’s office. She is the owner’s daughter and currently head of... well... everything.’ and he let out a nervous laugh and then gently knocked, passed me a smile and walked away.

‘Enter.’ Said a sharp voice from behind the doors, and there she was.

Emily sat upright on a maroon leathered chair with books and magazines neatly stacked on top of a ridiculously large table. A picture of a white Pomeranian was placed on one end and an ashtray on the other end. Right in the middle were pens and markers aligned neatly from smallest to largest and depending on the shades of colours. Emily looked up from behind a magazine she was reading. Her light blue eyes scanning me from top to bottom. Gracefully she rose up from her desk, with her light blue dress flowing down to her knees like a waterfall. She eyed my tattered brown jacket and loose fit jeans and squinted her eyes. For a minute, I thought was going to ask me to leave.

‘Right this way.’ She said.

‘Was I just going to be asked to follow people around in this place?’ I thought to myself. I didn’t even get to introduce myself. She led me to a small desk with an old computer placed on top. I didn’t even have to ask about whether I had made the cut or not, or what had happened to the other applicant. It was an unsaid thing and it left me very confused. She just told me to sit and write her a thousand worded article on some event  I don’t even vaguely remember.


A man used to sit in the desk ahead of mine. His name was Paul and he was the first person who genuinely showed interest in who I was and why I was here.  

‘ So why are you here?’ he said bluntly.

‘What do you mean ‘why I am here’? Same reason, why you’re here, someone needs to pay the bills and buy the groceries.’

‘Well, I meant more than that. Don’t tell me that’s your only aim in life. As in, what are you willing to achieve?’

I didn’t even know to respond with such extensive questions.

‘Look, I just started here, I’m not sure even if I’m hired or not, I really just want to see where this path takes me.’ I said sounding quite annoyed. I was annoyed. I wasn’t sure how to feel about not knowing what I was supposed to do. I was annoyed with the unclear instructions and the anomalous behaviour of the employees at Kurt’s daily.

‘You’re definitely hired. Don’t worry. If Emily has given you a desk and computer to work on, you are good.  Our boss over here doesn’t say much. She just puts us into situations unknown to us and watches us react. She doesn’t talk much. Paul by the way. I am a junior editor. Started here just a few months ago.’

‘Anya. Just graduated from King’s a few months back.  So she never interacts at all?’

‘Nope. It is always strictly business. She just walks out of her office, gives us some work, walks back in. She keeps it all electronic mostly. Well, I guess that’s better than a boss who is constantly up in our behinds.’ And he let out a light chuckle. ‘So where are you from?’

I felt something sink inside me. I started feeling something crawl under my skin. Something I’d been avoiding to think about for a long time. I found it hard to get the words out of my mouth, but I tried.

‘I moved her a few years ago. From....from Pakistan.’ I swallowed the words back and felt as if I were going to choke.

‘Oh great. Got family back there?’

I started to get perturbed. I started feeling things I hadn’t felt in a long time. The feeling just started rolling around in my stomach. Like acid, it started to burn me internally. I didn’t know how to ignore or circumvent the questions which were clearly piercing through my mind, plucking out certain memories I was trying to bury deep inside.


There was a long, awkward silence. He swirled around on his chair, with his back now facing me and said in a low voice. ‘ Have a fun weekend then, don’t get too wild or else you might end up regretting things. Last time I took my weekend seriously, I sat on the desk opposite you with my head in the dustbin.’ He laughed at himself. I forced out a laugh. Secretly, I was relieved that the topic had been diverted to him.

‘I prefer spending the weekends with myself. I find peace in solitude.’ I said, hiding my face behind the computer screen, googling something related to my task.

‘Well, don’t spend too much time alone. You may just end up discovering your best friend or worst enemy’. Paul turned his head, passed me a wink and went back to work. I suddenly felt a smile pull its way through, onto my face. 


I saw Paul throughout the week. We didn’t exactly become friends, we never even spent time together outside of work. We were strict ‘work’ friends. I never let it cross further from that, but I enjoyed his company. It was mostly him speaking and me listening to him speak. 

A week had passed ever since I had joined Kurt’s. The weekend had arrived and everyone was packing up to leave for our homes. He looked at me with a hopeful eye, begging with his sight for me to say something more than just a ‘have a fun weekend.’

‘Have a fun weekend.’ I said.

He looked down at the floor, passed me a smile and said ‘you too.’ And that was the last time I saw him.


Suddenly, I was back in my office. Everything was dull again.  The sound of chattering and ringing of telephones blended in the background behind me. No one spoke to me much at the office. It wasn’t the most amicable environment, and it was perfect for me. Emily, pretty much, emerged from her office only once during the entire day. The office had become really quiet ever since Paul’s accident. All that was told to us was that Paul was drunk driving after attending some party over the weekend and had lost control over the wheel, crashing into a truck hidden away in the darkness of a merciless night.


Paul’s desk had now been invaded by some stranger. Despite working here for the past few years, I still had no idea who she was nor did she know who I was.  I was moved to a small office near my old desk.


Seven years had passed. I had seen people come and go. I saw people change. I was promoted to senior editor, but no one really cared, nor did I, but I found it unnerving, how a man I knew for just a few days, seven years ago, had suddenly popped back into my mind again. It was not one of those sickly romantic moments where ‘girl meets boy -  boy says something revoltingly pretentious that he thinks it makes him sound smart boy dies’. It was more like his words igniting a sudden realization within me. It was me spending too much time with myself over the weekend and discovering an enemy embedded in my memory. So he was right the weekends were made for mistakes, but it was how we made those mistakes. Paul paid for it by drinking too much at a party. The lady on the bus paid for it somehow. And I paid for it by deciding to go through an old box I found in my storeroom.


Emily walked out of her office. Chatter disseminating through the office air stopped. Everyone was back in their desks looking very busy and occupied with work. Emily stopped by my desk.

‘So how are we doing today?’ she said, peering into my office.

‘Um, well I received a few stories today managed to edit most..’

‘Have the final edits passed by me maximum by Wednesday.’ She interrupted and walked away. She had been in control of Kurt’s Daily after her father’s death and yet, she still managed to look like her old self when I saw her seven years ago. Well, mostly because she was rich and could well enough afford plastic surgery. Maybe that’s why she started looking empty, more plastic, less muscle. Most of the time, her face was dominated by an expressionless stare -a  pretty face with not much to offer.


I slacked away on my desk reading the same stories over and over again. Senior editor was a wonderful kick start to my career, but it also brought with it a series of monotonous tasks. My life felt like a cycle, moving in a high motion that I was unable to pull myself out of it without having the fear of tripping and falling face forward. I needed to look out for something more burn away the past which stuck to me like a chewed out game. Maybe I did need to spend less time with myself.


I reached back home around six. Exhausted, I fell onto my bed and let out a long, heavy sigh. I stared at the ceiling until my eyes started to hallucinate again, and then suddenly, the ceiling was no longer stationary, it was swirling around like a tiny cyclone just kept going round and round and round... till everything within my vision turned into a blur. Something snapped and I  sat back up, clenching the edge of my bed with my hands. I turned around and looked at a blue box kept on the floor of my closet. A part of the box was out exposed to the light in my room, the rest was hidden away an overpowering presence of darkness. I stared at it with a rancorous glare. Something inside that box was pulling me towards it. It pulled before and drove me to insanity the entire weekend and it was doing it again.  


I thought about last Friday back when the weather was not turbulent and the sky wasn’t covered with dark clouds and the roads weren’t cleaned by the rain splashing away every few hours.  London’s weather could be considered just as mercurial as a teenager fuelled by hormones. One minute, you’d find yourself squirming into your jacket the next minute, you’d find yourself sweltering inside it.


My apartment was left in a state of mess just as I had left it. It was in a dire need of cleaning, so I took a nice warm shower, put on a nice kurti which embroidery of flowers stitched in all over it, made myself a cup of coffee and started off with my storeroom. It was cluttered with uncountable things I needed to rid myself off. The further I went into it, I was greeted with things I questioned myself for even possessing. I kept pulling old forgotten stuff out until I felt something come into contact with my hands. It felt like a box. It was buried in somewhere deep with all sorts of nonsense covering it. I gently pulled it out and placed it out into the open. The blue colour was embedded beneath the thick layer of dust that had settled over the top and with a light blow from between my lips, the dust was gone. There was something written on top -From Pakistan.  I suddenly remember this box. My sister had posted it to me a few days back as an attempt to establish contact with me. My sister who I had not seen or spoken to for the past ten years. I had casually decided to ignore this attempt and kept it away in the storeroom. It was now in front of me once again, but this time something inside me ached to know what was inside the box.


I slowly lifted the box, carried it back into my room. A dusty smell unveiled from inside. There were photographs inside Polaroids neatly stacked inside. My hand reached in and picked one up. It was a picture of my sister and me. I stood far away from her. The distance between us shrieked with the unhappiness I felt for having a sibling, it was fuelled by the neglect I faced from my parents, something my sister never felt or understood.


I kept the picture aside, forcing myself to remain unmoved by a flow of emotions I was starting to feel. Picture after picture, I was exposed to the memories I had tried to crush. Pictures of my mother in her orange saari draped gracefully around her body, pictures of my mother and my father holding on to my younger sister while I stood beside them, untouched and separate, all emerged turn by turn. I saw my childhood house again. The Mughal styled architecture, the flowers and the plants looked exactly the way they did when I last abandoned them. The only missing piece was the old tree. It had been cut down and removed from the garden. The old and lifeless tree, cut off from a family just like me.


 I saw photographs of moments I barely even remembered, people I hardly knew, but then suddenly, my eyes met with one certain photograph. My stomach started to sink. I started to feel sick. Everything around me went into a blur. With the photograph still in my hand, I got up and walked back into my lounge and fell onto the floor. My body felt weak and pathetic. The photograph had unleashed a river of things I had tried to forget, things I learned to ignore and suppress. I looked at the photograph again, tears clouding my vision, but I knew I was looking directly into his eyes into the eyes of the person who destroyed my childhood, the person who made me think I was insane and he was looking into mine, wearing a neat suit, a grown up young man standing next to his bride, smiling with his teeth knowing well the secrets he hid behind those hateful eyes how he touched me when I said no, how he used words as a weapon to hurt me, how he used a blade to cut me through my chest when I tried to push him off of me. the same name poured out of my mouth. A name I had not used in a long time... ‘Adil’ 



© 2018 pia


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Sorry it took so long to review this awesome work of literary brilliance. I was away for some time trying to discover who i am and stuff. But, anyway, this is thrilling and very captivating. I am speechless as to what propelled you to make this. Great, no, awesome job! :)

Posted 1 Year Ago


I was away from writers cafe since along time but only thing I remember was that I read a chapter of the story and was just thinking if there could be a chapter 2. Searched my reading history re reading your first chapter and then this one was such a great stress buster. You are an amazing story teller. Eagerly waiting for the next .

Posted 1 Year Ago


I absolutely love it. I need to read more!

Posted 1 Year Ago


I loved this! It has left me needing more.

Posted 1 Year Ago


I really like this chapter.

Posted 1 Year Ago


Oh my God. I loved reading this. Absolutely loved every single word. All I could think about after reading this chapter was that I want more. I love the way you write, I love how every single word created a vivid image. Amazing job, Pia. Keep it up :)

Posted 1 Year Ago


pia

1 Year Ago

thank you so much !
well pia you are a great paperback writer,one day you will be rich as hell and famous,you won`t remember any of us ameatur writers fron w/c

Posted 1 Year Ago


pia

1 Year Ago

oh no
I cant ever forget the ppl here who have always motivated me!!!
you guys are g.. read more
 wordman

1 Year Ago

you know you`re welcome
The thing I love the most about your writing is the way you present complex multi-layered characters, especially the narrator, by showing us so many of the things she’s thinking & going thru. Even tho you showed us quite a bit about what’s going thru her mind, thru-out the various external experiences, these introspective parts are not a bit boring & lacking in action. Your introspective asides are compelling, as you tell fairly complete mini-stories within your main story, giving us background on your characters. Your descriptions are brightly worded to bring each scene alive, easily pictured & imagined in the reader’s mind. Despite being complex, all these various mind-trips that you reveal as background info on your characters, these side trips do not confuse the overall reading experience. Your story is compelling thru-out & at the end of this chapter you build up some drama to keep us interested & continuing on to the next chapter (((HUGS))) Fondly Margie

Posted 1 Year Ago


pia

1 Year Ago

Margie you are literally my motivation at the moment and someone who pumps in confidence for me
read more
barleygirl

1 Year Ago

As you know, feel free to read request me when you have another chapter . . .

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Added on June 21, 2018
Last Updated on June 22, 2018
Tags: sexualassault, harassment, empowerment, justice, thriller


Author

pia
pia

Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan



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