Anna started out as a dream… I know, very cliched…
I remember waking up and feeling so unbelievably uncomfortable and cold inside. In my dream (or should I say nightmare) I had found myself chained to a man in a dystopic world who claimed me as his property.
So I decided that I wanted to write about this story, and I approached it in a very calculated way, with the project becoming a writing exercise where I could focus on my grammar and punctuation.
So … I started. And I wrote 2000 words a day during January and by the end I had Part One of the book complete.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I was drained. It was very emotional, and a lot of it very personal. It’s not an easy read, there is abuse, rape, dominance, sexism, ignorance, darkness and desperation leaking out on to the pages. I wrote barely 5000 words in February, but by the end of March I had finished the book. It stands at approximately 110k and I am exceptionally proud of it.
Professionals in the writing industry have described my writing as a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaids Tale.
The first 2 chapters are below.
Staring out across the dry fields, I thought the day would be like any other. The days, after all, were always the same. A day like the last nine hundred and twenty one… or was it twenty two? I pulled my scarf across my face; the taste of grit made me gag.
Swinging my backpack around to my front, I searched for something, anything, to eat. Three unlabelled cans, two small boxes of individual breakfast cereals, and a kilo of rice. All well and good, but I hadn’t had milk in nearly two years, there was no clean water for miles; and I had nothing to open the cans with –my last can opener must have fallen out when I was evading Wanderers a week before. Dry, soft and out of date cereal it was. Yummy.
Chewing dull muesli, my mind drifted aimlessly across the barren wastelands; I should have been paying attention, should have been listening, and watching for trouble. I didn’t hear him behind me, didn’t see the flash of silver in his hand. Didn’t see anything until it was too late.
He grabbed my jacket and pulled me onto my back. I dropped the cereal, opening my muesli-filled mouth to scream. No one would have heard me and if anyone had heard they would have been neither saviour nor hero. Cupping a hand over my mouth, he stared down. Thrashing wildly, I tried to get up, but he had me pinned by the shoulder, with his weight crushing me into the ground. There was the smell of mud and sweat on his hands, but there was something else too: a spiciness I hadn’t encountered since before the wars started six years earlier. It reminded me of mint, but it wasn’t mint. Stubble, brown and coarse, covered his cheeks and chin, and the curls of his dark hair fell haphazardly around his cheekbones. But it was his dark and bottomless eyes that scared me. So brown that they looked black, they were worlds in which light without life shone.
He spun around and straddled me. Knowing what was coming I started to cry, spilling precious water into the ground. His hand over my mouth became wet and as I sobbed I tasted dirt. He started to move his fingers, probing my mouth, pushing deep into my throat and making me gag. Just get it over with! It was the waiting, which was agony: neither the humiliation nor what would come, but the waiting. He checked my face, my teeth and my skin, as though I was an item at a livestock auction.
I saw the silver again, flashing and glinting in the sun. It encircled my left wrist; there was a click – and I knew it was done. He had captured me: by the rudimentary laws of the unlands and those who wandered here, I belonged to him. As he clicked the other cuff around his own wrist, a smile spread across his face, softening the hard lines. But his eyes were still dead. He hauled me to my feet. The metal of my shackle dug into my skin and I exhaled sharply. He showed me his first weakness and loosened the restraint, rubbing the skin around my wrist. I stared at him and he smiled again, nodding gently, treating me like a skittish colt. I scowled and pulled as hard as I could from him. Pointless and futile. I don’t know why I even tried. He slapped me hard, the crack of skin on skin rattling around my ears like a rifle shot and I bit hard on my lip to prevent more precious tears escaping. The heat rushed to my cheek, the biting and stinging of the skin coupled with the warmth of blood on my lip caused one sob to escape. Just one. I was proud of that.
“No more.” He said, and his voice was unexpectedly, incongruously, soft and gentle. I didn’t reply. What would I say? I remembered a warning from my childhood: don’t speak to strangers. Never did it seem as relevant as now; never did it seem so worthless. We were all strangers to one another.
“What’s your name?”
I remained silent. He stared down and reached out to my face. Instinctively I flinched – conscious now of his strength, of the metal that bound us, of my lost freedom. He rubbed my sore reddened cheek almost tenderly. That smell again wafted across. His hand was so soft and warm; I was ashamed to admit that part of me revelled in his touch, this sensation of skin on skin. But the other part of me, the part awash with revulsion, overrode that betrayal and I jerked my head away.
“Name.” He was firmer this time, grabbing my chin and forcing me to look up at him. How long would it take? How long before he beat my name out of me? Should I delay the inevitable? Make him work for the word? For that’s all it is: a word.
“Anna.” My voice cracked. It had been so long since I had spoken aloud. I used to speak all the time, words tumbled from me, I argued, shouted, laughed, sang, but not aloud for a long time. My voice is my own and I kept it locked away. It was safer.
“Anna,” he repeated, releasing his grip on my face. Leaning down, he picked up my bag. For a wild moment I considered attacking him, I could pick up the rock by my feet and crush his skull. It would be so easy. I’d done such things before. Well, to a dying animal at least. I could do it again.
But I didn’t, I couldn’t. I lie. It wouldn’t be easy, for this was a man, and although he might behave like an animal he was a man, a human being. This human being stood back up, darting his gaze from my face to my backpack.
He fumbled through it, pulling out my clothes, and throwing them to the ground as though they were nothing. They were nothing to him, but to me the contents were everything, my life, and my memories. With our wrists joined, my arm was jerked and pulled like a marionette’s un-living limb. All I need is the painted grin. He took out my small bundle of photographs, dropping the backpack. My anger rose, it was a huge wave of rage swelling and towering. I don’t know where it came from and I was even less sure where it would end. I balled my fists, ragged nails cutting into my palms, and watched intently as he flicked through the pictures, discarding them carelessly; they fell like maple seeds, spinning in the air. A double samara, I remember that from school. It’s strange what you remember sometimes.
My mum, dad, brother, their grinning faces stared at me from the hard ground. He stopped and held my last three pictures. I knew which ones they were. Of course I did.
He turned the first over and I glimpsed the image of my love’s face kissing mine outside our home. I looked so happy there, so… carefree. He read the inscription on the back. The private words of comfort I had scrawled during a moment of weakness a year ago, when it had just been my knife, my memories and my melancholy; never forgotten we move forward through the fear. He turned the second over: white fur, a big lump of cuddly white fur. Oh, I missed Oscar, his purrs and warmth at night, the way he meowed for fuss. I tried to quell the rage. Pointless. it was pointless. I needed to remind myself of that.
Finally, after gazing at it for what seemed like minutes but can have been only seconds, he turned the third over and held it up for me to see. My hand and my love’s hand entwined, our rings clear in the daylight. Treacherous tears started to roll down my face again. Pointless.
Those dark eyes stared at me and then he pulled his arm up to examine my left hand. It was bare. Jewellery was valuable still in the early days and precious metals meant meals. I’d resisted for as long as I could, but he was dead, and I wasn’t; and the rings were symbols, just symbols. He would have understood, he would have done the same. Wouldn’t he?
“Where is he?” The soft voice cut into me. “Soldier?”
I shook my head.
I nodded. Yes, my husband had been cannon fodder for a war, another number for the government to chalk up on their war board, just another number sent to the frontlines and sacrificed to buy time for them to escape. It was, of course, all for nothing. My husband had been slaughtered and hours later the government had fallen. That’s when everything fell apart.
My captor seemed to have taken to one word questions. Perhaps he thought me simple. I nodded again and watched as he secreted those three photographs in his inside jacket pocket. He ignored my backpack, my scattered possessions, and my scarce memories and started to walk away. I resisted and pulled back. He couldn’t expect me to leave everything, everything I’d carried around for the last two years I’d been alone. He raised his hand to hit me again but paused and, to my surprise, reluctantly lowered it. A second weakness, indecision: I wouldn’t forget.
“I said no more,” he warned, but I viewed it as a challenge and defiantly raised my chin and held his gaze: beat me! A part of me wanted him to. I don’t know why, I wanted to feel something, anything other than the rage that eroded me. My tears had dried. I found myself looking at him, really seeing him and I already hated him, loathed him, he who had captured me and bound me. Struggling, I put aside my revulsion; I needed to find his weaknesses, an injury, a disability, something I could use to my advantage. My childish hope and optimism drained away. For a man in the unlands, he was in perfect health, a rarity, a curious anomaly. He caught me staring and jerked me closer to him, jarring my shoulder. That smell again. As I stumbled my cuff pinched at the soft skin of my wrist and I gasped. I felt his touch on my side as he drew me closer. Huge, his body dwarfed mine, but that wasn’t what had my attention. His clothes were immaculate, like the sort you would buy in a shop. Buy? Shop? What was I thinking?
“Anna.” He said Anna. I was Anna. Me. They say you can tell someone’s personality from a name. Anna was gracious and I was Anna. Who are ‘they’? When did ‘they’ say such things?
“My photos, please.” Gracious, I was gracious, I was Anna. I forced myself not to scowl, not to cry nor to shy away. My clear spoken voice sounded so alien, so loud and so wrong, like it was another person speaking. I guess in a way it was.
No reply. Licking my lips I readied myself to speak again. I was Anna, and Anna is gracious. I hoped I’d remember. He still had his hand on my side. It was awkward; neither hugging or holding, and not so much an embrace as a defensive hold – perhaps he expected me to kick out, scream, fight or claw at him. I didn’t. I was weak. I didn’t need to say anything.
“So you speak when you want something.”
The amusement in his voice was clear, though his face remained impassive, his smile had melted away and those cold eyes stared down without emotion. He thought this was funny? A joke? A game? Irritably, I jerked my body away from the touch of his hand, scolding myself immediately after. Gracious, remember to be gracious. I don’t know why I flitted from fear to petulance. I was a mess, and that realisation made me angry again. Surprisingly, he didn’t stop me this time, nor did he beat me. Instead he ran his hand along my bruised cheek, tracing his handiwork, his temporary brand of ownership.
There were stories in the unlands of men who branded their women with marks of ownership, initials or symbols and suchlike; the way farmers used to identify their livestock. Now I was the livestock, the commodity. I hoped he wouldn’t brand me.
My photographs flapped in the light wind, calling up to me from the ground. Without them I wouldn’t remember their faces, he had to understand that. Surely he had family once?
“Please, my mother, my family.” I appealed to what I hoped was the softer side of my captor; six years couldn’t have destroyed all shreds of humanity. He said nothing, and continued to stroke my face. I couldn’t take the not-knowing and without waiting for his response I knelt down and collected up my memories. Part of me expected him to shout, to haul me up and finally to lose control the way I perversely wanted him to; beat me. Why did I want him to hurt me? In any case, he didn’t, and instead allowed me to collect each and every picture and, as I stood, he held out his hand expectantly. I acquiesced immediately, good little doggy. I knew my master; I knew my place. As he put them in his pocket with the others I suddenly realised my mistake, the flaw, the fatal error. I had given him a hold over me. He had shown two weaknesses, but I had shown him my greatest: my memories. I hoped he wouldn’t realise my mistake. He led me away from my backpack, my clothes and my life. I kept my head down and stared at the ground.
I was lost. The walking became a meaningless, rhythmic pattern, left, right, left right. I paid no attention to where we were going – why would I? Where we went and what happened held no interest for me, only fear. I think I feared fear itself. I don’t even know if that makes sense. I didn’t want to think about what might happen when we finally arrived at his home. Might? Who was I trying to kid? It would happen and, when it did, I would be powerless to stop it.
Home. I wonder why I thought he had a home. Was it some strange deep rooted part of me that wanted to pretend this was normal? Did I long for a hearth? Maybe. I don’t know. The ground was the same wherever I looked; dry, cracked like crazy paving, and my boots were covered in a thin haze of beige dust. I didn’t need to look up; it was all the same everywhere but for the rise and fall of the earth like a dead, paralysed sea. Overused, drained, poisoned. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts I didn’t realise he had stopped until I felt the pull on my cuff. I looked at him, ensuring my face matched his: cold and expressionless. He smiled at me and pulled his own rucksack forward, removing a canteen and drinking deeply. I licked my lips, smelling the water. Iron-flavoured and tangy. He watched me as he drank and I stared back.
“Where are you from?” His smile irritated me, made my skin crawl. “For every question you answer, I will let you drink. Where are you from?”
There was a long pause, and then I heard him zip up his backpack. I had won, and it was my turn to look triumphant. I wasn’t that weak. He started walking again, his strides longer and his pace faster. He was angry.
We had walked for hours and I was tired, hungry, thirsty, and I desperately needed to piss. Not that I would ever admit this to him. He didn’t speak to me, but every so often he would stop and crouch, forcing me to follow suit. Grabbing handfuls of dirt he would rub it between his fingers and stare into the distance. I saw three rabbits during the day, which was typical of my luck: when captured I saw food, and when alone I saw none. Watching them run from us across the nothingness made me smile wryly. The rabbits had sense, more than me. I didn’t tell him about them, today was their lucky day, and someone had to have one I guess. Twice he touched the large knife at his side in contemplation. I’d spotted the knife soon after we had started the journey. I stole glances at him when I could. He was older than me; possibly thirty five or forty? I’ve never been good at guessing ages. As the day wore on, I knew where we were going and each step now filled me with dread. He was a wanderer, one who lived in the towns but scavenged the unlands for supplies and cattle, like me. A fresh fear surged and caught in my throat. Did he intend to sell me? Or worse, sell my body?
My legs suddenly buckled, my head spun and I stumbled to the ground. My shoulder was wrenched almost from the socket as my arm whipped back. He stopped and pulled me up, wrapping his arm around my stomach, putting pressure on my bladder. Oh great.
“I need a piss,” I mumbled through gritted teeth. I could feel him against me, the skin at the nape of my neck crawled. That smell again, what was it?
“Where are you from?” Why did he want to know? What did it matter, I was from the unlands. He didn’t let go and I tried to ease the pressure but my wriggling made him hold me tighter. It was agony.
“Outside of Oxford.” I gave in. I wouldn’t humiliate myself further by wetting myself. It was just one thing, that’s all I’d given him, just one piece of information. It’s easier to tell the truth. He released the pressure slightly and led us to a nearby scrubland area, a felled tree and tall ragweed plants were dotted like scabs on the ground. Twisting his body away from mine he stared over the wastelands and waited.
Here? I don’t know why but I had expected him to release me, give me some privacy. What a stupid thing to hope for. I fumbled with my jeans, with only my right hand free I was impotent – I’m left-handed. My bladder was ready to explode, and I could feel the heat and pressure reaching the tipping point.
“Can you help?” My alien voice blurted out. “I can’t undo my jeans.”
I shut my eyes, swallowed heavily and remained as still as I could as he undid my trousers. His fingers lightly grazing my stomach; they were warm, and he slowly, deliberately, brushed them against my skin. He took his time undoing the top button, still stroking. As he pulled the zip down his fingertips lingered there for longer than necessary. I was weak, I did nothing: I was Anna. Anna is gracious. “Thank you.” How I hated those words. Was that a weakness? Did it count?
Afterwards he removed his canteen and drank, watching me again, his eyes boring into mine. I looked away first and he won that round. I tried not to lick my lips again, and failed: again.
“What did you do before the war?”
The question caught me off-guard. That was the past, why was he interested in the past? It meant nothing now, the roving bands, the breakdown, the bombings, the hail of gunfire, and the slaughters of millions. That rendered it all meaningless, but I would answer this question and answer it honestly: easier to maintain a truth than a lie.
“Call centre, customer service.” So … pathetic. A waste of a life. Against all reason I felt embarrassed. If I had known the world was going to end I would have done so much more. But wallowing in self-pity was pointless, however satisfyingly painful, like a form of self-harm. Pointless.
He stood closer to me and raised the canteen to my lips; I allowed him this control and graciously, for I was Anna, sipped at the water. Nodding gently, a smile formed on his lips and he touched my bruised cheek once more.
“Anna from Oxford who worked in a call centre.”
As we continued I looked ahead: the dark shapes and crumbling stone grew larger and soon dominated my line of sight. We were nearly there, in his town, in his home.
I was with him a week before I learnt his name. We entered the remains of the town the night of my capture and humiliation crept into me, bit by bit. It was difficult seeing other people walking around, acting as though a woman chained to a man was normal.
I knew this town. I’d often walked along the streets admiring the window displays, wishing I had more money and less stress. Even during the civil unease I had waved my credit card around, joking with the members of staff who smiled thinly at me with barely concealed contempt. I was a government employee, so my job was protected regardless of what happened abroad and at home. The government needed telecommunications. I was stupid and arrogant.
Now, in what was once the main street, I forced myself to look at the men, then wished I hadn’t, for the covetous looks they gave made me to cling to my captor. I was a coward. Another win to him.
Head lowered, I heard the coughs and murmurs from those around me as he led me to one of the remaining buildings; their voices seemed so loud. Whispers of “pretty,” and “sweet,” drifted like leaves in a breeze. Heavily armed and scowling men surrounded the building. One wore a tattered black vest with the emblem of the police force from the time before. He was young, fair-haired and boyish – too young to have been a police officer and, besides, officers swore to uphold fundamental human rights and prevent all offences against people… No, he was no protector. I saw the admiring glances they gave my captor, as though he was a hero.
The building was the old library, the heart of this small town. My own heart sank when we entered: they had burnt all the books. I hoped there were other libraries, other records still intact somewhere.
Without pausing he led me to the only room on the top floor.
That first night was hard. His room was scrubbed clean, and carried that strange odour – the one I couldn’t identify, the one that accompanied him like a familiar. It assaulted my sense of smell and rolled around my mouth, reminding me of the moment I had been bound. There was a small single bed against the wall, sheets and blankets folded and piled at the end of the mattress, and chairs scattered about the room. One window, high above the bed and just the one door, which he locked using a key hanging from a chain around his neck. I had been scanning what was clearly to be my cell, searching for a way to escape, when he pushed me to the wall and leant against me. He buried his head in my hair. I was glad he couldn’t see my face, though I hid my fear well, I think.
That night I realised my captor wasn’t stupid and scratched simplicity off my list of potential weaknesses. He handcuffed my right hand and connected it to a long chain secured to the wall then, releasing the cuff that bound us, he walked around the room. Ten feet: he’d given me ten feet of freedom.
“This is home now, Anna.”
All night he remained silent. He sat on a small chair in the corner, watching me. I didn’t move from the wall, letting the hard brick support me – without it I would have collapsed. I woke the next morning sitting in the same place I’d been standing, but with my head between my knees. Immediately I stood and checked my wrist. Still bound.
He was already awake, of course he was, still staring, but, as he walked closer to me, he started to smile. Eyeing him warily as he approached, I watched him take his hand from behind his back to present me, like a lover on St. Valentine’s Day, with a gift. A hairbrush. Anna, I am Anna, I should be gracious. I wasn’t. Instead I stared at it in disgust – what did I need a hairbrush for? I regret what I did next; it was ridiculous and cost me dearly. Taking the brush, I threw it with as much force as I could across the room and it bounced against the wall with a satisfying crack. I then screamed at the top of my voice, I let out all the rage, the anguish, the pain and humiliation in ear-piercing cries.
He stopped me quickly enough. With one hand around my throat he squeezed until I felt all my weight leave my body and white floating spots crossed my vision. I wanted to die. I wished he would lose control and continue to squeeze until every breath left my body. He would then have done what I never had the courage to do.
Instead, as I slid to the floor, he let go and knelt in front of me. I coughed and spluttered for air, my lungs betraying my desires and undermining my wish for death. When I finally controlled my breathing he pulled my head back by my hair and exposed my throat. He was furious; his eyes almost black and his mouth a thin line. He held his knife. I smiled. I don’t think he expected that and, as the blade touched my skin, I sighed. It was premature of me as he paused and, my eyes searing into those dead eyes. I willed him to continue, I dared him, but instead of releasing me from hell, he simply, savagely and efficiently cut my hair. All of it. Chopping away at thick strands until it curled just below my chin. My husband had always loved my long hair and I hadn’t cut it since the wars had started, but now it was all gone. That wasn’t what concerned me though, for he then hauled me over his lap and pulled up my top. I kicked and thrashed and wriggled like an eel, sliding onto my back and hitting out at him, finally doing what I should have done when he caught me – but he was too strong. One punch, that’s all it took. One blow to my abdomen and I was winded, immobile. He flipped me onto my stomach and took the knife to the skin of my lower back. I didn’t want to be branded, but he had other plans. He sliced, I cried, I begged and sobbed for him to stop. I made all sorts of promises that I’m now ashamed of, but he didn’t stop. He didn’t say a word as he carved into me.
Each day after that he took me out of the town, wandering with him through the unlands, and he didn’t leave me alone for a second. A hunter, as well as a scavenger. No animal escaped his traps and on the first day he caught a stoat and a squirrel; then each day after that we returned with at least two rabbits. He would sit for hours watching the same rabbit, waiting for it to approach. I wondered if he had watched me the same way, tracked me like a rabbit. We walked miles. My feet ached and blisters covered them, but I didn’t complain because it was nothing compared to the pain, and shame, of my back.
He traded most of the food. I never looked into the faces of his acquaintances, I had no need. I did listen though, and his soft firm voice commanded respect. One man tried to touch me and my captor beat him. That was painful for both of us. As he kicked and savaged the would-be suitor he pulled and contorted me around on the cuff. He was as silent as ever as he delivered his blows. The man had cried and promised not to touch me, crying out like a child, “I’m sorry, she’s yours.” Even though I knew the unwritten laws, it didn’t stop me from pitying him. My captor kicked him to the ground and I jumped at the desperate pull on my jeans. The man had curled himself around me, gripping my legs together. I’d stumbled and fallen on top of him; he stank, but this was a smell I recognised only too well. He was filthy and the slightest touch of him felt like it left a film of oil on my skin. My back was bleeding now, the tacky warmth sticking my top to my skin.
My captor dragged me to my feet; he never lost his footing, and continued to kick the man. He was angrier than ever and grunted in satisfaction each time his kicks connected and the man wailed. I begged him to stop, I didn’t want to see anyone die, and I’d seen enough death.
He stopped, but I don’t know if it was because of my words or if he had proven his point. Instead he watched in silence as the man crawled away sobbing. There were onlookers who didn’t move, no-one came to the aid of the injured man, no-one came for me, but it was the former I felt for. A sharp gust of wind flayed at my skin and I grunted in pain. As he looked at me I winced, expecting a violent outburst of anger, but none came. Turning me around he lifted my top and exposed the bloodied and bruised skin of my brand. Hot, angry, throbbing. Every cell of my body ached and I wanted nothing but sleep.
With cruel gentle hands he guided me back through the town, even carrying me a short distance like a child cradled in his arms. My arms hurt as I pulled them close to me. I knew he wanted me to wrap them around him as a display of affection, but I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.
As we passed the remains of the secondary school I forced civility and asked to be put down and to walk. Staring, I watched the thin and beaten prisoners clearing the rubble away. Men with guns and Kevlar vests surrounded the perimeter, barking orders and directing their work. When one dropped to his knees and then collapsed, he was dragged away and replaced with a woman who sobbed continually. My captor stopped then and watched me, watching them.
The woman: her hair had been cut off, all of it, not just below her ears but shaved to the scalp. It looked alien and wrong. She wore the same yellow tracksuit bottoms and a white tee shirt as the others, and within moments of being thrown to the floor she started to work; scooping up armfuls of rubble and throwing them into the wheelbarrow at her side. Taking my hand in his he guided me away. I looked back and she saw me. Her large brown eyes full of tears, defiance, scorn and, disgust. Lowering my gaze the heat of her hatred travelled across the distance between us, burning me from the inside out.
He took me back to his room where he continued the daily ritual of applying cream to my back. I didn’t cry or sob again, no tears fell. He’d had his pound of soul and I wouldn’t give him anymore. I sat listlessly as he massaged the brand. I hadn’t seen it; I didn’t want to see it. It was sign that I was property, an emblem which stripped the last of my liberties and chipped away at the wall I had built around my sanity.
At the same time every day he asked me a question about my life. If I refused to answer, he refused to feed me and refused me water. With the pain in my back, the constant hunting and my general apathy, I’d given in after two days. I was weak. I told him the name of my husband, Stephen, the name of our cat, my favourite colour, blue. He laid me across his lap like a child and rubbed my back, touching my tattoo – he did this every day. Tracing the lines of the butterfly. I couldn’t stop shaking, no matter how hard I tried. His touch made me feel sick, I hated him more than ever when he asked the question:
“Do you miss him?”
What a question. The sharp flare of pain in my back as he touched me was nothing compared to the tight agony in my chest. Did I miss him?
I’d answered my question. He didn’t ask anymore and after he applied a fresh bandage he opened a tin and fed me the canned fruit. Good little doggy! I’d performed my master’s command and now I received my treat. With each mouthful I repeated my name to myself over and over again.
“Are you awake?”
I looked up from between my knees; I still refused to sleep on the bed, even though the tightness and scabbing on my back made it painful to sit against the wall. As I stared he smiled and reached down. I didn’t know what to do but, remembering who I was, I took his hand and he pulled me to my feet. A sharp pull on my back made me grimace. He turned me around and pulled up my top. I didn’t resist.
“How does it feel?”
Why, suddenly, did he care? I didn’t have the strength to play games. I was tired, hungry, in pain and I desperately wanted this to end.
“It hurts.” My reply. Truth is easier than a lie. I am Anna.
Turning me back round, he ran a hand through my hair and stepped closer. I froze, and he noticed. Grabbing my chin he lifted my head and lowered his face to mine. That smell, again that smell. I tried to twist away but he tightened his grip and I stilled.
“Anna,” he murmured. I closed my eyes. Better that I didn’t see him, that way I could imagine I was somewhere else, with someone else; that I was someone else. His hot breath was on my face and the shaking started again. He noticed that too and stroked my arms in a calming gesture: making it worse. As his lips touched my cheek and his stubble grazed my skin, I retched. Another win for him. He stopped and let go of my arms – I hadn’t expected that, and opened my eyes. I couldn’t sense any anger in him.
He left the room and I heard the dull click of the lock. I was alone. Alone. This was the first time he had left me completely alone and I stood there aimlessly. Finally taking a proper inventory of my surroundings, I walked round, all round the whole ten feet. There were no drawers, no boxes nor cupboards, only three chairs, a bucket, the small table and the bed. I sat on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Was this my life now? A prisoner with no chance of freedom and a master with no name? Looking up, white and grey sky spread across the glass of the window. I stretched the chain and stood on tip-toes, pulling myself up. The tops of the ruined buildings cut into the sky, scarring the clean lines with their jagged edges. Piling up the bedding I stood higher and saw the streets below, people, it seemed full of people, people milling and weaving through the narrow walkways. Women, like me, grouped together and ushered by armed men, heads bowed and hands clasped together: no chains though. The men laughed and joked, and there were children, boys, playing football against the wall of the church. Two more women passed, alone, un-chaperoned and giggling with linked arms. One held up their hand and the glint of a diamond winked up at me. They were young, younger than me and seemed so … happy. I stared and watched the world pass by until the emptiness was too much. Lying on the bed I closed my eyes. The mattress was soft and caressed my back. It was blissful.
I didn’t hear the lock turn or the door open, I was lost in the first real sleep I’d had in weeks – months even, for he hadn’t plucked me from a life of ease and luxury. In the wilderness deep sleep was an unwanted indulgence.
It was the weight on the bed that woke me and I scrambled up, sitting with my back to the wall and my knees tucked in. My brand throbbed. I wouldn’t lie down near him.
He carried a bag, a designer bag in pristine condition. I remember seeing it in a magazine once. I coveted it then; now, not so much.
“For you.” He handed me the bag and I nodded. The words stuck in my throat but I said them anyway.
He watched as I held it at arm’s length. Did he want me to open it? Part of me was curious while the small defiant side of me wanted to throw it back at him. But that hadn’t turned out well for me in the past. So I opened it and looked.
It was full of toiletries and clothes. I blinked in case they disappeared and I was in fact still asleep. They didn’t, and I was awake. I don’t know which was worse. I pulled out the first top, a blue tee-shirt, immaculate like his own clothes. As I went through the bag he sat next to me, just staring, watching me. He had brought shampoo and toothpaste, a small tub of face cream and make-up. Make-up? I looked at him with the lipstick and mascara in my hand. Smiling, he left again, locking the door.
I hadn’t used shampoo in over a year. I unscrewed the bottle and sniffed: coconut, sweet and inviting. I remembered drinking coconut milk with Stephen once, on our honeymoon. Glancing at my finger I frowned. The tan line had gone; the once pale band of skin reminding me of my vows had faded away. I hadn’t noticed when it happened. My frown deepened and the door clicked.
He returned with a bucket of warm water. Beckoning me he sat on a chair and waited. I hesitated; did he mean to wash me? I walked robotically to him. It was natural now to do as I was told and, though I struggled to resist, he continued to chip, chip, chip away at my defences. I knelt down, my chain snaking along the floor, and he knelt beside me as though we were both about to pray. Removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves, he bent me over the bucket and, scooping up water in his cupped hands, he gently rinsed my hair. The angle at which he forced me pulled at my back, but the sensation of warm water trickling across my skin and down my face soothed the aches and I found myself closing my eyes with a kind of pleasure.
I sensed him leave my side and then return. There was the smell of coconut again. His fingers massaged my scalp and my skin crawled. I still pictured striking out at him, clawing his face, digging my fingers into his eyes, but I didn’t. I needed strength for that.
“Do you like the clothes?”
I had to answer, I couldn’t nod, and there was only one answer I could give; truth shouldn’t come into my consideration, only pragmatism. Leaning over a bucket of water with my captor washing my hair, there was only one answer.
“Yes,” I paused and remembered. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He rinsed my hair and wrung the water from it. “How long were you alone?”
The question of the day; he had changed the rules. I was trapped. I couldn’t ignore it and he knew that. Clever, I’d forgotten the first rule of combat; never underestimate your enemy.
“Were you lonely?”
Cheat! That was two questions. I remained quiet as he used a threadbare towel to rub my head. I knew he expected an answer, and that I had to give him one, but the truth was that I didn’t know if I was lonely. I missed certain people, certain things, but lonely?
“I don’t know.”
“Why do you not talk to me?”
“You hurt me,” I replied, quicker than I meant to. Did he expect us to be friends? The man without a name, without compassion and, to judge from his eyes, without a soul? I bit my lip in annoyance and crawled out of his grasp. The towel slipped to the floor and my coconut scented hair fell around my face.
“I protect you.” He still knelt and I stared at him in confusion, unsure if he truly believed the lie that came from his lips.
“You hurt me!” I spat. Gracious, gracious, the words bounced around my mind but I angrily pushed them to one side. Damn Anna, damn being gracious! The rage was back, it had been quelled by my brand but now it returned and I stood up in fury and lunged towards him. I would scratch his eyes now -anything to stop him staring at me.
He expected that, I think, for he grabbed both my wrists. I howled like an alley-cat, but he didn’t try to silence me, not this time. Beat me! I wanted him to do it; the anger needed sating once more. But he didn’t and that made me angrier.
His grip tightened as he tripped me. I landed heavily on my back and cried out in pain. He straddled me and I continued to growl and fight back – maybe I should have done this at the start, maybe I should never have given up. He pinned my arms above my head, knocking over the bucket of water.
“Enough.” He took my wrists in one of his hands and placed the other over my mouth. I tried to bite but he pressed down firmly. “I protect you, you need taking care of.”
I stilled again and my eyes widened. He removed his hand and I spat at him. His patience snapped and he backhanded my face. That’s more like it!
“That’s more like it,” I repeated aloud, kicking and bucking. “Beat me, you coward.” He raised a hand again and hit my face once more. Harder this time; I tasted blood and felt my teeth rattle. Then, suddenly everything drained from me again. The pain, the anger, my resistance; it seeped away like the water slipping between the floorboards and I stopped fighting. I waited for the next blow, but instead he leant over and kissed my cheek again, the same place he had kissed that morning, and then stood up.
“Get washed and changed.”
I did. I was weak. I was Anna.
He took me hunting again: we didn’t speak. My lip and eye had swollen but he paid me no attention and when we returned that night he didn’t feed me or give me water. I knew I could last two days. I would win this round. He left me again that night, and when he returned I sat on the floor with my head between my knees and pretended to sleep while he stared at me.
Then, from outside, I heard a new voice call up to him.
“We need you, Daniel.”
Daniel. I knew his name. Daniel.