If given the opportunity to stand with me or run away; my feet wouldn’t hesitate to leave me behind. After a double shift in shoes so worn through, they can’t legally be referred to as shoes, my feet are done. Two months ago, this was not the life I planned for. Yet, here I am, killing it. By “It”, I mean my feet. By “feet” I mean my soul. There’s a reason they call it the “soles of the feet”.
Just a couple more yards until the entrance of my apartment complex. Each step feels like I’m walking barefoot through hot coals. I want to painfully run the last few yards. Instead, I walk calmly and keep my head down. It’s a strategic attempt to not attract attention to myself. Last night, I saw someone get held up on this slab of concrete.
Once through the doors of the building, I sprint past the blood-stained carpet, the trash lined halls, up to the third floor. Relief washes through me when the door to my apartment is bolted shut. My home is small, dingy, and filled with the sound of the city. However, it’s warm, dry and it’s all mine.
“First things first.” I kick my shoes off with glee. My stomach growls. My body aches. I’ll be able to unwind after I’ve had a hot soak. My skill set and stamina thrived in an office environment. Now, I’m having to adapt by fetching coffee, carrying plates, and cleaning up spills. My days and nights spent waitressing were never life goals. Every day I remind myself to be grateful for the job. It’s hard to have gratitude when I’m permanently exhausted.
The best thing about this apartment is the deep wide tub. It’s the perfect shape, that allows me to relax into the hot healing liquid. A few moments of peaceful breathing fill the air. My peace is short lived. Glass shattering and loud bickering echoes through the walls of the bathroom. Vibration ripples in the water when their door slams. This is a nightly occurrence from the couple below me.
There is only one person whose comfort I seek. My mom would know just what to say to keep me afloat. That’s the job of moms, to make everything better. Is it not? My mom is the only person I can’t talk to. If I could have talked to her, she would have advised against me upending my life for the reason that I did. Bathwater rushes past my head as I submerge myself. If you cry beneath the water, are there actually tears?
I often wonder if she can see me now? Does she watch as I struggle to make ends meet? Does she watch as I struggle to take care of myself? Is she sad because I have no one in my life? Is she disappointed in me? Or has she turned away from me completely?
The hunger in my stomach takes over, forcing me out of the water. My heavy aching muscles make their way into the kitchen. I’m hoping there is still a cup of Ramen left. To have something warm sitting in my belly is just what I need. My hope dies when I look through the cupboards. They are bare just like the inside of my fridge.
At least I’m stocked up on peanut butter and jelly. Thankfully, I still have two slices of bread. Unfortunately, the butter knives rest at the bottom of the sink.
“A steak knife might be overkill for PBJ.” At least they’re clean.
My eager fingers rush to spread a thick layer of peanut butter in all directions of the bread. I hastily make a design while squeezing the jelly bottle. The two slices smush together. If there was an art to making a PBJ, I would not be winning an award.
The handle of the knife is held firmly in one hand while the other is holding the sandwich in place. Quickly, I slice across the sandwich. My chest has a sharp gasp of breath as the knife sputters onto the floor. A sting radiates from my index finger as a thin red line forms across it. Red droplets form at the base of the cut. I watch in a daze as drop after drop falls onto the bread.
I spin around in panic. My heart seizes with fear. A rushing thunder fills my ears. I want to run. My feet refuse to move. I’m able to glance at the entrance. The door to my apartment remains shut with the bolt in place, untouched. The only logical explanation is that I’m so exhausted my brain has put all rationality aside.
One black-haired braid and one purple-haired braid sit behind two pointed ears. One purple iris and one black iris stare back at me. The crisscross of colors would be distracting enough if not for the two white horns coming out of the top of the head. The head of a girl standing in my kitchen.
“Are you… gonna eat that,” she asks me slowly after minutes of silent staring. It’s one thing for my brain to conjure the image of a black and purple-haired girl with horns, out of nowhere. For it to conjure up a high-pitched whimsical voice to go with it, is just not possible.
She points to the plate with my blood dripped PBJ. My gaze remains on the girl. Slowly, I reach to the side to grab the plate. Despite the rapid beat in my ears, I’m able to hold steady onto the plate as I extend it to her.
She eagerly accepts the plate from my hand. There’s no sound of it crashing to the floor, so she must truly be here in my kitchen. A girl with two white horns in my kitchen. She eats the sandwich as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
“My name is Nika. What’s yours?” She asks between mouthfuls of peanut butter and jelly.
“Um… Aubrey,” I hesitate, unsure. I have no idea what’s going on. At this point, I can only assume my name is Aubrey.
“You have anything to drink Aubrey? That made me thirsty,” she proceeds to the fridge. She hems with disappointment. A sigh I know all too well. My unexpected need to move have left my pockets bare.
“I… I can get you a glass of water,” I manage to force out.
“Nah, I’m good. Being thirsty is not gonna kill me. You got a lot of open space here,” she quips. She opens and closes all the cupboards and drawers. Maybe she was hoping to find something more to consume.
“Did I take the last of your food? I just assumed it was meant for me.” She walks back in front of me. She looks underwhelmed by my kitchen pantry. No need to tell her -the non-apparent figure of my imagination- that PB&Js, Ramen, and tap water are all I can afford.
“It’s fine, I wasn’t that hungry.” The noise erupting from my stomach this entire time proved me a liar. Nika could be a guest of my imagination or an intruder, either way it’s best not to be rude.
“Well I’d hate to eat and run but…” she tilts her head and is gone. Nothing but open space where she stood.
The lack of nourishment has made me hallucinate. I consume a spoonful of peanut butter and two glasses of water. I might have to take the bite and get some decent food on my shelves. Once I build back up my savings, I’ll be able to splurge. I fall asleep dreaming of a steak dinner with a rumble in my tummy.
The warmth of the sun crawls over me. Inch by inch, waking up every fiber of my being. Today was supposed to be a day off but I offered to pick up a mid-shift. At least, I can sleep in a little. Unfortunately, nature calls too soon. Despite the warning to my body that we needed to sleep in today.
I had swiped some tea from work. The cheap kind that comes in bulk. My boss thought it strange when I asked to have some but I’m glad she did. This generic cup of caffeinated tea is my breakfast.
While the kettle fills with water, I notice that the dirty dishes in the sink are gone. I know I didn’t clean them. In a sleep-filled daze, I wait by the stove as the kettle warms. A yellow slip of paper pinned to the fridge pulls me out of my standing slumber.
Sorry I ate the last of your food.
The last of my food?
The image of a black and purple-haired girl with white horns fills my mind. My thumb runs across a line on the top of my finger. The cut has crusted over. Following an urge, I yank open the fridge to find eggs, milk, cheese, bagels, vegetables, butter, and steak! A bowl of fruit sits on the counter. I had walked past it twice and never even noticed. I rip open through all the cupboard doors to find a fully stocked kitchen.
“This… this can’t be real.” I feel a wave of emotion cascade through me. This is the most food I’ve seen in a month. I reach for a green apple from the bowl.
“Feels real.” My grip on the apple is firm. I bounce it in my hand a couple of times before taking a bite. A crisp sweetness hits my tongue. The sourness tickles the back of my senses. The juice dribbles from my bottom lip.
The heaviness that’s been sitting on my chest feels lighter. It’s silly to think that a pantry full of food will build back my life. Thanks to Nika, I might have the strength to do it. I just need to figure out how she got here.
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