from a work in progress
Towns at rest, people going home, intermittent patches of glitter and dark everywhere, all the little things that make life up were dancing restlessly through her lashes. Head leaning against the car window, Kara felt wide awake with fear and curiosity. Houses rolled past her like a tracking shot in a film, blurring and disappearing from view the very next moment. But they didn’t hold her interest for long. The passenger seat (the safe haven) and speed (a delicious break from the reality of the moment) were half-assing their jobs too. On the other side of the car, Tomás kept giving sighs of helpless irritation, distracting her from her attempt to stay distracted. ‘Damn you,’ she mouthed silently to herself, and buried her face in her coat.
He wouldn’t look at her. Driving fast without saying a word, his eyes were nothing like silence. Bright and alert, like a small animal that just realised a much bigger one is close, his mind was racing. Now she knew, and she wouldn’t keep quiet. He had to show her things he was not allowed to show anyone, because now she would go back and question everything out loud. If only he could drive fast enough to lose himself in a vortex. Anything bigger than him would do, because for once, Tomás did not want the blame, the trouble, and the girl.
Fidgeting in her seat, she finally turned to him. He looked tormented. She didn’t like real life complications much, and would have been happy to forget about this story if only he asked. If only he asked for anything at all. But his stubbornness worried her. Life in the New World was simple, and that quality got to her in time. Now, her mind was a myriad of thoughts, all revolving around the insane things he seemed to believe, whether due to heavy drinking or never receiving the treatment.
From life, she had picked a few things to like, but they did not have tormented faces: highways, rooftops, public swimming pools – all at night, houses with big gardens, flats up high on the last level, oranges, tea, red flowers, coloured lighters, sitting by the fire, large windows and larger beds, sundown, sunrise and sometimes, not going to bed at all, electric people, and the lives she could live if nobody loved her enough to tie her down. But a sad man she did not know how to handle, for she had never seen one before. They were all in the stories she read, and they were only stories, after all. Unless they weren’t, and unless his wasn’t either. She finally let the alcohol kick in and her thoughts disperse, and shut her eyes.
Much later, when she opened her eyes, Kara realised they weren’t up in the mountains anymore. They were driving across a vast, windy field with no trees or houses on either side of the road, at what seemed like the speed of light and straight into nowhere.
Her lips were dark and dry and she craved a glass of water. She had barely muttered a few words when she remembered he would not tell a thing until they got there. That was what he said, that he would not talk, and she could not fight it.
Well, to hell with it.
“Pull over,” she managed.
“Oh no I won’t,” he said, as if he had had the answer ready for her the whole time. “There is nothing to do here. If you’re going to report me, I might as well drive you all the way up and let you have a good look at what you’ve done first.”
“Kara, you’ll have to trust me on this one, alright?”
“Listen, I wouldn’t… why would I report you, if you stop driving like an animal? I don’t even know what to report you on, other than talking nonsense at me while drunk.”
He slowed down, but still – without a word.
“Damn your professionalism, Tomás! Just tell me what the heck is going on! Now stop this stupid car and let me catch my brea –”
“Wait a sec.”
Tomás stopped the car and looked her up and down with wide, inquisitive eyes. It all took a couple of seconds and took her by surprise.
“Thanks for stopping the car,” she smiled.
She was frightened as all hell. He would not know that.
He waited a couple of seconds before nodding slowly in her direction and taking one out.
“Why do you think I’d –” she lit up hers, then passed him the lighter, watching his every move in hope for clues – “report you? You didn’t take me out drinking. I sneaked out on you. I wouldn’t report on my own bad behaviour.”
Tomás laughed to himself, shaking his head slowly in disbelief.
“If this is the case, what if I reported you, then?”
“Roles reversed?” she smiled. “I’d lie and say you lied, I guess.”
Tomás took a deep drag and opened the window to let in the crisp, cold night air. Smiling his sad little smile, but visibly calmer, he was the most good looking man Kara had ever seen. Partly because of his gentle, melancholic ways, and partly because she hadn’t looked at many men like she looked at him.
There were troubled waters beneath the surface, and she would never swim in them, and neither would others, ever. But he would dive deep. She knew, because despite the hide-and-seek games, there was more depth in Tomás than she could make sense of. That in itself was incredibly exciting for somebody who had imagined people like him their entire life, while devouring book after book.
She felt slightly shy and self-conscious, yes. After all, it was his job to dive deep into her world and not the other way round. But the whole thing was whirling nicely round in her head, for it meant she’d get to see him a little while longer. Being afraid of him didn’t cross her mind anymore. Funny how that works, she thought.
He seemed to think about it for some time, but eventually put his arm through hers. She could feel him shivering.
His voice, like everything else up there, was chilling and unfamiliar, but surprisingly moving.
Love at first listen, then.
Rearranging herself in her seat, she let her head back and closed her eyes. Hell or the closest to Heaven she’d ever been, she was in for the thrill now that he seemed to be on her side. This was one of those moments she read about in her grandmother’s books from what seemed – no, was – another world, the Old World.
It was her and this man and their complicity and their bodies, and fingers, and thoughts intertwined in the night, the cigarettes and alcohol and the lies they’d just promised each other to tell to save their skins. The bad and the worse, the sense of being alive with each other far away from home, a place that felt home to neither, last night, tonight, tomorrow night…
A wave of warmth washed over her, then a cold shiver, then more, many, many more. To no surprise, smoking his cigarette in perfect silence, Tomás was waiting for this moment to come. His dark eyes watched closely as she suddenly jumped from her seat, coming to where he was. I’ve been waiting, they seemed to say.
“My God, you weren’t joking. I didn’t take you seriously back there. I should have – right? Oh, please tell me that I shouldn’t have.”
The night walked in, dark powerful, magical.
“If I knew you couldn’t tell when I mean something, I wouldn’t have bothered driving you all the way up here. But now that we got this far, what do you say, shall I show you what your imagination has given birth to?”
The principle the New World worked on was very simple, yet it had countless unexpected implications: the bad had to be eradicated. It was a very noble idea and it had been around ever since Eve ate the beautiful apple. Except, of course, it never worked. The bad could be swept under the carpet, no doubt, but the carpet was still in the house. As the good flourished, the bad was only just around the corner, the shadow on the wall in the dark, the bump under the covers, the one thing nobody would have guessed from under the cleverly layered, multi-stranded stories.
In Kara’s case, the bad was – surprise, surprise – not inside her, but out there. Up there. Upper. There we go, his eyes confirmed.
She gasped in horror when he put his hand on her knee.
“Welcome to everything the New World has kept from you.”
to be continued