ONE: ANGELS ARE HARD TO LOVE
Awakening Madness Series Book 1
“Some lose all mind and become soul, insane.
Some lose all soul and become mind, intellectual.
Some lose both and become accepted.”
HER: wondering who she was…
It was over.
Another meaningless day was over. Relieved, I counted my 55 steps of something like joy, still bothered by the fact that there were 17 days left until the end of my internship. I didn’t know what was coming next, and I had no clue how crazy the following weeks were going to be.
I stuffed my heels into my backpack, replacing them with my colourful trainers. A surge of people caught up with me as I leaned against one of the columns in the huge foyer. I hid behind it. I like hiding places. It’s surprising how many dull spaces turn out to be great hiding places. My skin, for example.
He was walking among the crowd, eyes fixed straight ahead, as always. Or, should I say, as he had done the previous five times, I watched him from behind the column. An aura of superiority and a crown of people surrounded him.
I could detect a rhythm.
One of his suited, nervous followers was insistently trying to drag his attention to some documents. He shot a contemptuous glare at the man as if he was looking at a cockroach. I shrilled in annoyance as I recognised the folder I had copied earlier. The mistakes in the financial forecast were irritating, obvious, and there were dozens of them. Glowing. Burning my brain.
How could they abuse numbers like that? Damn it!
His arrogant gaze crossed mine. Or rather, his arrogant gaze sliced into mine. The rhythm of his steps changed. The rhythm of my breath changed as well.
A wave of shivers down my spine made me hide behind the column again.
HIM: fighting with himself…
Another idiot was shoving documents under my nose, struggling for my attention. I didn’t remember his name. It didn’t matter. They were all doing their best to be equally useless; it was difficult for me to tell one from the other.
They merged. They bored me. I despised them.
Their stupid mistakes were driving me crazy. I wondered if they made them on purpose, or whether I was supposed to accept that this was the limit of their pathetic minds.
Three years, five months, and thirteen days! I have another 1259 effing days left in this role I am playing. At least there’s a specified end date…
On my way out, I tried my best not to think about the unbearable mediocrity that surrounded me. My brain cells were screaming, as if they were dying. A rage of intolerance crept up my bones. And then, suddenly, I was startled. My rhythm was interrupted.
A strange pair of eyes was peering at me from a distance. They slid down my bones, scratching and burning. I managed to pull myself together and continued coldly counting the remaining steps, my eyes fixed on the exit.
THEM: not suspecting a thing…
An incomprehensible vibration. You just know. No logic, no arguments. You are simply aware that something is about to happen. You are on fire.Goosebumps cover your skin. Intuitive sensations within you wave their red flags. Usually, people ignore it. Or maybe it’s just twisted people, like those two, who tend to ignore it.
They didn’t even suspect it was the beginning of a dark story. Madness. As with any other madness in the world, this one had its beginning, contained in that very second.
For no logical reason, the same echoed in their minds:
The usual clacking of the train, over and over. Another morning on the metro, which smelled, looked, and sounded exactly like the morning before. The absolute lack of novelty raised questions of whether this day and the last were actually one and the same. I already suspected that this was the main purpose of life: similar days, repeated, so people wouldn’t get too confused. Routine life carries the label of being “grey” for a reason. It is quite logical that it would be assigned a trivial colour with no vividness at all. Unremarkable, even.
I was counting: a knock to the left, two knocks to the right. The familiar rhythm of the wheels. Once again, I searched through the passengers for something new. But again, they merged into a dull, collective image, the same as yesterday, no different from the day before. The faceless view was making me sleepy, and the train showed no intention of surprising me with any unexpected bumps. All it would give me was its usual rhythm. I enjoyed creating a pattern of the sounds. My attention would drift away. The cacophony in my twisted mind would still for a while. The questions, the arguments, the debates—they would all stop. The entities in my head would keep silent. Even loquacious Reason swayed wordlessly to the rhythm.
My eyes squinted as I scanned the general reality around me. It was impossible for me to comprehend many of its details, and I often pondered on them. This morning as well, of course, since it was exactly like yesterday’s morning. I was thinking:
Smooth, monotonous, uniform sounds. Same as people. People manage to be equally mundane, even if they ride on different trains in different directions, well aware of the purpose of routine life: all days must be the same. Maybe that’s what happiness is. People wake up in the morning, start existing, and the most challenging sensation of the day is the flavour of their toothpaste. They probably even frown at it for being provocative. They have resigned themselves to doing exactly the same as yesterday, all the while dreaming of what they will not do tomorrow. This, I guess, is another paradox moulded into an acceptable fact via peoples’ beloved phrase: “It’s normal”. They just love applying this label in the general reality. Or maybe it actually is normal, because such people, like me, have calculated the negligible probability of getting a chance for something more.
Somewhere in my brain, Knowledge coughed in his sophisticated manner. He is my favourite of the entities inhabiting my twisted mind, yet his voice is irritating. It reminds me of a squeaky cartoon character. In fact, they all resemble cartoon characters, but at least the voices of the others are more bearable.
Knowledge’s dry fingers flipped through some pages, then he began to recite even though he didn’t have the slightest idea of the true nature of routine life and normality:
According to the statistics, chances for something more are an exception here. The probability of an uneventful existence is calculated to be very high.
Reason, who is definitely not one of my favourites, broke into the conversation and the entities in my head began an early-morning dialogue:
Existence is a simple sequence. We are at the stage of studying and working, which is followed by family, children, working again, and, finally, a natural ending. But the sequence is not guaranteed. In our case, it is not guaranteed at all.
Knowledge took over:
I confirm! Exact term for existence here: predetermined. I accept another term as well: doomed.
The rhythm of the train was disturbed. The machine rushed into the part of the route that I despised the most: an old tunnel, a weird buzzing sound. The lamps flashed menacingly for twenty-two seconds. I experienced my every-morning encounter with Fear. Panic crept up my bones, ready to attack. My pulse quickened. Struggling to breathe evenly, I clenched my hands into fists. I began to silently recite numerical sequences. My phobias made everyone in my head hide in their corners. Only skinny Confidence kept whispering from somewhere:
It’s just dark! It’s just dark!
Squeezing my eyelids, I repeated silently after her.
‘NIA! Hello!’ Andre nudged me. ‘You drifted away again! Come on, get back to reality and help me.’
‘She drifts away all the time! Being in our reality is more of an exception to her.’
Maddie radiated sex appeal even this early in the morning. She pulled out her insolent smile, too. Her shiny hair resembled a stream of wet tar, and in the depths of her bright green eyes there was something that made me sick.
I stared at Andre’s hands. My ordinary boyfriend had the habit of exercising his ordinary brain by engaging with the various numerical and logic-based puzzles in the newspaper. His ride was short. He usually got off on the fourth stop. Maddie on the sixth, and I on the ninth, which was downtown. After leaving the metro, each one of us headed towards our respective internship. The last torture before graduation.
‘Fibonacci1. A sequence. Can’t you see it? It’s even more perfect in squares.’ I said after throwing a glance at his newspaper. The lack of comprehension on his face bored me even more than usual, and the tone of his voice showed me that he had noticed.
‘No, Nia, no! I cannot see it. Not everyone is so…’ He was silent for a moment, trying to pick the right label. ‘…weird! Normal people don’t see patterns, they don’t count their footsteps, and they don’t wrinkle their noses at even numbers.’
‘They don’t drift away, they communicate like proper human beings, and they try to act in acceptable ways, or they at least know what the social norms of behaviour are. And they don’t get mental blocks, only you do!’ Maddie made sure to emphasise every word sarcastically.
‘Listen, sweetheart. You were lucky to get an internship at the president’s office. The guys at the university must have worked hard to find a place for you. You can at least try to be like everyone else. Don’t annoy people, blend in. If you act weird there as well, you’re going to be fired! It doesn’t matter if they want you to carry coffees around, or copy documents, this is a chance for you to have a job.’
Andre was mentoring me, driven by his ambitions of an orderly, meaningless, simple life. I found even the monotonous clatter of the train more fascinating than his voice. At the last moment, I had been refused the state scholarship for education in England, which was promised to me. Because I had missed some important deadlines, I ended up in the ridiculous Political Science programme. A whole portion of my life was thoroughly lost on studying political elites, families, ideas, and systems. The expectation was that all this crap was going to be useful. And now, apparently, I was also expected to express gratitude for the stupid internship. My boyfriend was somewhat right that I should become more socially acceptable, but I wasn’t coping at all. In my mind, I was indignant.
And what exactly am I supposed to learn from this internship? The Art of Normality, Ten Proven Ways to Depersonalise Yourself, How to Effectively Turn Today into Yesterday? Or maybe they offer some other priceless skills?’
I sighed, taking my bored eyes off him.
‘You’d better listen to Andre. The chances for people like us are scarce, but for people like you there are no chances at all, freak! You’d rather carry coffees around at the president’s office than take endless shifts God knows where for a miserable salary, right? That’s how things go in the real world, though I don’t know what they look like in yours.’ Maddie agreed with Andre’s life philosophy as she sipped her coffee.
‘Obviously, our notions of “a chance” are diametrically opposed. Maddie, your conclusion lacks arguments again. You lack arguments all the time. I can confirm that it is statistically possible that you both are right, but it’s only a hypothesis. At this stage, I cannot calculate the exact probability. Plus, I do put effort into my work. I put in a lot of effort into striving for my brain cells not to die.’ I replied, staring at her with my usual even voice, but it often sounded as if I was scolding.
‘I don’t get your bullshit, you know! And I’m telling you for the thousandth time: don’t stare at me like that, you give me the creeps!’ Maddie hissed with her eyes narrowed. I knew perfectly well how much she hated the provocation of my expressionless black eyes, and I enjoyed teasing her.
Maddie and Andre’s talk gave me even more tension than the voices in my head. I was most annoyed whenever she spoke, even though we had been living together for almost a year already. This happened by chance, not by will, after my only girlfriend ran away. Sharing an apartment with Maddie was another one of the absurdities in my life. The only useful thing about her was her good knowledge about the general reality, but she bored me with her prosaic instructions and her relentless quest to fit into people’s most faulty patterns. I didn’t enjoy her insults either, but I had long since stopped taking offence.
Like you don’t drift away to your own make-believe world. I know what the chance you crave for looks like: you put it between your legs, and it will sort out your every problem. You’re even more warped and inane than everyone else! Contempt had woken up. He was secretly evaluating Maddie with his white eyes, and I smirked at his conclusion.
Unlike me, Maddie and Andre were comfortable with reality’s distortions and banality. They never complained about our predetermined future. Andre was actually looking forward to it: he was graduating soon, and after the internship he was to do the same thing for 40 years, earning barely enough money to live. He would be carefully resigned, diligently dreaming of the things he was not to do tomorrow, absolutely precise in complying with the main purpose of a routine life. He was perfectly able to grind the days into a homogeneous mixture of time. Andre had even found a solution to the challenging toothpaste issue: he used a fruit-flavoured one to lessen the sensation. He and Maddie both shared the same enviable obedience to fate, possessing no desire for something more. They would grow old according to the most ordinary pattern, replacing real life with simple existence, and none of that terrified them. Moreover, it did not seem to terrify the people on the metro, in the streets, anywhere I observed. They acted as if they had numerous lives ahead and didn’t care that time in this life was ticking away. Although I was disturbed by this insane fact, I had to admit that it was either normal, or it was some mass method for achieving happiness, or at least an imitation of it. I still had not finished analysing this irrational process.
Sometimes, Maddie took the wrong path. She didn’t bother to conceal the hope that her beautiful face and flawless body would push her into the right rich arms. There, she expected to find something extraordinary, or rather something more than just an ordinary life. She still lacked arguments, of course, but then again, she was struggling with that in general. Although I was doing my best not to reproach or judge her, our disagreements about her maddening absence of logic were not rare. In our Eastern European country, after the fall of communism and the mafia thundering about for years, the rich-man-who-buys-a-beautiful-woman pattern was a common thing. I didn’t know what the situation was in other countries, but such a disproportionate deal was a desired goal here, an aspiration for many girls. Young Eastern European women found that the chance for something more was limited to one of the following plans: to find a way out on their own, escape and find a rich guy, or escape after finding him.
The weather was not good for walking, so I reluctantly took the bus for two stops. It had been raining for weeks. The thick autumn fog reminded me of routine life’s colour. It was meant to extinguish people’s last sparkle of brightness. Once again, the repulsive, dirty, gloomy city tortured my mind. The normality of the world tied my throat into a knot, tighter and tighter, especially when I was alone. In fact, my being alone was relative, because most of the time—among people or not—the entities in my head kept me company. But at the end of it all, I still had no place to hide from the general reality. Its lack of logic was killing me; the irrationality of the masses tortured me. For my hyper-rational mind, people and their behaviour were an incomprehensible mixture of insanity and paradoxes. Without realising it, I was talking to myself again while I was watching traces of mud speeding down the reflection of my face.
What if they are right? Maybe I am not entitled to the chance for something more. Why would I be? A not-all-there girl at the bottom of the social ladder. Opportunities: none. Advantages: smart, but there is a probability that this won’t come in handy in the general reality. Disadvantages: not smart enough to understand how to avoid the predetermined existence. What is my motivation for wanting this? Fear of normality? Definitely, it is on the list. New question: what is “normal”? I can’t even understand how they decide where to put the labels of normality. Damn it! My goal is to escape from something, yet I can’t even figure out exactly what that something is. What the…?!
Running my fingers over my temples, only the twitching of my lips showed the chaos of my thoughts. Knowledge initiated another one of his speeches. His squeaky voice gave me a start:
Exact term: paradox.
I jumped and looked around.
I drifted away! Again! Damn my twisted mind!
I didn’t know what annoyed me more: missing my stop again, or the fact that it was pouring outside. I never checked the weather forecast because I did not want the expectation it would give me—the expectation of order in my day. I didn’t like the order, not at all. However, my revolt against the umbrella was nothing but a provocation to my luck.
When I entered the president’s office, I was wet, late, and freezing. Right from the start, Thursday promised not to bring me any success. A clap of thunder echoed in my mind:
As always, I started walking with my right foot, tapping the fingers of my right hand. As I took my second step—annoying because of its even number—my boss informed me that I was to take up the duties of the chief coffee carrier for as long as necessary. At least she gave me a couple of minutes to squeeze the water out of my hair. Maddie always insisted that mascara was an absolute must for work and that I should wear some, so now dark, irregular-shaped streams were flowing down to the middle of my cheeks, resisting my attempts to erase them. I pulled some black particles off my lashes and I watched in the mirror how moisture gathered in my slanted eyes. Knowledge was quick to provide information:
Chemical substances are entering the mucous membrane. Saline is being released. Exact term: tears.
I snorted at his new burst of babbling:
Thank you for the useless information. It’s like pouring rain, except there is no umbrella to wield against it!
Over the years, I had gotten used to the entities in my head, to their constant chattering, to communicating with them. I was not sure when or even if I had created them. Maybe they had been living there from the very beginning, or maybe I had forgotten how they had appeared. I liked Knowledge’s chatter best, so my white teeth shone behind a smile.
Despite being a substitute in charge of the coffee and discreetly trembling, I was not spared from the endless copying and carrying of folders up and down the corridors. Already, I was convinced that this was the most sought-after duty of the administrative staff. They quickly learn that the higher the piles of paper you carry around, the less likely it is for someone to bother you with real work. They make sure to maintain a busy and overwhelmed air around them, and at some point, it remains stuck on their faces forever. Curiosity kept wondering how they could put so much effort into merging into one being; he couldn’t figure out how they achieved it. Another thing that provoked his interest was the mass longing for Friday. Employees began dreaming out loud about it from Monday morning, and the whole process resembled some occult ritual. I was tormented by the question of how this behaviour had become normal. I observed with interest the older employees as they pretended to be busy. Now I could tell by their facial expressions that they were anxious. Behind the sticky expression, there was tension and nervousness about all that was new in the general reality.
I was a child when our country became democratic. Since then, until a few months ago, it was ruled by an undercover communist, who pretended to be a democrat. During the darkest years, he was even a distinguished mafia boss. A nasty man with an evil face. Everyone who had been in their twenties since 1990 had protested in the squares against him at some point. Rumour has it that many were beaten by the police, and they were proud of that. A similar story was happening again now.
I was twenty-three. For a brief moment, I had also experienced the chance to be rebellious. I guess my recent bouts of demonstrating at protests had also helped the coming to power of the new president. Sixteen years older than me, he was probably the youngest president in the world. He was one-third enigmatic and two-thirds peculiar, and he seemed to be determined to stop the decadence of the country. His face never showed any emotions, and yet he gained people’s trust in some inexplicable way. Behind his back, there was an entire business empire, which was built on quite a lot of question marks. Among them, there was his first-class education, for which us mortals can only dream or sacrifice a kidney. His success was complemented by an enormous family heritage, about which almost nothing was known. Most likely, in addition to a business empire and money, his family had also secured him with membership in the club of the world’s elite. It was clear that the newly elected president lived on top of a mountain of extreme privilege, and he did not care to hide it at all.
He came to the political scene unexpectedly and, to everyone’s surprise, won the election in less than a year. He wiped out the eternal communist president with one wave of his hand, radiating raw composure in every appearance. He seemed to have drawn up his actions in a precise manner, step by step. His plan resembled an engineering project for a sophisticated bridge construction, and he had been following it with maniacal accuracy since day one. That was probably what had attracted the voters of our plundered country, where there were no prospects and no hope. In him, they anticipated someone who could defeat the chaos with sharpness and brutality; someone who could grab the chaos, bend its arms behind its back and extort discipline and prosperity out of it.
The state, which was already under Victor Kaov’s control, was small, yet rather important. Left bloodless after the communists and the mafia, it was now rising again. As soon as he took office, the new president introduced his reasonable policies and began to sketch a horizon for decades to come. Apparently, the special university for privileged people like him taught its students how to rule the world with ease. Then, it sent them off with a Guide to Greatness under their arm.
In my pointless printing room, I was watching Kaov’s short speech to the ministers on TV. I was arranging an odd number of piles of documents, with paper clips in alternating colours. In my struggle with boredom, I found all sorts of ways to create patterns, even if they were elementary. The president was brief, clear and categorical. I wonder how he managed to be that cool and restrained, showing no facial expressions, as if a statue was speaking in this reality, while the true him was in some other, very distant universe. I assumed that he was just meant to be special. There are beings who are destined to live an extraordinary life since birth. Fate gives them the chance of having something more. Confident, arrogant, and embarrassingly focused, Victor Kaov seemed to embody a triumphal march to the throne of the world. Symmetrical, tall, and sombre, he appeared to carry everything that people dream of, but are afraid to possess. His posture demanded worship, probably rightly so, because one could see his dominance, even on TV, after meeting his measured gaze.
I had peeked from behind the columns in the building several times as he had passed, surrounded by his team. Although he looked like a classic bastard, I noticed something peculiar about him. To me, his steps seemed too rhythmic, as if he was counting, and I never distinguished a single expression on his face. His superiority rose like an impregnable wall that could be sensed from a distance. I found this inappropriate for our century.
I was staring in his flat, blue eyes on the screen when Reason started chiding me:
You see? Now this is what a special person looks like! You’ve got to start from somewhere. How about from the chaos of your crazy mind? Learn how to communicate, how to understand people, the norms… After that, all you will need is a good idea to work on. And with a little luck, you’ll get out of here! Are we supposed to rot in this hellhole? Is this all there is for us, Nia?
Reason—annoying, tall and square-headed—was waving his finger inside my brain. Immersed in the nonsense of my work, I was again analysing the likelihood of being given the chance for something more. Actually, the question was not if one is entitled to such a chance, but what one should be like in order to receive it. Born in the right country, in the right family, with the right education and environment? For some people these prerogatives are simply a gift from fate. Their destiny is predetermined in a different way: they automatically find themselves in the middle of the ladder, without even having to stick a single toe in the mud. This phenomenon was also labelled “normal”, though I found it ill-grounded. Confidence, skinny and short, was once again trying to convince me that nothing was predetermined but I wasn’t sure if that was practically true.
Although I belonged to the club of the unprivileged and insignificant, I had scrutinised myself with the utmost precision. I was gifted with a remarkable intellect, extraordinary mind, and useful intuition. Alas, this intuition often contradicted my hyper-rational thinking. I ignored it. My aspirations reached a level of being harmful, and my inclination to challenge myself was even dangerous. I was always tempted to prove myself, too, even though I had long known how pointless that was.
My madness was probably my most distinctive feature. I refracted the world through the prism of this madness, and it was why the world kept trying to refract me. I guess the same happened to everyone who wouldn’t conform to the norms of society, who is unworthy of the “normal” label. I was always quick and explicit, noticing the faulty patterns, the distorted people, and the broken tiles in the general reality, and there were several things that caused me the mental blocks: Fear, normality, voluntary depersonalisation, even numbers. Another one of my many defects was the fact that I tended to drift away whenever I couldn’t find any logic in what was going on around me. There was also a gift from birth that separated me from the world—the “barrier”. I considered it valuable. It was my safest hiding place. An invisible, yet strong, barrier, behind which I could hide myself, and even an elephant if I so wished, leaving only my expressionless black eyes on the other side.
All the endless analyses, arguments, sometimes even clamorous fights between me and the entities in my head seemed to prove that my consciousness stood on the border between healthy and sick. However, I was used to it. I had accepted it all. As I observed normal people, I suspected that there were voices and entities in their heads, too, but I never spoke about this openly. The topic would only bring more critical looks in my direction.
In my reality, I was driven by a desire for a challenging life and a chance for something more. In the general reality though, I found myself with nothing but faint prospects, an annoying boyfriend, hateful accommodation, and constantly being labelled. I forced myself to reduce my desires to specific results, because they are more convenient in the general reality. They call them “goals” there. It is banal to stuff a whole life’s worth of aspiration into a box—because that is what “goals” looked like in my head—but I was doing my best. I fit complete freedom into the image of a giant skyscraper in New York. I wished to escape there, to hide from what was predetermined, from prejudice; to do whatever I wanted, challenge myself and, most of all, to get rid of all the crap that restrained the scale of my mind and myself. I craved the indefinite everything of unlimited possibilities. I assumed that was what happiness looked like, or at least that I would be able to gather data on what happiness really is.
The problematic fact was that I wanted this everything at once, and I was endowed with zero patience. I often argued with ordinary beings who could not understand my hyper-rational mind—that was also an issue. Their weak brains strained me even more than their square perceptions and insults.
My lack of patience, straightforwardness, and inability to communicate had a bad effect in the general reality. As I left the pointless room at the end of the workday, I hissed at my boss that she was killing my brain cells with stupid tasks. She snapped back:
‘Don’t push your luck, girl, or you’ll be out of here in no time! Do you know how many others like you are waiting out there? Who do you think is going to put up with your impudent mouth?’ She waved a menacing finger under my nose.
‘The answer should be easy even for you. It’s obvious. Someone who will appreciate what comes out of my mouth, or who will at least understand what I say.’ I gave her a crooked smirk.
Mind your tone, Nia! The words are not OK, either!
Reason was angry with me for teasing people again.
‘I’m sick of you! You’re unbelievable! Get out of here and learn how to behave!’ She exploded in a high pitch.
‘Bring coffee and water for everyone, quick!’ The chief advisor’s secretary startled her. ‘Come on, move! The meeting has begun!’
We looked at each other and my boss apparently decided to postpone firing me. She rejoiced serving coffee there, as if the temple of pleasure was hidden behind the boardroom door. With her feminine gait, she moved gracefully. She needed help, however, so she shoved a tray full of cups into my hands.
There was an absolute inverse relation between the dexterity of my body and that of my mind. I could prove this with thousands of examples and numerous scars, like the one on the tip of my eyebrow. Focusing on my breathing and clutching the tray, I followed my boss to the boardroom.
More than twenty advisors, ministers, and other important men were conversing around a giant table. A couple of female secretaries and assistants occupied distant chairs by the wall. My head was thundering:
Faulty pattern! Violation of balance! It should be male, female… male, female… male, female… Balance! The current pattern is wrong, it’s ineffective.
Bright lines rushed through my mind as I evaluated the reality before me. Then, all of a sudden, I found a good alternating pattern of the men in the room: one had a blank gaze, the one next to him seemed distressed, then another blank gaze, and another face in distress next to it. I looked through them mockingly, my brain focusing on the perfect succession. As I handed my boss yet another cup of coffee, I finished tracing the sequence of gazes on the long side of the table. To my annoyance, the rhythm was then interrupted by the unreadable face of a statue. I decided to use it as a dividing line for my counting, but for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was speaking in a quick, quiet manner. From this close, he was even more symmetrical with his sharp features, bright skin, and dark radiance. His black hair was carefully slicked back, slightly to the side. He clenched his jaw and I could see the clear outline of the muscles under his stubble beard. But still, even up close, I could not find any definite facial expression.
Why are we staring like this?
Curiosity’s cute voice disturbed the silence in my head. Its crooked eyes were blinking rapidly behind its huge glasses. I shrugged. I did not bother to define the reason, but at least the question helped me to move my interest away.
I handed out the last cup of coffee and was ready to leave, when, all of a sudden, he looked up and pinned me with his sharp eyes. An unfamiliar neurological process dilated my pupils first, then opened my mouth and did not care to close it, so I simply stood there, stupefied and gaping. A stranger, who was shaking all over, burst into my head. Every pair of eyes around the table followed the invisible thread of attention that extended to me, but I still couldn’t move. Only my boss’s persistent pull managed to extract me from the awkward situation. Without permission, she grasped my elbow and let go only after we had walked far enough away from the boardroom.
‘Don’t drag me like that. You have absolutely no right to touch me.’ I resisted her.
‘And you have no right to stare brazenly like that! Don’t you know who he is, you lunatic?’ She put the menacing finger back into use.
‘Certainly, I know. He was the one who was staring brazenly.’ I walked irritated towards the printing room.
‘Yeah, sure! The president would stare at you, of all people!’ Her insults ricocheted off my back; they didn’t penetrate as they meant nothing to me.
The minutes dragged on as my mind was tortured by mental replays of what had happened in the boardroom. The president’s icy gaze was still there, before me. My boss’s rude voice brought me out of my trance. She commanded me to gather the cups and whatever was left in the boardroom.
‘They’re finished? But we just served the coffee.’ I replied dizzily.
‘You want me to explain why they didn’t drink it, or what? Go there right now, and you and I are having a serious talk tomorrow!’ She ordered in her malevolent tone, angry as always at her own existence.
I got to the task reluctantly. At least I could think about the 55 steps of something like joy that were ahead. I was going to leave soon, to read on my way home in order to make it up for the lost brain cells. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some kind of calculation; numbers were my impregnable fortress, in which I could hide from all this crap and just relax. They were the only thing I got along with easily. They never made me tense.
‘By the time I stop working here, I will probably be left without even one functioning brain cell. They all will be slaughtered! I will get dumb, I will keep dragging folders up and down corridors forever, like all the others, and every Monday I will start my occult rituals for summoning Friday. Damn! I’ve had enough of this wretched reality for today. And tomorrow will be the same, anyway!’
I was complaining aloud amidst the huge boardroom. I wanted to distract myself, so I turned my attention to the rhythm of the clock. I looked at the pile of cups and counted the first second:
I turned to carry the cups away, and then he made me jump. I somehow managed not to drop the whole tray, but one crystal cup flew to the ground, breaking at my feet.
‘Shit!’ I shrieked.
The president was standing behind my back, silent as a marble statue in his suit. I froze.
If that’s the way I stare at Maddie, now I know why she gets the creeps!
He didn’t even react to the breaking cup. He didn’t blink before he spoke in his even voice:
‘You are too loud.’
I was staring at him from less than half a metre away. Staring at the cold blue of his eyes. His haughty gaze was a perfect match for his grim air, and the black three-piece suit was a good final touch to his image of an ultimate jerk.
The stranger in my head was shaking again. He made me stop staring brazenly and say something instead, but it sounded rude, as usual:
‘You scared me. I won’t make any more noise, but you shouldn’t sneak behind people like that.’ I snapped, looking at the broken pieces on the floor. He stepped in front of me, his eyelids narrowed, and I didn’t know where to turn.
I wondered if I was going to be unemployed tomorrow because of my attitude.
‘Nia?’ He repeated absentmindedly, seemingly looking through me.
‘That’s my name, yes. Isn’t that what you asked?’ Once again, I couldn’t help sounding rude.
He focused on me and I shivered. I stepped back to collect the broken pieces. The president did not budge as he watched my actions from above. As I crouched, putting the pieces back on the tray, a shard of sharp crystal sank into my palm. Another loud curse escaped my throat. As I stood up, the blue irises pierced me reproachfully. The situation was getting even more awkward, but I took a breath, looked down, and then to the side, before heading for the door. He stopped me. Without saying a word, he placed the tray on the table, produced a handkerchief from his pocket, and took a hold of my wrist. I pulled myself away abruptly.
‘I’d rather you didn’t touch me!’ I muttered, clutching the white cloth. He flinched for a moment, but there was still no expression on his face. I kept walking towards the door, carrying the tray. Before I left, his voice caught up with me:
‘Who is killing your brain cells, Nia?’
‘What do you care?’
I gave him a mean look and he raised his eyebrows in question. After a brief moment of awkward silence, there was reproach in his eyes again.
‘I asked you something!’ His voice was barely audible, and yet I was annoyed by his tone.
‘Reality is killing them. The general reality. Have a nice evening.’
‘Nia is an odd name.’
He meant no offence, but I shivered.
‘Yes, it is quite odd. Suits me well.’
I guess I was misbehaving again because he slammed the door to his office without answering. I frowned both at his rude attitude and at my own inability to communicate properly.
My boss took her revenge by flooding me with other useless tasks, which involved cups, sheets of paper, and folders. She destroyed another hour of my existence before I was free to walk my 55 steps of something like joy. There was no one left in the corridors, so at least on my way out I could count aloud as much as I wished. As I headed for the metro station, I detected within myself a sense of relief. The darkness outside was even nastier than the rain. I put my earphones in, trying to distance myself from the reality around me. I walked, immersed in my thoughts. Whilst I was waiting to cross the wide boulevard, I was startled by three identical cars stopping directly in front of me. Six huge men came out of them. I gaped and froze as they surrounded me. The door of the jeep in front of me opened. Victor Kaov’s icy-cold eyes stared at me and made me take my earphones out. His even, metallic voice slammed into my eardrums:
‘For nineteen days now. Haven’t you noticed?’ I snorted with my eyebrows raised.
‘You are not carrying an umbrella!’
‘I don’t like umbrellas, nor being startled!’
‘Wear a raincoat then and stop being startled. I’ll drive you home.’ He snapped.
‘You are being driven yourself, so it’s incorrect to say that you will drive me. I always take the metro and I don’t like raincoats either.’
‘There is a station next to our building. Why didn’t you take it from there, instead of walking in the dark, in the rain?’
‘Because I want to take it for an odd number of stops.’ I was confident in my answer, although he looked at me with suspicion.
‘Get in!’ He hissed through his teeth.
‘No, there is no need.’
‘It was not a question.’
He narrowed his eyelids and I did the same, without moving. He pulled me abruptly inside in one motion, so I found myself on the seat next to him. The cut on my hand started bleeding again. I growled. When he noticed I was squeezing the handkerchief, he took hold of my wrist.
‘Shit!’ I groaned as he wrapped the cloth as a bandage.
I was surprised to see an expression similar to irritation on his face
‘It hurts! And I can swear as much as I like because I’m not at work. Plus, I don’t like being touched!’ I frowned.
He tied the handkerchief and let go of my hand. Crossing my arms, I leaned my back against the door. He ordered me to tell my address to the driver, then we fell into awkward silence. Мore than awkward. The red-blue strobe on the dashboard was getting on my nerves and I started counting them. There was this odd sense of discomfort, as if I was on my way to the dentist, or something even more unpleasant. I kept shifting nervously in the seat, throwing hidden glances at him, but he didn’t move his attention away from his phone. He didn’t say a word. With every passing minute in the car, my lungs tightened even more, and I suspected my claustrophobia was going to attack any minute now. A few blocks before my apartment, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was short of breath. As soon as we stopped at a traffic light, I muttered something like a thank you for the ride and I escaped from the car beneath his arrogant gaze.
My hand was pulsating, but at least it had stopped bleeding. As I walked towards my apartment, I looked into the glassy blue eyes that lingered in my mind, unsure whether I was talking to them, or to myself:
How do you always achieve everything like that? Damn it! He has conquered the business world, he is free to do whatever he likes, he is reaching for the big-time world of politics. Is this all meant only for people like him? A cliché of a pattern, designed for a group of special privileged jerks but, of course, not for freaks like me. Some people are meant to live extraordinary lives to show ants that flying is possible. Surely this is normal in the general reality!
I entered my temporary home, wondering who the new intruder was that kept vibrating in my twisted mind. Maddie was on the couch watching some crappy reality show, boredom on her face, beer in her hand. As usual, I was annoyed that she hadn’t switched on the lights. Whenever the hateful quarters looked too dark, I started seeing images, then hearing voices, and they were not the ones that normally lived in my head. I guess it was Fear who sent them, along with the panic down my spine.
‘Why are you like this?’ Maddie aimed the neck of the bottle at me.
‘Good evening. Like what?’ I snapped. It was rude of her not to even greet me.
‘Even weirder than usual? Somewhat excited, I’d say, if that’s even an option for an Egyptian mummy like yourself.’ She was examining me shamelessly, becoming the first one to conclude that the strange intruder in my head was actually Excitement. I had not guessed that.
‘I met the president.’ I murmured and Maddie gaped at me in disbelief. ‘Well, not really. I saw him when I was carrying the cups, and then I saw him again when I was taking them away. Obviously, I knew his name already, and now he knows mine as well, so…’ Excitement introduced himself to my mind and an unnatural smile shone on my face. I decided to spare Maddie the awkward part about my ride home and Kaov’s arrogant behaviour.
‘Tell me everything!’ She came to life and even turned off the TV.
‘I already did.’
‘What did he say to you? Is he as sexy as he looks on TV?’
‘He asked me about my name and who was killing my brain cells. He also gave me a handkerchief, because I cut myself. That’s all.’ I shrugged in conclusion.
‘Okay, okay, you can skip all that bull about brain cells and your ridiculous clumsiness. Does he look sexy? Describe him to me!’
‘Maddie, you can at least try to express yourself properly. The word “sexy” does not relate to looks, it relates to perception. Thus, I cannot use it to describe anyone. I can confirm that he is symmetrical, his features are sharp and regular, he has a pronounced mandible. He is quite a lot taller than the average man and his muscles are well-developed, probably due to training. He carries the genetic mutation of blue eyes, but they are not like any other eyes I’ve seen before. Their colour is unique, they look like glass. He also likes to stare, but his gaze is arrogant, and it makes people nervous. His expression is that of a statue, not of a human. The usual facial expressions are not present, which is weird from a neurological point of view. Besides this, he seems to demonstrate his superiority all the time, which, in my opinion, is very rude. This is the most accurate description.’
I gave another shrug.
‘For Christ’s sake! It’s impossible to talk to you without getting a headache. You could have simply said that he is blue-eyed, sexy, composed, and manly. Was he hitting on you?’ My roommate was already burning with fantasies.
‘Illogical question. Damn, you really must do something about your issue with arguments!’ I wrinkled my nose at her assumption. ‘It’s not that hard. I’ve seen him on the news, you have as well. Do I resemble even slightly the women he appears with? How can you assume that he was hitting on me? Why would he?’ My gaze, agitated by her lack of logic, pierced through her.
‘You look nothing like them, for sure, but you must do your best. If he fucked you, even once, you might get a lot: money, gifts, an apartment, or maybe a car! Who knows? He seems generous to me. Then you will introduce me, and I’ll make sure I look exactly the way I should. Or the way he wants me to! For this man, with his position and his money, I will cosplay, or go along with whatever his fetishes he has, if I have to.’ Before my gaping face, she dived with enthusiasm into an ocean of longing.
‘Maddie! Arguments! First of all, I am not qualified whatsoever. I have no interest, and no skills, in this type of activity.’ I shivered at the thought that Andre and I had actually engaged in it, even if it was quite a rare occurrence. I can’t stand being touched, and as it turns out, this is the main feature of sex. ‘You are the master in this field, but you’d better think twice whether this type of self-destructive philosophy is useful. Second of all… cosplay? Come on! Even you can do better.’
She was angry, either with my tone, or with my words. In my communication, I never managed to choose either of them well.
‘I can do better?’ She grimaced in a way I didn’t understand. ‘I want a good life, Nia! I’m not a slut, don’t look down on me as if I am a slut! Stop preaching morality and start taking advantage!’
‘I don’t know how one looks down on somebody as if they are a slut, and there is nothing to take advantage of. If you compare the two halves of such a deal, you will see that they’re not equal. There is no balance. There is no solid ground. It’s nothing more than a faulty pattern. End of conversation.’
‘What’s even right about balance? We’re just about to graduate from some shitty state university. We live in a shithole, we have no money, no strings to pull, no nothing. I don’t want to work as a donkey, barely able to make ends meet, Nia! All I want is a good life, and I don’t care if it’s right or wrong!’
There was terror in her eyes. I realised that she was also afraid of how difficult the concept of living is, though she was afraid in a different way, with some perverted notion of hope.
‘What you are describing doesn’t sound like “good life”. Besides, it was your choice to just hang on to the shitty university and not do anything else. There are plenty of free online courses for people like us. See, I’ve already learned several languages, I’m constantly searching for information on potentially useful subjects, I make my own forecasts and calculations. One doesn’t need any chances in order to make a logical decision. I even applied for a scholarship at the Columbia University in New York.’ I tried to give real-life examples, but apparently, I still couldn’t find the correct way of speaking to her. She was angry.
‘You applied, and so what? Think they’re waiting for you? Even if you ever get a scholarship, you won’t be able to afford the ticket to get there! You gonna swim, or what?’ She sneered. ‘Oh, come on! Since we have no money, it’s just not possible for us to jump off the bottom without help. Your high IQ doesn’t matter, the fact that you can memorise three books in half a day doesn’t matter, your smartness does not matter, because it makes you weird and it disengages you from reality! We don’t stand a chance, you know that, and—yes!—if I could, I would take advantage of a rich man’s money and I would build a better life for myself, far from this shithole!’ She snarled at me.
‘I doubt you will be able to. It would be a huge life compromise for both parties in the deal. You expect someone to pay thousands for your body, even if he wouldn’t give a penny for its contents. There is no proportion, if…’
I was interrupted by the expression that exploded on Maddie’s face. I already knew that it led to no good, and the best thing to do was to just disappear. Everything I said was frank; this was my usual way of communicating, though people defined it as “rude”, sometimes even “cruel”. I could never understand how truth, which is equal to reality, tends to be perceived as cruel, and why people constantly try to avoid it. But this was another common faulty pattern.
‘And then again, you can do what you want with your life. I’m not going to preach, Maddie. I’m off to bed.’ I forced a smile while shooting these sentences, hoping she wouldn’t start shouting.
‘Eff you, freak! Can’t you stop being a sociopath for once and have a normal conversation?!’ She yelled behind my back. I had no answer for her. Maddie constantly repeated the words “normal conversation” to me, but I couldn’t get what the criteria were for such a thing. I didn’t want to go into the usual explanation that “sociopath” was not the correct definition and it didn’t correspond with the official medical opinion of me.
In bed, I liked to read Jung’s theories of general reality and humanity. I devoted myself to him at night, trying to understand people and, above all, to learn how to communicate with them. Reacting in a proper manner was also difficult for me, especially when it was necessary to mimic emotions. I was devoid of them, and since I didn’t really know what they felt like, it was almost impossible for me to imitate them. At least I had learned how to recognise people’s feelings by their facial expressions. I decided how to act on this basis.
All of a sudden, a pair of glassy blue irises appeared behind the letters of my book. They stared at me. Excitement engaged in a cheerful reggae dance and made me frown at the unfamiliar process.
Who does he think he is to just come here and dance? How long will we have to put up with this? Where the hell did he even come from?
Reason was justifiably displeased, but I couldn’t give him an answer, not even a guess. New entities had not appeared in my head for a long time, so it was a surprise to me, too.
My eyelids squeezed shut, I kept pondering on Jung’s profound insights, but they only hurled me into the spontaneous manifestations of the unconscious—Jung’s definition of dreams. I was kicked out in the dark. Once again, darkness twisted into gracefully irregular shapes, in an insidious game of temptation.
You are mine!
Fear’s ominous voice made me shiver in my sleep. I couldn’t catch my breath and I shook, curled up in a ball. Night-time is a challenge for me. I guess my unconscious didn’t like me too much because it appeared evil and sadistic.
A ringing phone made me jump from my sleep. Heart beating frantically, my body was snatched out of another nightmare. It was six in the morning! A female voice introduced herself as the president’s secretary. She cheerfully informed me that I was expected there at seven. After I hung up, my sleepy eyes stared at the phone, wondering how normal people could be that fresh at this hour.
Damn! Why now? And why so early? Are they going to fire me because of yesterday?
Excitement was dancing to reggae again. I tried to seek help from someone else in my head, but at this time of the day, there was only snoring.
Brought up to be always on time, I entered the office hesitantly only seconds before seven. Men in suits were waiting around, their faces anxious, while the chief advisor was handing our assignments. He was giving his orders with an air of dissatisfaction. His facial expressions gave me the hint that something was bothering him. I was just about to ask what I could help with, when the wall creaked behind him. The president came out through something that looked like a hidden door. I defined the space as a great hiding place. His hair was freshly done, he seemed energetic and focused. He was followed by a perfect, almost divine woman, who looked exactly like the other women he was often photographed with. I gaped as another lady emerged after them.
‘Unbalanced. It must be drawing a lot of energy.’ My suspicions on the two-women-one-man pattern inappropriately broke the silence of the room.
I often babbled aloud, without noticing, and I definitely had to work on that defect. I pointed my nose at my shoes. My fingers started fiddling with the hem of the grey suit, which Maddie chose for me to wear every day, supposedly to blend in better. At least, in terms of colour, I blended in.
‘Good morning, Nia. You are obviously equally as good with words, as you are with cups,’ he stared at me impudently. Again, there was no facial expression.
What is this person doing to my brain?
I was silent. The strange vibration under my skin was irritating.
‘You can leave.’ He turned dryly to the women, and they walked to the door in unison. Then, he shot his metallic voice at the three men in the room. ‘I am going to speak slowly, at the speed of your thoughts. You’ve received instructions already. I’m giving you 24 hours to do the job. One minute later, and you know what happens. Am I clear?’ His words creaked, and the trio timidly replied with a simple “okay”. ‘Get out now.’
Well, that’s weird. He definitely finds it hard to communicate, too. He may be a president, but he can’t find the right tone, nor the right word. Just like me!
I analysed his disability with surprise. I had never expected that someone else—not a freak, like me—would have a hard time with these aspects of communication. Kaov treated people with rudeness and contempt, though, and when he turned his attention back to me, ice pendants pierced my body. His haughty gaze annoyed me, so I snapped first:
‘Good morning to you, too. Excuse me for my inappropriate comment.’
‘Inappropriate, indeed. You clearly start being rude from early in the morning!’ He clenched his jaw. He seemed to be waiting for my reaction, but behind my barrier, all I did was blink. I began to count, touching the pad of my thumb to the rest of the fingers in a rhythm of odd taps. The president was looking at my hands. He seemed to have noticed the sequence. His eyelids narrowed as he continued:
‘When you talk to yourself, aren’t you supposed to be unheard by others?’
He followed the chief advisor’s movement out of the room, then pinned his eyes on mine again.
‘Oh!’ His question caught me by surprise. ‘Most of the time, I don’t speak my thoughts out loud, but sometimes they just slip out without me noticing.’
‘They just slip out on their own?’ He raised his eyebrows at my nonsense. There was no way he could understand me.
‘Yeah, I simply…’ I stopped just before telling a stranger that my head was a place of chaos, inhabited by various entities.
All my life people had been showing me, again and again, by increasingly insulting words, that they did not relate to any of this, just as I did not fit into their reality. I took a breath to continue.
‘Your secretary called me, but she didn’t say what I could do for you? I guess it’s not going to be a weather forecast.’ I couldn’t help but tease him a little. He smirked. I didn’t like guys like him, I didn’t appreciate their prerogatives, their arrogance, how highly they thought of themselves and how they looked down on everyone else. I couldn’t find the balance in the fact that some people were given more than others for no logical reason.
‘To begin with, you can stop jumping out of cars without warning the driver, because it’s risky.’ I was surprised by his request. He continued in an even voice: ‘Nia, why are you here?’
‘Because of a university programme for political science undergraduates. I am supposed to acquire useful practical skills which ostensibly help me find a job afterwards. My stupid specialty does not provide too many opportunities, though. To sum it up, I am here to suffer through an internship, in order to get a useless degree.’
The president tried to conceal a smile by putting the tips of his fingers to his lips. He was probably amused by my way of speaking.
‘The only way this internship could possibly be useful to you is by helping you learn to communicate more skilfully.' He aimed a small smile at me.
‘Not likely. There are no prerequisites here for me to improve my communication skills, because I don’t find the people here interesting, and I generally avoid communication with uninteresting beings. It’s a waste of time and it burdens my mind,’ I stopped for a moment, looking to find some reaction, but I could not detect any. ‘I should probably note that you are not completely uninteresting to me, because you are one of those…’
Shut up. Right now. Not a word anymore!
Reason was in rage, waving his hands all about. The president, gazing at the depths of my pupils, didn’t seem to hear what I had said.
‘It’s a waste of time that you’re even here! A huge waste!’ He went silent for a moment. ‘We will talk tonight, Nia. A driver will be picking you up at five o’clock,’ he focused his questioning eyes on me, nervously touching his watch.
‘I have to work until six, Mr. President. Up until that hour, I am supposed to be in no place other than here.’ I watched him with suspicion.
‘Victor!’ He snapped and he seemed irritated. ‘Use my given name, and don’t talk to me in this rude manner!’
‘I have to work until six, Victor. Up until that hour, I am not supposed to be anywhere else. Can’t we talk here?’
‘No, we cannot. Your working hours are my concern. What I am asking is if five is convenient for you.’ His voice got even sharper.
‘There is no logic in me deciding whether it’s convenient. Those are my working hours, and my responsibilities are clear.’ My expression was full of surprise.
‘Okay then, I’ll be even more specific!’ Now he was talking rudely as well. ‘What I am asking is if you would like to be picked up at five. I am not asking about your working hours, or about your responsibilities.’ He wouldn’t take his impudent irises off me. I found his explanation annoying.
That was not how he put it in the first place! He can’t communicate properly, and he is inaccurate as well! Besides, how can I be sure if I want to go, given that I haven’t been told what we are supposed to talk about! It would simply be a guess.
Victor stared at me as if he was eavesdropping on my conclusions. I decided to use Curiosity as motivation. Curiosity didn’t object.
‘All right. It’s more likely that I want to go.’ I shrugged at the most accurate wording possible.
‘I will take this as a confirmative answer. Communicating with you will most certainly be a challenge!’
He didn’t give any more details but headed towards the door at a confident pace.
Every fifteen minutes, my boss bothered to check how I was doing with my scanning, copying, and sorting of documents. I was doing as usual. After all, I made an effort to comply with the purpose of routine life, so I knew how to replicate my days quite well. When she came in for the tenth time, she poked her irritating, snub nose in front of my face.
‘What’s going on?’ She seemed to be measuring me.
‘You know perfectly well!’
‘I don’t know, neither perfectly, nor imperfectly well.’ I stared at her in my particular manner—the stomach-twisting one—knowing it would work out.
Won’t they ever get used to it?
In my mind, I giggled at the familiar reaction.
‘Why did they call for you in the morning, and why are you leaving earlier today?’
‘It’s obvious. Even for you.’
Maybe she feels bad when I tease her. Maybe that’s why she’s always so mean!
Reason nodded with enthusiasm at my thoughts.
‘Don’t play innocent, girl! It’s pretty clear what you are aiming for! I know young beauties like you.’ She started speaking cynically. ‘You smile with your juicy lips, you flutter the lashes of your wet eyes, then one wave of your tail, and you won’t have to deal with any folders anymore!’ She threw her mocking laugh at me. I gaped at her insane chain of thought.
‘What are you talking about, ma’am? My smile is a muscles’ reaction. My eyes are normally wet, this is their usual physiological condition. I don’t have a tail, and I have no idea what the folders have to do with all this.’ I headed for the door, clueless about what she meant.
‘This country is full of gold diggers, and you all are getting more and more insolent! Don’t you girls feel offended by being used as napkins? I guess that’s all you can do anyway, and in fact you whores deserve just that!’ She hissed behind my back. I froze for a second.
Yup! I’m definitely not going to tease her anymore. She’s going crazy already and she’s started to insult me too often, with words too incorrect.
I slipped out, without giving her a reply. I hid behind a column, waited for her to go out and did my best to avoid her for the rest of the day.
The driver who picked me up in the afternoon had no interest in speaking to me. Curiosity’s questions flooded me, but they had to remain unanswered. The road climbed up high, squeezed between majestic pine trees on either side. It reached a massive wall with a beautiful wooden gate, hand-carved all over. The driver made me leave my coat and my bag in the car. He pointed to the entrance. I examined the exquisite wood carving on the door. Some unknown master had immortalised the magic of his hands there. I did not know that this magnificence disguised a whole new reality of ugliness and distortion.
In the middle of the lane, I was greeted by a misshapen, tallowy man. He looked so pleated with his layers of fat that I wondered how he could move. He stretched a toothy smile across his round face, then he started nudging me down the lane. While he was explaining how clean the air around his mansion was, I remembered why he looked so familiar. This fat guy was a well-known businessman, allegedly in control of part of the mafia, which was not supposed to be exactly a mafia anymore. Having thoroughly cleaned the suspicious stains off their businesses, people like him took offence whenever they were defined as mafiosi. Their faces appeared constantly in the news. He was most often there asserting the claims that he was an important non-mafia boss within the arms industry.
When I entered the house, I got my own confirmation of the fact that the manners of the supposedly new businessmen were no different from what urban legends say about the mafia period of the recent past. Overfed men lounged around; their fat was spilling over the edges of leather armchairs while cigars burned between their fingers. Beautiful women lurked in the smoke, their dresses even more expensive than they were, the air about them perfectly matching the surrounding distortion. I looked to all sides, studying the president’s reality, and my head was ringing:
As I critically examined my surroundings, I saw him sitting in a colossal armchair by the fireplace, alone with his gloominess. Kaov was immersed in his phone, wearing a white T-shirt and black cotton trousers. To my horror, the head of an elephant hung over him. Under his armchair, there was a polar bear who had lost its battle with distorted people’s worst pattern. I got sick. Justice shook Malice’s shoulders angrily, insisting that she should do something about all this. The chaos in my head was restrained behind the invisible barrier, which was of utmost importance in such situations. I froze, moving my stunned attention from the elephant to the bear, and back again. Rage turned my stomach into a walnut. An inner urge to leave made me turn to the exit, but the icy-cold voice from the morning changed my direction.
‘Good evening, Nia. Wait for me in my study.’ He sounded dry, but his curiosity was aroused for a second before he turned his gaze back to his phone.
The eyes of everybody present followed me like spotlights as a bodyguard escorted me. I found myself in a not-too-big room, made entirely of leather and wood. It didn’t smell like anything familiar. My sense of smell is particularly sensitive; I can tell apart various fragrances without hesitation, but something here was unknown. I wondered what it might be.
While I was examining the paintings on the walls, he came in, walked over to me, and stopped closer to my face than appropriate. He didn’t utter a word, and I frowned at the short distance between us. Kaov stared intently into the depths of my scattered mind which, for a brief moment, made me regret my decision to meet him. Trapped in his insistent gaze, I had nowhere to turn to, so I just grumbled:
‘What do you wish to discuss with me in a place like this?’
He didn’t reply. Excitement erupted and replaced the reggae with steppe. Each tap created a vibration that accelerated and resonated to the farthest corners of my body.
This is the anatomical reaction to the perception of “sexy”!
Excitement giggled before his pounding became unbearable. Reason hissed at him to spare us his nonsense. I swallowed dryly. There was something incomprehensible about this man, and it almost evoked a sensation of uneasiness within me. His stare made me nervous, he was exploring me like I was a piece in a museum. My pulse became unstable. Surrounded by his wall of superiority, he seemed even more arrogant, and yet I noticed something akin to surprise in his pupils.
‘Why are there no colours in your eyes? They’re pure black. Are you wearing lenses?’ He was staring far beyond the colour of my eyes and his voice was devoid of any mood.
The question caught me off-guard, but I managed to reply that I didn’t use lenses and that only 9% of the population carried the mutation of blue irises like his.
‘They seem unreal.’ He moved even closer, positioning himself in a space where I preferred no one to stand. He didn’t hear my answer, or he didn’t realise that the topic was inappropriate, or, most likely, he didn’t care about my boundaries.
‘I assure you that my eyes are perfectly real and right now they are helping me see that you are standing inappropriately close!’ I snapped. My sharp voice made him narrow his eyelids. ‘What do you want to talk about and why am I here?’ I didn’t manage to stare at him in my well-proven stomach-twisting way, so I just moved my gaze to the floor.
Startled by his touch on my wrist, I tried to pull away, but he was gripping tightly. I bristled, even though heat seeped through my skin. He carefully examined my cut before pinning his eyes back on me.
‘Why are you worried about your brain cells?’ He stepped back. His expression showed that he was deep in thought.
‘Because they’re all I have.’ I shrugged. ‘With this job, though, it’s quite likely that I will lose them all. I make coffee, I copy documents, and nothing challenging…’
And I want so much more!
It sounded too demanding, so I decided to keep this sentence to myself.
‘Can you do more?’ He pierced me with his icy voice, and I hesitated.
Did I keep the last sentence to myself?
‘Probably yes. But the truth is, I can only guess. I definitely have the potential, but I lack data to confirm or deny for sure. And though unsupported by facts, I really hope I can do more!’
‘You are all mind, indeed.’ He smiled peculiarly.
‘I don’t think I got that.’
‘You rationalise everything, Nia. Your brilliant mind subordinates everything strictly to logic. That’s the only method you have for perceiving people, the world, for drawing conclusions and making decisions. At least that’s what the description of you from the university says. You need empirical data to judge whether you can do more, really?’ He pursed his lips and lifted his eyebrows.
I was irritated by the fact that he had read the insultingly shallow student’s character description that the university had drawn for me. It basically covered my inability to understand irrational and illogical things. It highlighted my lack of communication skills and my weak points, but it didn’t say anything about the abilities of my brain. My annoyance was obvious, but it was quickly replaced by a logical question:
Why would he bother to dig up information about an insignificant person like me?
His voice brought me back to reality.
‘Any assessment without data is just speculation,’ I said matter-of-factly. ‘Most people do this, but you asked me an honest question and I am giving you my honest answer. That’s it,’ I was blinking rapidly.
‘People make emotional assessments, too. And few are those who speak the truth.’ He moved closer again. Only centimetres away, he sank into the voids of my pupils as if diving for some priceless treasure laying at the bottom of my eyes. I distinguished different smells of musk and cedar, surrounded by the unfamiliar smell of the study, wine, and the distant scent of tobacco. My pulse was pounding, my throat went suddenly dry. This neurological process astounded me, as the president seemed to penetrate my brain.
‘The first conclusion is not in the field of my knowledge, and the second one is logical. People like you rarely appreciate the truth, that’s why those around them are afraid to speak it. Fear is a common occurrence.’ I frowned, assuming he might find my statement offensive.
‘Are you afraid of me, Nia?’ he pronounced my name with curiosity.
My head exploded in a buzzing chaos. The timbre of his voice made me shiver. I even flinched and I hoped the inexplicable disturbances in my nervous system would remain safely hidden behind my barrier. He just stood there, expressionless and incomprehensible. His behaviour and the lack of distance paralysed me. Still, I managed to take a breath for a precise answer:
‘There is no reason for Fear. Undoubtedly, there are many suspicious details about you, but none of them is on Fear’s list!’ I did my best to pronounce the words clearly. Coming out of his stupor, Reason started counting mechanically:
On Fear’s list, there are: darkness, water, failure, needles…
‘You’re so…’ He stopped, probably because he didn’t want some insulting words to spill out. I was used to insulting words, but I was somehow unenthused at the prospect of hearing another one of them now. I looked down, and suddenly he laughed. I was puzzled. The sound was pleasant to the ears and once again, I gaped at my body’s reaction. ‘How do you even survive in this insane world?’
‘I write down my observations and conclusions about the general reality, but I can’t define exactly how I survive yet.’ My teeth shone behind a genuine smile.
Victor stepped back and moved away from me to the other end of the room. The disturbances disappeared, and yet I realised that his new position did not bring me more comfort. He sat down on the couch and asked me if I had noticed his interest in extraordinary, straight-talking, out-of-the-box people with beautiful minds. He was examining me in a manner which gave me the impression that he enjoyed my presence, and wouldn’t put on me any of the insulting labels that others did.
Although totally different from me—successful and sane—he shared my lack of interest in the general reality. Again, there was no expression on his face, and yet I could clearly notice his boredom with normality. As we talked, I seemed to be finding the right words with him like never before—the right tone of voice as well. Our communication was devoid of my usual issues. All of a sudden, I found myself in the company of someone who could almost understand me, who seemed to even know me. He didn’t stare at me in disbelief, pity, criticism, or in any other ways that I was used to. I couldn’t tell what mood hid behind his blank expression, but he was definitely not looking down on me anymore. I could even assume that he was comfortable enough to communicate with unusual ease.
In the middle of my thoughts, he got up and came to me again. The wall of superiority rose for a moment and, through it, he stabbed me with his icy-cold eyes.
‘You will work for me! That’s why I called you here. Personally, for me, not as a president, but for my business,’ I was following his words with suspicion. “Personally” means that you won’t work for a company with bosses and working hours.’ He paused, waiting for confirmation that I understood what he said, but I didn’t reply. ‘You will be given various tasks. Ones that you will complete on your own, at first, so you can get used to the environment and me. I read that you find it difficult to adapt. You will have assignments, which will challenge your mind, you will have a lot of work and no time for yourself. We will discuss all other details later.’ He pinned his gaze on me. ‘I expect a quick confirmation because I’m not going to accept anything else!’
For a moment, there seemed to be fire on his face, but then he went back to his usual statuesque composure.
‘Was this even a question? It didn’t sound like one.’ My pupils dilated with surprise. As I was just about to direct another word to my open mouth, one of the bodyguards burst into the room. He reported that someone urgently needed to talk to the president, and Kaov hurried out.
I was left there alone, staring at one single point. I tried to assimilate the new information slowly, drop by drop, while dozens of questions were flying through my mind.
I cannot conclude anything. I am processing the data too slowly. Excitement is distracting me with all those dance moves and vibrations!
Reason propped the edge of his square head on his hands, puzzled as I was.
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1 Leonardo Fibonacci – an Italian mathematician. In 1202, he published a sequence of numbers called The Fibonacci Numbers. He learned about it during his travels in Eastern countries. Each number is the sum of the two preceding ones, beginning from 0 and 1. The larger the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, the closer the ratio of the last two numbers is to the “golden ratio”. An infinite number of digits in the sequence are equal to the golden ratio, also known as the golden section, golden mean, or divine proportion.
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