“Took you long, love.”
The static died and his voice ruffled my fear in a mockery. It was manipulated but I knew his voice like a victim knows of its culprit. Something unforgettable. Something chronic adhered to the mind.
I didn’t realise my fingers were grasping the device so tightly until it started hurting.
I tried to compose myself, not letting the fear rise.
‘It is just a call. He is not here.’ I chanted to myself to suppress the agitation bubbling from within.
One of the rule was to be strictly followed in all circumstances- to avoid any contact with others in the team. It was a risk.
And my boss must not be contacting me unless it was something very dire and necessary.
Michael Dimitri Smirnov was becoming restless. And it was nothing but an impending trouble.
I had my own learnings of the way he articulated his words and the signs of warning I should look for in them.
“Hey baby, I just reached home.” I tried to keep my voice intact of composure and pretended as was taught. “There was sudden rain on the way back.”
In any case, if the situation called for contacting the team members, it was absolutely necessary to avoid calling each other by name.
Michael waited for a while before responding and I was afraid he must have sensed my nervousness. He lived off of the fear in me. I hated myself for being in his control even from miles away.
In the past few weeks I nearly lost my life and the task was not easy as one may have assumed. My hands were bare of any information due to my stupidity.
I grew tense when he asked me the question. “So did you buy me the gift you were looking for?”
He was taking a risk by reaching out to me. And one might think it was because he cared for me. That he cared enough to risk it. At one point of time even I would have thought that. But now I knew better.
At this point, I needed to give him something to hold on. To prove my loyalty to him.
“You will get it if you take me out on a date.” I guided the conversation.
It was just a mission. Just a plan. I needed to go along with it and hand him what he wanted. Be the little toy he liked so that I was unharmed.
But when you are his favourite, the burden pulls you down and shakes your being. Holding you by the roots so that you don’t decide the path.
Instead, he does.
“It’ll be my pleasure, love.” He agreed, his voice emitting the darkness that enveloped me.
He directed my body and my mind. I might be one of the best but only the marionettist and the puppet knows that all of it is nothing but a show. A play to keep them underneath your feet.
At the end of the day, I was just a puppet who needed to follow my master. The person who controlled the string. The person who treasured the key to my chains.
“Saturday evening?” he asked like an actual date was forthcoming.
I didn’t want to be replaced by any other. That would bring nothing but a disaster. A disaster I couldn’t stop.
The position I had today was to stay alive and well. To not be on his bad side. To own the little freedom that came with it. After losing my parents, I only had one important person in my life. My nanny. The only person who cared for me.
For her, I had to do this.
I needed to be the best; to be his favourite.
“I have to visit the library on saturday. Let’s go on Sunday.” I finalised the date and place.
This conversation was just a play of words. A code of rendezvous.
“As you say darling and don’t forget to wear the scarf I love.”
I disliked his endearment that unavoidably clung to his each sentence.
I quickly disconnected without giving any reply. I gripped the edge of the table breathing heavily. Grabbing the device I internally cursed myself for switching it on in the first place.
In a hurry I hid it in its place before going to bed.
A blanket of darkness drapes around me as I stand in the familiar room looking straight to the man on knees.
My line of vision met with Michael. He was knelt on the floor. His torso was bare. His jaw was clenched and teeths were gritted tightly. His eyes never moved from the ground in front of him. His fists were clenched over his thighs. His whole stance was submissive. I had never seen him like that before.
But it was not what stopped me from going ahead to console him. It was the looming figure standing behind him. And the whip swinging from his hand.
A shiver ran down my spine when the whip swung in the air and landed harshly on his back.
A gasp died down within my throat.
The whip swung again.
Until it was enough to draw a permanent scar on his back.
My feet were frozen as I stood there helplessly. The kids behind me were just as scared. The room smelled of silent screams and unholy fear.
The room of sins.
I couldn’t move my eyes away from Michael. I wanted him to get up, fight it and end his torture. But I also wanted him to bear the pain a little longer. To take another hit. I hated myself for feeling so. But I was not alone. Whoever stood in my place would wish the same. The collision of my two different wishes scared me. My eyes stung with the unwashed tears.
The whip lashed again scourging the already bleeding skin. His fists clenched so hard, fingernails tearing the skin of palm to distribute his pain and make it bearable.
His father, Dimitri patted him on the shoulder before handing him the whip. His own hands blo*dy by the overwhelming friction.
My feet trembled. Seconds turned into minute. But when a minute passed, Michael was not looking at the ground anymore. He lifted his gaze so that it directly landed on me.
I screamed but it never left my lips. My nails bit through my palm but I was overwhelmed with the fear to feel any other pain. Any emotion.
His bloodshot eyes examined me. A storm of dread grew inside me and I took a step back whimpering helplessly.
His father grunted in disappointment.
Michael stood up, his chest drenched in sweat. His back must be scathed with his blood still stuck to the torn skin. I cursed myself for imagining it. My eyes pleaded when he prepared himself.
I was next.
I suddenly jolted from my sleep. My whole body drenched in sweat. I felt my heartbeat beating abnormally loud and fast. I scoured my surrounding coming back to reality, the dream seeming too real as usual.
I walked to the window and moved the curtain. The guards were still there. One of them looked up curiously begetting me to shut it.
There were four guards in total. Three around the building and one at the door.
I knew sleep was long gone and the guards would follow wherever I go. And I was in dire need of some peace.
Given that they were hanging out, the backside of the building must be unguarded.
I checked on Eva who was asleep before stealthily heading to the emergency doorway.
They would not know I was gone until long. The guard on the door whose name was Giovanni usually checked every hour except at night.
I shrugged on a jacket and climbed down the narrow stairs.
It was around 2:30 midnight and no soul was to be seen. I was glad that the street lights were on illuminating the dark space. My feet started to cover the track in no time as I ran blankly. It was when the sight of a secluded lake caught my attention, I halted.
It was still and peaceful. My mind immediately calmed at the tranquility. I took off my jacket and sat down on the bench cathing breath.
The sound of crickets from the bush was the only reminder of existence. Everything was so still like an amazing artist had just finished a long project.
I took a deep inhale feeling a little relaxed.
The dream was disturbing to say the least. It was quite usual for me to have nightmares given the tragic past.
But I was having a good sleep for the last two months. Michael just brought back me to the truth that I was running from. I needed to take the medicines again.
What was I even doing here? In Italy?
To take revenge for people I didn’t even remember? To avenge for my dead parents whose face I could not even picture in my head?
When I thought like that, it sounded funny. But it was not just about my parents. It was about me. They took away my childhood. A normal life. An ordinary family.
They took away my hopes of being happy.
And why did Michael contacted me?
He knows that the Italians have every signal tracked, every communication recorded. Although our conversation may have not given any hint and I had also played with the dates so that even if they heard us, they would not find out. Or at least, I hoped so.
But I couldn’t be very clever for, they are a team of wolves ready to attack on any chance given. They wouldn’t care who stood infront of them as long as it meant harm to their people.
I didn’t want to remember what Michael would do if I fail this.
I couldn’t imagine him hurting Anna. She had already been through much. When I lost my mother, she lost her only friend.
She was so happy when Michael’s father took us into his place. The idea of not being alone and roofless gave her a transient contentment.
She was happy that I would not be an orphan who would grow uneducated. She was happy that I wouldn’t have to go to sleep with my stomach empty.
That I would not have to wear someone’s worn clothes.
She was happy.
Her dreams were all for me.
I felt my chest tighten at the memory. I missed Anna.
I wanted to talk to her. To tell her how beautiful Venice was. That I didn’t needed those little dolls anymore.
I wanted to tell her about the people I have met. That they didn’t seem as bad. How women were treated here. How everything I have dreamt of seemed to be right here. In Venice.
I rubbed my chest like a physical body was hurting me.
I leaned back on the bench closing my eyes. Trying to relax. But it didn’t last long.
I turn alarmed when the faint sound of footsteps continued. They were lightly treaded but the person may have not paid attention to the dried leaves.
He must have realised that I knew because the footsteps halted and a familiar voice whispered.
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