|Story One, Part 4:
Sveta Rychkova, a Russian nurse
It was always so hard to sleep after every nightshift and taking a few of her tablets. She would lay awake listening to the thump of her heart and wonder whether each would be the last. Eventually she would drift off into a restless sleep that never left her refreshed, especially with some of the dreams and nightmares from which she would suffer. At six, her alarm rang and she could not recall the last time she had a worse sleep.
The day was slowly becoming dusk and some streetlamps had switched on, beneath one Sveta could make out the figure of a short man. She opened the curtains further and recognised the man’s face, but she struggled to place him. She looked down at her desk where a framed photo of her sister sat and she remembered the connection. When Margarita had last come to visit, she had met him somewhere in the centre…no, she had met him in the Greek restaurant in which he worked as a waiter.
Sveta saw it clearly now. Margarita thought that he was funny because he was so short, with such a big belly and thick moustache. Sveta was getting angry at her sister’s teasing flirtation. Margarita was so small, innocent and naïve. She knew this Greek’s type. She had seen him watching her during the whole meal and now he was watching her apartment from the pavement below.
She looked again through the curtains. He was there looking up at her window. He must have something on his mind, he was probably waiting for Margarita to appear and then take advantage of her innocence. Or he wanted to get Sveta out of the way first, so she couldn’t stop him. Sveta knew very well about these types of men. They pretend to be fun and friendly, and then when they are ready to kill their body unfolds into something gigantic and monstrous. Her mother had warned her about men with moustaches and she knew from experience that her mother had told her truth that time. She grew up in a country that suffered at the hands of a short man with a moustache, so nobody knew better than she did. What do all these people around here know about short men with a moustache?
From the corner of her eye, she spotted the small envelope that contained her sweets. She must have taken them from her handbag before going to bed and swallowed just one to help her sleep. She should be more careful with these sweets. She might fall asleep and be unable to react when this short guy would attack her demanding to know where her sister is, which she would not tell so his only choice would be violence.
Once more, she would have to go to school and say that it was her dog. Nobody at school knew that her mother hated dogs; anyway, they could never believe what her mother, a teacher in the same school, was capable of doing. Her father was a good soldier fighting for the interests of the mother country, but her mother had even tainted his brave memory, “He’s there screwing all those Afghan women and eating their food. Playing the general with his good uniform and what is left for me? I tell you what is left for me, to punish him!”
Her mother’s voice screamed in her brain whenever she tried to think of her poor father, she pushed his face further and further from her mind until there was only a box of medals left. Sveta paced the small room of her apartment trying to decide what she should do. She took some chocolate form the desk and returned to the window. He had left. The kitchen clock read three-thirty. He was starting work soon. She knew his time schedule because she had been watching him over the last four months. He was always going to work at three-thirty and he was always waking up around the time she was arriving home. It made her uncomfortable that she had never seen a woman in his house, but she knew seep down why: she must be his target.
How had it all become so complicated? Why was Margarita worrying so much? She now regularly asked her about the headaches and whether she continued to take those pills for it. Sveta had lied to her that they were a new type of headache pill, but Margarita was studying to be a nurse just like her older sister. She knew that they were not for headaches, but her younger sister didn’t understand. It was not easy being Sveta Rychkov, Margarita was Margarita Rychkova and that’s always easier. This damn ‘a’ made all the difference. Here she was nothing; she had even lost her name. There, she was her mother’s daughter and now she didn’t know which was worse.
Sveta had met a great guy a couple of years before, but she thought that he was too nice for her. She couldn’t cope with nice. After his own nightshift, he would come in to visit his mother in hospital and always stopped and chatted with her. He was never threatening and she even looked forward to his smile. His mother died suddenly while she was off-shift and she never saw him again. She couldn’t recall if she started stealing the pills that day or if she’d taken them since leaving Russia; her mind had begun to play tricks of time upon her.
Since leaving the hospital that morning, Sveta realised that she eaten only chocolate and her special sweets. She had even forgotten to stop by the little Russian shop because of the rain…had it rained, maybe that was yesterday. It explained why she was shaking and could barely hold the pencil as she wrote a brief shopping list. She managed to write ‘milk’ at the top but she failed to read her own handwriting due to the shakes becoming worse. Her head was spinning and her stomach shot pains up and down her legs, she was feeling nauseous again.
The mirror reflected back the skeletal image of Sveta. She had become lighter than the clothes she wore and the image in front of her shocked her. How had she let herself deteriorate so badly? Her breasts were shrunken and she could clearly see the outline of her ribs, she was still proud of her legs but even they seemed drained of colour. Her eyes were stuck to the stranger in the mirror, each of her senses heightened by the shock, maybe it was time to flush the tablets and start a new life.
A creak from inside her walk-in closet made her jump and she spun round to see a shadow move beneath the door. Had she imagined it or was there somebody hiding? She tried to ignore it, but the sound came again, slower and more controlled the second time. She held her breath as her eyes searched the room for a weapon, but there was nothing threatening enough; all the knives were in the kitchen on the other side of the closet. She spotted a brooch that her mother had given her on one of her early birthdays, its pin was sharp and could do damage if necessary. Her mind repeatedly flashed images of the short Greek, the director, the black taxi driver as she crept towards the door.
Her movements were slow for no other reason than she couldn’t move faster. All her body was shaking now. She would open the door and try to scream or scream first. She couldn’t scream if she couldn’t breath; the air suddenly was so dry. She needed a pill. No, no she needed one of her precious sweets. She threw open the closet door preparing to attack the intruder with the brooch pin, but it was empty.
Empty, but her ears were still filled with the deep breathing. She began to laugh uncontrollably until she became hysterical. She was creeping around her tiny apartment naked holding a tiny brooch pin to attack herself. What’s wrong with me? Perhaps Margarita is right. I take too many pills; she thought and continued to get dressed.
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