Short story by Juljana Mehmeti
In the claws of fear
“Your power has its origin in my mind, if I am not afraid, you lose your power.”
The bus of 14:00 Hrs had not yet arrived. In the main square of the village M that day there were strange movements, strange persons that not every day you could see there. It looked like something chaotic that broke the routine and created an unusual environment. Students waiting for the bus were concentrated in a corner; others living in the surrounding areas were leaving in groups towards their homes. The sun reflected with full length of the rays, but also with the uncertainty that arose from the confusion of time. Ana was observing the situation in front of her and from the corner of her eye she noticed a long-bodied guy. He wandered amid that pale gaze and seemed to swallow everything. She had heard a lot about his activities, but until then she had never encountered him. Usually women tried not to cross their eyes with these types of ordinary, drugged and armed men, who after the coup could get out of prisons, creating their own gangs and wandering around as bosses. Suddenly anxiety swept over her. In fact it was more than a fear mixed with a bad hunch, which from moment to moment would turn into drama and it seemed to hurt her. She hid her eyes under her long wavy hair, and a half shadow covered that mist, which hung suspended and penetrated terribly inside her being. Everyone was afraid of those guys, especially the girls who were trying to protect themselves by asking to be accompanied by someone, a relative or family friend who had other acquaintances, members of another group. In that period there were no more people in uniform, neither law enforcement officers. It was the same as in the time of the cowboys, who in their crazy run left behind dry clouds of smoke and the cicatrized blood of the next victim. Everything functioned without any government instruction, so everyone had to be protected in their own way. Everyone could go out in the morning hoping not to cross any of “them” getting in the way at the earliest opportunity to harass; in many other cases it was worse, they did rapes, kidnappings of girls who got lost around the world dictated by money and slavery of the body. She crouched around herself and her breathing turned into sighing, or scrutinizing what was going to happen from second to second. They wandered around and looked like hunters waiting for their prey.
It was a surreal atmosphere; everything was destroyed and became one with the yellowness of the day. Looted schools, broken-glass buses and people who, due to fear of coming into conflict with dangerous people, often pretended not to know you and stood enclosed in their anxiety. Days dimmed dark mists and the sun turned into a piece of light to guide the fate of the moment.
Ana came from another town and attended the third year of high school. She was a girl who did not go unnoticed with long hair waving her shoulders and a crystalline look that refracted the light of the soul. A little carelessness and the opening of her hair curlers were enough for her to grab all the attention. She came from the south, had no relatives and extended family circle, so she often felt anxious and wandered like a loner through this hinterland.
A few other girls were traveling with her, who strangely appeared in front of the bus almost at the last second. The air around became even more dry and the departure of the bus was like a sigh left in this square, not greeting the day trip but flipping through another day left behind. Surprisingly that engine was not starting in order to move her away from here.
She immediately realized that something was happening, after noticing some movements in front of her. Two guys who used to walk around passed in front of her feet saying something in a low voice. She was standing next to her friends and professors waiting for the bus to leave, trying not to be noticed. From the restaurant opposite, the relative of her friend with whom she lived in the same neighborhood seemed unexpected. He greeted from a distance and called to his cousin in a corner whispering something in her ear and then left again. When Ela returned there she had a worried look and in a low voice addressed to her.
– In the restaurant those guys mentioned your name. If you can, get out of here.
Anna shivered. At the moment she was disoriented. She looked around but realized she could do nothing more. The guys who had stared at her and who in addition to disgust sowed also fear were only a few steps away. It was better to stand in the crowd than to be followed by them in the alley with no passers-by. She tightened herself, behind that small group which at the moment resembled an oasis in the middle of the desert. In fact from town M, the only bus was the one that left at 14:00 Hrs. It was not a game played on those subways she had seen in the movies, where in a second it changed destination and lost on the trip. It was just a square that gathered the same faces here and there and same like today brought closer the faces that usually turned into the nightmare of everyday life. A slight tremor pierced her body again, and her stomach upset, which usually came from hunger at that last hour of lunch, mingled with the anxiety of what might have happened. She looked around and saw no known person. The bus stood motionless as she waited impatiently for the doors to open to hide among the passengers somewhere near the professors. She could not even get close to the door, when she was suddenly surrounded by 4 people. At the moment she was lost in the created insecurity and when she raised her head a little, she glanced at the horrible one, next to the brunet boy who had tried to stop her forcefully after the lesson at the exit of the high school building. A paleness of the face was accompanying her and a ghastly situation that darkened her eyes. She could not imagine that he would appear armed along with the scary person. Still without being detached from these thoughts the shrill voice of the frightening person was heard. At the moment there was a groaning silence and an open half-circle in anticipation of the new drama that would appear from moment to moment. The main character was she, defenseless, as in that worldly journey where the unforgivable was haunted by the shadows of demons.
– Let’s see how brave you are – the scary one addressed in a threatening tone.
She glanced at the bus and saw that almost everyone was onboard. She was left alone and surrounded by four guys.
– Do not look in vain at the bus – continued the rude voice. You are not going to get onboard today without agreeing to go for a walk with this friend of mine that you have rejected with your arrogance. On the contrary it will be more beautiful. You’re going for a walk with the four of us – and he gave a savage look to the driver who was almost frozen at the wheel. -So – what do you think; the answer is yes or no?!
With a voice that she had left and scared to death, but also with the idea that the bus would leave from moment to moment and she would be left alone she hesitated to answer for the moment. Then she collected herself a little and said in a contemptuous tone: No.!
She did not know what prompted her to dare that answer, but she was aware that in either case she would be lost.
What did you say? I did not hear well – he raised his voice – and pulled out a knife.
Then she felt a kick in her leg, but what bothered her the most was the close in of his face and pulling of her hair while he was grinning and showing his brown and dark teeth. The knife was getting even closer to the neck loop.
Fear now strained every nerve of her, creating body twists, while the lump gathered in her throat had alienated her entirely. The noise of the bus ready to take off roared in her mind, a noise that was abandoning her and leaving her behind between the born storm and the pain bent to the bone. Then she heard an echo, a voice of hope calling her and it became louder.
– Ana, Ana, get out of there. The voice calling from afar became closer, clearer. She raised her head to see who he was. It sounded like a familiar voice and a slight calm liberated her body. She looked more intently to see who was calling her. From the back corner she could see the green sweatshirt of her friend Arvin, who was in a hurry to reach her. She understood nothing but cold sweat running down her forehead and a sigh that fluctuated between hope. The circle of four men narrowed around her as her friend’s voice became even closer. He took Anna in his arms and put her on the bus, while pushing with his hands the face of the one who until a few moments ago had appeared as the terrible one. Get started driver – ordered boy! Swearing and threats were heard below the bus as he opened the bus window and addressed them.
– I am sure that from tomorrow onwards these passengers will not look you in the eye again. I’ll be back for you – and closed the window again.
There were created clouds of smoke and noise in that narrow street, which was getting more and more away from that anxiety and fear that had prevailed.
– Please do not cry Ana- he could say at the moment, while he hugged her as a friend. It is not going to happen anymore. I’m with you.
The memory of that scary day had then begun to fade from the momentum of the spring that had just entered, as the old anxiety appeared on some turbulent night and was then lost along with the turmoil of time.
Translated into English by Arben Hoti