I was 10. I had just left school and was walking home with the big, square bag on my shoulders.
Suddenly he was there. There was no blinking, no flashes, no anything. He just stood there.
“Run!” he said “Run fast!”
Then he was gone. I threw my bag on the ground and ran.
I was just a minute away from home when I noticed her behind me. A woman, slim, with blond hair. Her face was dirty.
“Stay!” she screamed “I have to tell you something!”
My feet hit the asphalt, then my fists the front door. When my mother opened the door the woman quickly turned around.
The second time was eight months later. My mother had dropped me near a friend’s place so I could attend her birthday party. With the wrapped book in my hands I walked confidently towards the street that held my friend’s house.
“Run!” he screamed. “Run fast!”
He was standing not far behind me. He looked clean and friendly.
Only a moment later the woman appeared in my way. Her jacket was ripped and I smelled her from the moment she appeared.
“Don’t leave,” she said.
She grabbed my jacket and tried to grab my shoulder but I ducked and, the way my mother had taught me, quickly dropped my jacket and sprinted forward.
I just had to turn right, then find the house with the big blue door. She was right behind me. I ran in a zig-zag pattern.
“Stop!”, she screamed.
I managed to reach the door. My fists against the heavy wood. When my friend opened my chest was burning and the woman was gone.
They came again a month later. Then a week. Then nearly every day.
Every day he was there. He told me to run and I did. I knew he was good, it was in his voice and motions.
Every time she appeared the woman looked more rancid. Her smell seemed to invade my nose even before I saw her. She was there, mostly behind me, sometimes on my path.
Once, when she appeared right in my path, I saw him push her aside. They hit each other with their bare hands.
“Stop it!” she screamed.
“I hate you!” was her response.
They tumbled towards the side, him holding her down and her face hitting against his face. That was the first time I noticed the difference; the age. He was much younger than her, 17 or 19, maybe, while she must have been around 45.
When he appeared the next time there was blood on his face. He was calm.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t worry about her.”
“Who is she?”
“She wants to prevent you having a future.”
“And who are you?”
He smiled and took my hand. I was not even 12.
“I’m your son,” he said.
He turned around and looked at the large watch on the outside of the school building.
“But now you’ll have to run.”
I did run. Something told me he was right.
She appeared a few steps to my left. Instantly she started running towards me.
“Stop!” she screamed. “Just stop!”
“Run!” he screamed from behind me.
I ran and her words were a blur. My legs were shaking while all I could think about while about were his words. “I’m your son,” he had said.
It was as if they coordinated each other. I wrote it down, those times and days when they appeared, in my little blue diary, the one with the two hugging teddy bears on the cover. He was always first and he always told me to run. Sometimes he also told me that he loved me and that I was a great mother.
She always just told me to stop. Sometimes, when her voice turned hysteric, she screamed that I was making a mistake or that I would be hurt if I didn’t stop running away. Her hair seemed to be more oily and dirty the more often she appeared. When I was 13 her hair was suddenly short. When I was 14 it was shaved off. That’s the time when she started to add “Please” to her words. A sleasy, moist please that only made me run faster.
They continued to appear. Him, every time more calm and beautiful, and her, every time more pale and with a stronger smell. Most of the time I saw them both, sometimes I only heard his voice.
It was a command that I didn’t need to think about. No matter when and where, I knew I had to run. No matter when and where, I knew he was right.
There was no doubt in my heart. I had not even had my first kiss, but he was my son and I knew it at the depth of my soul. His eyes were like mine while hers were like those of a coyote; a devil trying to catch me.
It was my diary that took it all; those worries and thoughts and fears. I had nightmares of her running after me.
They were always there. I never talked about them because even then I knew that I wouldn’t be believed. I stayed home a lot because every time I went out on my own they appeared. They became a natural part of my life; a mechanism – him, warning me just in time, her, running after me and screaming bad things about him.
“Don’t believe him,” that’s the thing she screamed most often.
I had just turned 16.
It was a female voice. Her voice, dull and weak, and I knew I shouldn’t run home and yet I didn’t know where else to run. I just ran straight, into a street I didn’t know.
She was behind me, limping, but her smell had already caught up.
“Please,” she screamed. “Run home!”
That’s when he appeared. He wore a blue t-shirt and jeans. His hair was bright blond and there was a smile on his face.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Calm down.”
“Okay,” I whispered.
“Run home! Get away from him!”, she screamed.
He stood on the sidewalk and I ran past.
“Don’t do this!”, she screamed.
I heard the heavy thud; I saw their bodies on the floor – him on her but her hands hitting against his skull.
I kept running straight, into an area I didn’t know, where the houses were low and breaking apart.
There were men at the sides. I was out of breath, staggering forward one step at a time, while the men were looking at me.
For a moment I thought he was there; I saw his face among a small group of men. I stopped moving, bent over and placed my hands on my legs. I felt the hot air enter and leave my body and the cramps in my stomach.
“Hey,” said some voice.
“You okay?” said another.
“Looking good,” said a third.
“All alone?” asked the first.
I knew I had to run.
“Don’t run,” said a fourth.
I turned around and his face was there. The same nose, the same chin, even the same teeth. Just darker eyes and darker hair.
“You’re a nice lady,” said that fourth voice. “You should have company.”
“I’m okay,” I whispered.
I tried running but my sides hurt.
Her voice was in my head. A voice too familiar.
She had never said that before.
I tried walking, but my sides stung deep into my body. The man with his face stepped in front of me.
“Don’t go away,” he said. “I like you.”
Someone grabbed me from behind.
In that moment, when the man with his face grabbed my breasts, I saw him standing in the distance. He watched with a calm expression.
“Help!” I screamed.
The man with his face pressed a hand on my mouth.
“I’ll help you,” the man said.
It felt as if my body was being torn apart. Hands on my arms and mouth; my legs pushed aside; pain.
At some point it was dark. They laughed and left.
I was crying and bleeding.
I went home and hid myself. Showers. Many showers and even more sleep.
My mother tried to get me out of bed. She thought I was just lazy. I didn’t want to tell her a thing and she didn’t look like she wanted to notice a thing. She had other things in her life; she had her life to deal with and I thought I had to deal with mine on my own.
“Bring the trash out.”
I did. Even as my body hurt, I did.
There was a newspaper on top of the trash. A small headline.
“Do you know this woman?”
There was her face.
I kept the article and hid it under my mattress, right next to my diary.
He had never been in my room before. Never.
I woke up and he was there, smiling and looking at me.
“Thank you for believing in me,” he said.
He moved to kiss my forehead but I pulled away.
“Why didn’t you help me?” I asked.
I felt his hands under the mattress.
“You will understand,” he said.
He took my head between his hands. I tried to move away, but he kissed my forehead.
Then he was gone.
It was another four weeks until I noticed that my period didn’t come. Only four weeks after that I admitted the truth to myself. More than three months. Too late.
My mother took me out of school. She scolded me every day, every hour that she didn’t spend with her new boyfriend.
“Why did you do that? Why did you do that? Didn’t I teach you right? Didn’t I give you everything?”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
When I told her that I was forced she slapped me. She said I shouldn’t lie. I said it again and again, but always she said I shouldn’t lie and most times she slapped me. She didn’t allow me to go out.
I don’t know when I searched under my mattress. When I noticed that the diary was gone.
The only thing I found under the mattress was her face. The sad eyes. The blond hair. The nose, just like mine. The chin, just like mine.
I saw it in the mirror. The hair, just like mine. The eyes, just like mine.
My mother’s boyfriend broke up with her a week before the birth. That’s when she started cursing about him. That’s when she, for the first time, showed me a photo of his face.
He was born. They say that all you want is to hold your child. All I wanted was to hurt him, but something deep inside me held me back. I tried to throw him down but my arm caught him. I tried to hold onto his mouth but my hands shivered too much.
Now my son is two years old. I love him and I hate him.
I see my child – and yet, all I can see is that face. The face of the man I trusted. The face of the man that told me to run.
It’s ripping me apart. One moment I hold his throat, the next I kiss his forehead.
No matter how much I try – I can’t hurt him.
I would give everything to go back; to change it all; to stop it all.
And yet, I know that I will go back and all I can scream is “Stay!”
But I will run instead. Because he told me to.