Her mind tries to recall the page in her notebook where she had written her plan, reworking each step absentmindedly. “Notebook” is the term she uses, for lack of a better word, to describe the pack of rolling papers she managed to steal from Jamal, one of the guards, who happens to be on duty tonight. Over the past couple of months, she had made it her primary mission to track and record every detail concerning the guards’ habits and schedule.
Jamal, a fat middle-aged man who was clearly selected due to the lack of other candidates willing to take the job, was one of the four men recruited as guards in the orphanage and was considerably older than the others.
Petra, who slept in the room closest to the stairwell, could occasionally hear discussions and other noises on the ground floor. Something she had dreaded at first but found to be a blessing in disguise later, as much of tonight’s plan relied on the information she had gathered from overhearing the following conversation between Jamal and another guard a couple of weeks ago:
“What are you doing? The kitchen is off-limits… It should stay locked,” came the first man’s voice, whose hoarseness led Petra to conclude he was the newly hired guy.
“Can’t stay up if I don’t have a cup of coffee with my cigarette,” came the reply from Jamal as he juggled the keys and unlocked the kitchen door. He then added, “I’ll just be in here for a couple of minutes… I’ll lock it on the way out.”
“You can’t smoke inside. The Doctor has the nose of a wolfhound… He detected the smell hours after I had put it out … Mind you, I was smoking near the entrance, not even indoors!” protested the first.
“Relax… I smoke in the backyard,” replied Jamal before chuckling, “I like to sit on the bench and enjoy the beautiful scene.”
“The beautiful scene of tombstones?!” the other exclaimed.
“Death isn’t as awful as people make it out to be… Imagine how liberating it would be to fall asleep and never wake up again,” Jamal explained lightheartedly.
“That’s dark…,” the guard mumbles after a brief pause, having taken the opportunity to ruminate on the previous sentence. “I don’t know man, looking at it… it gives me the creeps, especially at night. It was such a relief to know that I would be stationed on the other side.”
“Don’t fear the dead, son. They can’t hurt you. Those who roam the earth arrogantly as if they own it, on the other hand… Those are the ones you should be wary of.”
Upon approaching the staircase, the smell of freshly brewed coffee came wafting through the air. This is it! The narrow time window during which she could descend the stairs, cross the hall and enter the backyard through the kitchen. She would hide behind one of the tall bushes a few steps away from the bench until the guard finished his cigarette and shut her out. It would then be easy to follow the usual path through the gap in the fence and into the cemetery.
There are no more minutes to spare. Petra wraps the bag’s string around her neck to maneuver easily and begins descending the steps one at a time, keeping both hands clasped firmly on the banister.
She gains a better view of the huge dining hall with each step. All of the lights were turned off, but the moonlight seeping through the entrance cast shadows from various objects scattered around the room, including the younger guard himself, who appeared to be marching back and forth near the far left entrance.
Two long dining tables stood in the middle of the hall, dividing the room horizontally, and beyond the tables lies her main destination: the kitchen. She could hear the older guard rummaging around in the kitchen cupboards. The powerful aroma flowing into the hall indicated that his cup of coffee was almost ready.
She crouches down and silently takes two wide steps to the far right end of the first table, her attention divided between the shifting shadow on the floor and the sounds echoing from the kitchen. She positions herself behind the back of the chair, which creates a barrier shielding her from the guard’s line of vision and allowing her to remain hidden in the shadows.
The sound of a spoon striking the cup’s sides suggested that the coffee was ready. She strains her ears and makes sure that the guard’s footsteps are heading away from the kitchen door before she makes the second move and leaps behind the far end of the second table.
She takes a moment to regain her balance and calm down. She places her hand on her chest. Since the beginning of the night, her hammering heart has been a hindrance. So much of her plan relied on the ability to detect and follow sounds, but she could feel her consciousness ebbing away with each loud pulse.
This last thought hadn’t finished forming in her head when a soft “Pssst” startles her, and she turns to look behind her.
For the second time that night, the sight of Dolly’s face staring back at her causes a sense of foreboding to pass through her. With her full attention directed toward what was in front of her, she had not looked behind and checked if she had been followed.
She places her finger on her mouth and beckons for Dolly to join her. Dolly shakes her head in protest and stays put. She curses under her breath in a fury. Time is of the essence. She doesn’t have any other choice. She casts a glimpse in the direction of the moving shadow and crawls back to Dolly. Once she reaches her, she immediately places her hand on Dolly’s head and lowers it, ensuring she is completely concealed behind the chair.
“What are you doing?” Dolly says in a strangled whisper.
“Why did you follow me?”
“I saw you turn right. That’s not where the bathroom is,”
“I know…” replies Petra with exasperation, “I am leaving this place.”
“They will kill you! You can’t leave!” Dolly interrupts with a squeak that is almost audible.
“Shhh… lower your voice! I can, and I will. Go back upstairs. I don’t have time. I have to keep going.”
“Please don’t go… Don’t leave me, please,” Dolly replies, her eyes showing her mounting fear.
This was supposed to be a solo mission. There isn’t enough room for anyone else. The scope of her plan goes as far as the cemetery’s gates. After that, she had to improvise as she faced her own bleak future. An additional person, especially someone like Dolly, could be considered a liability. Being responsible for herself is a gamble she was willing to take, but being in charge of someone else’s life is more than she had bargained for.
They’ve gotten this far, though. A couple more steps, and they would be out of here. Petra tries to make a quick decision. There is no more time to contemplate the consequences.
She looks at Dolly’s pleading face and makes up her mind.
“Come with me,” she says.
“Wha…I can’t… They would kill us! Where would we go?!”
“We’ll manage… I have just turned eighteen, and you will be eighteen in a few years. We’ll be transferred to another location, and who knows what kind of fresh hell is waiting for us out there. Come, Dolly, we’ve got to get moving before the guard returns.”
Dolly doesn’t reply.
“Come on! Don’t ruin this for me!” Dolly shrinks, then nods reluctantly.
“All right, now follow my steps, and don’t make any noise. We have to get to the kitchen.”
Dolly nods once again as tears run down her cheeks.
“Don’t worry, I will be with you,” says Petra in a feeble attempt to soothe her.
Petra places her finger on her lips as a final warning before turning around and making the same move towards the second table. Once she settles down, she turns around to see Dolly’s trembling figure looking at her. Petra moves her body underneath the table to allow more space for Dolly to occupy and beckons for her once more.
Dolly places both her hands on the floor in an attempt to steady herself when it happens…
She had apparently leaned against one of the chairs surrounding the table. The sound of the chair’s leg scraping the floor echoes throughout the hall.
Both girls stare at each other, transfixed, when a voice comes from near the entrance, “Jamal?”
Dolly clasps both her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle a squeak. Her eyes are wide with terror. What color she had left in her cheeks quickly drained.
Panic-stricken, Petra’s body grows cold with dread. She feels a prickle in the back of her scalp, causing the fine hairs on the back of her neck to rise. As she sees traces of the flashlight lingering behind Dolly, her mind goes blank, and she shrinks back in horror.
“Jamal, is that you?” the guard asks again, his voice growing louder. “Who’s there?!”
Without prior warning, a sudden and unexpected change spreads over Dolly’s face. As though seeing Petra huddled beneath the table had compelled her to make a difficult choice. The terrified expression has been replaced by one of determination. She gets up and walks away without giving Petra a second glance, drawing the guard’s attention to herself. She remains motionless until the flashlight illuminates her frail body.
“What are you doing here, you little filth!” exclaims the guard as he notices her. “Jamal, Come here!”
Jamal crosses the kitchen in what must have been less than two strides after hearing the guard shout. “What is this… What is she doing here?” he exclaims as his eyes fall on the scene before him.
“What do you think? She was trying to escape, of course!” replies the first, his voice trembling with delight.
“I… I was hungry,” Dolly replies, the sound coming from her throat indicating her state of utter terror.
“Yeah, sure… you lying little bit–.”
“Easy now…” Jamal interrupts him.
“What do we do with her?” replies the other, clearly irritated by Jamal’s interruption.
“Nothing, we’ll take her upstairs to the caretakers… It’s their responsibility.”
Dolly’s figure shrinks even more as she gets dragged unceremoniously up the stairs by two massive men flanking her on both sides. Her head lolling back and forth with every step, and she doesn’t look back.
Silence gradually envelops the place as the sound of their footsteps gets further away. She sits motionless, hunched beneath the table, having the entire floor to herself. Her mind is in a trance, deeply absorbed in the events that had just taken place, not being able to process how much time had passed.
Her body begins to move on its own, as if she is on autopilot. She crawls toward the door and rises to her feet.
She walks through the dining hall and into the kitchen, her gaze falling on the guard’s cup of coffee left untouched near the old-fashioned ceramic sink. The smell of fresh air and the evening breeze call her from the door leading to the backyard. A momentary rush of excitement passes through her, only to be replaced by the image of Dolly’s petrified face.
She thought that she did not care much for her, or anybody else for that matter. But why then does it feel like she is committing the most horrific act of betrayal? If she had learned anything at this dreadful place, it would be that everyone carries some kind of a shadow, and the more they try to suppress it, the darker it manifests itself. Nobody can be trusted, and there are no exceptions to this rule. The only way she could protect herself is to recline into her own shell, which is capable of fencing out any outsider, regardless of how well they could hide their shadow. This is a solitary journey. There isn’t enough room for one more passenger.
She turns right when she reaches the back door and sets out for the tall bush covering the cemetery and orphanage fence. She slips through the familiar gap in the wrought iron fence and emerges on the other side of the cemetery.
The cemetery is drenched in darkness. Petra lets the moonlight guide her away as she steps among the graves strewn across the grounds. She brushes her hand lightly against the heads of tombstones as she passes by. Some appeared to be quite recent, with engravings still carved deep into the stone and a bouquet placed on top, while others were forgotten, chipped away at the edges, slowly decaying.
“How liberating indeed to be among them,” she thought, Jamal’s words reverberating through her mind as she crossed the cemetery’s gates, “Each lying peacefully alone in their eternal chambers, oblivious to the woes of the living.” Her time will come one day, and she will be completely free, but first, she must embark on her hollow pursuit through the uncharted territory known as the outside world.
Series – Evanescent
January: If Something Can Go Wrong…It Will – Jonay Quintero Hernández (Spain)
February: The Planet of Pleasure – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)
March: Evening with Jackie Chan – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
April: Vuvuzelas, Walkie-Talkies and Madiba Magic – Sarah-Leah Pimentel (South Africa)
May: Remembering – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
June: 5-4-3-2-1 – Talia Stotts (America)
July: Getting Ready for Newborns – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
August: Regrets – Kate Korneeva (Russia)
September: A Hollow Pursuit – Diana Haidar (Syria)
October: The Test – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
November: A Life Rekindled – Lauren Voaden (United Kingdom)
December: Translation Perfect – Zhang Lu (China)
Special: Catching Water III – Javier Gomez (Argentina)
Background – Context
Transadaptation Volume 2: Conceived – Childhood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2021)
Transadaptation Volume 1: In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: Damascus, Syria – On the street – Mohammad Alzain (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed