Sehnsucht: A Short Story
Anna is sitting naked on the high-backed chair looking in the cheap aluminum framed mirror. It is a small room in a grey depilated apartment building and almost nude with sparse furnishing: two simple chairs in a corner, used more as a resting place for dirty clothes than for idle gossip. A small TV mounted on the wall, on mute with its screen alternating between static and a music video featuring a few garish characters from hell. A double bed in another corner covered with a dark purple quilt and presently occupied by a naked hairless man whose only principal physical feature seems to be a bulging and pale beer belly, obscene with the singleness of a prominent dark belly button. Two lamps on metallic side tables on each side of the bed are visible; one throwing a red glare across the room and the other indecisive in its flickering. The room smells faintly of cheap sex and sweat: both man sweat and woman sweat and the smell of their unwashed bodies. The room smells of used condoms and dirty bedsheets; the room smells of sin and of the basest of desires.
The man slowly gets up, grabs hold of a dirty towel and wipes his genitals. He examines the towel and disgusted with what he sees, throws it back on the floor. He gets up and slowly starts getting dressed. A tattered wallet slips out of the pocket of his jeans. He picks it up, opens it, seems frustrated on what he sees and puts it back in the pocket. The naked image in the mirror turns a steely gaze in his direction and a hand moves in the direction of the red panic button, seemingly of its own accord. The man catches the movement of the hand out of the corner of his eyes and sees the red button. He knows what it is. A button which when pressed brings up two burly gentlemen in cheap polyester suits with shining boots and dead eyes. Suddenly the man gets afraid. He knows what those shiny boots can do to a man’s groin. ‘Fuck!’ He slips his hand back into the jeans’ pocket, pulls out the wallet and throws the few bills it miserably carries on the bed. The steely eyes in the mirror catch the complete struggle in detail and the hand withdraws from the red button. The man looks at the curving line of Anna’s hips peeking from under the chair’s back and licks his dry lips. He looks inside the empty wallet and dejectedly puts it back. He gets out without a second glance.
Anna gets up, locks the door and ensures the safety chain is in place. Picking up the dirty soiled towel and without thinking, she wipes down herself between the legs. She picks up the cheap disposable lighter and lights up a cigarette, while walking out on the balcony. She looks out, oblivious of her naked body and a few drunken leering cheers from down below in the street. Her gaze is directed at a couple hurrying through the light rain, their shoes rippling the small pools of rain water. The man is tall and wearing a dark coloured overcoat. His naked head is gleaming with rain water. The woman is also wearing a dark overcoat and is tightly clutching the man’s arm. Suddenly she slips but the man’s quick reflexes prevent her from falling. She looks up at him with a small grateful smile. The couple walks on and vanishes around the corner. Anna takes a deep drag on her cigarette and wishes she was the woman in the street, safe in the warm hold of a man.
The couple is still walking in the almost ending rain and the woman is still grasping the man’s arm. They walk on and enter a small pizza place. The man walks to the counter. The woman removes her coat and moves towards a small table in the corner. She adjusts the chair and examines the surroundings: a small, very small place with cheap furnishing and old movie posters on the walls; not much rush occupying the four tables in the establishment at this hour. On one table an old man is staring at the empty disposable plate and at the other a tired looking man is sitting with a small girl of six. The woman eyes the child with interest who is wearing a beige skirt and a red woolen cap. She is busy finishing a slice smeared with ketchup. She finishes it, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, ‘let us go, I am full’, she looks up at her father, who smiles and gets up. The woman thinks of her two children, killed in a hit-and-run a few years ago. She smiles sadly and prepares to greet her husband coming back from the counter wishing she had a girl that age to light the sad existence she calls life.
The man and his daughter walk out on the street. It has stopped raining but the streets are still gray. They walk on, the man holding the little girl’s hand. The girl tries to jump into every puddle, sometimes splashing her father’s trousers. But he does not mind and instead encourages her with a smile. The sun comes out suddenly painting everything with a gold-yellow warmth and radiance. They pass by a small playing area, where a few children are enjoying the coldness of wet slides, laughing in their sodden clothes. The giggles and laughter of playing children catch the fancy of the little girl. She drags her father towards the park. They stand outside the fence, holding hands. A boy stands out from amongst the small crowd of playing children. Almost as old as the man’s daughter, he is trying to swing hard. Suddenly, he loses his grip and falls down. A woman runs up to him, picking him up and wiping his bloody nose. ‘Look what you have done’ she sounds scared. The boy smiles a teary smile which calms her down a bit. They both collect their things and prepare to go home. Looking at the empty oscillating swing, the little girl looks up at her father with pleading blue eyes. ‘No. You know we are getting late’, they move ahead. They walk onwards and enter a hospital. She has cancer and today is her appointment for chemotherapy.
‘Keep looking up. It will stop the bleeding’, the mother tells her son. They are both hurrying home, she trying to hold his hand and keep his head up simultaneously. ‘Don’t worry Mom, I am fine. Look no more bleeding’. The woman looks at her son and seeing the blood drying quickly on his upper lip, sighs with relief. They walk on and enter a gray building. The stairs and the lobby reek of piss and poverty. They start climbing the stairs, the little boy happily and oblivious of the depressing surroundings, but the woman wishes the stairs never end. She thinks of her alcoholic abusive husband sitting in front of the TV, scratching his hairy beer belly and devising new means of torturing his wife. They reach their apartment door on the second floor. ‘The door to my personal hell’, the woman shrugs in frustration and open the door. ‘Back so soon?’ a deeply slurred voice from the land of doom. ‘Come here’, the sarcasm beckons and the boy with his happiness vanishing rapidly, runs to his room. The woman approaches the man with the slurred voice and heavily hooded eyes. She looks at the leather belt with the heavy buckle clenched tightly in the man’s hand and a shiver runs down her spine. ‘Please God no’, she silently prays but God does not live in the houses of the poor. The man gets up and there is menace lurking in his silence. The woman hangs down her head with a silent helplessness and turns the other way. Once, twice, thrice, the woman loses count and stops screaming after five as the leather lights fiery trails across her back. The man tires down and sinks back into the sofa in a drunken stupor. The woman gets out on the balcony and rests her bruised back against the cold rain soaked wall. She looks enviously at Anna smoking on her balcony from behind the burning mist in her eyes. Anna throws down the butt and goes inside the apartment.