Eva collapses to the floor. I squat so that we are nearly at face level. The warmth has drained from her eyes.
“I killed her. Do you believe me?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she replies, gazing past me as her breathing becomes shallow.
“Have you ever fought in a battle, Eva?” I ask, lifting her chin with my finger so she’ll look at me.
She blinks. “I was a part of the last great riot ten years ago. I know how what it’s like to fight and lose people I love.”
“A riot is not a war!” I shout.
She clenches her jaw and says nothing. There’s no fear in her eyes. Only defiance. She’s braver than Almaz, I’ll give her that. I don’t want to give in to my desire to hurt her.
“You’ve been on your own since you were sixteen,” I rasp, reaching for her swanlike neck. “You should know better than this. Letting in a strange man.”
Her hard swallow presses into my hand.
I let go and stand with a chuckle. I walk to the kitchen. There is a silver rack on the wall with five knives hanging on it. I take the biggest one. She is standing now, but hasn’t moved from the spot I left her at. Her eyes widen when I return with the long blade in my hand.
“I only wanted to help you,” she says shakily.
So much for being a brave girl.
I sigh. “It’s hard to believe you fought in any kind of battle.”
She crosses her arms. “Bravery isn’t about the absence of fear. It’s about fighting despite it.”
I smile wide at her uninspiring line.
“Buy me a cab so I can get out of this hell hole.”
“I’ll call one right away.”
She goes to her purse and takes her phone out. While she makes the call for a taxi, I walk over to the table to get the magazine. I set the knife down, pick up the publication, and tear off the cover. Staring at the glossy image of Almaz, I sneer.
I rip the paper in two.
“Barak, I called a cab. Let’s go downstairs,” says Eva.
She’s visibly trembling. I gesture for her to lead the way out. At the elevator, she looks up at me with watery eyes.
“How long ago was the war you fought in?” she asks.
“It was over three years ago, but it feels like yesterday.”
She nods. “I know the feeling.”
“Do you?” I snarl.
“I’m not saying I know exactly how you feel, but I want you to know that many other people have gone through what you have and there’s a chance to heal from it.”
“What shit are you talking about?” I shout.
The elevator door opens. She walks inside and remains silent as we’re transported down to ground level. When we walk out of the building, bright lights fight against the darkness. No neon lights or flashy screens can compete with sunsets and starry skies. I miss what it was like to never know what a city is. I’ll never return.
“It takes a long time to heal from what you experienced,” Eva says gently. “Have you ever spoken to anyone about it?”
I bristle at her sympathy. “No one cared to talk to me about it when it mattered.”
The cab pulls up to the curb.
“Thank you for not stabbing me,” she says quietly.
“I wasn’t going to.”
She gives me a skeptical look before getting into the back seat of thecar. I go around to the other side.
“Where to?” asks the driver.
“To the lake,” I answer.
“You can drop him off at the closest beach,” Eva clarifies.
“Where are you going then, Miss?” asks the driver.
“I’ll decide after he’s gone,” she replies.
The car rolls away from the apartment building. I look away from another billboard with Almaz posing on it. I killed a queen.
“Why did she leave this place?” I blurt. “Everyone loved her. She had everything she wanted here.”
“That’s what we all tried to figure out,” says Eva. “She joked about living off the grid for a while. No one thought she actually meant it.”
I roll my eyes. “Being loved wasn’t enough for her. She wanted to be missed, too.”
“Why did you do it?” she asks.
I look over at the little blue-haired girl. “I told you already.”
“That isn’t a good enough reason, Barak.”
We come to a stop light and a loud beat accompanied by chaotic noise fills the air. I look over at a group of people dancing in a small patch of green space. Rays of fluorescent lights shoot everywhere. The people here are so strange. They make even less sense than the ones I left behind at the camp.
“Barak,”says Eva sharply. “Why did you do it?”
“She deserved it.”
Animosity fills the air as we ride toward the edge of the city. I feel her glaring at me.
“She was innocent. She never hurt anyone.”
“People like her are a disease. Wars start because of them. One day she would have been a queen of some foolish tribe and another battle would start over land. The cycle continues because of people like her.”
“Are you hearing yourself?” she asks, almost breathless. “Almaz was one of the most peaceful people to walk this earth.”
“Then why did she have a knife?”
Eva’s words don’t bother me. She knows nothing about me. She never knew Almaz, either. She only loves the idea of a woman she never met.
“Sane people don’t talk the way you’re talking right now,” she presses.
“I’m more sane than people realize.”
She leans close to me. “So you killed a kind woman who only wanted to share stories with the world.”
I roll my eyes. She’s too stupid to understand.
“Listen, I know it’s hard, Barak,” she says, her tone softening. “You had to see people you love die right in front of you. Seeing that does unspeakable damage to one’s soul.”
I almost hit the door, but control myself. As long as I am inside of this moving vehicle there’s a chance I will bash her face in and kill the driver, too, if he intervenes. I have to behave. Streaks of tears glisten down Eva’s delicate face. I don’t want to hurt her, but she’s tempting me to do it all the same.
“Don’t act like you know what I’ve been through, Eva.”
“You think you’re the only one who’s been through hell,” she says, shaking her head. “That way of thinking will isolate you from everyone else – even those who hope to help you. It will make you tumble into a spiral of ideas that rationalize violence against people who mean you no harm. It has made you a killer.”
“Pull over here!” I say sharply.
I grit my teeth and glare at Eva as the car slows down.
“Thanks for the ride,” I say, opening the door.
“Wait,” she says.
She’ll be the last person I’ll see for weeks, maybe longer. I might as well hear what she has to say. An odd smile forms on her mouth as she looks at me.
“What do you want to say?” I ask.
She leans in to whisper in my ear. “Don’t you realize? She’s alive now more than ever. A writer never dies.”
I jump out of the car and slam the door. I sprint across the street toward the lake as Eva’s last words rings in my ears over and over again. When my feet hit the sand of the beach, I collapse. Looking up at the full moon, I shake my head. The world goes blurry.
“She’s lying!” I cry. “I killed that story teller. She’s dead!”
A cool breeze whispers over the water and teases my warm skin. The faintest smell of lavender carries on the wind and caresses my senses. I shudder. A distant, but distinct voice whispers on the wind.
“No. You can’t be here. You’re dead.”
“Hahaha!” the story teller laughs.