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   Chapter 2 Still Fragile

Broken Past By Arathi Characters: 11806

Updated: 2018-07-31 07:56

True to his word, the agent phoned me in two days requesting a meeting to complete the transaction. We agreed to meet at the house later that afternoon. That way I could check on the progress of the bathroom and kitchen, and he could hand over the keys thus completing the sale.

I quickly hopped into the shower and squealed when I realized to my dismay that I had forgotten to run the hot water. Now, a torrent of cold water poured over me. Once the initial shock had passed, it wasn't all that bad. In the midst of the shaking and shivering, as quickly as my hands would allow me to, I finish bathing and step into fresh clothes. While I do, I plan my day. A pit stop at the cafeteria for some breakfast, a chat with the bank manager, and a few hours of exploring the mountainside, perhaps even the local market before I made my way to the house. I felt quite pleased with myself. That was a lot to accomplish in a day. In bustling London, perhaps that would have been a morning's work. But here, in this obscure mountain village, this was undoubtedly a day's effort.

Life here was slow. It wasn't fast paced at all. More often than not, I would see whole families just sitting and staring at the world as it flew past them. Thinking more deeply about the subject, I realized that life here was quite simple. Mornings were often foggy, so no one truly cared for an ungodly early start. And by eight p.m., everyone was tucked inside their houses. At first, I attributed this whole early-to-bed routine to the lack of entertainment options. There were no sprawling malls. I didn't quite remember seeing any theaters or movie halls. Restaurants were simple; most served only food. Rarely did I come across one that served alcohol. There were no massive game arcades. As far as I had traveled since I had gotten here, I hadn't seen any clubs. No hotels with late night party advertisements. So what did people do when it came down to entertainment? Television, perhaps? Was there a real purpose in stepping out after eight p.m.?

My guide had told me that travel after dark was unsafe for several reasons. After all, in a way, the mountains themselves posed a threat. Sure they were impressively gigantic and immensely beautiful. Sure the sun rising and setting over them flashed the skies in brilliant hues of colors that I couldn't name aside from vaguely categorizing them as shades of red, blue, orange, pink, purple, black and the likes. But that made them no less treacherous. If you stepped on slippery pine needles, you could go tumbling into the abyss. If you stepped too close to an edge, you could set off a tiny avalanche. If you zigzagged too quickly around the corners, you could literally fly off. And then, of course, there were the numerous rumors of encounters with wild animals.

So when everything around you threatened your very existence, what do you do? You hole up in your house when darkness calls. This was survival. As pure and simple as that. And I was perfectly fine with this lifestyle. Yes, I had grown up in London. Yes, I lived amongst throngs of people who deftly made their way about the city. Yes, I had access to the latest in fashion, technology, and entertainment. But the real question was, could I not live without them? If I had been any other Londoner, perhaps not. However, I wasn't like them. Was I?

My entire career, save for a short stint here and there, I had worked from home. So much so that now, when I faced people, I was intimidated by them. I knew I could be charming by email and during a telephonic conversation. However, could I charm someone if I met them in person? Most likely not. I pegged this lack of confidence to one aspect of my life – my relationship with Tom.

Tom had been, everything that a girl could ask for. He was smart and savvy. He had this air of confidence that drew me to him like a moth to a flame. He had chiseled features and a body that was to die for. Of course, like the clichéd perfect guy, he had that soft baby blond hair and blue eyes. The bad-boy charm that left me feeling so on edge and so pumped up on adrenalin was also a massive factor in my budding admiration for Tom. But as it is with all extremely beautiful people, they crave power and dominance. They desire to destroy the confidence of others so they may seem like the center of the universe. And as surely as I breathe every day, Tom chipped away at my confidence till there was none left. For the longest time ever, I was a part of him. I wasn't me. I couldn't be just me. I was never enough.

It started small. And I never noticed when and how it had grown to such immense proportions. When we first met, Tom said nothing of my appearance, and naturally, I assumed he was okay with the way I looked. When you put an average looking girl in front of an incredibly handsome man, her first thoughts are always along the lines of what does he see in me? But there's also a silent sense of relief that he does see something. And you get so wrapped up in convincing yourself that this business of what's underneath matters, that you miss the first signs. The subtle signs. Then one day he's commenting on your hair and how it droops. Or how shabbily clothes hang off your frame. Or perhaps he's displeased that you don't sit around with manicured nails and pounds of makeup to hide the blotches. Maybe he's disappointed that you aren't as witty as he first assumed?

So you find yourself rushing around trying to be better. And that's the first slip. Once that inadequacy seed takes root, there's no turning around. Before long he drains you of your self-esteem and confidence. But who in their right mind gives up on a long-term relationship? You attend a party and watch a squabbling couple and thank the stars you don't have it as bad. You convince yourself the little snide remarks are ignorable in the larger scheme of things. After

all, which of us wasn't brought up constantly reminded that there's always something worse out there and that we should be grateful for what we do have?

So if I had to work on my appearance or wit to please a guy who was not physically violent, I didn't have it all that bad, right? Wrong! My self-confidence shouldn't be dependent on his words of praise. It was mine and mine alone to nurture. However, I had forgotten that. I had forgotten about me. I trusted him, and I listened to him. And he led me down a path that had eventually eroded the skills I needed to be independent. When I had woken to the realization that I was as battered and bruised, albeit figuratively, as the woman two floors above me, whose husband used her as a punching bag, only then did I understand the depths to which I had fallen.

Breaking free requires courage, a skill I did not have anymore. Or did I? Does running away and hiding count? In my case, it did. After all, I was free of Tom, wasn't I? Was I cowardly or courageous? I reminded myself that that was perhaps a debate left for another day. For today, today I would begin a new life. And a new beginning demands courage. And thinking about Tom would rob me of whatever semblance of courage I had left.

So off I went, with trepidation as my companion, into a world I knew almost nothing about. I clutched my bag and reminded myself that I had nothing to fear of the unknown.

As I exited the rest-house, my mind was sufficiently distracted from my troubles. As the chilly fresh air made its way inside me, I could feel it refreshing every atom that was me. I walked not because I had somewhere to be, but because I wanted to see more. From the complete view of the mountain range to the dusty but frequently treaded trail before me to the tiny houses clumped side-by-side with their tin roofs and warped wood frames. The wildly growing flowering bushes to the odd purple flower tree that grew from an otherwise utterly bare cliff. Like a child in a candy store, I wanted to see, and touch everything.

Before I knew it, the rest-house was miles behind me, and I was approaching a marketplace with a steady influx of tourists. Suddenly I was no longer the oddity in the crowd. I was not the only blond or fair skinned person. I was not the only one with an accent the locals couldn't understand. I wasn't the only one being stared at. In fact, there were so many of us in that market that I felt... invisible. And from that invisibility grew a sense of comfort and perhaps, even a touch of boldness.

I found myself smacking my head as my stomach growled. So lost in my thoughts, I had skipped the trip to the cafeteria. And now, I was starved. I walked from store to store, searching for something to satisfy my hunger with. And I was hoping to find something I recognized as food. Don't get me wrong. There was no shortage of food at all. In fact, some stores were overflowing with supplies and ready-to-eat items. But I couldn't identify what was on sale, and I was unwilling to take the risk and consume something that would turn my insides out. The last thing I needed was to be confined to my room with an upset tummy.

So I grabbed a couple of bags of crisps and an aerated beverage. Not wanting to sit in a busy marketplace and eat, I walked a little longer looking for a spot where I could devour my food. Since the mountainside is never short of quiet picturesque places, it wasn't long before I found a suitable place; a long straight road flanked on both sides by terraced slopes. On the left, was a chicken-mesh fenced in area with large signboards every 10 feet that read, military endurance training ground. On the right, was a pine-tree-covered slope that gradually descended into a golf course.

As I sat perched on a tree stump, I yanked on the bag of crisps and smiled when the ends opened up with a satisfactory scrunchy sound. A handful of crisps went into my mouth, and I began to look around me. A group of about 20 men in their military greens jogged into the training field and started their daily exercises. I watched with mute fascination as the group ran several circles around the track and then jogged up to the center. I watched as they dropped to the ground and began push-ups. Without so much as breaking a sweat, they made their way towards the obstacles. When I had emptied the first packet of crisps, I moved on to the next. I relished them so much more today. Not because I was hungry, but because it felt so good to indulge.

In front of me was a group of young men eager to stay in shape and prove themselves, while I... I was free from all restrictions. As I swallowed the last of my food, I dusted my hands on the back of my jeans and walked closer to the fence. I found myself mesmerized by their flawless coordinated movements. Pretty soon, I was standing with my nose touching the fence, my fingers wrapped around the holes in the chicken-mesh.

And then it happened. The tallest man in the group looked right at me. At first, I wondered if I would get into trouble for being where I was. This was after all military training grounds, and I was an unauthorized person. However, I had seen no signs that said this area was off limits. I did recall seeing posters that said military personnel had permission to stop and conduct checks on suspicious looking people randomly. In this moment, could I have been a suspicious looking person? Was I indeed paying close attention to something that should have been well... not as enticing as I had found it to be?

I struggled with myself at that moment. Would quickly walking away make me more suspicious? Or would staying put make my actions more innocent and tourist-like? My decision was made for me when he smiled. For a brief moment, I panicked. I don't know why I did; I just know that I did. And in my panic, I did what I do best.

I ran.

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