I wake with a bad feeling that comes from drinking a bottle of Wacholder the night before and a worse feeling that comes from the knowledge it’s all gone. A hasty squint at the green glass in my hand confirms the emptiness within, and I groan. I’ll have to look elsewhere for solace, and I don’t know how long it’ll be before I’ll be able to manage to get downstairs. The dawn glare stabs my eyes; the mattress stabs my back because there’s a hole in the stuffing and a rusty spring’s sticking up through it. You may as well not waste a proper bed on someone who can’t reliably tell the difference between it and a heap of rubbish, I suppose is what they thought. I never complain, too medicated, why rock the boat eh? It isn’t always Wacholder that does the trick of making me not care; I’m not fussy. Syn and wufle hit the spot (well any spirit really), so too does smoking the leaves of nesokyepe when it’s available, and the powdered snowflakes that only briefly sandpaper the throat work a treat. My methods of relaxation would no doubt be storing up some painful, fatal conditions for myself long term if there was such a thing for any resident of Diegruft. But hey, that’s not our situation, so why not have at it? If the Wacholder doesn’t take me out in a couple birthdays time, some child from the Kepkexiif who’s only just learnt how to use a gun probably will. At least if it is a kid, there’s less chance of being forced to have sex with him first.
My name is Nina, insofar as it matters. Men call me by the name of the real or simulated woman they’d like to have and think of me as ‘bitch’, while the other girls call me bitch and think of me (when they do think) as pitiful, probably. That I am. If anyone (like that little cow Sasha in my class at school) had told me five years ago that by the time I was nineteen I’d be getting shagged by men twice my age, trying to ignore their weight and smell and focus instead on the feel of the leather passenger seats on my back and the nesokyepe in my bloodstream, I’d have probably been sufficiently outraged to slap that person into next week. After the first time it happened, I drank so much Wacholder I pissed the bed. But you’d be surprised what people can get used to. These days, I count a sexual encounter as a success if it doesn’t leave me traumatized and in pain. I let them have me not because I particularly want to, but because it’s what you do. That’s life, isn’t it?
I think I’d actively rather than passively do myself in if I didn’t need to look after Maria. Right now, looking at her passed out on the mattress next to me is the only incentive to try and open my eyes beyond a slit. It hurts like all hell, but the sight is worth it. Like a Madonna knocked off an altar, she lies under stained sheets scented with wufle fumes, I’d guess wearing lingerie she’s not changed for a week. I wish I could tell you for sure. Her red snarly curls have god knows what fluid sticking them together, the sores on her skin are uncovered by makeup, and her fingernails are long and filthy: like the rest of the girls, including me. Unlike us, however, she looks perfect.
A machine gun stutters in the street below. Probably the Kepkexiif found someone they think could be a dissident or else just looked at them funny. It’s a constant annoyance, which is even louder since our window blew out several weeks back. Maria’s eyelids flutter open and I would like nothing better than to bawl at those idiots for waking her. We aren’t expected to entertain the big men from the foreign charity over at their fancy villa until tonight; she could’ve had hours more sleep.
‘Morning,’ I say. ‘Like a Tudor Queen?’
Maria rubs her eyes, leaving them even more panda-like with smudged kohl, moans, and rolls over to face me. ‘I could murder one with more wufle than tomato juice in it.’
I curtsey and am glad I did because although the movement makes me nauseous, it also makes her giggle. ‘Coming right up, milady.’
It quickly becomes clear that attempting to descend the stairs without holding onto the bannister is a lost cause: my legs are too weak. Christ, I should really lay off the Wacholder; I feel like an old woman. Feeling better that way will take too long, though. I need to be able to function today, which means getting a large Tudor Queen down me sharpish. I swear the kitchen is even more of a tip than usual, although it’s hard to tell if I’m honest. Crockery smashed, a sticky brown puddle on the floor, a few more bullet holes in the wall. The men must have had a fight with a client last night or something. They’re all sprawled over the settees across the room, snorting in their sleep like the pigs they are. I try not to breathe through my nose, as the humid air in here smells of sweat. I can’t really mix the drinks properly; I don’t want a clout for waking one of them up with the clinking of a spoon. Ah well, they’ve got plenty of wufle in.
Maria sighs happily as I re-enter the bedroom with our drinks. As we gulp back our Tudor Queens, she raises her glass to me. ‘Cheers, Nina, I needed that!’
So did I, I think. I’m not in the least bit religious, but every time the first taste of a drink hits my throat, I experience ecstasy.
‘Here’s to my knight in a slutty schoolgirl’s uniform,’ continues Maria.
I laugh, looking into her big green eyes and wishing I had a sword to behead any man who tries to touch her.