A rhythmic tap at the door

Submitted into Contest #84 in response to: Write a story that spans exactly a year and takes place in a single room.... view prompt

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Mystery Romance Sad

A rhythmic tap at the door.


She immediately stirred from her light, disturbed sleep atop a bed she was forced to be familiar with. A comfortable bed, double and vintage. She could sprawl herself across it if she wanted, as she generally loved to do, when asleep.


On this bed, she did not. It was unlikely that she ever would.


She nervously looked at the ceramic door whose colour matched the soft brown, carpeted floor, feeling the everlasting pressure of a frown between her brows; her forehead would be permanently creased by the time she got out of here.


She preferred to be optimistic and believe in that possibility. Otherwise, what was the point of cooperating?


The knobby handle of the recently unlocked door slowly turned. Wrapped into a tight ball along one corner of the bed, laden with duvet covers of soft mahogany, she watched the door open without moving.


It was always so luminous here. No windows, just candles. The light green walls seemed to have a certain glow to them.


Under any other circumstances, it would have been an almost ethereal beauty. In this situation, it only added to the eeriness of the nightmare she had found herself in.


A shadow stepped in cautiously, closed the door behind it.


She was scared. She had been for a long time.


How long?


Beneath her bed... The bed, not hers.


She needed to remind herself not to claim possession to any of it. It was not hers. It would never be hers...


Beneath the bed, she had scratched forty-one singular strikes using a hairpin. Exactly forty-one days since he got her.


So, again, she was scared, but she had acclimatized a little. She could see by her significantly reduced franticness.


For once. Her breathing did not escalate. Her heart did not do a somersault.


Her desperate shuffles towards the door, and subsequent pleas, upon hearing the slightest sound outside the room, had gradually dissipated. Her hard, violent knocks had become obsolete. She gave up too fast.


She was scared, but this time, something inside of her came to a resolve.


He was the only option she had for a companion, and she needed company. He had tried to be company many times before, the creep, but she'd never allowed him. So many slurs she'd thrown at him for his nerve. Now, she would go with the flow, disturbing and uncomfortable as it was.


"I still don't understand why you show me your face," her voice croaked out of her tender throat. She cried every day and made no reservations of her vocal expressions.


His voice was smooth and polished, at a complete contrast to his scraggly appearance. He gently sat down next to her, placed a palm on her shoulder. She jumped off the bed so fast she landed painfully on her elbow. Pain shot through the whole left arm. She winced internally, feeling crackling flames within the hot glower she shot at him.


"I'm sorry," he bowed his head. "I didn't mean to scare you. Again."


"You always do."


"That's not what I want."


"Then let me go."


"I... can't."


"Why not?"


"Because I need you to see me."


I need you to see me. He'd said that to her before. I need you to see me.


"You're holding me against my will," she said. "You have kidnapped me."


He shook his head with seeming nonchalance. "We're helping each other," he said simply. "One day, you'll see."


More riddle talk and unanswered questions.


Nothing new.


Twenty-three unwitnessed sunrises later.


This day stood out the most so far. He wore a suit. Beard was still there, unusually groomed. She humoured him and wore the dress he gave her. Music played from an old CD player. They danced.


"You're warming up to me," he said.


"Better to put my own dress on than to have you force it on me while I'm unconscious." Her voice was smoother. The crying had decreased in frequency.


She had even begun to help herself to some books stacked atop one of the two bedside tables flanking the bed. The creep had interesting taste.


"I would never do that," the man's eyes penetrated hers, and for the first time, she looked back. She did not know why, but she did. She regretted her decision, because she did not see the monster that she thought resided behind those black eyes.


She did not see someone to erect hard defenses against.


Her nights, littered with nightmares about violent gangrapes and drug-induced stupor ending in bloody shootouts, transitioned into brooding sleepless nights filled with half-hearted dips into fictional novels. The half-hearted dips quickly turned into eager dives.


In those pages, she could escape.


He gave her food.


Either he was a chef, or he hired someone. She ate the food. Worst case scenario was that she would die of food-poisoning. But who would miss her?


"I wonder why you treat me so well, kidnapper," she spat at him one day when he brought two wine glasses and a full bottle with him.


He smiled a tight smile. "Prostitutes are people, too. I'm better than he ever was to you."


Her pimp.


An image flashed through her memory. A swing of his chubby hand. A clapping sound. A throbbing sting as she fell to the ground, disoriented...


Was she?


A person?


One thing was sure. She felt like a person right now. Enough that, two wineglasses later, she could allow him to give her a hug.


"Both of our barriers were down, mine more than yours," she explained the next day. "It'll never happen again."


“I know you’d like to believe that,” he said softly. “But on the day we danced, you saw me. I saw it in your eyes.”


The fact that he saw that deeply into her shook the internal resolve she thought she was building.


It was on the ninety-fourth day that she tried to escape again. He was smart, and maybe even genuinely considerate, and he had never once touched her suggestively or inappropriately, and he fed her.


And kept her warm.


And clean.


And… safe?


No. He had her against her will. She had to run. But where to? Her big, lazy and abusive blob of a pimp? To the girls who were just as helpless as she was? Where would she find the comfort? The quiet? The time to delve into fictitious worlds? To think? To look within for once?


Would she run to the men? The dirty old hags? The cold and rich manipulators? The disparaging stares? The dirty sneers from clueless onlookers?


She did not know, but she had to run from this captor. She could not trust him. He was a man. He was a stranger. She made money from the likes of him. Nothing else that was good could come out of a relationship, no matter the nature, with a man.


A surge of panic engrossed her. She could not stay here, but where could she run?


The familiar, rhythmic tap at the door. Her heart staggered. She held her breath and stood against the wall adjacent to the door.


Just do it.


The door swung open and she sprang into the opening, but he was fast. She gasped as his hand caught her arm and broke her trot before it even began.


She gave no further protests. She just gave in and allowed him to lead her back inside.


He used no force.


“I gave you a chance to make a run for it,” he told her two months later when she asked him to let her go. More habitually now than anything else.


Her hair was longer. Her figure much less bony. Her nights, more restful.


“You caught me,” she countered.


“Because you allowed me to. You gave me a head-start. Your actions were premeditated, but unsure.”


She looked away.


“It’s OK if you want to stay,” he said. “It’s OK to admit that.”


“Stay here for what?” She shouted. “Why have you kept me here? What is your plan?”


He walked a few steps and sat on a cushioned chair against a wall. She sat there on most days to read.


“Word. Deed. Intention,” he said. “My words seem elusive to you. My actions seem deceptive to you. My intentions seem flawed to you. Why? Because I have removed you from a murderous situation while you were unconscious. You gave me no consent, but I took you anyway. In official terms, I’ve kidnapped you, and kidnapping is wrong. Kidnapers are bad people. It’s all that they’re defined by. Right?” He gave her a penetrating look.


It’s not all you are. She knew that now.


“Yet, when I give you a chance to escape, you completely pass it up. And you never try again to run.”


His gaze was unflinching. “The truth is this. You don’t want to run. If you did, you would be long gone by now.”


He stood up. Walked towards her. Leaned down ‘till his face was level with hers.


His gaze, unflinching.


“The question should not be why I have kept you here. It should be why you’re still keeping yourself here.”


It was tumultuous within her world. It was a world of shame and indecision and paranoia. No one was there to give her a blunt to mellow her down in the wee hours of sleepless existence. No one to offer a sniff of a line or two.


She was faced with her demons. The continuous urge to scrub her skin where many hands had wandered. The sharp episodes of bodily cravings. The panic attacks.


Days and weeks stringed together, a sequence of sweaty wakings, deep longings and curious unfoldings. Bouts of emotions encapsulated her. Sadness about her parents who disowned her because she had flunked matric twice. Anger towards her first boyfriend for finding another besides her. Rage against her pimp for using her as a tool, for seeing her as a tool, for treating her like a tool.


Grief for the girls, who were stuck in the vicious cycle no one seemed to care enough to help them out of. They were alone, like she was.


Like… she used to be?


Fists clenched, nails biting into the skin to release crimson blobs. They smeared her fingers. She did not care.


Six months in and he was still religiously bringing her a tub of hot water and sanitations each morning.


“I would like to do it, this time,” he placed the tub atop the bed as she stirred from a troubled slumber. “Wash you.”


She surprised herself when she nodded.


“Just the top. Not the bottom.” He gave her a towel and turned away. She followed cue, tentatively stepping out from under the blanket.


She got out of the night dress and wrapped the towel around her waistline, watching him. He did not peek.


“Done.”


The look he gave her was of… appreciation. But the different kind. Not what she was used to.


There was no gluttonous hunger.


Was she blushing?


Could she?


His hands were gentle and dexterous. He stood behind her, washing her back. “I’ve never seen you sprawled on the bed like that.”


“I never knew I ever would.”


“You never did. But you’ve always looked so pretty while asleep. Pretty and haunted.” He brought soap smeared fingers around her neck from behind and massaged. “


Strangulation?


Although her breath caught, she remained composed, remained… trusting.


As though a reassurance, the hands descended onto her shoulders, her arms, her bust, her tummy, so tenderly, so lovingly.


“You are probably the first man I have met who is not a monster,” she sighed, leaning back into him. He relented and allowed her to coax herself into his embrace.


For a long time, she stayed there, nestled into his captor’s embrace.


Upon his departure, she felt a physical desire which could neither be ignored nor stifled.


Self-pleasure had never been in her mind until then.


Masturbation was one thing. Sex was an entirely different thing. She felt attracted to him, but she would never go there with him.


He seemed to perceive that.


Day 267.


“Why did you touch me like that?” She asked. “All those weeks ago.”


A quizzical stare was all she got.


“You’ve done it only once and never again afterwards.”


“Did you want me to, afterwards?”


“For someone who’s been reading me so well, I don’t buy your cluelessness.”


“Then, why did you just not ask me to?”


Silence.


It shamed her to admit it to herself, her self-pleasure brought about by thoughts of her captor. The strange longing for intimacy but not intercourse.


Her sexuality shamed her so much that she dared never asked for anything more than what was offered to her, no matter how little.


“I think that… you want the same thing as I do,” she whispered nervously.


She hesitated.


“I… want you to hold me tonight.”


He looked at her for a long time.


“Why?”


A pause. “Because I’m beginning to see you.”


Because I want to accept love from you, no matter how bizarre.


His stare did not waver.


For the following two weeks, no words came from him.


She questioned. And urged. And coaxed.


And pleaded.


But his visits were laced with suffocating cords of silence. The silence left her questioning herself.


This is why I never ask.


Just as she began to retreat, he spoke again. His first words to her in weeks, and they touched her core.


“It’s such a bizarre thing,” he said, sitting on her reading chair. “To watch a person heal. It’s both wonderful and tragic.”


She gave him a withering look.


“You think you’re a failure,” he said. “And this makes you perceive every decision that you make as a failure, as the wrong decision.”


She felt so… observed.


“Do you get to treat me like that now?” Was this the part where the true colors came out? Where the bubble finally got popped?


He gave her a level stare. “You triggered something in me when you asked me to hold you. A sore spot, so to speak.”


“So you decide not to speak to me?”


“I am your capturer, and you are my prisoner, remember? Or has the story unraveled to reveal a different story?”


He was mad. At her. But really at himself. Why?


“You can’t just speak to me like that,” she mumbled.


“Why not?”


Odd question. She paused and thought...


It was because it made her feel disrespected.


Once upon a time, she’d cowered before him. Those first two months. She was terrified of him. She was terrified for her life. But now…?


“Your resolve has grown. You’re more transparent and expressive with me. Even though it scared you to ask me to hold you, you did anyway. You should have never let my reaction make you question your decision like that. The fact that you made that bold request is a win in itself,” He stood up and walked to her, always sitting cross-legged on the bed. He took her hand in his. “You’re not a failure.”


Day 334.


A rhythmic tap at the door.


She had just gotten into bed.


Her bed?


The door opened, then closed.


She feigned sleep.


Was this the time when she finally got to witness him watching her sleep?


No. He moved across the floor. Beside the bed. Onto the bed.


Her breath caught.


She had entered the business of selling her body after her eighteenth birthday. It had been eleven years since she felt a longing for closeness from someone who was readily, currently, available to give it.


Her throat caught an erupting sob when his arms came around her from behind, when his breath warmed the back of her neck.


He was not fooled by her pretense to be asleep. “I’m afraid of women just as you’re afraid of men," he whispered. "I’m doing this not because you’ve asked.”


He was doing it because he wanted to face his fears, too.


‘We’re helping each other. One day, you’ll see.’ He had said.


“I see you more and more every day,” she whispered back. “You have so much depth.”


“So do you.


They lay silently for the rest of the night.


And the next thirty nights.


“I think it’s time for you to see the world again. You’re ready for it.”


He had shaved. Beneath all the scruff, he was good looking.


His words made her anxious. This was her world now. Her bubble. Her sanctuary.


“You went out into the world a gullible little girl who didn’t know better. You weren’t equipped to make better choices for yourself and you fell under the wrong influence. Now, you are different. Now, you have an idea of where to fix your boundaries,” He touched her shoulder. “You’ll make the right choices for yourself this time.”


“I don’t want to go,” she whispered.


“I’m not kicking you out. I’m telling you that you’re free to go.”


“Will you stop visiting me if I stay?”


“No.”


“Then, I’m staying.”


He seemed displeased. He, too, was at war within himself.


He imprisoned her, and she wanted to remain his prisoner. They could not be lovers… yet? But they craved each other’s intimacy.


He was forced to remain a kidnapper.


“What do you do when you’re not here with me?” She asked.


“I go back to my wife and kids.”


Because that was the thing. They surrounded themselves with people throughout their entire lives. Family. Friends. Enemies.


And of all those people, they showed none what their true colors were.


“The two of us… we see each other,” she said.


“Yet, we can never be together,” he responded.


Bittersweet.


Day 365.


A rhythmic tap at the door.


She smiled.


The door opened and a shadowy figure entered.


Her smile faded.


“Who are you?” The new visitor seemed stunned.


A beautiful, voluptuous woman.


“Who are you?” She shot back.


“I’m Zander’s wife.”


A dark cloud descended.


“I’m Luna.”

March 12, 2021 19:28

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