She nods her head reassuringly as I tell her, her eyes bulging and her ceramic-white teeth clenching. When I finish, she purses her deep red lipstick heavy lips and sighs.
“I know,” I say, my hands trembling. “It sounds like I’m crazy. But you have to believe me - I saw it. With my own two eyes!” My voice takes on a high-pitched tone, and she set her hand soothingly on my knee. A singular silver ring lay on her finger, and it rubs against my leg. Something about her feels vaguely familiar, but I can't remember ever meeting her.
I’m leaping to the conclusion that she doesn't believe me. But why wouldn’t I? After enough turned heads and suggestions to talk to somebody, you assume they will pawn you off to somebody else to listen to your stories. To nod and smile and pat you on the back, the dedicated ones buying you cheap get well soon cards. Even my mother got one, phony watercolour flowers in a blue pot, curved writing wishing me a speedy recovery. She didn't write any note, instead writing her name and a small heart next to it. The thought sends a spike of anger through me.
I am not sick. I witnessed a murder, yet nobody believes me. That, more than anything else, is making me want to tear my hair out in frustration. The symptoms came after the chilly October night.
“What were you doing downtown after dark?” Her voice was sweet as if injected with honey. Instead, all I feel are the bees making honey, buzzing around me, poised to sting. Ready to search for holes, every discrepancy in an imperfect memory. But how could I forget?
I take a deep breath before launching into the almost-recited words. “My friend Maisha invited me to a club downtown, so I took the city bus down there. We had a few drinks. I didn’t want my car to be stuck down there.” I roll my eyes as she jots a few things down on her lined notepad, her writing neat, contrary to the doctor’s bad handwriting stereotype.
“What are you writing there, doc?” I ask, gripping the side of her phony leather couch. She looks up at me, pushing up her glasses as they slip down her nose.
“That you weren’t dreaming.” She states. “My job isn’t to belittle you, Ala. It’s to know what you saw.”
“But you don’t believe I saw it.” The words left my lips without permission. A Freudian slip.
“I don’t have enough evidence to make a verdict yet. This meeting is still going, n’est pas?” She smiles, and though the words leaving her mouth console me, something about her leaves me on edge. Too perfect, too sweet. Like cherry-flavoured candy, enjoyable until medicine staked a claim on the flavour.
“Yes,” I grumble, crossing and uncrossing my legs. The couch is uncomfortable, stiff, seemingly impossible to get relaxed in. Then again, it isn’t like I’m here to loosen on my couch at the end of a long day. I’m dealing with rough memories, so it is fitting for hard topics should be discussed on hard couches.
“Tell me what you told the police, and how they responded to you.” Her voice is clipped, stern as if this question is more significant than the rest. I close my eyes for a moment, straining to remember beyond the terror and horror blurring my memory.
I came out of the alleyway crying, I remember, my jacket wet with tears as I stumbled into the main road. Streetlights beamed above me, bathing me in their sterile white lights. By then, the police had arrived and were piling out of their vehicles.
The first man to approach me was young, his mustache overgrown and roughly cut at the edges. He licked his finger before combing through the papers fastened on his clipboard, which usually would have irked me, but I was too stunned to do anything other than stare.
“Name?” He asked, chewing on gum annoyingly loud, clicking his pen twice before he confirmed it could write.
“Ala Judim,” I answered, my voice quivering, but not from the cold bite of the wind. “I- they just-” I cried, unable to finish my sentences. How could they get information from a girl too choked up to speak?
He made no effort to reassure me, instead, another older officer guided me to the car by my shoulders. His hands were gentle yet strong, helping me into the police car. In the moment I didn’t care about discussing the long-term effects of trauma, I wasn’t thinking about the police’s investigation. The thought of no evidence being found wasn’t crossing my mind.
I was consumed with thoughts about Maisha, the knife in the attacker’s hands glistening in the moonlight. The memory hit me with a wave of force, and like so many other times, I was catapulted into the world of the past.
It doesn’t feel like I’m looking back at a detached memory. The sound of the crickets and the cars rushing by, the tightness of a ponytail against my scalp, it is tangible. If I hadn’t known any better, I’d think it was real.
Maisha pulled me into the alleyway, and I can hear my voice acting of its own accord, reverberating off of the brick buildings. “It’s dark and dingy, why are we going through here?” My breathing quickens the deeper we went, the further from the protection of the streetlights.
“Because it’s faster, you dumbo. Why else? Don’t tell me you’re afraid of the dark.” Her voice is light, carefree. I want so badly to grab her and run the other direction, but my present mind does not control my past body. I am watching helplessly as we dip ourselves in darkness, as my vision narrows until all I can see is ghostly light reflecting off Maisha’s face.
“I’m not, it’s just it doesn’t feel-” I never get to finish the sentence. A piercing scream, unlike anything I’d ever heard, somehow comes out of her. She turns toward me, her eyes wild and terrified. Grabbing for me, desperately, her fingers never meeting their mark. A silver blade reflects far-off moonlight as it's driven into her back. I try and fail to block out fading gurgling sounds prompting further nausea.
I run like the wind, grabbing my cell phone and dialing the police. Breathless, instinctive, loaded up on adrenaline. Pushing past a woman leaned up against the store walls and ignoring her penetrating gaze. I don't stop until I am hidden, yet still a mere step away from the light, I wait for them. Wait for the nightmare to reveal itself as just that.
The flashback fades, and I find myself rigid and staring blankly at the therapist whats-her-name. Her mouth is folded into an impatient frown, and she glances up a few times at the mounted clock before realizing I’m lucid again.
“What did the police tell you, the next time, once they investigated?” Her voice is quick, and I notice the colour in her cheeks. Is she nervous? Blue eyes stare intently at me, her gaze sending shivers of ice down my back.
“They didn’t find anything,” I say bitterly. “They said it was some sort of hallucination, made me take a drug test.”
“Did you have drugs in your system?” Her question is off, it doesn’t feel significant to me but she is leaning forward, close enough for me to smell remnants of mint-flavoured gum.
“No.” I glare. “I saw what I saw. I didn’t imagine it.”
“But you didn’t see anything, and the police didn’t find anything.” Her eyes are wide, and she is writing rapidly. The pen flies across the page, as if her hands acted of their own accord. She didn't do so much as glance at the paper.
“So much for not belittling me,” I mutter. “Yes, the police gave you the reports, didn’t they? Why do you force me through this?” My patience is running low, I’m irritated with her callous words. Was it just ten minutes ago, I was concerned because of her excessive sweetness? Where did the nice psychologist go?
“Thank you for your time, Ala.” She takes her notepad and stands up quickly, rushing me to follow her.
“Wait, that’s it? You’re dismissing it as a hallucination just like that?” My words are jumbled, confused. “Aren’t you supposed to like, help me?” The elevator opens, and she almost pushes me into its compartment.
“You hallucinated, and are now suffering from extreme PTSD. The best course of action is to steer away from anything related to it, and pretend it never happened. Because it didn’t, it wasn’t real Ala.”
Her words stung. “Really? All of this and you say forget about it?” My voice quivers, and I fight the urge to fight her. I need to do something, to run, to expel energy and stop feeling the angry energy coursing through my veins. The elevator holds me in like a prisoner, suffocating me as it traps me within its steel walls.
She doesn’t respond, instead opting to walk me to the parking lot and wave me off. Her smile is laced with honey again, and like her persona is flickering on and off. A tingling sensation runs down my back, and I can physically feel her gaze on me.
“Ala! Sorry, I’m late, my tire was flat. Looks like I caught you just in time, though!” A peppy voice comes from beside me, accompanied by the sound of footsteps against cement. I turn towards the woman, almost immediately feeling warmer. Her hair is pulled up into a loose bun, and her nail polish is slightly chipped. An apologetic smile lights up her face, and she squeezes between cars to approach me.
“Are you…” I allow my voice to trail off, and hazard a glance at the woman who I previously talked to, staring at me. Silently questioning why I glance back. Standing out against the constant movement of the parking lot, she is perfectly still
“Dr. Keisha, but you can call me Hanna. Are you okay?” Her face is genuinely concerned, and I suddenly remember where I recognized the previous woman from. A shadow in the night, leaning up against the building between two alleyways, her gaze penetrating through my panic.
“Oh my god…” I say, and when I look up again, the woman with the red lipstick is gone. Like a phantom, as if she existed only in my imagination. But she was there, and she proved to me exactly what I needed to know.