Henri was fast asleep and although I was exhausted to the point of collapse, I set out to accomplish my goal. I crawled out of bed and grabbed the first change of clothes I could find; now dressed. I grabbed an old suitcase that belonged to my father and began to seize any item of clothing I could stuff into it. I was scared that any noise I made could wake Henri and I did not know if I could resist him if he truly put his foot down.
Finished with the task I took a last look at the man who raised me, took care of me, and loved me in only the way he could and I walked out the door. I snuck past the various servants as they went about their daily tasks and made it down the large hall to the front door. I tugged on the handle but it would not budge. I soon heard the tapping feet of one of the maids and I quickly hid in a darkened corner. She opened the front door to sweep the outside doorway. I wanted to push past her to make my escape but too frightened, sweating bullets, and hating my own weakness I chose not to take the chance. She finished and she entered the house once again and walked down the hall. However, surprising enough I did not see her unlock or lock the door. Maybe there was some trick to it, I thought. I went back to the door but sure enough, it would not open.
I had to find another way out before Henri woke up! I ran to the parlor to find any window that could open for me until a servant entered, an old woman dressed in a black and white uniform. Her baggy eyes bore down on me then to the case in my hand, which soon slipped from my sweaty fingers out of shock. I held my breath waiting for her to cry out but she calmly stepped back and closed the door.
‘This is it!’
She would tell Henri and he would stop me. This was my only chance!
I convinced myself that if I just got outside everything would be fine, I would get away, and everything would be all right.
I grabbed my case and ran into the same sitting room I spent most of my childhood. I remembered the glass doors.
‘Surely one would open for me.’ I frantically thought running through the estate with my case gripped tightly in my sweating hands. I heard other footsteps and whispers throughout the walls of the house and suddenly my body gripped with a sense of fright. For the first time I felt as if multiple eyes watched me from every angle. I stared at the various paintings of my forefathers lining the walls of the sitting room including the portrait of my father.
‘Wait. My father’s painting was not placed there until after his death!’ I thought clutching my chest and falling to my knees.
It seemed as if a terrible foreboding was weighting me down, I must get away now!
I grabbed every chair I could and pressed it against the door. I soon heard footsteps moving quickly toward the door, I did not want anyone coming in. I wedged a chair into the knobs. I then pushed a table to the door to hold it steady.
‘This should slow them.’
The servants pounded frantically on the door but none of them said a single word to me, it suddenly occurred to me that they had never spoken a word to me since they were hired. Not even to Henri as he dished his various commands.
I looked out the long glass doors and saw my salvation in the form of the 17th century ship used for ferrying the servants on and off the island.
‘My freedom is just a few feet away!’
I grabbed a leftover chair and slammed it into the glass, but it bounced off the moment it made contact. I hold of the small latch hoping to turn it but it would not open.
‘Why won’t you open for me?’ I screamed in my mind as I kicked and beat on the glass futility to break it to now taking my frustrations out on it.
The whispers came again, through the walls and all around me and I quickly looked to the paintings that seemed to be burrowing into me tracking my movements.
‘No need to think about that!’ I sighed in my mind. ‘Wait! The piano could do it!’ I soon realized.
In my frantic dash for the piano, I did not notice that the banging on the door had long ceased. I hook the case around my chest not wanting to waste any time going back for it, I stood behind the piano and positioned it toward the glass.
A loud bash cracked the wooden door nearly in half causing me to jump at the sudden blast of sound. I pushed with all my strength crashing the piano through the glass and onto the wet pavement. When the door burst open I felt an ominous presence glide toward me, but I never looked back to see what it could be because I was climbing over the piano as fast as my limbs could carry me and soon I was out the window. I looked back to see a shadowy figure draped in black cloth float back into the room.
I deeply breathed in the cool air and looked up at the cloudy sky, outside for the first time in my life, ‘outside and free!’ I picked up the grass and held it in my hands for the first time, damp from the rain. I looked up at my estate for the first time and realized how monstrous it looked from my angle.
I turned and ran to the dock where the ship waited, I have never sailed before, but I was willing to try anything at that point. However, before I could cross the plank an old man popped his head from a few crates squinting and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He must have been the man who commanded the ship that brought the servants to and from the island.
“Take me to the mainland!” I demand hoping that some authority would make this go a lot easier.
The servant diverted his dark eyes looking over my head; I followed his gaze and saw Henri peering at me from the bedroom window. He appeared to smirk as he moved away from the window and I was full of dread that I was going to be dragged back inside whether I liked it or not. In a state of panic I flung myself into the freezing cold waves and tried to swim away, the only problem was that I could not swim and I soon found myself sinking beneath the waves.
When I came up for air kicking my legs frantically Henri caught me and tossed me back to shore. “You insufferable little whelp!” Henri berated, his finely sculpted face contorted with anger. All I could do was weep as my dreams of living in the world dashed before my eyes.
“Do you really want to leave here so badly?” I heard Henri’s voice tremble slightly and he soon looked to suffer, some deep suffering I could not begin to calculate. However, I was young then and am now and all I could think about was what I wanted. When you are young, you think you have all the time in the world to understand something.
After a long silence he finally spoke. “Prepare the ship.” He said in a monotone voice and walked away. I instantly board and waited for all of the preparations to finish. I could not believe that I was really leaving.
Thirty minutes later Henri was seen again still with the bed sheets covering his dignity and a suitcase in hand. I stood up to protest, I did not want him to come with me, but I could not find the words to say so. Still even if he came, I would still be away from that house and that was all I truly wanted.
“Take this case, it has money and contact information, you can reach me anytime.” He threw the case onboard and walked away. I wanted to call out to him, I had so much I wanted to say and I did not want it to end this way, but I did not and he was gone back inside.
Watching the island vanish little by little until it was a mere speck of land I finally had time to soak in the glory of being out in the open enjoying the wind caressing my skin, I did not even mind that with every blow a chill swept over my entire body. My clothes clung tightly to my flesh like a second skin, and yet I did not even mind that.
Just as the cloudy weather ceased and a few golden rays of the sun began to stream through the thickness I saw land up ahead. I rush to the front of the ship to gaze and I sat there just waiting to touch land.
We docked in a small town of canal-lined Venice in front of the Piazza San and the first thing that struck me to the core was the array of smaller boats crowding the docks and the various buildings lined up.
‘I can’t believe people actually live and work in those buildings on the water.’
I stared at the multicolored stone buildings and skyline in awe, practically drinking in the sights alone. The waves rising and falling on the sandy beach, rocking the boats slightly along the docks, the gold rays of the sun beating down and reflecting upon the water I breathed in the sweet aroma of this place as if I could smell the sun, saltwater, and sand.
Once the boatman set up the bridge, I exited the ship with my cases and it did not take long for the man to draw the bridge to sail back as if I would somehow change my mind and return.
‘As if that would ever happen!’
I took in another a deep breath. ‘This is it! I am truly on my own.’
I walked along the narrow docks, my body trembled slightly from seeing the crowd of people ahead. All walking by and enjoying their lives, the men and women with what looked like heavy pack son their backs reading small language books, the smell of fresh coffee and baking bread from the cafés nearby I was so in awe, so overwhelmed, and so nervous at the same time. I constantly reminded myself of my desire to never to return to that house, this was what I wanted. I sat my bags down and looked around to see what my next move should be. This time the sun was shining completely, I stared at the white, and beige buildings intermingling with the trees, I could not help but smile.
I walked along the docks, following the wooden planks until I finally joined the hustle of the city, as the now perfect weather was some sort of alarm that alerted everyone to come out and play. I stopped in the back of a building.
‘So hungry, so tired.’ I’m hardly built with muscle and the case Henri gave me was weighing me down. ‘I have to see what is in it.’
I opened the case, saw more clothes, and under that was paper currency stacked and labeled by total amounts of each bundle. There was also a note inside.
This is Euro as you have learned in our lessons. Do not show the contents of this case to anyone.
I quickly put everything back and closed the case looking around to make sure no one saw me. At least at the time I was sure no one had seen me, but I was wrong. I wandered around the small town admiring the lovely mix of fashionable modern style to urban graffiti and back again to old world charm and as I continued my journey a man bumped hard into me, I felt the weight leave my hand and he was running off with my case!
“Stop!” I yelled as I ran after him. “Please someone stop that man!” I yelled to the pedestrians in the courtyard.
Already tired from walking the courtyards for what felt like hours there was no way I could catch up to him as he zipped through the small niches avoiding the dead ends leading to the canals. Before I knew it a tall and well-built man had grabbed the thief and slammed him hard onto the stairs leading to the gondolas. I finally caught up to the scene catching my breath and feeling the drops of sweat roll down my cheek.
“Hey is this yours?” The man asked holding out my case to me.
“Yes, thank you so much.” I took it and breathed a sigh of relief.
He pinned the thief with one hand, the muscles bulged from his arm as if his tissues put forth every effort to secure him in place. However, he himself looked as if not a single taxing breath escaped his lips. He smiled at the man and released him, and as the would-be thief scurried off, stumbling into pedestrians along the way, the man extended his large hand to me, and I replied in kind.
“My name is Frederic.” He said speaking in Italian.
“I’m sorry I only speak French and a little English.” I replied embarrassed that I have live in this country for so long and only knew the bare minimal of the language.
“Ah no problem, I’m French too.” He grinned widely.
“That’s great! My name is Luc!”
This was the first time I had met Frederic, he was much taller, no taller than 188cm (6ft 2in), with wild brown hair and long strong arms that carried a dusting of brown hair over them. His white tank top revealed his broad shoulders and his black jeans had a large brown belt that wrapped around his waist. However, the one thing that stood out the most for me was his fierce wolfish golden eyes and features. He looked as if he had his own emotional battle scars, or at least someone who was a deep thinker despite his rough appearance.
He looked me up and down as if he was taking his measure of me then smiled a perfect row of teeth.
“So did you just get here?” His head tilted curiously.
“Yes, so far I was looking around and I guess I was the perfect target.”
“You gotta watch your back here; tourists mistake this place for being safe because they see the beautiful beaches and landscapes, but don’t let that fool you.”
“I’m not a tourist!” I exclaimed and to this day, I do not know why it offended me to lump together with tourist.
“Oh” he dragged out and smiled almost mockingly.
I suddenly diverted my eyes from his. “Yeah, I was just looking around, that’s all, and I live here.”
“I see. Then sorry I was mistaken.” He said walking off.
“Wait!” I quickly called out to him.
He stopped and turned slightly.
“Well, I was wondering if you knew where I could stay for the evening?”
“Stay for the evening?” he repeated my tone. “Did you really grow up around here?”
“Yes, why?” I said a little heated.
He chuckled before he turned around completely and grabbed my case.
“Hey!” I yelled not knowing what he was thinking.
“Follow me. I’m catching a train to Rome soon. I have an apartment there. If you want you can stay with me.” He said entering the water taxi he had leapt to nonchalantly with my bags in hand. I soon followed not knowing what else to do and because he had my only lifeline in the outside world.
The scent of the summer harbor filled me with excitement cementing my escape from that island. The chattering of the crowd and the busy waterway was just too much to take in. Who knew that such a marvelous city lay at my doorstep? We reached the Venezia Santa Lucia station and I was instantly entranced once again with the high contrasting features between classical beauty and grunge roughness of the modern era. The dark graffiti sprayed across the walls of a small nearby building were signs of slight decaying but overall the history of the city shone through in all its glory.
I could smell the scent of the oil and gas, even that was so sweet, and earthy I wanted to suck in deeper and deeper until my head explode. Frederic paused when he realized I was not behind him as I had stopped to gaze at the metal tracks below. “Hey! Don’t wander too far unless you want to get killed.” He shouted.
I heeded his warning by deciding it would be best to stay as close to him as possible. When I think back on that moment, I wonder what I looked like to him. Probably a stupid bumbling child who did not know any better, perhaps? But then again there was so much I did not know!
He paid for the tickets, and we boarded, and as I said, I stayed as close to him as possible, allowing him to lead me to the back of the dirty and extremely narrow train car to our uncomfortable ragged and worn seats. The tall man gestured for me to take the window seat and I could not help but look around at the nonsense markings covering the walls, windows, and even the scarred and scraped flooring of the this place. The seats looked obviously outdated, worn, rusted, and near its breaking point and the slight padding of the seats split from the dark blue retro designed fabric. Frederic looked at the seats for a long moment and back to me as I stood there in perfect hesitation.
‘What is that?’ I thought looking at the greenish-crusted stain embedded in the marked up seat.
Noticing my apprehension, he reached over toward the window side, took up an old yellowing and crinkled newspaper, and spread it out. I breathed deep and sat down ignoring the odd odor emanating from the seats that surely were not the scent of gas and oil.
Once we sat a grumpy old woman stared daggers at me while taking her seat in the far back where the lights dimmed slightly more than the rest. The train journeyed across the countryside and I stared wild eyed out the scribbled up window using my eyes as some sort of video recorder capturing every piece of landscaping in sight.
“So where are you really from?” Frederic inquired as he squeezed next to me and once again, I felt his eyes on me, taking his measure of me. It was as if he was trying to figure something out about me and I suddenly felt like drawing up and placing a barrier around myself.
“I told you, here.” I simply stated.
“Uh, an island.”
“Ah, how often do you come to the mainland?”
“Not often I guess.”
“You guess? Don’t you know?” His brow knitted as he looked at me.
I really wanted this conversation to end but he was nice enough to let me stay in his home, and pay for my ticket, although I was beginning to think even that was a bad decision and furthermore I never ask to stay with him now that I think about it.
“I lived on the island my entire life.” I said solemnly.
He seemed to nod his head in understanding and a silence fell over him, as he appeared to be in deep thought. I soon turned my head, looking out the window once more listening to the clacking sounds of the train rushing along the tracks.
An hour passed before we arrived in Rome and as we stepped off the train he finally handed my suitcase to me and I followed him like a baby chick as he walked to a taxi stand and waited for the white car to pick us up.
“Listen, I don’t mean any harm. It’s just that I like to know a bit about someone who’s going to be staying at my house, you know?” He finally said after the long silence.
“Oh I understand.” ‘So this is normal.’ I thought.