The South Bank Review Winter 2017 | A never-ending nightmare
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A never-ending nightmare

 

 

Photo Credit: Nimo Musa

Hood up, earphones in. Fresh air is definitely the cure to insomnia. It is early September, and I really should see a doctor about my sleeping patterns. Tossing and turning for an hour or so before I took a left on Barfleur Lane. I froze and within seconds, a dark figure sprinted to the end of the street. White Reebok trainers and a black trench coat was all I could recall. I found her. She is screaming on the floor. I only heard her when I pulled my earphones out. The right side of her body is shaking from the shock and it was only after I shouted, “What did he do, are you okay?” that we locked glances. She cried helplessly and I could not stop my tears.  She’s collapsed on the road. My body became numb. “Natalie… talk to me. What did he do? I need you to speak to me.”

Earlier that night, I decided to get in bed by eleven.  The sleeping pills had had no effect as usual. Only this time, I had been adamant that I needed to take a walk to clear my mind. The days were warm but the nights were ice cold. My sister Laura had been fast asleep in the other room. I’d grabbed my jacket and dashed out of the house. Reflecting on all the events that took place across the summer. June, May, August and July. I was flicking through the months like an album in my mind. Exactly in that order. It was a blur. House parties, link-ups and clubbing. I don’t recall much of what happened in the summer, but the hardest thing I had to get over was a break up. My four year relationship with my fiancé terminated because she thought I was unfaithful although it was a platonic friendship. That took place in May but the drink was helping me get over it throughout the summer. I was in such a low place. My own family disowned me. I had no one to turn to. I was making new friends every two weeks. No strict routine.

Her lips were moving but no words were coming out. I tried to shake her as if it would make a difference but she closed her eyes and squeezed up her face. I got up and looked around but I still couldn’t hear anything. Everything was mute for a minute. I fell to my knees and begged her to speak. “What did he do, Natalie?” I asked her with guilt in my eyes. I blamed myself and started crying uncontrollably. I should’ve been there to protect her. It was my fault that this had happened. “LOOK at what she did.” She yelled as she pointed to her right arm. Her skin was bright red and was peeling off. My eyes and mouth were wide open. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I tried to have a closer look. The cold wind was irritating her wound, making it impossible for Natalie to keep calm. I brought out my phone and banged in 999. My fingers were shaking, making the whole process longer. “Who did this Natalie?” I repeatedly asked her. She had been attacked with acid. The kind of stuff you see on the news and pray to never witness. I looked up from where she lay and the bright lights from Canary Wharf across the river towered over her. I gently covered her arm with my jacket to stop the wind from stinging her flesh.

I stayed up for the rest of the night. Hospital waiting rooms could do with a lot of decorating and heating to make visitors more welcome, I thought to myself as I stared at the clock. I was impatiently waiting for the clock to strike seven. The doctor came to inform me twice of how Natalie was doing. I could finally go in to see her. She looked much better and in less pain. I couldn’t keep my tears in from the minute I walked in. It was hard for me to look at her in such a vulnerable state. They wrapped bandages around her arm and called this the ‘healing process.’ “How are you coping with the pain?” I asked her. “Don’t be so hard on yourself Ron, it isn’t your fault” she muttered. Moments later, two police officers walked towards us and asked if Natalie was ready to give her statement. She shook her head and said, “I’m not ready, can you give me some time please?” They hurried along and left us alone. Natalie looked distressed. I could tell that the painkillers were starting to wear off. “Doctor, help, please” I shouted. I was told to make my way to the visitor’s room and wait until I was called.

I switched my phone on. Thirteen missed calls from my sister. Poor thing. She must think I went back to my old lifestyle. I used to disappear for months without contacting my family. “Sorry Laura, I should have called. Something terrible happened to Natalie and so I’m at the hospital.” Before she could reply, my phone flashed and switched off. “Dammit” I yelled. Low Battery. I apologised to the old lady sitting directly opposite me for being too loud. I was told I must go home because Natalie would be brought home tomorrow morning. I retaliated and tried to stay with her. “She needs lots of rest so it would be ideal for you to go home” the doctor advised. I jogged home in the dark and tried to explain the incident to Laura. “What happened to Natalie? Is she okay?” my sister worryingly asked me as I turned the key in the lock. I told her to sit down so I could explain what had happened. I knew how much she still cared about Natalie even after we broke up. My sister saw me as the bad guy in relationships. She sat opposite me at the kitchen table. “Oh for God’s sake, hurry up” she shouted. “Natalie was attacked with …with acid” I stuttered. Her body froze. She looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. It was hard saying it aloud. She couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth. She cried nonstop. “How could this happen to her, why her. What did she do to deserve this?” “I’m sorry Laura. You mustn’t tell anyone. We should let Natalie take her time and heal. I’m sure she doesn’t want this getting out without her permission.”

Back in May, a couple of months ago, life was amazing. Engaged at twenty-seven and living my best life. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Our family and friends showed their love at our engagement party last week. Natalie looked stunning and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Ever since we got serious, I started counting my blessings. She helped me with my family issues and to become a better person all round. In our car journey back to my mother’s house, we lightly touched upon the subject of our living arrangements. “There’s no way that I’m moving far from Lewisham” Natalie exclaimed. I adored her stubbornness from time to time. “We have plenty of time to discuss this, love, no need to get overworked about it now.” We spent the next few weeks spending time with our families and wedding planning. I was so excited and nervous at the same time. Natalie was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe how far we had come.

Whilst working at Driven in July, one of the only colleagues that I got along with was Jessica. She was full of life whereas the others hated coming to work. We had bonded over our favourite TV show, Power. I told her about my girlfriend when we were getting to know each other. Fast forward three weeks and we became best friends. I invited her over for dinner and Natalie got on well with her. I hadn’t been this happy in a long time. Two people who meant the world to me, getting on so well. This lasted for two weeks before Natalie complained that I wasn’t spending much time with her. I apologised and tried to make things work. She then insisted that I cut ties with Jess and stay away from her at work. I was shocked at how insecure she had become. I tried to understand where all this was coming from but it wasn’t making sense. Natalie never envied others which made this strange. Regardless, I agreed to stay away from Jessica in order to save my relationship.

But now, Natalie had been viciously attacked. The next time I saw her was a week after the incident. I knocked on her door the afternoon that she was discharged from hospital. No response. I waited for five minutes, knocking on the door, ringing the bell, in case she couldn’t hear me knocking. She didn’t answer my calls either. I had begun to feel sorry for her. Living alone with no one to help her or rant to. I continued to blame myself. Laura and I were the only people who knew about the attack. I knew she wouldn’t tell her family. She distanced herself from them when we broke up. Natalie had changed these past few months. She stopped attending the yoga class. She stopped posting on Facebook and going out every other weekend. I didn’t want to bother her in case she took it the wrong way. Our break up had a terrible effect on her.

I quickly ran to the corner shop to stock up on the essentials. As I left the shop, Natalie was entering. She saw me first and tried to hide herself, throwing her hood up and her head down. “Hey Natalie, how are you doing? How is your arm?” I asked in an uneasy tone. She widened her eyes and rushed past me as if she was telling me to lower my tone. We were the only customers in the shop. “Shut up Ron, you think you know it all” she told me. I didn’t want to make a commotion and therefore left. I walked home trying to make sense of what had just happened. Natalie had run to catch up to me. She told me it was about time that I knew the full story. That night when she was attacked, she was overthinking and decided to go for a short walk. Natalie emphasised how normal it was for her to go on walks when she couldn’t sleep. It was her fourth walk in this week alone. She mentioned how quiet it was and that she was the only one on the street until she took a left onto Barfleur Lane. It was then that she saw a tall white woman heading towards her. She didn’t think much of it until she saw Jessica throwing what looked like water, at her. “I turned around trying to dodge the liquid whilst she emptied the bottle over my arm” Natalie cried. “What!” My heart sank when I heard Jessica’s name. “No way Jessica did this! How could she be so cruel?” I asked Natalie to sit on the bench with me to think this through. “Please tell me you have reported her to the police?” I asked. “Of course I did but she scarred me for life.” I look straight at the floor. Her words making me feel weak. I quivered at the word ‘scarred’. This woman had been the reason my wedding was called off and she wanted to harm us even more. My fiancé sat there with a cast around her arm when I should have been there to protect her. “She must have been watching me for a few days to know where to find me. This is what she wanted all along, Ron. I told you from the beginning. This woman had a plan and you fell right into her trap. A trap which harmed me in the end. You refused to listen to me and indeed, she didn’t stop until she got what she wanted.” That was the hardest thing to listen to. She blamed me for this spiteful attack. The actions of a jealous woman were placed on my shoulders as if I was responsible for them. I didn’t know how to respond. She hated my guts. She couldn’t bare looking at me and kept looking ahead. I couldn’t understand why Jessica had chosen to get revenge on Natalie. I didn’t mention anything to her about Natalie being the reason I broke off our friendship. I guess she assumed Natalie had some sort of role in it. I looked into the pitch black park in front of us. She could tell what I was thinking. “Yes Ron, she chose me. To get me out of the picture. She wanted to make things work between you two and I was in the way. I could tell from when I met her. Something seemed off. It sounded as if the only reason she was working at Driven, was to get closer to you. “Oh, he’s so funny. You’re very lucky Natalie…” she mimicked. I could be sick any moment. I should have cut her off at the very beginning when Natalie told me to.

She insisted that we walk to the scene where it all happened. She wanted to play it back in her mind and make sense of it all. She remembered the schoolgirls in red and blue checkered skirts running up and down the street. Chasing each other and skipping along the path. The warm summer nights she had spent with her friends, enjoying the cool breeze by the river as they admired the stunning view.  A location she had spent most of her childhood at was now her worst nightmare. “It all happened so fast. It was as if she was speed walking towards me. As soon as I took that left, I saw her walking towards me from the far end of the path. I continued admiring the view, walking steadily until I looked at her and felt a cold splash of liquid seeping into my knitted jumper. It was only after a few seconds that the burning pain started. It was sinking into my skin. You arrived as she escaped” she said. I held her hand and deeply apologised for everything. From our separation, to the attack.

Nimo Musa
musan4@lsbu.ac.uk

Nimo Musa is a young creative writing student with Somali heritage who enjoys writing short stories. Born and raised in South East London, Nimo often enjoys centring her work around her love for the city. She wishes to teach English Literature abroad in the near future. Nimo has a passion for history which stemmed from working at the British Museum. Her interests lies in playing basketball with her brothers in the park behind her house and watching crime films.