It was relatively easy to avoid people and she hid whenever anyone walked down the crisscrossing sidewalks that connected the buildings.
It's Easter weekend, she thought. No one is here.
A long narrow building beckoned to her with its familiarity. She trudged toward it through the gloom. Most of the windows were dark. The dirty yellow light, from the broken outdoor lamp fastened over the double doors, was a welcome glow.
Stepping out of the cover of the trees, she shivered as she was suddenly exposed to the view of anyone cutting across the courtyard. She hugged herself tightly and peered through the glass panes of the doors into the long narrow hallway beyond. It was intimidating in its length, and only the dark, chipped dorm doors surrounded by stickers, posters, photos and other ornamentation broke up the impression of it being never-ending.
She took a breath and tried to open the door. It was firmly locked. Confused at first, she jiggled the doorknob. Reason pushed through her murky thoughts and she fished in her jean pockets. A simple ring with a few keys was in her right one. Slowly, she tried each key in the battered lock until, at last, one slipped in easily. The knob turned.
A slow, icy chill flowed down her back. She tossed her hair back from her face looking sharply behind her. The sensation of being watched pricked over her skin. She pushed the door open and took refuge in the long, stark hallway. Nothing stirred out in the courtyard except a pink flyer. It must have torn loose from a bulletin board and now danced in the night wind.
Fear trembling at the bottom of her stomach, she turned and moved away from the locked doors. The narrow hallway was strangely familiar. Her footsteps echoed around her as she walked. In the distance, she heard the very soft hum of someone's radio. It seemed to take forever to reach the middle of the long hall. A small room crammed full of vending machines sat at the base of the stairs. The handicap elevator stood open. She glanced inside to see that it was empty before starting up the narrow staircase that led to the second and third floors. The ugly, faded, formerly buttercup-yellow paint on the walls was covered in flyers and posters for events around the campus. She briefly glanced at them as she trudged upwards. The words and pictures were nonsense to her numb brain.
The second floor hall lights were flickering when she reached the landing. Feeling another cold shiver of fear, she looked up and down the stairwell, but there was no sign of another person.
Home was nearby.
She started to turn right, then corrected herself and turned left. Drawn toward the end of the hallway, she shuddered. Fear once again gripped her tightly and, for a moment, a vivid thought flashed through her mind.
I'm dead. There is nothing here for me.
She froze in mid-step and reached out to stabilize herself. The thought repeated itself over and over again until she let out a desperate sound and pushed it down. Insanity lay in that sort of thinking.
Gathering up her strength, she pushed on until she reached a door surrounded by stickers of sexy devil women, vamps and an assortment of band photos. Sid Vicious snarled out of her from one, while Ozzy Osbourne howled at the devil i
n another. Laying her hand on the doorway, she read the name stenciled onto red paper in black marker and taped with electric tape to the door.
“Amaliya,” she breathed. It was her name. Her grimy fingers traced over the letters. She whispered the name again. Yes, that was her name. She remembered people called her Amal. That nickname bugged her.
Pulling out the ring of keys, she leaned against the door, a sense of relief washing over her. Her mind felt full of thick muddy water with flashes of light beneath the waves. But she couldn't concentrate too long on those flashes or her whole body began to hurt.
She needed to bathe, then it would be okay.
The key with the skull sticker slid into the lock and she pushed open the door. Her room was very narrow and sat at the end of a long, dark hallway. It was simply furnished with a twin bed in one corner, a desk under the long window, and a battered dresser on the wall across from the bed. The walls were covered in posters of long-haired rock stars. None of them seemed familiar. An enormous poster of Angelina Jolie was on one wall. Around it was pictures clipped out of magazines of other beautiful women dressed in sexy outfits.
Amaliya shut the door behind her, drinking in the familiarity of the room. She remembered every detail. Its battered furniture. The tiny fridge tucked at the end of the bed that made gawdawful noises when she tried to sleep. The dirty laundry thrown at the bottom of her closet. This was her personal space and she felt her shoulders sag with relief.
Her one luxury in the dorm was her very tiny bathroom. It was one of the perks of paying more money and being on the second floor.
She walked down the narrow little hallway, past the open sliding doors of her closet, and into the room itself. Shoes, most of them pretty battered, were strewn at her feet. Her bed was a crumpled mess. Silently, she leaned over and pushed the button on her old stereo. Johnny Cash's voice filled the room. On her bathroom door was an enormous poster of the Man in Black. She automatically touched the brim of an imaginary hat to salute him. His somber, craggy face did not change as she shoved open the bathroom door.
The bathroom was so small the door barely missed hitting the toilet and the bathtub when she opened it. All she could think of was the bath. She was caked in dirt and grime. Leaves, twigs, dirt, and a few insects were twisted around in her hair. Her body was so filthy she could barely see her creamy, pale skin.
“Yuck,” was all she could think to say.
When she turned on the hot water in the shower, a tremor rocked the center of her body. It started just above her stomach, then rolled through her chest and limbs. She slightly gagged, then leaned over the tub and threw up again. Mucous and mud trailed from her lips. Again, she shuddered and fell into the tub, fully clothed, the warming water sloshing over her.
Tears exploded from her eyes and she let out a desperate wail. The seizure arched her back and sent her sprawling before abruptly releasing her. She lay there, on the cold, chipped bottom of her tub for a few minutes before she felt strong enough to wiggle out of her clothes. The jeans were hard to get off. She struggled with her boots. Finally, she was naked and the water was hot.
Standing up slowly, she reached out, grabbed the showerhead, and pulled the tiny switch so the hot water would stream over her. She didn't let go, but held on for dear life. The hot water sluiced over her, washing away the muddy remains of her grave. She closed her eyes and tried not to focus too hard on the memories trembling just below the thin layer of confusion. If she tried to think too hard, it only hurt.
Using nearly half of the shower gel and a good portion of shampoo, she scrubbed her body and hair clean. The scalding water and loofah soon had her skin looking red and raw, but it felt better than before. Her fingers traced over the tattoo decorating the lower portion of her belly. Intricate vines and flowers made a lovely pattern against her skin.
Why the hell would you do that to your body? Do you want to look like a whore? The male voice whispered, then faded away.
She dragged her long hand over the tattoo perched on her upper arm. It was an intricate design with vines and roses with little cherubs holding scrolls that read “Beloved Mother. ” Frowning, her fingers slid over the rough scar in the center of the tattoo. There had been something here, she remembered that.
Tears began to stream down her cheeks as she remembered the pain of getting this tattoo. Her heart had hurt so badly the pain of the needle had not mattered to her. It had been for her mother, her broken, sweet mother. The one who had named her Amaliya. There had been-