I shouldn’t have been out that night. It was a silly and reckless thing to do, brought on I think by an excess of drink and an absence of disapproval. There was no one to mind me, all of them occupied with other things, the doings of a young girl holding little interest to them. I was no more than an irritating puppy, to be played with at times and shooed away when it got tiresome. So there was no way they were going to miss me.
The night was cold, and I wrapped my shawl tighter around my shoulders. What was I doing out here? Heaven only knew. All I knew was that I had to get out, to clear my head. I took deep breaths of the night air, drinking in its cool freshness with slightly drunken pleasure. I did not notice him creep up on me, and when his hand was clasped over my mouth, I was too stunned even to scream. He gagged me, binding my hands tightly behind my back. He then dragged me, stumbling, into a side alley. Only then could I get a proper look at my captor.
Chocolate coloured skin was the first thing I noticed. It had a richness to it, as deep and dark as fine wooden furniture. The whites of his eyes looked out of his face with a startling contrast, as if he were merely a shadow, simply a pair of eyes staring at me from the darkness. His expression was neutral, neither kind nor ruthless. He checked my dress for pockets, his fingers moving deftly. Soon enough he had realised that I carried no purse. Instead he groped for my necklace.
No. I began to struggle, as futile as I knew it was. Tears pooled in my eyes as he undid the clasp, and he thrust the necklace into one of his pockets. If he noticed, it didn’t show. I might have run then, if I had any notion of where I was. Instead I stood there and waited for him to finish taking my belongings, swaying slightly with the wind.
It didn’t take him long. He drew a knife, and I shrank back in fear. But he grabbed my shoulder and swivelled me around, too strong for me. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
It never came. He cut my hands free and started to run. I reached up and undid my gag. “Wait!” I screamed madly. “Please.”
Did he halt in the darkness? I did not know. Perhaps he didn’t care. I decided to talk regardless. Maybe he would hear me. “Please,” I said again. “It’s all I have of them.”
“Do you not have memories?” The voice which spoke to me sounded educated, not brutish in the slightest. “Funny how we hold on to objects, assign them special value.”
I swallowed and tried to calm my breathing. “It helps me to remember.”
“Don’t those memories make you sad?” he asked. His voice was coming from somewhere elevated, like a rooftop. “Don’t they make you want to rail at life itself for being so unfair? Memories are trash. Better not to think of the dead, and occupy yourself with the living.”
I wanted to scream at him, but that would not help me. If anyone came, he would simply flee, leaving me with nothing but memories and a bare neck. Instead I calmed my breathing and spoke quieter. “To me, they are valuable memories. They make me want to cry, but it is sweet in its bitterness. I laugh at the same time.”
I waited for a response, but the night was still. Eventually I came to realise that he had left me here, stolen away while I was speaking. I returned home. An educated, well-spoken thief was still a thief, after all. I had been a fool to think that he would listen to me. Perhaps in time I would learn not to keep up such hopes, and be glad that all he had wanted were my jewels.
Those days I desperately wanted to fall in love. I wanted it all; the joy and tenderness of a first kiss, the feeling of a heart ready to burst with gladness. The giddy sensation of reciprocation, knowing someone loved you back perhaps even more than you loved them. I wanted to marry, have children, and wake up every day next to the person I cared for. These were the desires that most filled my heart, their presence filling me with longing. So it came as a shock to me when I realised that the first man to stir feelings within me was the one who had robbed me that night.
I only realised later, when I re-examined the events of that evening. The soft touch of those dark hands had made me shiver, but with desire rather than fear. So too had my breath caught in my throat, and my pulse quickened. My mind had been too fogged with confusion to read the signs properly, but I had read enough to realise that I was attracted to him. I knew also with enough certainty that we would probably never meet again.
It hurt to think that a possible lover had come and gone so quickly, but I was certain that someday soon I would find someone else. I put the events of that night out of my head, and continued with my existence. Parties, gatherings, all served to keep me entertained, but every time I saw thick black hair it pulled me back to that moment. The more I struggled to keep him out, the more I thought about it.
I constructed a little fantasy around him. In my head, I called him Nathan. We would see one another behind my aunt’s back, meeting at the spot where he had ambushed me. He would take me to the secret lair where he stored all of his stolen treasures, and we would kiss passionately until I had to go. Oh, how I ached for that fantasy. It made my heart bleed to know that it had slipped away.
I took to wandering the streets at night, reminiscing and fantasising. I always carried a knife since I had been robbed, but I didn’t know if it would help or even if I would be strong enough to use it. But I carried it anyway, lending myself some extra courage by feeling its handle concealed in the folds of my dress. But always within me I carried the vain hope that one day soon, chocolate coloured hands would close around my mouth once more. It was stupid and self-destructive, but I wanted it. So I kept walking the streets, regardless of the danger.
It was on one such night that I found myself walking in a place I had never been before. The moon shone brightly on the cobblestones, and though I was lost, I found myself enchanted by the sight. I was on the edge of the city, where the river met the sea. This was the working part of town, where the poor slept. There, floating on the surface of the water, was a single rose. I reached for it carefully, trying to keep my fingers dry. I fingered the petals carefully, feeling their softness. As I did, a single petal fell.
“What have you done?” There was a shout from the darkness. It was a voice I recognised, though the tone left me fearful instead of relieved. This was the dark-skinned thief, and he was angry for some reason.
He came up behind me, and I spun around. His face was terrifyingly angry, and I cringed away. He grabbed me roughly by the arm and I tried to pull away. His grip was too strong, and I found myself being led somewhere. My hand found the hilt of my knife, but I didn’t pull it out. As stupid as it sounded, I was curious to know what I’d done to deserve such wrath, and I didn’t want to risk hurting my dark fantasy. So I let myself be led into the unknown, feeling strangely exhilarated.
I could only hope I didn’t regret it later.