This series will unveil the secret of Leena's childhood up to her early adulthood, beginning with an ordinary day in early summer.
Time to P(l)ay
"Have you got your jacket?"
I quietly shook my head as I glanced through the window and up at the heavy, white clouds that covered the sky like an impenetrable blanket. As usual the weather in the morning was unpleasantly bleak and frosty.
"Well, you will need it. It's still chilly outside," my sister explained while hanging my silver coloured wind jacket around my shoulders in a solicitous manner.
"… Isn't it supposed to be summer?" I muttered lethargically under my breath and slipped my arms inside the sleeves of the thin jacket.
"It should become sunny today- that's what they say in the weather broadcast anyway," Syrah smilingly replied over her shoulder. Her good mood was left unscathed by the annoyed undertone in my voice and she eagerly swung the door open.
As I resisted the impulse to roll my eyes I stepped out into the cool yet refreshing breeze that gently tugged at my clothes. My sister was not the source of my petulance and surprisingly neither was that joke of a summer. In contrast to her, who strutted across our front lawn with a newly-gained sense of confidence and enthusiasm, I was put into a state of unrest and dissatisfaction over our father's absence. He spent the weekend at a medical assembly in Tallinn and said cloudy Saturday morning my heart was already filled with desperate longing.
"When is Daddy coming back?" I asked morosely and watched the joyous smile on Syrah's face turn into a frown.
"Tomorrow night…" she answered rather put off by my question, "You know that, Leena."
For a few minutes we walked in complete silence. I was lost within my own melancholic thoughts and carelessly kicked a small rock across the gravelled sidewalk.
"The morning dew just makes everything look so charmed and beautiful," Syrah suddenly exclaimed in wonderment as she let her eyes wander across our considerable front lawn.
"Yes, like in a fairy tale," I agreed and gently put my small hand in hers. No matter how big my worries were, no matter how solemn and cold the weather was, being with Syrah always miraculously lifted my spirits from the greatest of depths.
For a while I almost gave myself away to the illusion that this was going to be a good day for me…
The sun stubbornly peeked out of the light grey clouds and made the morning dew on the lush, green grass sparkle like a thousand of diamonds. I inhaled the crisp, clear air as I skipped along the pavement next to Syrah and looked up at the dark forest, which perched on a small hill and was still surrounded by mysterious swaths of white fog.
"I hope it will get warmer," my sister muttered dubiously as she followed my gaze, "it seems a bit cold for a picnic…" Her arms hung down limply at her sides yet her hand maintained a determined grasp on the picnic basket. It was hard to believe that it was summer in Estonia…
The moment I was about to verbalise this thought, we were interrupted by Antonia Järvi, that pesky, little rat that lived next door and now stood behind us with her prying, small rat eyes and reddened cheeks.
"Where are you going?" she asked bluntly and folded her hands behind her back in a deceptively shy manner. I wasn't fooled by her timid demeanour; Antonia had a way of attaching herself to people like some kind of tick, persistent and unwavering.
For a minute I imagined holding a miniature Antonia in a small pair of tweezers and grinned amusedly before I was put back into my state of utter deprecation over her arrival.
"Nowhere," I hissed hostilely, cutting my sister off, who was about to answer, and folded my arms in front of my chest in an unfavourable manner. Both she and Antonia stared at me in bewilderment for a few seconds until Syrah gently turned to her and gave her the answer she desired. "Actually," my sister paused and gave me a rebuking look, "we want to have a picnic in the forest."
That undeserved sympathy Syrah seemed to feel toward that sneaky rat was most-likely even inspired by my unkind answer. Apparently my own malevolence had come back to bite me in the ass!
"Oh, sounds great," Antonia replied ever so sweetly and gave Syrah a hopeful look.
"No, Syrah, NO!" I thought franticly and clenched my fists, "don't do this to me. You don't have to ruin OUR day!"
"Perhaps you could come with us," my sister said graciously and then glanced at me with a slightly uncomfortable smile, "Would you mind, Leena?"
"Like I have a choice!" I mumbled quietly under my breath and shot Antonia an enraged glare.
"No, I wouldn't mind, but..." I finally answered in a falsely woeful manner, "unfortunately she doesn't have anything to eat with her so…" I so desperately clutched at any straws I could grasp.
"That's okay. I've just had breakfast," the little rat cut me off and studied my face pugnaciously, aggravating me further. We stared grimly in each other's eyes.
"Great!" I smiled overly cheerfully without breaking the eye contact.
"Alright, then let's get going!" Syrah, who was still completely unaware of the tension that had built between us, responded blithely.
The warm summer breeze had chased the clouds away and made the tall spruces gently sway and whisper, birds danced chirping and singing joyfully above our heads and the sun shone so brightly and so cruelly down upon me that I genuinely interpreted it as some kind mockery toward me.
I relentlessly ignored Syrah's continuous attempts to make me engage in her and Antonia's stupid conversation as I trotted along behind the two of them and used the time to scrutinize my enemy from head to toe in the most contemptuous and threatening manner a nine year-old could muster.
Although it had gotten warmer, Antonia's remarkably protruding ears had yet to recover from the chilly temperatures of the morning. It amused me how she had obviously attempted to hide those gigantic, red lugs by combing her sparse hair over them and fixing it with a few hair clips, which had been no use at all. They still stuck out from that thin, brunette shock of hair like two ripe tomatoes! I waited for the next wind gust to sweep her off into the cool air and let me watch her sail over the horizon like a kite with those big, fire-red things! Haha! My malicious smirk faded as soon as I saw my sister unfold the patterned picnic blanket and lay it gingerly on the ground. I was so involved in my own thoughts that I had almost forgotten that we came here to have a picnic.
"Here's your sandwich," Syrah said and handed it to me, while taking a few other items out of the picnic basket. I reluctantly dropped to my knees and regarded my sandwich, which Syrah had kindly prepared for me in the morning, as if it was the one to blame for my ill humour.
"… and I also brought strawberries," I heard my sister enthusiastically go on about the food, "we can share them. Oh and Antonia, if you want, you can have half of my sandwich…"
I rolled my eyes with undisguised irritation and bit listlessly into my own sandwich. Despite having completely lost my appetite, I then continued to stuff myself with food, as if I hadn't eaten in days. After a while I lazily rolled on my back, since I was afraid my stomach would either burst with rage or with all the food that I had just devoured in my sudden greed, and looked up at the treetops and the cloudless, azure sky. I was surrounded by so much beauty yet that day it sickened me to my very core. I shielded my eyes from the piercing sunlight and silently cursed the glorious weather for standing in such a ridiculously great contrast to my feelings.
"Is everything okay, Leena?" my sister suddenly asked in a concerned tone.
"Of course," I muttered with bitter sarcasm, "Everything's just wonderful."
Syrah said nothing and turned her attention back to Antonia, who was blabbering on about a damn cat or some other triviality, but I could still feel her observant eyes glance at me contemplatively from time to time.
As the sun reached its highest point on the horizon and glared down upon me with such an unremitting intensity, that I felt as though my whole body was tightly wrapped into an unbearably hot blanket, fatigue finally overpowered my senses. Thankfully it let that pointless chit-chat between my Syrah and Antonia slowly fade into the background until it blended with the rustling of the leaves, the crackling of the thin twigs in the gentle summer breeze and my steady heartbeat. Although nothing but a few metres parted me from my beloved sister and my new enemy, I felt as if miles lay between us. It was as though a torrential flood had all of a sudden swept me away to my own, solitary island, where nothing but that unrelenting, blazing fireball and I existed.
My placid slumber suddenly wasn't so placid after all as the scene of Antonia insidiously sneaking up behind Syrah and me that morning began to replay in my head like a broken record. The elated laughter I could hear coming from her and MY sister gave me a feeling of nausea in the pit of my already strained stomach.
They were not just laughing, they were laughing about me. Syrah was not just laughing, she was laughing about her little sister. I was sure of that.
My back protested as I sat up as slowly and calmly as I could manage and looked directly into Antonia's plain face. She was still squeaking with amusement and had put her filthy hand on Syrah's arm in a friendly gesture.
The casualness with which her hand had rested on my sister's arm was what outraged me the most! As if it was the most natural thing to do! I struggled to keep my composure, which was clearly on the edge of slipping away from me any minute. All that suppressed rage that I had locked away and hidden within myself now begged for release. What would I have given to just be able to throw myself at that little bitch and scratch her fucking eyes out!
"Now, Leena," I tried to knock some sense into myself, "You can't allow yourself to slip-up in front of your sister like this. It'll just make it worse!"
I had curled up into a tiny ball of hot fury and conflictive feelings and buried my face in my hands. The minutes passed until I trusted myself enough again to risk a look toward the two of them through my fingers. My eyes darted indecisively back and forth between Syrah and the rodent and eventually rested on Syrah's face. It was her and her alone who stood between me and my desire to teach Antonia a lesson. All I needed to do was to get Syrah temporarily out of the picture! It was so plain and simple yet the thought of it had not crossed my mind before. Time went by as I racked my brain trying to find a way to lure Antonia away from my sister's protective arms.
"Hey," suddenly someone shook my arm gently and literally rattled me out of my concentrated scheming.
"Hey. Leena! Do you hear me?" Syrah asked right beside my ear while pulling my hands away from my face carefully.
"Yes!" I replied and sat up in a startled manner.
"Good," she said patiently and withdrew her hands, "because I've been trying to talk to you for the past few minutes. Were you asleep?"
"What? No. No, I was just… thinking. Sorry," I smiled sheepishly and ran my hand through my hair. The way she was still looking at me quizzically made me raise my brows.
"Were you saying anything?" I asked awkwardly.
"Well, yes. We wanted to ask you if you're up for a game of hide and seek," she explained and met my eyes with a doubtful look.
"Oh, sure! Sure! Of course I am! Who's seeking?" I cried out glowingly and surprised both myself and Syrah with my childish ardour.
"One can never be too old for that game, I guess!" my sister, who was already about 14 at that time, laughed amusedly; though I'm sure she only joined the game for our sake. Or should I say for Antonia's sake? The reason for my own excitement was far from anything Syrah could surmise. I now finally had the opportunity to start a game of my own…
"Right, Antonia wants to be the seeker," Syrah informed me after we had gathered in the pleasant shade of a large linden. Antonia gave her an awfully broad smile, which revealed her huge front teeth and caused a barely noticeable retch of disgust to escape through my lips.
"I'll wipe that ugly smile off your face before you know it," I thought mischievously, while nodding in approval.
"Oh and we shouldn't hide too far from here. We wouldn't want anyone to get lost," she added thoughtfully. I found myself disagreeing with her on that point, since I knew exactly who I'd want to get lost, but this ship had already sailed.
She was here.
She hadn't left and seemed to have little intention of doing so anytime soon. Nevertheless the wide range of possibilities of what I could do to her when we were alone brought a gleeful smile to my face.
Next time Syrah and I would go outside I'd remind myself to keep a bottle of rat poison handy! Or perhaps a cube of cheese in a rattletrap would already do the job! Haha!
I chuckled slightly at my own joke and was once again blown away by Antonia's strong resemblance to these nasty beasts as I scrutinized her crafty, little face.
"… six… seven… eight…nine…"
I ducked deeper into the bush while trying to control my quickening breath and my pounding heart, which threatened to jump out of my chest in nervous anticipation.
The sky had put the ashen mantle from the morning back on and drowned the sun in its grey depths.
"… eleven… twelve… thirteen…"
I covered my mouth with my hand as I crouched tensely on the ground, engulfed and hidden within a sea of green leaves. Antonia was still counting in a monotonous voice with her head leaned against the linden and her eyes closed. I couldn't help but picture myself sneaking up on her from behind and snapping that little neck of hers like a twig before she could even whisper "fifteen"!
The seconds trickled away slowly and cruelly like raindrops on a window pane. My knees were getting weak and I watched a black squirrel hop around on the ground anxiously to distract myself. It lifted its trembling, little nose in the air and suddenly scampered away like a scalded cat, as if its delicate senses had picked up on the ominous presence lurking in the shadows, me that is.
"…eighteen… nineteen… TWENTY! I'M COMING!"
Twigs cracked and broke under Antonia's shoes as she ungainly made her way toward the bush under which I crouched motionlessly. I calculated how many minutes would have to pass until Syrah would come looking for us. Ten? Maybe twenty? How far was she away?
Antonia was now so close that I could count the stains on her worn out skirt, which hung over her hips like an old rag and was of a faded-out pink colour. Repulsive!
"She could at least wash it!" I thought and grimaced in disgust.
The salmon skirt disappeared out of my sight again and I turned my head in confusion.
"Blind cow…," I muttered under my breath as I spotted Antonia staggering off into another direction. I deliberately moved my foot against the ground, thus to create a shuffling sound, which immediately caught her attention. She spun around and her hazelnut brown eyes became two narrow slits as they wandered alertly over the shrubs and pines and finally came to rest on my foot, which I had stuck out from beneath the bush.
"THERE! In the bush! Come out, I can see you!" Antonia shouted triumphantly and pointed a long finger at me.
"Very well," I grinned from ear to ear as I crawled out, "But you'll have to catch me first!"
With that I sped off and left the puzzled, little rat in a cloud of grey dust.
The cold wind, which blew into my back and sent shivers up my spine, came as unexpected and unwelcome as Antonia had earlier that day. She soon began to chase after me and her squeaky, little voice filled my misfortunate ears.
The pine trees were nothing but a green blur in my vision as I rushed past them in wild haste.
Heat began to spread in my small body and I was suddenly very grateful for the chilly breeze and the unpredictable moods of the Estonian weather god so to speak.
Just like I had predicted Antonia was fiercely determined to catch me and was surprisingly close to doing so. I could constantly hear her agitated breaths behind me and the occasional irritated grunt when I increased my speed.
I slithered down an escarpment and took a look over my shoulder to watch Antonia shriek in surprise and literally land on her ass behind me with a pleased look on my face. Poor Antonia, that must've hurt! However, it didn't stop Antonia from following me, it was quite the contrary: it seemed to have only amplified her ambition to beat me.
Finally the steel grey river, which reflected the dull, cloudy sky, emerged into my sight and I sighed in relief between short, tiring breaths. We left the forest behind us and dashed over a green meadow that smelled of freshly-mown grass and that distinctive smell of rivers that one can hardly put into words.
My lungs now burned within my chest and I had a disgusting, mildly metallic while at the same time sour taste in my mouth and throat. Against better judgement I decided to run the last 20 meters or so at full speed and heard Antonia do likewise not far behind me. For a second I even believed to feel her fingertips brush against the back of my jacket before she fell a few meters behind again. I kept my eyes fixed sternly on the grass-covered ground and my blue trainers, which moved at a maddening pace.
The raging river that crossed the landscape like a fat, ashen snake was directly ahead of me. Throughout that rainy summer it had flooded its banks and now rushed through the mud-stained grass with untamed wildness.
I came to a most abrupt halt, stuck out my foot in a split second and the last thing I saw of Antonia Järvi was her stunned, little rat-face before the river swallowed her up whole.
The splash was of such intensity that my pants were completely soaked with water and their blue fabric now stuck to my skin like glue. Its noise had also startled a couple of birds out of a tree nearby and I let my gaze follow them until they were only four crowing and cawing black dots in the grey sky. As I tried to regain my breath I kept my eyes wide open for a sign of my "playmate", not that I was the least bit concerned for herwell-being. I was simply reluctant to end my game yet, it was too tempting to go look for her and become a witness of her misery and utter defeat! I just HAD to find her!
"Come out, Antonia! I know you're hi-ding!" I chimed mockingly as I waded through the knee-high grass. I looked below me to glance briefly at the new shoes daddy had just bought me a week ago but it was already too late. All I could see were two chunky, dirt-covered objects that had alarmingly little resemblance to shoes and dangled from my feet like two heavy rocks. After I quickly pulled them off my feet I threw them to the side along with my wet socks in a disinterested manner. I then proceeded to tread along what was left of the bank of the river with my bare feet and the total and complete absence of the fuck I probably should have given about it.
"Antonia? Antoniaaa!" I lilted in a teasing high-pitched voice and spun around as I heard her cough hoarsely somewhere near me.
"Oh, there you are!" I said with the fakest of smiles and approached her after I had spotted her crouching form a few meters ahead of me. She was more than eager to get away from me but didn't make it more than a meter or so before she erupted into yet another intense coughing fit, which forced her down on her hands and knees again. Apparently our little Antonia was not a water rat! Haha!
"Leave me alone!" she croaked out pathetically and wiped the stream of tears off her flushed, thin face.
"But I'm only trying to help," I replied in an innocent voice and crossed my hands over my heart. Antonia met my eyes with a look of unconcealed hostility and shook her head in a protesting manner as I extended my hand to her.
"No?" I asked as though I were offended and slowly withdrew my hand, "Why not?"
She just kept on shaking her head while her body was plagued by another coughing attack.
The smug grin that I had suppressed until then now appeared on my face as I towered above her with my hands clasped in expectancy.
For these few heavenly minutes I felt like I held her miserable life in the two small hands of mine. I had her exactly where and how I wanted to have her- at my feet, defenceless and vulnerable.
I turned up my nose and let my eyes slowly wander over Antonia's tousled, dripping wet hair and clothes that were now covered with a thick layer of grey mud and also smelled accordingly.
"Now that I look at you, I think I should give you another bath," I told her spitefully and crossed my arms over my chest.
"My Nan, she made that skirt for me," Antonia cried desperately and attempted to wipe some dirt of the wet rag, "she passed away last winter!" I shamelessly took pleasure in her despair and put my hand on her shoulder in a pretentiously comforting manner.
"Don't worry," I whispered cruelly into her ear, "it was ugly anyways!"
With this I had obviously hit a sore spot! Antonia's eyes began to flare with wild rage as she jumped to her feet and opened her mouth to yell at me. At this instant a distant noise struck my ears and I turned my head to see a lean figure walking toward the river from the forest. Syrah!
I was quick enough to slap my hand over Antonia's mouth and drag her to the ground with me before she could make a sound. She struggled furiously against my hands as I pinned her wrists down against the wet grass with one and covered her lips with the other.
"Come on now! Shut up!" I hissed intently and crawled on top of her to keep her in place.
"Leena! Antonia! WHERE ARE YOU? This isn't funny anymore!" Syrah's exhausted voice rung out and I ducked deeper into the reeds.
"Poor Syrah," I thought guiltily and unsuspectingly loosened my grip on rat-face below me. Instantly a pungent pain shot through my left hand as a set of sharp teeth sunk deep into its flesh. I let out an anguished shriek and tore my bleeding hand away from Antonia's 'fangs'.
Before I knew it she had pushed me off her and I collapsed in the grey, gooey mud with a loud splash that spattered sludge all over the plants nearby.
"Syrah! SYRAH! OVER HERE!" I heard Antonia yell, who had risen to her feet and now waved her hands over her head hectically.
"I can't see you! WHERE ARE YOU?" Syrah shouted back and I watched Antonia hop around on the ground ever so franticly out of the corner of my eye.
I sighed in resignation as I realized that my attempts, as vigorous as they may be, of brushing the dirt off my pants were incontestably and irrevocably fruitless. My whole backside was now of a concrete grey and reminded me of the street artists we had seen on our trip to Tallinn last spring; every visible patch of their skin had been painted in a grey colour to make them look like statures made of stone and daddy had let me take a picture of them.
It appeared more convenient to me to fill my head with thoughts about muddy clothes and painted people than with what was the true cause for my growing distress, which came closer with every second and with every direction Antonia screamed out to her with her squeaky voice. As I lowered my face down to the wound I began to suck on it lightly and took solace in the familiar, metallic taste that assaulted my senses.
The photo of us and the street artists laid somewhere in a dark drawer, forgotten between paintings, school papers and other odds and ends and had I not fallen into a puddle of mud I would've forgotten about its existence. I continued to reminisce and was completely lost in thought until Syrah's sharp voice brought me back to earth.
"Leena, I asked you what happened here! Why is Antonia all wet?" she asked warily and put her hand on said girl's back in a protective manner.
I hesitated with my answer and earned another impatient look from my sister.
"I have been looking ALL over for the two of you! I thought I had told you not to go too far away! What were you thinking?" she scolded and I clasped and unclasped my hands uncomfortably.
"I know," I finally answered meekly, "we didn't mean to make you angry."
"What is this all about? I want an explanation, Leena! I want you to tell me why Antonia is wet like, like a…."
"Like a drowned rat?" I helped and could barely conceal my mischievous chuckle under a slight cough. Wet like a drowned rat! Haha!
Syrah puckered her lips disapprovingly and made it perfectly clear that she didn't have a sense of humour for my jokes at the moment.
"What makes you think everything is my fault? Why am I always the one to blame?" I yelled and crossed my arms in front of my chest, simply because I couldn't bear the judgemental look in her eyes anymore.
"I didn't say anything was your fault, I just want to know what happened! From you! I want to hear it from you, because I already heard Antonia's side of the story!" she explained and kept on staring at me expectantly. Antonia, the little wimp, remained hidden behind my sister's tall frame of a body at the mention of her name and avoided my eyes as I glanced at her with a look of flaming hatred before my gaze returned to Syrah's angry face.
"She slipped!" I hissed and paused for emphasis, "And anyone who claims anything else is a liar!"
"I AM NO LIAR!" Antonia suddenly cried out and held on to my sister's arm in a successful attempt to look pitiful, "I'm telling the truth. I'm not a liar like HER!" She pointed an accusing finger in my direction before the waterworks set in and the show she put on for Syrah reached its climax.
"Syrah!" I called out and withstood Syrah's look of open mistrust this time, "Syrah, we're sisters. Who can you trust if you can't even trust your own sister? Don't you believe me?"
I was even taken aback myself by those shameless words of sheer dishonesty and falsehood that just came out of my mouth.
"I'll make it all up to her later," I told myself to suppress the feeling of guilt, which threatened to pull itself upon me like a heavy weight any minute now.
"I want to believe you, Leena. I really do," Syrah finally replied and the usual gentleness returned into her warm, brown eyes just for a second, "but I don't think I can. Not after what I've heard! You can at least admit to what you've done!"
"What I've done? She bit me! In my hand, look! When I tried to pull my hand away she slipped and landed in the river!" I responded stubbornly and held my wounded hand out to her.
Syrah leaned forward to inspect it more closely and then asked: "And why did she do that?"
"How should I know," I huffed and winced as Syrah's finger gingerly touched the bite mark.
"It wasn't like this," Antonia whined behind Syrah, "She pushed me like I said! And then when I tried to scream she put her hand on my mouth so that I couldn't scream. That was when you came. So I bit her so that I could scream!"
She wiped her tears away with her hand and risked a peek toward me while holding on to my sister's jacket like a baby.
It only took one look at Syrah's face for me to know that I had lost the battle. She remained silent for what seemed like an eternity to me and then shook her head at me in utter disappointment.
"We're going home," she said calmly, "And you're right Leena, if I can't even trust my own sister who can I trust? ... Come on, Antonia."
My sister did not speak a word to me on our way back and I didn't dare to break the silence, as damning and dire as it seemed to me.
That dreaded sun had found an opening in the cloud cover and now slipped a beautiful, orange veil on every shrub and tree.
Again I looked up and saw it smile at my misfortune.
Note: This series is a collaboration between F.A. D'Laurentis ("Leena's Escape") and me, therefore every other chapter will be provided by him although everything will be posted from my account.
Thank you for reading and feel free to leave some feedback! ;)
Disclaimer: The character Syrah belongs to F.A. D'Laurentis and "Orphan" belongs to neither of us! Antonia may be my creation but who would want her anyway? XD