Nowhere to Hide
The front door banged, waking Nika from her sweaty sleep. She tensed, her hand sliding under the pillow, as heavy footsteps thundered up the stairs, only breathing out and releasing her hand when the feet continued on to the bedsit above. Tossing a tissue in the already overflowing bin on the floor, Nika grabbed another for her dripping nose, her weeping eyes. She felt like a cracking vase; her head was breaking open and her lips were sore. She was hungry, too, but even if she had the strength to make it across the room, the fridge and cupboard would yield no fare. She might find some mouldy bread in the cupboard. Maybe some cereal, but the milk would be sour. She’d been festering on her sick bed for five days so nothing would be worth eating. In the bedsit above she could hear mumbled voices, one raised louder, a man’s angry voice, and a woman’s cry. They were arguing, a lovers tiff maybe. At least she was done with that bullshit. Nika closed her eyes and wished for sleep, though her stomach let out a rumbling complaint. Hunger must be a good sign, after days of no appetite. She’d have to go out soon, get some provisions. Nika`s bedsit was basic. When she`d arrived last week the landlord hadn’t asked her any questions. He just took her money, Page | 1
counted it and nodded, ‘Da, okay,’ and pushed the key at her. ‘Room four, yes.’ She could tell the room had seen many people come and go and no one had cared to make it a home. The walls were scuffed with marks, the chair thread-worn and the fridge was harvesting mould. She hadn’t dared inspect the mattress. Nika had left in a hurry, and travelled light. Her sole bag held just a few items; a toothbrush was next to the sink. It was enough. The only thing that mattered was the gun, and that was under the pillow. Keeping her safe. Nika was drifting back into sleep’s smothering hold when she heard a thud above her head, then the sound of wood breaking. Her eyes widened, her hand reaching under the pillow. She listened, and heard nothing but her own heartbeat in her ears, a running rhythm, her whole body tense and ready for flight. Learned response. Calm down, she told herself. No one can get you here. Just then she heard a scream from the room above, the woman, then heavy feet ran down the stairs and the front door banged shut. The screaming gave way to noisy crying and Nika sensed that she was the only one in the building to hear. The woman upstairs banged on the ceiling, her watery voice calling down. ‘Pomogite pozhaluista!’ The woman was Russian. And she was asking for help. The cry didn’t surprise Nika. Alarmed, maybe, but didn’t surprise. After all, the landlord was Russian. She was Russian. There were hundreds in this seedy, rundown quarter of Berlin. Clandestines mostly. No papers. No right to be there. On the wrong side of everything. The men, she’d realised, were mostly into crime—drugs, contraband cigarettes, truck-jacking, illegal immigration. The transportation business, Yuri explained with a grin. Yuri. He’d Page | 2
seemed so innocent with his homely Slavic face, his laughing eyes, his taut body. ‘Come along,’ he’d said. ‘I can get you a passport. I’ll get you work in a bar or a nightclub. You’d like that – music, dancing, life. Not like here,’ he’d said, spreading his arms to embrace the shabby countryside of her homeland. ‘You can stay with me. We’re good together.’ Yuri was her first. She’d dreamt all her young life of one man, first and last. Simple happiness, seemingly so easy to attain, but now out of reach. Forever. ‘At least come and see for yourself. Come for the ride,’ he’d coaxed. Come for the ride. Nika pulled a face and reached for another tissue. The woman’s crying had subsided but she was unfinished business. There was no passport, no bar job, no nightclub. Perhaps the woman upstairs was like her, one of the pretty ones, swept into prostitution and beaten when she tried to escape. Well, thought Nika, her hand brushing the cold certainty of the blunt barrel under her pillow, her last trick had been careless. He’d been one of them. Russian. She’d seen the bulge when he’d arrived. In a back pocket, it could only have been one thing. She’d been good to him. Very good. Sated, sleeping, she’d relieved him of his weapon, checked it was loaded, and shot her minder in the thigh. His ear-splitting scream had pierced the silence, sending her into a panic, making it hard for her to think. She needed somewhere to go, a place to stay, and for that, she would need money. She gazed at the man, still screaming and swearing in a mixture of Russian and English expletives, the English ones, at times, hard for her to understand. Page | 3
‘Stop it,’ she’d yelled, thrusting the gun at him, her hands shaking violently. She had to shut him up, had to stop him yelling. She pressed her hands to her ears; the gun tightly clasped in her left, her head ringing, trying desperately to shut him out, willing him to stop. Yet still, he yelled, screamed, swore. ‘Stop!’ She cried, then brought the gun back down and thrust it in his direction. ‘Please, I don’t want to hurt you.’ She pleaded, as tears streamed down her face, but he would not stop. She had tried to think, to form some kind of plan, but his screams were unbearable. Her head was awash with fear. If anyone heard, her only chance at freedom would be lost forever. When they discovered what she had done, they would kill her, she was sure of it, and in an instant, she knew the answer. ‘If he has done this to you, he will do the same to others.’ She’d thought, reasoning with herself, trying to justify what she felt, she had to do. She had known that if she did it, she could take his money, and that with that she would have some hope, somewhere to start. However, shooting him in the thigh had been hard enough; could she really bring herself to end another human life? Her sobs had shaken her body, as she’d levelled the gun at his head... The man on the bed saved him. How he hadn’t been wakened by her minder’s screams she would never know. But the click of the gun as it was cocked—so gentle, so ominous, presumably so familiar—roused him. He sighed, turned over and reached out for where she had lain. She froze, caught between two threats to her liberty. Nika made up her mind. Money was more important than revenge, and a little in her hand worth more than a lot secreted Page | 4
about the writhing and blood-soaked form on the floor. She ran to the bedside table, grasped the crumpled Euros—payment for services rendered—waved the gun menacingly once more at her minder and ran from the building. Everything else had followed in quick succession. As soon as she found the seedy bedsit, ’flu had taken hold and she had retired to the questionable pleasures of the shabby bed. At least no man would share it with her. But her problems weren’t over. The money was quickly running out. Rent had sadly depleted her illicit funds and provisions would practically clean her out. And she had promised herself she would never return to prostitution. Then there was her minder. He would have quickly raised the alarm. She knew Yuri’s brother-in-law, if that was who he was, would come looking for her. He wouldn’t take kindly to one of his girls shooting her minder. She grimaced. Knowing her luck, he might even be related too, and shooting a Russian gangster’s relative was like signing your own death warrant and then taking care of the execution yourself. On the run and no money. Five months before she had been back in Russia. And in love… The woman upstairs cried out again. Against her better judgement, Nika made for the stairs.
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