Authors: Ani Alexander
“WHAT? No way! You are not going anywhere! Especially you are not going to her,”
Vasko's mum was more than upset with the news.
“Mum, I am old enough to decide for myself. You can’t keep me tied to your apron-strings forever. I am packing my suitcases.”
This time Vasko was not going to give in.
“No you are NOT,” Vasko's mum shouted. She was fuming.
She had never liked Annika and was happy that Annika lived far away. Sensing her presence two days a week was bearable. She knew long-distance relationships did not work, especially in that age. That was why she had patiently been waiting for it to end. Now things had taken a completely unpredictable turn. She did not want to accept the fact that, from now on, she would have to put up with Annika seven days a week, that her son would no longer live with her because of that unpleasant girl, and that she had no control over the situation.
“Mum, calm down, please. You know I will leave anyway, whether you want it or not. I love Annika and no one will stop me. I am happy and I deserve this happiness.” This was the first time Vasko had stood up to his manipulative mother and it felt pretty good.
“You deserve much better than that Annika of yours. Think about it. She is far too eccentric for you. Look how she moved without even discussing it with you. She controls you.”
“Look who’s talking... I love being controlled by her.”
While they were arguing Vasko was opening his wardrobe and chest of drawers and throwing things into his suitcase. He wanted to get packed and out of the house as soon as possible. Knowing his mother, he was sure that she would shout and complain for as long as she could.
When Vasko was finished, he took the suitcase, kissed his shouting mum's cheek and went out without looking back. He had always wanted to be free but had never had the courage to do it. Annika had triggered the action and he was glad.
From that day on Vasko's mother hated Annika even more.
With each passing day the chances of getting Annika back were decreasing. At some point Stefan
realised that she was lost to him forever. There was absolutely nothing he could do about it any longer. He missed her dreadfully. Stefan realised that the times he had spent with her had been the only happy ones he had ever had.
Because of his disease, Stefan had spent most of his childhood in various hospitals. As far back as he could remember he had been in pain, and every day was accompanied by injections. Later on he sank into music, writing depressive lyrics and creating sad rock ballads. That was how he had managed to effect his escape from reality; from the fact that he felt extremely lonely; from the fact that his dad had left them when he found out how sick he was; from the fact that his mum was so tired of his condition that she had left him with her mother so she could get back her freedom and selfish lifestyle. How many times had he been abandoned before? All he had were his two best friends, one of whom had introduced him to the heroin which had finally destroyed everything he had.
In retrospect Stefan realised that Annika had been too good to be true. She did not fit into the darkness of his life. The happy days they had had together had been the only bright points in his otherwise unhappy existence. Annika had been his only chance, and he’d blown it all in the most stupid way possible.
Stefan's life became unbearable after Annika left him. He sank into darkness and despair. His life had no meaning. All he felt was the unrelenting pain of his disease and the detachment from reality caused by the drugs. He built his entire life around drugs because only they seemed to be stable, loyal and reliable.
The only true friend who had stayed by him till then was Flame. Flame had long since given up trying to bring Stefan back from the deep snare of his drugs. Instead, he merely visited him from time to time. Stefan called him at times when he had not yet had his fix and was feeling extremely bad. Whenever he could, Flame would get into his car and drive over to Stefan's place. The only thing Flame asked was that Stefan be alone and there was no one from the usual crowd of drug addicts to distract them.
Once, on just such a day, Flame came to see Stefan and as always they talked about Annika. They always spoke about Annika, because Stefan could not bear to talk about her with anyone else.
“If you love her, Stefan, just let her go. Give her a chance to be happy,” said Flame.
Stefan merely nodded in return, knowing that as always his one friend was right. He knew only too well that he had caused her too much pain, when all she deserved was something much, much better.
“You think that guy Vasko will make her happy?” Stefan asked, although he already knew the answer.
He had seen them once crossing the street when his car stopped at a red light. It was exactly the same crossroads where a year before Annika had crashed his car. They did not notice him. It was painful to see how happy Annika was looking. She did not even glance at the lamp post, which was still bent in half.
“Stefan, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I actually think anyone who's not like you could make her happy. He's a good guy and he will definitely treat her better than you did.” Flame felt vast sympathy for Stefan and Annika. He could not save Stefan, so he was desperately trying at least to save Annika.
“Please leave her alone. Give her a chance to finally forget you. For God's sake, after all you have someone else sleeping where she used to sleep.”
Stefan shrugged his shoulders. They both knew it didn't mean anything.
Monica – Annika's friend, whom Stefan had been fucking that bloody afternoon, was living with him now. Not as if he had taken any part in the decision. Monica was a drug addict herself -blindly in love with Stefan. After Annika had disappeared, she took great care to turn matters to her advantage at that opportune moment and one day showed up on Stefan's doorstep with a suitcase. Stefan was too depressed, too drugged and too indifferent to do or say anything. He let her into his apartment but he never let her into his heart or his soul.
Monica knew that but did not care too much. As long as she had him near, she felt fine. Each dose of heroin erased the memory of Annika from her mind and she no longer recalled that they had once been friends, that she was supposed to feel guilty and that all this was totally wrong. Stefan knew all that but did not give a shit. Without Annika everything was meaningless, empty and sad. Stefan was completely dead inside and nothing really mattered.
To Stefan every single day was the same. He’d sleep most of the afternoon. After that he’d have a coffee and a cigarette and drive to the drug dealer to get the day's score. Then he’d come home and he and Monica would fill their veins with the poison. Heroin brought the apathy and the bliss he longed for. He turned on the music and sang along with rock stars. It brought back the memories of the cool times when he performed in the pub. Back then he thought he was a lonely, miserable person... he did not know that things would get so much worse after that.
Worst of all were the times when he wasn’t drugged to the eyeballs and he could see things clearly. That was when the pain from the disease and the pain from losing Annika hit him hardest. That was when he longed to get his injection and crawl right back into his other world. He could not bear reality. In his drugged, apathetic state he thought he was still with Annika. He created different scenarios in his distorted mind. Sometimes he convinced himself that she was at work and would come back soon. At other times he convinced himself that his car had not hit Annika at the bus stop and they had not yet met, so all their future still lay ahead. At other times he mixed heroin with alcohol and cocaine and as a result he was able to convince himself that Monica was Annika.
Whenever he did get a foothold back on reality, he’d thank God that Annika no longer saw him in that state. No matter how miserable he looked and felt, he still had his dignity hidden deep inside him.
It was Saturday afternoon. Annika and Vasko were having lunch and watching TV.
Vasko did not know how he was going to break his news to Annika and in the end decided to choose the obvious shortcut – tell the straight truth and all of it at once.
“Look, I've got something to tell you. Something important.” His voice was tense but he sounded determined.
“What is it?” Annika became worried. Intuition told her it was not good news.
“I am leaving for the US in a few days,” said Vasko in a blank voice.
“What?” Annika jumped up. She walked to the other side of the room and then felt weak and sat on the sofa.
“Well, I had applied for a scholarship before I met you. And they replied today. I’ve been accepted.”
“How long for?” Annika asked, although she was not sure she wanted to know the answer.
“And you will be back in six months?”
Something in his look told her that he was not sure.
“Well... That is if I do not get a green card before that.” He had decided to be completely honest and he was.
“And if you get a green card, then what?” Annika could not believe her ears. She felt betrayed... he had never told her about the application.
“Then I will stay there,” he said in a firm voice. He had already decided everything beforehand and this was not a discussion. Vasko was simply imparting the information.
“What about us?” whispered Annika.
“I don't know...”
“I know... Our relationship depends on a fucking green card! If you don’t get one, then maybe you’ll come back to me. If you do, then you won't. And what do you expect me to do? Tell you that I’m happy for you? That it's great news? To me it's not such great news... it's just you putting a knife in my back!” Annika could not control her emotions any longer. Although she wanted to stay calm and look cool, she could not. It was way too painful and too unexpected for her to be politically correct. She did not want to play the generous one and make things easy for him. If he hid important details concerning their future from her, then he’d have to bear the consequences.
“Annika , please! You have to understand. I have dreamed about this for ages. This is my only chance to get out and achieve something. This is the only chance I’ll get not to work all my life for pennies. It’s an opportunity to have a future.”
“Congratulations then! Your dream has come true and in coming true it has crushed mine. Go ahead, go for it, chase your dream! I’ll get over it – that is, if you still care enough to worry about that. Oh yes, and please leave the apartment before I get back.” Annika's eyes were full of tears. She grabbed her bag and went out.
Vasko had been hoping for a much easier, less tempestuous dialogue. He stood in the middle of the room, lost and guilt-ridden. He knew Annika had done nothing to deserve this, but at the same time he knew if he didn’t seize this chance, then over time he would find that he did not deserve Annika. It seemed like a no-win situation. He thought how life could spoil even those dreams which were coming true... In any case everything was already done and dusted.
Meanwhile, Annika walked down the street and cried. People turned around. Some even stared at her, but she did not care. She was extremely angry, and she recalled Stefan. Both betrayals were very different but both ached the same way. She loved both men in a different manner, but hated them in the same way!
Annika walked and thought. What should she do next? She had moved to the city in order to be with
Vasko. Now that he had decided to go to the US there was no point in staying. On the other hand she had also left her home town in order to forget Stefan, and going back there was not an option either. She felt lost.
There were no answers and no solutions. Annika decided to switch off her brain for a while and simply walk with no purpose, aimlessly... She let her feet lead her where they would, and watched the things around her.
People rushed past without looking at each other. Most of them were gloomy and lost in thought. Not one of them cared about the other. They were strangers who, at a certain point, happened to pass each other on the street - nothing more, nothing less.
Annika was not aware how she had found her way to the international coach station. There were many coaches, crowds of people rolling suitcases behind them, and announcement boards with destinations and ticket prices. Annika decided that this was a sign. Since she saw no sense in staying and did not want to go back home either, the only way left was to get out of the country. For someone who knew only very poor English and who had never lived alone before, it was a crazy idea.
Annika went to the cashier’s desk and looked at the list of destinations glued on the glass. There was a long list of possibilities and many different cities to escape to. It looked scary and fascinating at the same time. Annika swallowed the bitterness caused by Vasko and became excited. She read the names of the cities one by one and tried to recall her associations for each city. Paris was a definite no. It was the city of romance and going there alone after a break-up would be a failure. Rome felt like going back a thousand years when all she wanted to do was to move on. Moscow reminded her of people who were either drunk or rude or both...
Amsterdam.... Amsterdam??? Amsterdam!!!
Something clicked inside her when she read it. Her inner voice was shouting at her to choose that one. Annika took her place in the queue and awaited her turn.
“One-way ticket to Amsterdam,” she said in a firm voice. It was decided and it was final.
She was going to Holland!