Arumi by Nyse Vicente

Night had come early.

A blessing for him. A curse for Pedro. 

The blade sunk into the man’s flesh, sliding down his back. Shards of blood snaked its way out of his body, onto the white sheets, dripping  onto the tile floor.

The sound of that drip was beautiful. 

He could hear the endless rush of water hitting against stone. It filled the gap between his screams. 

It was Pedro’s fault. For hurting the woman. A lovely woman, kissed with the scent of salt and sea. Not just any woman. His partner. His friend. 

Inside the sink lay two swords, a spear and three daggers. Soon, his blood would stain each blade. Pedro shook under the weight of the steel rope sinking into his skin. An obsidian smile passed his lips. He would let him scream all he wanted. 

*1995*

By God, it was boiling in this remnant of a town. Celso walked towards the counter, handing out three dollars. There was no need for words. The shopkeeper knew the one.

‘Bintang?’ the shopkeeper said, flashing his silver tooth. 

Celso nodded, not bothering to look up. This was the fifth time his uncle sent him here. If he never bought a packet of cigarettes again, it would be too soon. 

‘Here’ the shopkeeper said ‘buy one get one free. Regular’s special’ 

Celso thanked him and walked out of the store. The world tilted and went dazzlingly bright. A few men sat outside of the store, passing the remains of a cigarette round to each other. He placed the cigarette inside of his shirt-pocket.

‘Don’t tell me you smoke’ a voice from behind said. 

‘Shut it, Squeak’ 

‘It’s Arumi Yorensin thank you very much’ 

Arumi turned to face him. Her lips curved into a hint of a smile. To anyone else, she would have seemed calm, serene. Even bored. But he knew the slight tremor in her voice. He looked straight at her. 

‘You never cover you arms’ 

‘I felt like it today’ 

Liar. She was a shit little liar. He pulled the sleeves upwards, not bothering to ask for her permission. A thin scar stretched across her arm. The fresh cut glinted against the Timorese sun. 

Rage welled up in his chest. How did she resemble the monster of her mother? 

‘It’s fine’ she said, jerking her arm back ‘I’ll die one way or another. It’s my mother or the Indonesians’ 

‘No wonder your mother doesn’t like me. She wants to kill you first’ 

It was a grim joke, but he didn’t take it back. She looked straight at him. 

‘She doesn’t know. And if she did it wouldn’t make a difference. We’re all going to burn one way or another’ 

God help them all. Arumi pulled her sleeve downwards, jutted her chin upwards and kept walking. 

‘We’ll escape this shit-hole one day. We’ll escape it, and forget about every monster which tried to break us. Did break us. And become something new’ 

‘How poetic’ she snorted, then paused. ‘When we’re eighteen. I’ll run off and marry a fine gentleman. You can be the servant.’

‘Get lost Squeak’ 

*1999*

Eighteen came faster than Celso expected. Houses kept turning to chars. Unwanted babies, courtesy of soldiers who slashed and beat and killed their way towards women, were born. The number of corpses piling under the River increased. 

The only thing, the only one who changed in the midst of this was Arumi.

It was selfish of him. Selfish and twisted and corrupt. To celebrate every day because she was alive when so many others fell. She was prepared for the end. He just prayed to whatever ancestor who was listening that he went before she did. 

And his uncle. He looked at the clock. *Half past midnight*. Where in this hell was his uncle? He couldn’t remember at what ungodly hour he left the house. So he too, had given up on being careful. 

There was a knock at the door.

Celso looked out of the window, keeping his head low. He wasn’t enough of an idiot to just go open the door, unlike other unfortunate citizens. 

A slender woman rapped on the door once again, the moonlight illuminating her golden face. Her dark tresses cascaded down her back.

His heart dropped to his stomach. *Arumi*. 

He didn’t notice the books he knocked as he ran towards the door.

‘Are you out of your mind?’ he said, as she walked in. It took every ounce of self control to stop his hands from shaking. All it would have taken was for a bored soldier to glance one eye at her. One damned eye. 

‘My parents left and tried to lock me in. I was scared’ she lay down on his sofa, exhaustion passing over her face. She looked spent. As if the five minute walk to his house had taken all of her energy. 

‘And this is a better alternative?’ 

‘I couldn’t think’

‘You better go upstairs to my bedroom. In case-in case my uncle arrives’

Red tinted her cheeks but she made no objection. She made her way towards his room. Celso was right behind her. 

‘Well you can sleep on the bed tonight’ he said, grabbing a faded blanket from the drawer. The newspaper would do as a pillow. His room was cramped and he hadn’t bothered to pick up the pile of books on the floor. It would have to do.

‘I’m meant to be leaving tomorrow’ 

‘Where to?’ 

‘Portugal’

His stomach went cold. 

‘My parents are at home. They’re talking to some, some man’ she kept her voice steady. She didn’t have to say any more. He knew exactly what it was for.

‘Do you want to go?’ 

He heard her soft steady breath behind him. A slender finger ran down his back ‘Does it matter?’ She kept running her hands down his spine.

Her fingers shook and Celso moved at last, to face her, holding her thin fingers against his. They were cold, the tips so much smaller than his. He savoured every feature as she looked down, staring at her own fingers, thin as a pile of birds bones, against his own.

A small smile tugged at her lips, as she edged closer, leaning in, breathing his scent. His muscles tensed. Her lips ran down his neck.

‘Are you sure about this’ 

‘Just don’t call me Squeak’ 

He let out a small laugh, and pulled the blanket towards them. She let out a small moan. That was enough of an invitation. He edged his way in, running his hands along the delicate rib cage, feeling every scratch and scar and bruise which lay on her skin. 

Light flooded into the room. Celso got up, ignoring the ache in his back. A pile of books lay neatly stacked in a corner beside his bed. An old newspaper lay crumpled inside the wastebasket.

She was gone. 

The realisation came to him like a blow. Last night. It had been one final goodbye. Before she left. Left. And never saw him again. 

‘What’s got you looking so sick’ 

Celso turned. For once in his miserable life, his uncle wasn’t holding a beer bottle. Gods be damned, miracles did exist.

‘She’s gone’

So he knew. He knew, and kept up that pathetic smile. As if he hadn’t known her. Hadn’t seen her born that cold December night.

‘Off to the airport she is. Lucky girl. Lucky girl. She was always a hot one she was’

He kept his face a mask. Bile rose in his throat. He had to use every strength of will not to feel his fist against his uncle’s nose. 

‘Would love to have a hot one like that all to myself. Now get me cigarettes will you?’

This time he didn’t hold back. 

‘Doctor how was the lecture today?’

The nurse smiled at him, blushing. Celso clicked his tongue, walking towards the reception door. It had been a mistake. She promised she wouldn’t mind. A night was more than enough anyway. He had seen through her lie. And had proceeded anyway. Like he had done with all the other women. 

Squeak would have murdered him. 

His head pulsed. He was going mad. He needed a cigarette. The packet of Marlboro’s lay waiting in his back pocket.

The receptionist came running outside. ‘Sir, Sir, we have a new patient!’ 

‘We always have new patients’

‘No sir! She claims to know you! She keeps repeating your name over and over again. Please Doctor, come and see for yourself’

Celso walked in. A girl caked in blood was held by three of the nurses. She was thin, and had limp black hair that clung to her cheekbones. Too long, he realised, as it cascaded down to her ankle. 

‘Stop calling me Squeak Celso’ she laughed a hollow laugh, her small white teeth glinting in the moonlight. Then she stopped, paused, looking upwards towards the white ceiling. A shrill cry left her throat. She cowered, placing her arms over her head, her whole figure shaking. ‘Don’t hurt me Pedro please. Please! I promise I’ll do better!’ 

Celso couldn’t disguise the tremor in his voice. ‘What, what happened to her?’ 

Another doctor handed him a newspaper ‘Read it. Seems as if she developed trauma after ten years with an abusive husband. Some folks heard him beating her. The police tried to find him. But he escaped’ 

The woman’s arms twisted. She tilted her head, before throwing it back, letting out a deep, guttural cackle. 

Abused was an understatement. 

‘Arumi’ 

Her eyes widened. She blinked. Arumi Yorensin stopped looking straight at him. Another hollow, jarring laugh left her lips.

‘Arumi Yorensin? Do you know her? She’s dead. Pedro killed her’ she stomped her foot, smiling straight at Celso. ‘Isn’t it funny. She’s alive and now she isn’t. La la la la’ 

The bastard. The absolute bastard. He was going to find him. Celso couldn’t stop his arms from shaking. Didn’t try to hide the pain and rage which crashed into his chest like a torrent. He was going to find the bastard. And beat every rutting shard out of him. Then cut his head and burn his flesh.  

‘Send her to room 403. I’m taking care of her’ 

Night had come early.

A blessing for him. A curse for Pedro.

It had taken him two years. Two insufferable years to pin him down and find his location. Thank God it was in Timor. Business would have been more *complicated* in Manhattan. A spider smile came over his lips. The bastard would pay. For destroying the woman he loved. Not just any woman. His partner. His wife.

Pedro rose to consciousness. Celso pulled his blade out. Wonderful. He didn’t even have time time to process what was happening when the blade met his back. 

Night had come early.

A blessing for him. A curse for Pedro. 

And justice.

For Arumi.

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