Chapter 1: I Have a Plan
My mobile phone buzzes in front of me on the bare windowsill.
Lock me in at 11, as usual, Sonja writes.
Same message she sent yesterday at this time. Same as the day before. And the day before that… She reminds me every night. As if I didn’t know.
I hesitate. I don’t like ‘the usual’ any more.
I pick up my phone.
I can’t keep locking you in! I reply.
Thirty seconds later.
Yes, you can. And you haven’t stopped in almost 9 years, she writes.
True, but I’m fed up with it now. You’re using me, and I’ve got to move on. With Roger, I send back.
Thirty seconds later.
Forty seconds later.
Still no message.
Instead, several rapid knocks on my door. I sigh, rolling my eyes.
The door of my room flies open. The rickety handle bangs against the wall, making the hole in it deeper.
“I didn’t say come in!” I tell Sonja.
She plants herself in front of me, legs slightly parted. Her long blonde hair dishevelled. She doesn’t care about looks. If I talked about ageing, and the fact that we could soon get our first grey hairs, she wouldn’t be interested.
Now she’s frowning at me, her face scarlet.
“You know what? You’ve got no choice but to lock me in,” she blurts out.
“Of course I have a choice!”
She isn’t the tiniest bit taller than me. Physically not stronger either. Same size, really. If our slender arms and fists flew at each other now in a fight, they’d smash into splinters like matches. And yet, her five-foot-five height, and the way she’s posing right now, would normally intimidate me. Normally.
“No, you don’t! See this?” She’s holding the screen of her phone toward me, showing a picture of me next to a guy on a bench in the park where I often take my au-pair children.
“Yes, and?” I say.
“You two seem very close, right?”
“You’re hugging. Embracing. Roger surely won’t like this.”
I was watching my au-pair children play the other day, and then that man started talking to me. He suddenly got emotional about his divorce.
“What are you telling me, Sonja? Are you trying to blackmail me? To get me to stay here, keep locking you in every night, and not move in with him?”
Sonja grins. Her blue eyes are very cold tonight, in contrast to the first time I saw her when we were young. Back then, I didn’t mind that she came close to being a mirror image of me. Now I hate it. Now I know why we look similar.
“It was only a comforting hug. That’s okay when someone is upset,” I say.
“Yeah, but Roger doesn’t know that. He’d see this picture, nothing else. It would take me only a couple of clicks to send it to him.” She narrows her eyes. The death stare.
“You tricked me, Sonja?”
She shrugs her shoulders, turns around, walks out of my room and slams the door. I twitch.
What. A. Damn. Bitch!
Okay, this is it. It’s got to happen. Tonight. And this time, I have to succeed. She. Has. To. Go. If I don’t succeed today, I probably never will.
Sonja lives in the room next to mine. Now and again, I hear her. It all started a long time ago – two girls who got along extremely well. Almost twenty-eight years. It feels like a lifetime. That’s why it’s so difficult; that’s why she thinks she can do with me whatever she wants.
We’ve all heard about these kinds of relationships when two people have been together for ages; when all appears fine. But we also know that we can be deceived sometimes, right? That, deep down, one would like to leave but can’t. So please understand why I’ve spent all this time with her.
Our rooms are positioned at a ninety-degree angle to each other. When I open my door, Sonja’s is to my right in the corner of this third floor. To my left is another room with its door facing the same way as mine. A man lives in there. I call him Mr Stumble-Late. He often comes home long after midnight, drunk. And so I wake up. I have no idea who he really is. We don’t talk, but nod when we accidentally meet in the corridor.
I can’t say I live in my room. I exist. Ever since we moved here, I haven’t bothered trying to make my place look cosy. I’ve done it too many times, I’m tired of it. The only personal thing I’ve put up is a picture of Roger. It’s leaning against the little radio on my bedside table. Well, the bedside table – it isn’t mine, but part of this furnished room. The radio belongs to me, too, but I don’t regard it as something personal. This room is pretty empty, and I don’t like it. Who would? It’s rather sterile, and the smell of the new plastic floor doesn’t want to fade. If I talked to myself, I mean out loud, there would be an echo.
I thought I knew Sonja. Inside out. But I seem to have been wrong. It’s horrible thinking you know somebody well when you discover that you don’t. Again, we’ve all heard about it, right? It’s like when hubby comes home and suddenly breaks the news that he’s leaving you for another woman. Or when you’ve done everything for your queen but surprise, surprise, she says she has fallen in love with her new boss. Or, imagine your parents turning their backs on you? Is that the worst?
How can all these things be? You wonder how you did not see them coming.
I didn’t. Not really. I’d never have believed Sonja was capable of blackmailing me. But she just did it. Bitch. She’s going to destroy my precious romance if I leave her. She tells me she can’t be without me and that I must stay. But I’m exhausted. Life’s passing me by. God, you know! Please, God, if you exist, you know that I have reached the end of my tether. You know I’m done, and you do understand, don’t you? I have no other choice this time.
It’s not quite eight o’clock. The outside world is flooded in gold by the sun hanging low in the sky. Completely the opposite of what the neon tube on the ceiling does to my room.
Today is the 22nd July 2014. I’m standing here by my window; the slats of the blinds are open. I can easily peek through the gaps. A few of those golden sunrays tickle my bare arms. I like that. I want to be out there but must guard Sonja instead.
I can see into the yard behind this building and over to the neighbouring one. People in business clothes regularly stand there during office hours, smoking. I don’t like smoking, but I like those people. I know them all and have a close relationship with each of them. They are my friends. My only friends, to be honest. And that person out there right now, the guy I’m talking to, that’s WHWM-Dad. Sometimes he’s with WHWM-Brother, but honestly, I love it most when it’s just him and me. ‘WHWM’ stands for ‘wish he was my’.
WHWM-Dad is such a good listener. He does late shifts almost every evening, which is one of the reasons I chose him. He’s always there for me. I mean, most evenings I talk to WHWM-Dad a lot. Sometimes in French; I’m fluent now. I’ve told him all about my plan, and that I’ve tried before but failed. He’s listened to everything, although he most likely doesn’t even know I exist. He never looks up here to my window. But I still tell him that my plan will be implemented tonight.
Unless I’m deceived by his appearance, WHWM-Dad is warm and loving. Like a strong, friendly bear from a kids’ story. He would protect his princess-daughter with his big paws. Whenever he comes out through the door with his colleagues, he holds it open for everybody and smiles. So charmingly. His small belly would be perfect for me to nestle myself in when we’d have a WHWM-daddy-daughter hug. Sure, I might be a bit too grown up to talk like this. But I once used to be a child, and he’d have hugged me back then. And I’d still go and sling my arms around his neck these days, resting my head on his shoulder.
I know he won’t be a former high-school teacher. He may only have a job doing simple tasks like piecing things together. But I don’t care. I’d even treasure it that he wouldn’t threaten me with logical, annoying and heartless principles and make me lose argument after argument. I wouldn’t shed tears over WHWM-Dad.
The slats of my blinds are dusty. They need cleaning. Softly, I move my finger over one at chest height. Sonja wouldn’t stick her finger into that kind of dirt. Not without protecting it. She would use something like a tissue. Maybe even put rubber gloves on. Brushing dust off the slats with a naked finger is forbidden. But it’s not the dust that is the problem. No, the dust is not the dirty thing. It’s the slats of the blinds themselves. Made in Germany is written on one of them. That’s why they are dirty. She still hasn’t come to terms with her own roots.
I’ve wiped about a third of the slats. I used my fingers. The dust has fallen on the floor. I sneezed a couple of times – as I said, the blinds need cleaning.
It’s past 8pm now, but far too early for Sonja to get ready for bed. She doesn’t like it and keeps putting it off. When she eventually starts, the routine will last a very long time. She currently takes two and a half hours, but there have been times when she took four.
Well, I’ll carry on for a while, standing here by my window, moving my fingers over some more of the dusty slats. WHWM-Dad has gone back inside, but I hope he’ll come out again for another chat with me.
Please, let the hours pass quickly until 3am – that’s when Sonja should be tucked up in bed, asleep.
I turn back to the text messages on my mobile phone.
Okay, will lock you in at 11 then, as usual, I lie, then put the phone back on the windowsill.
Buy the book, One of Us Has to Go on Amazon and finish the story!
Katja Schulz blames her impatience on the fact that she was born premature, in the middle of winter, and has therefore admitted to this, her only, flaw. She turned her congenital curiosity and lust for adventure into a passion – crossing the Atlantic by ship twice, flying around the world and, after leaving her native country in 2004 for good, living in Switzerland, England, France and Canada. She loves snow, music, football, tennis, and coffee, and couldn’t imagine the world without. Her rather patient fiancé likes football just as much as she does, and should England ever beat Germany again, the two might have to reconsider their romance. Apart from her native German, Katja is fluent in English and French. She loves to write but is also fond of photography, and she forgets the world beyond her lens when she’s in her element. Follow Katja on Twitter @oneofushastogo and visit her website at katjagschulz.com.