Photographer Credit: Eric David Battershell.
Cover Artist: Sybil, PopKitty Design.
How do you return to a cage once you’ve tasted freedom?
My only hope is that Aiden will cross an ocean for me.
The last three days have been exhausting. Sneaking away from the house in the middle of the night like some criminal was the most daring thing I’ve ever done. While sitting at the airport, I chewed my nails to the nerve out of fear that I’d be caught and dragged back to that hellish prison.
I unlock the door to the flat which will be my new home for the next six months. Not knowing whether my roommate is home, I slowly walk inside.
Closing the door behind me, I leave my bags at the entrance. “Hello, is anyone here?”
Silence greets me, and I let out a sigh of relief. It will give me time to get settled before whoever I’m sharing the flat with gets back.
Crap, I should’ve asked Miss Jessie, the landlord, about my roommate. For a moment I contemplate going back to her but decide to put it off until I go out to explore a little of the town.
Opening the door to the first bedroom, and glancing inside, I see a pair of men’s sneakers beside the bed. It’s clear I’ll be sharing with a guy unless the girl has big feet, which I doubt.
Actually, I hope it’s a guy. I don’t think I can handle living with another woman so soon after all I’ve been through with my mother.
The second door opens to a bathroom, and I’m glad to see that it has a shower.
Grabbing my luggage, I walk to the last room, which I assume will be mine. Pushing the door open, my eyes greedily take in all the space.
There’s a closet against the wall, and a big bed stands opposite it. I’ve never slept in such a massive bed. I just want to face-plant onto it and sleep all my worries away.
“Wow,” I whisper. “This flat is amazing.”
Even though my parents live in a mansion in Clifton, one of Cape Town’s wealthiest neighborhoods, my bedroom at the back of the house was small and only held a bed. There wasn’t even space for a dresser, and I had to keep my clothes in the closet of one of the guest bedrooms. It was just another way for my mother to make me feel like an unwanted burden.
For the first time since I left home, a smile forms around my lips and excitement starts to bloom in my chest.
I hate my parents for doing this to me, for making me run to North Carolina, the other side of the bloody world. But I’ve had enough. A person can only take so much abuse.
I have to prove to myself that I can survive without them. The trust fund isn’t huge, and with the exchange rate being so bad, it doesn’t leave me with much of a monthly allowance once it’s converted to dollars. I’ll only have enough for rent, one meal a day, and paying for my studies.
Even though my finances aren’t the best, I feel hopeful, and for the first time, I don’t dread what tomorrow might bring.
Lifting my bag onto the bed, I start to unpack. It only takes a minute to transfer my clothes over to the spacious closet. The few items look lost in all the space, but still, a warm feeling settles in my heart.
I might not have much, but I have my freedom.
“You’ve done it, Emma,” I whisper. I grab clean clothes and the only towel I have, then walk back to the bathroom so I can shower. “You have six months to find a way so you can stay here.”
After I’ve taken a quick shower, I get dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
Back in my room, I place the dirty clothes in my backpack. I’ll have to find a laundromat where I can wash them.
I turn on my phone, and immediately it starts to vibrate with messages and missed calls. I choose to ignore them for now and search for Chloe’s number.
Holding the phone to my ear, a smile spreads across my face the second I hear her voice.
“I’ve been going insane! Did you land in one piece? Is the place you’re staying at nice? What is your roommate like? Have your parents cont –”
“Chloe, slow down. One question at a time,” I stop her interrogation with a burst of laughter. “I’m safely here. The flat is very nice. It’s a two bedroom, and it has an open plan kitchen and small lounge. The bedroom is huge, Chloe. It has so much closet space, and the window looks out over a beautiful courtyard. It’s nothing like the room at home. It’s easily twice as big. Don’t even get me started on how comfy the bed looks.”
A sense of freedom washes over me as I take in my new home.
I’m really free.
“I’m so happy you like it, Em. You sound better too. You did the right thing by leaving. Have you met your roommate?”
“I haven’t met the person I’m sharing the flat with. I’m a little nervous about that. I saw a pair of men’s sneakers, so I’m sure it’s a guy. Miss Jessie, the owner, let me in. She seems nice, but she was surprised to see me. My application got mixed up with some other guy’s. After explaining that I can’t afford to live on my own and how important it is that I share a flat, she relented and gave me the keys.”
“Oh hell. I’m just glad you got it all sorted. Anyway, I’m glad you’ve settled in. After everything we had to go through to get you there,” she sighs. “Just don’t answer your phone if that bitch tries to call you. Don’t reply to her texts. Don’t let her intimidate you. Remember, she’s on the other side of the world now. You’re safe in America.”
“Thank you for helping me,” I say, thanking my lucky stars again that I have such an incredible friend.
“You know I’d ride a porcupine butt naked for you,” she laughs. I don’t know where she heard that, but since she did, she hasn’t stopped saying it.
“You’re the best,” I whisper. It’s the best I can do to tell Chloe that I care about her.
I can’t say the words I love you. My mother has made them lose all meaning, and now they’re just empty words I hear after a beating.
“Now, go on! Go out and have some fun,” she says, her voice laced with excitement for me.
“I’m a little scared, to be honest, but I’m not going to let it hold me back,” I admit.
“Yes, don’t hide in your room. Go out and experience new things. You’ll see not everyone is as evil as that insane mother of yours.”
I want to experience everything this world has to offer. I’ve never gone out before and have no idea how to socialize. Being out and between people is the only way I’m going to learn.
“Take your phone with you and call if you need me. Or text me. I’m on standby,” Chloe says, offering her support like she always does.
“You’re the best. You know that, right?” I say again.
“No, you’re the best,” she laughs.
“I’ll let you know how it goes.”
My phone beeps just as I cut the call. One glance tells me I can’t run from the inevitable. Chloe would kill me if she knew I was answering them, but I can’t just ignore my parents. They are my family, after all. I’ll just let them know I’m safe.
Dad: Where are you? We can’t reach you. Your mother’s worried.
Me: I’m taking a break from it all. I’m safe.
I bite my bottom lip as I watch the message go through. Even though an ocean separates me from them, I can’t help but feel scared.
My heartbeat starts to speed up as a panic attack threatens to engulf me.
Closing my eyes, I picture an eagle taking flight, and I let all my feelings soar away with it. It’s something I started doing two years ago after I saw an eagle soaring above our house. I had just finished gathering all the dead leaves from the swimming pool when I heard the sharp cry. I must’ve watched it for an hour before it flew away. What I remember most from that day was the peaceful feeling which filled my heart.
Sucking in a deep breath, I slowly open my eyes. “You’re going to be fine, Emma. You can do this.”