Rootless – Charlotte Straat

Someone was carrying me. I felt it by the booming footsteps which tormented my agonized body. Even if I wanted to, I could not escape. The deep darkness got hold of me again and took me to places I tried to avoid all my life: memories!
The second time I woke up, I found myself staring into a bearded face with dark brown eyes that looked down at me with concern. Although he seemed friendly, my fear was deep seated it was difficult to trust anyone. I backed away when his hand reached out to me.
‘You just calm down now, let me give you some water.’
His voice! I remembered his voice! I looked at him again, trying to place him in time, but it was still impossible for me to speak. What had I done?  Why had I given way to circumstances in just a split second? Why hadn’t I thought it over first? I was in real trouble now.
All my father had taught me, made me promise to do, to keep me safe, had fallen to pieces. The hurt which came with this realisation was far more devastating than the condition my body was in.
I would have let go if not for bearded man and his water.
He lifted my head with care and poured the fluid into my mouth. He seemed to ignore the cracky sounds of my neck. The cold water hydrated my throat like a rain shower over the desert. It felt so good. Slowly I regained the use of my vocal cords.
‘Bath’ I gasped ‘need to bathe!’
Although my words sounded like a whisper he was quick at understanding my needs.
‘Would a shower do?’ he asked
‘No, a bath, I need to bathe.’
‘Just stay here, I’ll see what I can do.
As I still could not move I had no intention to go anywhere. Asking myself over and over, how I could talk myself out of this situation.
Just a little amount of water had energized me enough to think clearly again. The images of the last hours popped up like soap bubbles in my mind. I knew exactly what I had done and, so it appears, beard man did too. The door of, what seemed to be his apartment, opened and he rushed in to the bedroom where he had put me.
‘Can you move?’ his eyes examined the state of my body. Although everything seemed to be intact, the damage was done to all of my cells. There was no way I could explain this to him.
‘No.’ I answered.
‘Okay, I’ll carry you to my neighbours flat, he has a bath, lucky you!’ he smiled. At the same moment he must have seen the panic in my eyes.
‘Don’t you worry, he’s not at home. I’m taking care of his cat, so I have his keys.’
‘Take my clothes off!’
Beard man hesitated.  ‘Are you… sure?’ I mean…’
‘Yes’ I interrupted.
During this ordeal our eyes stayed connected, not once did he glimpse at my breasts nor further below.
As he shoved his hands underneath my naked back and bottom he surely must have felt the stiffness and the cold. But again he said nothing.
When he rushed me to his neighbours apartment he bumped my left foot against the door-post. The noise like the breaking of a small twig was heard and a heavy thump. My left foot fell off.
‘Oh my God!’ he yelled ‘Oh my God’
I had to ease him before he became frantic.
‘It’s okay, shhh now, it is okay. Just put me in the bathtub and let the tap run.’
He trembled as he lowered me down. I think losing my foot was a bit too much after all he had seen that day.
As soon the water hit my body the process of healing started. But I still needed his help. I just could not sink cause my DNA was based on the element of wood, so I floated like an autumn leaf on a lake. For a complete recovery I had to be held totally under the surface of the water. Just like my father used to do.
‘Will you please push me in deeper?’ my voice was back to normal.  His face reflected pure awe and horror at the same time. I could not blame him. My left foot grew completely back in an instant when my body touched the water, it must have been magic from another world to him.
Speechless he complied with my request. Our eyes remained locked when he pushed me under. To me it was like heaven. My body absorbed the water and my cells filled themselves with renewed energy. Although I felt a thousand times better I knew I still had days to go for complete recovery. My actions nearly killed me. ’Respect your boundaries Nina, I didn’t name you Atlas, it is not up to you to carry the world!’ I kept hearing my father’s voice.
Beard man, whose name turned out to be Emmet, prepared dinner while he placed me in front of the television. The gas truck accident near the zoo was widely broadcast.
‘Who or what are you?’ He asked breaking up the silence as we enjoyed our meal. Since he had seen more of me than anyone else, except my father, I decided to be frank.
‘I’m the result of a failed scientific experiment. My father, who was the leading scientist,  died several years ago. My name is Nina.’
‘What you did was extraordinary, you know. No one could have saved them. I have to thank you for that.’ His voice broke and I knew exactly what he meant. Emmet was the care taker of the elephants, we had spoken a few times.
Everywhere I travelled I visited the zoos to honour my father and to remind me where I would end up if my defect or my so-called talent would be discovered. ‘That’s what they’ll do to you Nina. They’ll put you in a cage and run experiments on you. As your father, I know, I was once one of those scientists.’
   ‘You stood out you know,’ said Emmet ‘It is not usual for people to visit the park every day. Especially people who get in by climbing trees.’ Although he smiled his eyes looked dead serious.
‘Well, I’m not so fond of cameras.’ was my excuse, that was partially true. Money always had been an issue too.
It would have been my last day in the city, I had trouble making up my mind where to go. I never stayed too long in one place . Keeping a low profile was my way of life.
Until that moment, early in the morning, when the accident happened with two gasoline trucks in front of the zoo, Fire engines came rushing in from all over town. The  fire grew quickly out of control.  They feared a huge explosion which  could blast away everything within a three block radius. The zoo was swiftly evacuated. Everyone was forced to leave, both civilians and staff. Residents living nearby were guided out of the neighborhood. Unfortunately there was not enough time to evacuate the damn animals so they were forced to leave them behind.
But I stayed. I had hidden myself at the same spot where I had entered the zoo.
High above the ground I had a perfect view of the accident and before I even knew it, my fear for the animals took over. I started to root. Massive, huge roots grew out of my body, digging into the ground, multiplying underneath the highway bursting out of the soil and  pavement. Wrapping  both gas trucks in young branches, full with new fresh leaves bursting with water. I could not stop. The force within me was immense. Round and round I braided my wooden threads so the sea of flames couldn’t get to the  gasoline. Both trucks vanished completely in my mass of green young branches and became as thick as the Chinese Wall. When the firefighters jumped in I realized the danger was over. Completely exhausted, near death , I lost my grip and consciousness and fell out of the tree where Emmet found me. He had not left either.
‘They’re looking all over the place for you.’ Emmet said ‘They will chase you like bloodhounds.’
‘Yeah I’ll leave when it’s dark.’ Sadness threw a shadow over this moment. Now I finally shared  my secret with a new found friend I must retreat as the fugitive that I am.
Emmet nodded. ‘Will you ever return?’ he asked hopefully ‘I kinda like you.’
I did not linger in saying goodbyes, so when the streetlamps were flickering  I grabbed my belongings.
At the door I turned around to look at him for one last time,
‘See ya, Emmet.’
‘Take care Nina, I’ll be here if you need a safe place.’