He said nothing and neither did I. The taunting silence between us, felt like the countdown before an explosion; the thin air between us poked my skin like a thousand needles. A shiver ran down my spine all the way to my legs and nailed my feet right to the floor. I couldn't move; I just gazed at the knife and his eyes. Always traveling back and forth, anticipating his next move but it never came. He only gawked at me. I couldn't tell what his gaze meant, but it wasn't friendly. So badly did I want to find the right words to ease the situation but as tongue-tied as I was, I could only stare at him in shock. Like someone who saw and unearthly monster. His hand was shaking, he pulled the corner of his lips down and sighed again. Pearls of sweat ran down his forehead. He was still running a fever. Obviously.
"who are you…?" It seemed like it had taken an eternity for him to speak but I didn't feel one bit relieved about the fact that he first sought information instead of my death. His voice was scratchy and sounded like a forced out breath. Almost like a whisper, too frail to be called an actual voice.
"I…" My voice gave up.
"Who are you and where am I?" He asked again, jerking his weapon in a threatening manner.
"Could you drop the knife? I cook with that!" I blurted out and took a step back. But he stepped toward me, piercing into my eyes. He demanded an answer.
I held up my palms in a defensive manner and he actually stopped in his pace. "I fou….I found you." I stammered, "you were unconscious for two days…"
"Where am I?" He said then. "New Thule?"
I shook my head, why did he think that he was in New Thule?
"Little Sand." I informed , "about 40 miles from New Thule."
"North of New Thule?"
I saw it, the pain that crossed his features. Like he just received a death sentence, he squeezed his lips and shut his eyes. I suddenly felt a pang of guilt within me; not just because these news were bad to him but perhaps because he was Southern and shouldn't know anything about the North- not even if he only saw this house of Little Sand. I frowned at him; he finally put his hand down. His fist trembled and his eyes remained closed. "No one knows you're here…" I said quickly. "I live alone, this is my house."
He didn't answer.
"Please I….you're weak you should lay down."
Now he finally looked at me, but it wasn't the menacing look he first greeted me with. His eyes were watery and his gaze confused.
"You…you were severely wounded. You need rest."
The man tilted his head. "Why the hell would a Northerner help me?" He said 'northerner' like it was an insult. "We're enemies."
That had been the same thing I thought when I found him. Back then and maybe even after I brought him home, a part in me had still hoped he was one of my people. But now it was certain. He not only declared our enmity but I could also hear distinct differences in his accent; he emphasized the 'r' more than people from the North did and his 'o' wasn't as strong as ours.
I didn't know what to say to him. How could I answer this question? I myself didn't really know why I'd helped him, I just did.
"Perhaps we keep the talk until later?" I cleared my throat, "now that you're awake you can finally eat something."
"Where are my clothes?"
"I burned them." I muttered. "They smelled horribly and you can't really wear prison pajamas here or they'll find out what's going on."
He narrowed his eyes." Didn't you say no one knows I am here?"
I glanced to the ground, "yes, and I had to make sure no one will by destroying evidence of your presence."
I could tell he was intrigued to hear why I helped him. But I wanted to keep that until much later, maybe I'd never tell. I just wanted him to do as I said.
"I…bought you other clothes." I bent down to quickly pick up the bag I'd put his clothes in. "I didn't know what size you wear so I just guessed it. I hope this helps, but perhaps you should shower first…if I may be so rude.. you smell a bit."
He looked down himself and glanced up again. "How do I know you're not going to kill me?"
I shrugged, "if I wanted you dead, I could've just let you die where I found you or killed you when you were unconscious."
"You might need me alive?" He grumbled, "you think I got information you could profit from?" It wasn't really a question but more of a statement.
I ignored his rough tone. "Well, if you were that important, I would've sent you to the hospital and reported you to the authorities. But you're in the house of a regular citizen."
He breathed sharply through his nose.
"I can't tell you why you should trust me. You just have to, you got no other choice…now uh…I'll boil the water for you. When you're done washing yourself, I'll make you something to eat."
He said nothing, he just stared. I think he didn't leave me out of his sight since I came home. His look made me feel naked; it was like he saw everything in me with his glare. All my fright, anxiety, hate and doubt. All the bad things I have felt and thought in the twenty years of my life. I couldn't stand this silence and his gaze. Glancing around to find distraction, I walked into the kitchen and carried the water bowl to the fire place. He remained in the corridor. Until I returned.
"Do you not want to shower?"
"You didn't answer my question; why are you doing this?"
"I told you," I said, "we will keep that for later. Now you need to eat and to shower, you can go into the bathroom, it's" I pointed to the end of the corridor, "right there. You'll also find a new razor and scissors in case…you want to take care of that beard. And then I'll give you something to eat, I …have no meat. So I hope you don't mind a vegetable soup?"
The man sighed and slowly nodded. "If there is any foul trick on your mind, you better drop it."
I gulped and nodded. Why did I have to find a Southerner with bad manners? Why couldn't it be someone from the South who wasn't as bad tempered as him? I glanced to the bathroom's door every five minutes. The bathroom had a window but not big enough to serve as an escape for him. He'd taken the knife with him. Partially I understood his distrust but another part in me felt offended; I risked my stupid life for this guy and he didn't even care!
I'd locked the main door in case he wanted to flee and hid both keys in my bra. (I couldn't come up with a better hiding spot)
In order to calm my nerves and to find some distraction, I made tea and got started on the soup. I knew a hard time was ahead of me; he did survive and that was great but he obviously couldn't stay in Little Sand forever. I needed to get him out of here but how? On top of that, there was work. When I worked while he was unconscious, I was a nervous wreck; thinking he could wake up and escape while I wasn't around. But now he was awake and despite his weakness he was able to walk and stand. Oh, who cares about weakness? He escaped New Thule's prison and walked all the way here with a bullet in his knee and a life-threatening wound on his chest. This man was probably capable of anything. Especially when he had to.
I judged by the look in his eyes that he didn't trust me one bit. We were enemies like he said. I bet he was the kind of man who'd shoot me if he saw me on the battlefield. I shuddered. I didn't want to regret saving his life, but I was now confronted with a situation that was everything but pleasant. However, if I had let him by the lake he would've died. And I'd be partially if not completely responsible for his death, wouldn't I have regretted that too?
The floor creaked in the corridor. I gasped and almost dropped the bowl in my hand. I glanced over my shoulder and saw his shadow slowly moving along the wall. I walked to the door frame of my kitchen and glanced at him. He had really shaved of his beard. His hair was shining and falling down smoothly beneath his chin but hadn't lost any of its dark color. He had a small dimple in his chin. His dark, arched brows circled the dark blue eyes that still seemed as cold and distant as before. The clothes also seemed to fit him, if not a bit too big but better than too small. I cleared my throat and looked at the bowl in my hand, "it took you a while." I muttered. Judging by his behavior, I'd expected him to spend as little time as possible in the shower as he could.
I tried to read him, if he didn't trust me he probably wouldn't want to turn his back on me for a minute.
"I finished the soup, it…it's still hot." I placed the bowl on the table next to me and pulled out a chair. Then I turned to fill a cup with hot tea. A shiver ran down my spine, I knew he was staring at my back. Something inside me screamed not to let him out of my sight. But I wanted to fight the urge to defend myself. When I needed him to trust me I also had to trust him. That's just how it was, no matter how much it made me uncomfortable.
He didn't move, he remained frozen in the corridor. I placed my bowl and cup opposite of his on the table and sat down. "It's vegetable soup not poison. You really must eat, otherwise you will die starve."
"What was that syringe you put in my arm?" He said, still not moving.
I blinked at him. "Oh…that, did you pull it out? Was it empty?"
He waited for my answer in silence.
I sighed , "sodium chloride. It's used to keep people from dehydration. When you were unconscious, I couldn't give you any water." I shrugged and focused on my soup.
"Are you a doctor?"
I looked at him but didn't answer. He didn't wait long for me to reply. He shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed.
"I want to go." He said and looked to the door.
My heart dropped. This was exactly what I didn't want to happen. If he left now, I could as well leave to .
"you can't!" I rose from my chair. "Do you think I risked my life for you just so you can die out there?"
"Then why did you risk your life?" Tough nut, he wasn't going to give up no matter what I did.
I closed my eyes and slowly shook my head. "Look, just eat now. We will talk later."
The man glared at me, he narrowed his eyes and exhaled sharply. He was good at hiding his fatigue but he couldn't fool me. "Alright." He eventually muttered and he sat down.
The lunch we shared was more than awkward, he never let me out of his sight. I tried my best to keep my posture calm and undisturbed but I was boiling from the inside. He ate a lot. After his first test bite (I assume he really wanted to make sure I didn't taste funny or poisoned) he took another quick spoon into his mouth and another. He ate without a break and without taking a breather. When his bowl was empty, I didn't say anything or asked but just gave him a refill. He accepted the bowl wordlessly and began eating again. When we finished I told him to lay down by the fire while I washed the dishes, he even did that without a complaint. I assumed he waited for me to speak or maybe he just wanted to check out the situation. I didn't leave him out of my sight though. I stared after him just to make sure he really went to the living room and while I washed the dishes, I listened for every tiny noise in the house. I was so occupied with him that I scrubbed the same plate four or five times until I noticed it. I wish I could describe well what I felt; but it seemed as though his presence was omnipresent. Almost like all objects around me had grown his eyes and stared into the abyss of my very existence.
I scrubbed the last dishes quickly and put them aside. My eyes fell on the kitchen knives, I'd attached with a magnet on a steel plate on the wall. The largest knife was missing; I contemplated whether I should take one with me just in case I needed to defend myself but that idea seemed so strange to me that I quickly dismissed it again. I took a deep breath and slowly sneaked into the living room. I first duck my head out to look around the corner, maybe he was lurking somewhere waiting for me. But his back was turned to me. He sat before the fire, his arms rested on his legs and his back was slightly bent.
I cleared my throat to announce my presence, but he only threw a quick glance over his shoulder just to stare at the flames again.
"Well." I breathed, "how are you feeling?"
"Good." He muttered.
Wow, he said something positive what progress we're making.
"I need to check your wounds though, I must make sure they're healing well."
"You didn't answer my question: are you a doctor?"
I looked to the floor , "I won't tell you."
Finally he turned to look at me. He frowned. I walked toward him and sat down next to him and held out my palms to the fire. "I'll make you a deal." I muttered and wondered where I'd suddenly gotten my confidence from. "I will help you recover, I'll treat and feed you until you're back to perfect health. I'll show you how to make it out of here. You'll be on your own once you leave this town, but I guess you can manage. If I think about how you escaped prison and walked here with these wounds…"
I sighed, it felt like my insides were trembling, "no one will never know you've been here. I will never say a word but in return," I looked at him and he met my gaze. He was still frowning. "In return, I will not tell you my name or any personal information about me. The less we know about each other, the better. When you leave it'll be like you never were here and you never mention me or that you were here."
"Even if I did, you might never find out."
"I'll just trust you," I said "I told you we got no other option but to trust each other…for now."
He turned to look at the fire again. "You're expecting me to trust you?"
"Well, you have no other choice, do you?"
The man rose from his seat. He was limping but his face showed no signs of pain. "It's not as easy as you imagine it to be. Just a few weeks ago, I was stuck in prison were your people kill others for fun! And now you're expecting me to act like it never happened?" He only whispered his words. But they felt like he'd shouted them right at my face
"And Southerners never killed ? You can't say cruelty is only our trait. We're at war, so this happens on both sides."
The man scoffed, "exactly, we're at war you and I are enemies."
I shook my hand, "I'm not in the army."
"If the North put women in the army and you and I met on battlefield, we'd try to kill each other."
"If" I said , "and if the sun exploded, then no war would ever take place on this planet ever again."
I got up and stared right at him. He was about a head taller than I. "I hate this war, I hate all those news of killing and murdering. I absolutely loathe it. So if I'd let you die I wouldn't be any better than the system of war that I hate so much." I felt tears in my eyes. Why did I have to cry now? Why now?
"Would you rather I let you die? Don't you have a life to live? A home to return?"
"Do you have any beloved ones who fight in the war?" He asked calmly.
I blinked, the question had taken me off guard. "I might've killed them." He muttered tilting his head.
"I might know the person who shot you in the knee." I said back. "None of us will ever know."
I saw a flicker in his eyes and finally his features softened. "I just don't understand…" he breathed "why you would help me. You don't know what things I've done."
"I don't want to know what you did and frankly, I don't know myself why I am doing this, I just am ."
I turned my back to him and walked to my little bookshelf next to the window. I'd left the bottle of vodka there. I took it down and said: "unbutton your shirt please, I need to look at your scars."
He squeezed his lips and sighed heavily.
"Sit down if you're feeling unwell."
He did as I said.
I knelt down beside him and drenched a piece of cloth in liquor. I could tell he was still staring at me. My eyes were still watery and somehow blinding. Slowly, I pushed his shirt aside and looked at the scar. It looked good and healed faster than I thought it would.
"This might burn a little." I muttered without looking at him and patted the cloth onto his chest. When I finished, I took my self-made bandage and wrapped it around his chest.
I could tell I held my breath as I did that, I don't know why. But it had been easier for me to treat him while he was unconscious. His stare was uncanny. I accidentally locked eyes with him but quickly averted my gaze. I felt more than uncomfortable as I looked at his eyes. When I finished, I quickly got up and put the bottle away. He was still looking after me, I could tell.
"Thank you." He said suddenly. I spun and looked at him.
He was indeed gazing at me, "I didn't thank you yet."
The corner of my mouth trembled.
He took a deep breath and got up, "I don't know if I can trust you, but I will not risk your life just because I owe you mine. I'll stay here until you show me how I can get away." He staggered toward me, "we have a deal." He offered his hand.
I took it bewildered. He didn't let go off my hand yet. "My name is Mars, by the way."
"No…no personal information." I muttered.
"That's your rule."