The Victim

Chapter Three: Ascent

Water tasting

I look at the faces of the more than 64 employees. We’ve gathered them all in a single room. My friend from school is also there. “First of all,” I start. “I want to thank you all for your hard work here. Specially to the wise leader who coordinated your efforts.” I shake her hand. “Unfortunately, natdec has decided that they can no longer afford to fund this operation—” Sighs and protests fill the room. “Please, guys, calm down,” my friend from school says. “Let her speak.”

“Thank you,” I say. “If it were up to me, I would not only keep this thing going, I would add even more funding. Also, don’t think for a second I will forget what you have achieved here. If it’s ever up to me, I will make you an even better offer. Meanwhile, I doubt any of you will have a hard time finding a new job, am I wrong?” Some of them smile, knowing I’m right. “Now, please, a round of applause for the great work we’ve all done here.” Far from being dejected and sad, everyone claps enthusiastically. I smile at my friend from school. She smiles back at me.

On our way back to my fiance’s apartment—Well, our apartment. Anyway, on our way back, my fiance seems displeased. “You were too friendly there, weren’t you?” He says bitterly. “If you are trying to imply something,” I say. “Please make it plain, I don’t have the energy to play mental sword fighting with you right now.” I can feel he’s upset that those people didn’t hate me, and I’ve just made him angrier. “You think you’re such a princess, don’t you?” He says getting closer to me as though he wants to touch me inappropriately. “Well, let me tell you, you’re nothing without me. If I say so, I can just dump you and find another—” “No, you can’t, and no you won’t.” I interrupt him. “Because you need me if you want to do anything beyond meth.”

He raises his hand to hit me. I can feel his breath on me. “Go ahead, do it,” I say calmly. “Show everyone how you really are.” He stops himself. “Maybe one day I will,” he mutters. Our designated driver takes us to the apartment, and after we wait for an important meeting to finish, his uncle receives us. I explain how things went, then he looks at my fiance and asks me to leave his office. My fiance will try to turn his uncle against me. But he’s got nothing solid, only my “attitude” and “their attitude.”

His uncle says nothing to me after talking to his nephew. I take that as a bad sign and go to bed. It’s summer right now, and there’s only a couple of months left before classes resume. I spend that time preparing for my final year of law school, determined to finish my education. I don’t have a phone of my own, and I rarely leave the apartment, never alone of course. I’m given a computer, which I only use to study and play games. Yes, every weekend at exactly 8:00 pm I play a few games. My fiance watches me when I play, and in fact plays with me sometimes. I always play the same game, a rather old one where there is barely enough players to keep it going. But just enough so that when I look for a game at a particular time in a particular day, I’m almost guaranteed to play with anyone who also plays on that timeframe.

You may have guessed it. I use the game as cover to talk to my friend from school. Of course I don’t just ask her “hey, are you doing fine after being pushed out of tol?” No, we have a code. And she always makes a new account before each game, so it looks like I’m talking to different people. My fiance hates that I spend so much of the time we play just speaking to “plebs,” as he calls them. But it’s my way of letting her know how I’m doing.

After a long, boring summer, finally classes begin. After the first class of one of my subjects, a blonde and a brunette approach me. “Hi,” says the brunette cheerfully. “Hey,” says the blonde, more dryly. “Hi, I’m—” I say. “Yeah, we know,” the blonde cuts me. There’s an awkward silence. “We were curious about you,” says the brunette. “We were wondering if… Well, if you wanted to have lunch with us? We’re heading out to this new place—” “Sure, sounds great,” I reply quickly. This is the first contact with regular people I’ve had in weeks. I don’t really want to hang out with them, but my fiance’s uncle suggested I “accrue acquaintances.” And I should have some progress to report on that; he must not be disappointed.

A sixteen-minute cab ride later, we enter the restaurant. The tables are neatly set for their grand opening tonight. “Come on, the owner is a friend of the family,” says the blonde. We sit and immediately a waitress brings us the menu. A burst of laughter escapes me after seeing the prices. Thirty-two dollars for an omelette? What’s in it, thirty two dollars? I order the simplest thing I can find, steak.

“Red wine for me, please,” orders the brunette. “White for me,” says the blonde, smirking at the brunette. I don’t understand anything. “Just water for me, please,” I say timidly to the waitress. She must be my age, and I feel… guilty? I don’t know. I’m used to being on the other side of this social interaction. “Please, you don’t have to restrain yourself,” says the blonde without looking at me. “You can order wine or something. There’s also freedom vodka,” she continues, looking at me this time. “No, thanks. I don’t really drink,” I say shyly. They look at each other. “Why? Are you an alcoholic or something,” says the blonde. I feel how the brunette kicks her under the table. “I don’t think it’s polite to ask that,” she says to the blonde. “No, don’t worry,” I say. “I-I’ve had bad experiences with alcohol.”

The blonde is about to open her mouth when she looks at the brunette. “It’s ok, that’s cool,” the brunette says. “Water for her, please,” she says to the waitress. While we wait for our orders, the two girls talk. And talk. They bring our drinks, but they keep talking even as they ellegantly sip from it. “So how did you… end up getting engaged with… well, you know who,” asks the brunette taking a sip. “Well, I-It’s kind of a long story, really,” I say. “We’ve got all the time in the world,” says the blonde. I sigh. I don’t really want to tell them the fake stories I’ve been cooking up for precisely this kind of situation. Lying is exhausting, that’s why I prefer talking to you. Thanks to you I don’t need, well, them.

“Hello, are you ok?” asks the blonde. I seem to have been blank for a while now. “Yes, sorry,” I say. “I, uhm. You know my fiance?” They nod. “Well, I was a close friend of his and his sister until she—” My voice breaks. “Such a tragedy,” says the blonde with a manufactured sad face. “Always in our hearts,” follows the brunette. “After she… you know. Well, we became involved,” I continue. “And just a couple of weeks ago, he asked me to marry him.” “Yes, yes, let us see it,” waves me off the blonde. “See what?” I ask naively. “The ring, silly,” says the brunette stretching her arm and taking my hand. “Wow, your hand is really cold,” she says.

“Ehm—” I stutter. This is a little awkward. “That’s like, a lot of private donations,” says the blonde looking at the huge rock in my hand. The brunette smacks her playfully. “What a b-word. You can’t say these things.” They laugh while I stare like an idiot. I force myself to laugh with them. “So what is he like?” asks the brunette. “How do you mean?” I answer. “Delivering speeches, fundraising… What do you think!? In bed I mean,” she goes on jokingly. I blush and we all laugh again. Shortly after a couple of waiters and the chef bring our food. My “steak” is a small cube of… “meat” in the centre of an enormous plate. The plate could hold at least two-thousand and forty-eight cubes of meat like this one. But no, there’s only the one.

“Bon appetit,” says the chef, who stands by our table, watching. The two girls look at their dishes, delighted. They ordered salad and tuna. They got exactly the same as me. A cube in the middle of a gigantic dish. “Well, dig in,” says the blonde. Dig in? What? I pick it up and put it in my mouth. It’s not bad for about four seconds. Then it’s done. “Superb,” says the brunette. “Yes, you can appreciate the quality. This tuna was clearly raised in the wild.” She stops for a moment, focusing on her meal. “It had to swim up rivers, surviving wild bears and other furtive attackers to breed.” Is this really happening? “Indeed,” says the blonde. “I can feel the care put into nurturing this exquisite blend of vegetables, grown exclusively to produce this single experience. Astonishing.”

Now they look at me as though expecting similar crap. “It’s… interesting,” I say. “What do you mean, just ‘interesting’?” the blonde asks disappointed. “Now, come on,” stops her the brunette. “By that she means she experienced something unmundane, something beyond the perfunctory city routine.” The blonde nods in agreement. I say nothing. The chef leaves, pleased with our reaction. “So what’s next, are we going to a water tasting party?” I ask trying to be ironical. “No, that’s this friday,” says the blonde unironically. “We’ll text you the details.” The brunette glances at me and smiles, telling me in secret she understood the irony.

“I’ll be right back. I have to, ugh, entertain the owner,” says the blonde tiredly, standing up. Her tone annoys me. “And don’t worry about the meal, it’s on the house,” she continues as she leaves. I watch her walking down her imaginary catwalk to the kitchen, showing off her body for all the people watching her in her imagination. “So tell me something about you,” the brunette says. I realize she has been staring at me. “Wh-what do you mean?” I ask. “Why are you here?” she asks. I look into her eyes. “I’m honestly not sure.”