Class finished, and I ran out as fast as I could. Books almost spilling out of my arms, I stashed them into my large sports bag, muttering half-hearted apologies to the frustrated people I knocked in my way.
Ignoring the questioning looks sent my direction; I sprinted to my rusted Toyota Corolla, and jammed the key in, starting the engine with a roar.
The sounds of squealing tires and a smell of burnt rubber remained behind, as I began to panic, staring at the time displayed on my car radio. Turning up the tuner, I nodded my head to the sounds of Horrorshow as the Australian hip-hop blasted the insides of my car.
Turning off the freeway, I began the short drive to the apartment blocks. Definitely on the East side of town, I cringed beside myself as I saw roaches scuttling away from my shadow. Tucking my hair behind my ear, I stretched my hand out to greet the harried looking woman who stood outside the grimy entrance, cigarette hanging off her lip, a thin line of smoke reaching up to the dirty ceiling above.
Ignoring my hand, the lady turned in her short heels and began stumping along the hall, pointing roughly at closed doors and informing me of what lay behind them in staccato jabs, punctuated by the sharp ‘clack’ of her shoes.
I nodded politely as she blew her tar-stained breath towards me, praying I had recovered of the flu enough to hold back from coughing in her face. Unable to dredge up the courage to peek behind the intimidating doors, I placed my trust in her attacking words, hoping she was right.
She finished the tour, and paused, waiting for me to make up my mind. I already had. This was the only one I could afford, for me and for Bry, my little sister.
I dug into my sports bag, trying to locate my purse in the stash of books, migorene, and who knows what else. Finding it, I pulled it out, accompanied by the lady’s sighs as I then rifled through, trying this time to remember where I had put this week’s cash.
Pulling out $600, I laid it down in her outstretched palm. Her manicured fingers, hiding the yellow cigarette stains underneath, closed around the notes, clutching them firmly.
“This is enough for the bond, plus two weeks. I’ll be expecting you to be paying $200 per fortnight, no need to make contact, simply push it through my office. On 23rd.” She prompted, as I looked at her, blankly.
I nodded again, hoping she was satisfied. Realising I didn’t know what her name was, I asked her, wondering what her response would be.
She looked at me questioningly, as though no one had ever thought to ask her that before. I swept my eyes around the dimly lit hallway we were in, and believed that assumption.
“Rebecca. Just Rebecca.”
With that, she stalked away, the echoes of her heels ringing through the cement. I sighed, opening the first door.
The horrible smell of sour milk invaded my nostrils, and I nearly gagged. Holding my sleeve to my nose, I walked two steps into the middle of the living room, and stopped. Not brave enough to walk any further, I threw down my bag, and raced back to the car.
Popping the boot, I pulled out the crate of cleaning supplies, and lugged it back into the apartment, up the stairs I had traversed, to the third floor, and through the door. Putting the crate next to my bag, I began to dust.
5 hours later, cleaning the windows, I noticed the sun was beginning to settle towards the hills, darkening the sky. I threw the rag into the crate, and pushed the escaping blonde tendrils back under my bandana.
Locking up with the key I had found taped to the roof of the freezer, I started my car again, reversing out of the tenant’s parking lot. Tires crunched over broken glass as I squealed out, and I was suddenly thankful for the pure dodginess of my car. At least that’s one thing that would be safe.
Driving to Bry’s friend’s house, I knocked on the door, waiting anxiously for it to open. Aunt Camilla opened the door, smiling kindly at me, inviting me in.
“Come in, Ana! She’s right through here.” Aunt Camilla ushered me into the living room, where my little sister was lying on her stomach, facing Emily, as her nails were painted. Bry looked up at me, smiling, and waved with one hand in my direction, simultaneously fanning her cool blue nails.
I grinned back at her and turned to Aunt Camilla, thanking her again for her help.
“I take it you found a place then?” She asked, concern lining her face. I felt a surge of gratitude towards her, the lady who had stood by me and my sister as everything had fallen apart.
I nodded, chewing my lower lip. “It’s not much, it’s East side. But it’ll do us.” I stared at my feet as I admitted the location, unwilling to accept the irony of our situation.
Aunt Camilla smiled, before bustling into the kitchen, and coming out with a large box, filled with dishes, cutlery, and cups. I started to object, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
Pushing the box into my arms, she added, “I cooked enough for tonight and tomorrow. Just make sure you microwave it back up. Yes?”
I tightened my hold on the box, too overwhelmed with tears to thank her verbally.
Bry came out of the room, and stood next to me, her arm slipped around me protectively.
“We should go, I bet there’s lots more to do at the place.” She looked up at me, only a few inches smaller than my own 5”10 height.
I nodded, and closed my eyes briefly. Bry steered me towards the door, taking my keys out of my hands and opening the car for me. I pushed the box into the back seats, and turned to thank Aunt Camilla.
I shyly hugged her, and kissed Emily on the cheek as she wound her arms around my neck. The 15 year old girls were as different as could be, Bry with her light English skin and fair Russian hair, compliments of our mother and father, and Emily with her Spanish complexion and dark hair. Yet they were as close as could be, almost impossible to separate since birth. I knew I looked exactly like Bry, and smiled slightly, thankful that we were close too.
The trip to our old house was painful. I had arranged to pick up our meagre belongings over a series of days, but each trip caused old memories to pounce. We had until Thursday to leave, 6 days to pack a lifetime of memories, and opulence into the East side apartment.
We sorted silently, choosing what we could keep, and what we would sell for spare cash. Tears fell freely, and we felt no shame in letting them trace their own tracks down our cheeks.
Wedging as much as we could into my car, I drove back silently, the music which seemed so comforting and loud now feeling like an intruder on the silence.
I looked over at Bry’s profile, wedged into the car door, face pressed against the window, her tears like rain, rolling down her cheeks, down the glass.
I had to protect Bry. She was all I had, my world, the reason for my life.