the woman across the street

There was a girl, and she was weak to the core. Strangers could fool her easily. She got into vehicles and trusted fully, so when one man decided to take her to that dark alley, into the place with no lampposts and deep into the shadows of those narrow streets so far from home, she didn’t know what else to do but scream.

And yet she couldn’t, because she was weak and it was cold, and home was a very long way away.

So she walked, and strained her eyes to see the road. The houses were dark, the sky an ebony mantle above her head. It was going to rain, she knew, so she wrapped her arms around her body and let the tiny lights far ahead guide her. On she went until at last she came to a fork in the road.

To her left and right were both endless stretches of concrete ruled by large machines, clouded by smoke and awful to look at. She did not want to choose and choose wrong, and she was weak and cold and too trusting. Neither felt like the way back, if she was honest to herself, but there were trucks and buses and cars and there were people and it was bright there. All the streetlamps were fiery in their orange glow. Strange, though, that it was even colder.

She approached what looked like a hut and asked for help.

“Excuse me, which way is home?”

The woman was hidden in the folds of the dark. She held a cigarette in one hand and fiddled with something in the other. She stared and laughed, a scratchy sound devoid of real mirth. A cold sound. “You wanna go home, eh,” said the woman.

“Yes, please tell me which way to go.”

She came into the light but her eyes did not reflect the orange blaze of the lamps beside her. “Well we’re all lost, ain’t we? S’why we’re here, right? Went away, took a wrong turn, found ourselves in the middle o’ some place we don’t know.”

“No, I’m not really lost, a man just tried to get me lost, it wasn’t like I wandered around, it wasn’t my fault—”

“You wanna go home?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t we all.”

It was futile, she thought, to try and get anything out of the woman, so she left and instead made for the people on the other side of the road. “Excuse me, which was is home?”

And they, too, laughed, but it was laughter that spoke of derision. They took turns making fun of her, taking her things and grabbing at her clothes, dragging her into their vehicles, and now she knew not to trust so she struggled but it was such a feeble attempt, so laughable, and they laughed even more.

“Please stop! I just want to go home!”

The laughter rang in her ears until it was all she could hear. It drowned out the sound of the cars whizzing past them, and her cries, and the woman’s voice saying Don’t we all.

“Please stop!”

The laughter rose in pitch and volume, and she cried as she shut her eyes against the sound, and the looks on their faces, and the open ridicule, and the jape that was so obvious to them but that she couldn’t see. She turned away from the wild guffaws that went roaring on and looked around wildly for the way out, and saw the woman from across the street looking at her. Just looking, cigarette in hand and nearly burned out,  and it was then that she realised she was the joke, the people were laughing at her because she was the joke, she was a joke

She was weak and cold and just wanted to go home.

The laughter went on and on and on, and it didn’t stop, wouldn’t stop no matter how much she begged and cried and screamed, while the woman across the street stared and shook her head and let the cigarette disappear, ash by fallen ash.


And the laughter didn't stop even after I woke up.
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