“Oh, excuse me. Let me get that for you.”
Carefully manoeuvring past the laden-down old woman in the doorway, I squeezed my way past her colourful patchwork trolley and into the café, holding the door open for her as I did so. She looked up at me in surprise, her eyes trained uncertainly on the flowing leather trench coat and painted black nails. But I smiled at her as warmly as possible and eventually, she realised that I wasn’t going to mug her like she had assumed, probably thinking of the many stereotyped ‘youths’ she had seen collecting on the street corners outside the off license. Smiling her thanks with an exhaustion so often associated with Saturday morning shopping, the little old woman shuffled her way back out into the noisy street. I smiled as she turned the corner, but suddenly, I felt a dull twinge in my temple. A pit of icy cold dread formed in my stomach and I tensed. I hadn’t felt that twinge for three days now, but I knew exactly what it meant.
“Move it, you geriatric twat! Touch me again and I’ll put you in the fucking ground where you belong!”
I didn’t dare turn to look as I realised she was beside me, her lip curled into a disgusted snarl. Nobody looked up at the vile words, lost in their blissful little Saturday mind-sets. The hustle and bustle of the colourfully decorated café continued on, mothers laughing with their children, teenagers playfully throwing sachets of salt at one another and elderly gentleman watching the world pass by over the rim of their teacups. Seeing the cheerful scene of weekend living, I felt the pit in my stomach sink further down, my good mood fizzling out instantly.
“Gen.” I murmured, not even daring to look at her. “I…I thought you left.”
I didn't even know why I bothered to hope. Scoffing as if I were nothing more than a pesky street urchin, she patted my cheek condescendingly with her palm. She wasn’t gentle.
“Sis!” she scolded. “Gene-sis! None of this ‘Gen’ bullshit, moron! Do I look like some conformist asshole?”
She didn’t. She looked like what she was; a nightmare. Genesis continued on, sneering at me as if I was nothing more than a lowly beetle.
“And as for asking me to leave, fucking save it! I’ll go wherever I want and there’s jack-shit you can do about it! Who’s gonna make me go, huh? The police?”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she let out a piercing bark of a laugh – the cackle of a madwoman. I didn’t reply, lowering my gaze to the scuffed floor tiles. She knew I couldn’t make her leave, nor anyone else and she reminded me of it often. Seeing my discomfort at her presence, she smiled with a row of wicked teeth. It was a smile I saw often; cruel and malicious, dirtied with every one of her poisonous, vile words.
“Didn’t think so.” She jeered. “Now stop standing there like a fucking window-licker! You want people to know how much of a freak you are?”
I was aware then that a couple of people were staring at me and for the longest second, I hesitated. My stomach was rumbling loudly, but with Genesis here, I knew that being around large groups of people could cause potential problems.
'Maybe it won't be like last time.' I told myself. Just ignore her. Maybe she'll go away.
It was a futile hope, but I had to try. Finally, hunger won over common sense and I moved towards the counter where a nervous looking young man in a burgundy apron and cap was struggling with the coffee machine. He looked naïve enough for me to guess he was new to the job and he was so wrapped up in caffeine-related uncertainty that he didn’t notice me waiting. I heard the clink of metal behind me as Genesis followed after me, pulling herself up to sit on the counter and leaf through the condiment sachets. Trying to ignore the look in her eyes, I lowered my gaze, wishing that she would just leave me alone. Sat atop the counter like a crow around carrion, she stared at the young man’s back vehemently, her impatience quickly turning to spitting anger. I knew what she was going to do even before she did it.
“Please Gen.” I whispered. “Leave him alone – he’s just a kid.”
But she only waved me away.
“Grow a fucking back-bone, Chosen!” she snapped. “Did anyone give it to you easy when you were a kid? No! They beat the living shit out of you just for walking in the room! I figured you might’ve grown some balls after it all, but you’re still just as pathetic as you were then!”
She turned her cutting gaze back to the young man, who was still struggling with the inner gizmos of the coffee machine.
“Hey – employee of the month! Get with the programme!?”
Turning around suddenly, the young man baulked as he knocked the sugar shaker from its perch, sending granules of twinkling crystal all across the rear counters. Genesis let out a barking laugh as she watched him fumble, swearing under his breath and rushing awkwardly to sweep up the mess before finally turning around towards me.
“Oh God, I-I’m sorry!” he mumbled, swiping the sugar off of his wrists. “I didn’t realise you were…uhm. I mean uh, w-what can I get you?”
Sat mere inches from him, Genesis shoved her face right up into his, peering at him as if he were an amusing trinket.
“How the hell did you get a job?” she asked dryly. “Look at yourself - you’re a disgusting drip! Don’t you know what a bar of soap looks like? Dirty little grease monkey!”
The young man said nothing, his eyes fixed solidly on the counter as he shrank into himself. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I tried to smile apologetically, the muscles in my face feeling tense and rickety. Awkwardly, I mumbled my order as the flustered young man turned a deep shade of red, hiding himself beneath the burgundy cap as he scribbled down my order. He didn’t ask Genesis if she wanted anything.
“J-just take a seat.” He muttered, not looking at me. “Your food’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
I tried to smile my thanks and failed miserably. Genesis rolled her eyes beside him on the counter, jabbing a finger at his chest.
“I hope to Christ you’re not the one cooking it! You think I want fucking Herpes?”
The young man said nothing, his shoulders slumping embarrassedly as he turned back to the mess he had made. Already regretting my decision to stay, I turned towards the cluster of tables in the centre of the café, my stomach sinking as I realised just how many people there were packed into the small space. But it was too late now - I'd already ordered. Keeping my head down, I tried not to make eye contact with anyone as I made my way through the labyrinth of tables and chairs, making a beeline for an empty space at the very back where hopefully nobody would notice me. But of course, they did. I felt their eyes on me as I passed, some disapproving, some mocking, some simply curious. I should have been used to it by now dressing the way I did. But their looks still killed me every time. Sitting with my back to them, I wished that the only single table in the café hadn’t already been occupied.
“The fuck you all looking at?” Genesis barked at the crowds behind me. “Go back to your crappy food before I choke you with it!”
Shoulders rigid, I wished I could have just shrunk away to nothing. Shrunk into the ground like a puddle and never have to come back up again. Sitting herself down opposite me with the loud clink of metal buckles, Genesis stretched out her legs, resting them casually on the table top so that I could see the dirt on the soles of her feet.
“Aww!” she crooned, mocking me. “Am I embarrassing you, Chosen?” Have I not dressed the part for all you 'normal people'?”
She waved her arms for emphasis. I didn’t dare answer her. Clamping my jaw shut, I ignored her, trying to make myself appear as normal as possible. I might as well have tried to pluck the sun from the sky.
“Jesus Christ!” Genesis rolled her eyes at me. “Do you always have to look like someone’s just taken a crap in your Christmas stocking? Stop snivelling like some whiney little emo! How the hell you’re his Chosen, I’ll never know…”
Looking wearily down at the table top, I flinched at her words.
“Don’t call me that…”
Out of all the endless, insulting things she called me, I hated that one the most. That awful title followed me everywhere I went, no matter how much I tried to leave it behind me.
“I wish I didn’t have to!” Genesis spat, disgusted. “You, his Chosen? You’re nothing but a weak, dirty little mess who doesn’t even deserve to be breathing!”
Hunching her shoulders, Genesis crossed her arms over herself defensively, looking away from me to glare hatefully at the brightly coloured menu tucked into the condiment rack.
“It should have been me.” She muttered bitterly. “I should have been his Chosen…”
She fell silent. It was the only time she ever let her air of malevolence fall; whenever we spoke about him. The irony of the situation was painfully cruel. As far as I was concerned, she was welcome to him! I wanted nothing to do with him or any of his goddamn ‘messengers’ baring supposed proclamations of love! They had been coming after me for years, never stopping, never letting up in the pursuit of fulfilling his sick, twisted infatuation. At the other end of the café, a baby started to squall, crying out for its mother and Genesis let out an exasperated growl, slamming her fist down noisily on the table.
“Hey! I’m trying to have a conversation here!”
Flinching, I heard the babies cries quickly die down as its mother hurriedly picked it up, hushing it and holding it protectively to her breast. Every muscle rigid, I knew I couldn’t take much more of this. Every time I thought things were finally getting better, Genesis would bring my hopes crashing back down into the dirt again. Sometimes a whole week would pass where I was left in peace and I would think that maybe, just maybe, it would stay that way this time. That the messengers would finally leave me alone and I could try to live some semblance of a normal life. But no matter how much time had passed or how positive things were beginning to look, things would always come back to this. They always found me in the end.
“Please,” I whispered, my voice a mere ripple in an ocean. “just leave me alone. I’ve never done anything to you.”
Genesis bristled. I'd done it now. Swinging her legs off of the table, she pushed herself out of her chair. Her features twisted into a furious snarling mask, her eyes growing dark as she shoved her face up into mine. I had done it - I had pushed too far.
“Never done anything to me?” she screamed. “You bitch! You pathetic little slut! You know damn well what you’ve done to me! He doesn’t want me – he wants you!”
My back pushed up against the wall as Genesis bore down on me, shrieking and screaming like a banshee on fire. The rage began to overwhelm her and my heart began to beat faster as I realised I'd set her off. Swearing repeatedly in my head, my muscles went rigid as I realised what I'd done. Her fury always came as quickly as it could disappear and now, I'd managed to bring it out - right in the middle of the café! People were beginning to look at me now, their gazes tearing into me like bullets.
“Always I’ve been by his side!” Genesis raged. “Always I’ve fucking served him! But now, I have to watch some snot-nosed little punk take him away from me! He doesn’t even know me anymore because of you! And every day I have to wear your fucking face when all I want to do is cut it open!”
I panicked. No! It couldn't happen again! Not now - not here! She was pulling me back and I couldn’t stop it! Why couldn’t I stop it?
“It should have been me!” Genesis screamed in my face. “It should have been me!”
The voices came all at once, hitting me like a physical blow. Whispers and screams and flickering laughter all reverberating inside my head, flooding and overwhelming my senses until the growing panic stretched taut and snapped. Fear gave way to rationale and suddenly, I couldn't focus - I couldn't think! There was too much noise! Too many voices! My eyes darted in every direction, my pulse pounding in my head. My breath flew from my lungs, coming shorter and shorter. Everyone was looking at me! It was too late! Grabbing at my head, I struggled to fill my lungs with air, wanting it to stop! Wishing desperately that it would all just stop! Genesis never stopped screaming.
“It should have been me! It should have been me!”
Fear enveloped me. Leaping out of my seat, I pushed past her, rushing frantically through the labyrinth of piercing eyes, all judging me, condemning me as Genesis called above it all. The thought of food completely abolished from my mind, all I wanted to do was breathe – just remember how to bloody breathe! I had to get out! The young man in the burgundy cap reached a hand toward me as I rushed past and I jerked away, knocking over a display table full of menus with an almighty crash. Placards and sheets of card scattered across the floor in every direction, the already fragile calm of the cafe well and truly broken.
Silence descended. Everyone stopped, their condemnatory eyes fixed solidly on me as they pointed and shook their heads, holding their children closer. Horrified, I clamped a hand over my mouth as I heaved in shaking breaths, unable to fill my lungs.
"I'm not a monster." I choked. "I'm not!"
The voices whirled inside my head over the pounding of my heart, a twisting vortex of sick, convicting laughter. My head - it was going to burst!
"It should have been me!"
Wide-eyed, I looked over at the boy in the burgundy cap for only a second, shaking my head desperately as I forgot how to breathe.
“I’m sorry! I-I can’t! I…”
I ran. Shoving the door open as hard as I could, I fled from the eyes of the world. But their judgement stayed with me, scratched so deep into every fibrous tissue of my being that I knew it would never fade away. Trying so hopelessly to leave it behind me, I ran from it all, knowing in my heart that no matter however far or long I ran, it didn’t matter. It would always be there at the end, waiting for me. I would never leave it behind. Panicked tars streamed down my face as I ran.
"I'm not a monster! I'm not a monster!"
I didn’t stop to explain or help the young man in the burgundy cap. How could I? Who would believe me if I told them the truth? Nobody. Because it was insane.
The truth. The truth was that I was terrified. I was terrified of the girl sat waiting at the back of the café in the straight jacket. The hallucination that looked exactly like me.