At some point every building started looking the same. Rows upon rows of old apartments with a shop of some kind on the first floor, and then roughly four or five storeys high. Same style, same colors. Cars parked on the curb and always a tree in sight. I have spent my whole life in this city, I know it better than anything, better than anyone. But it isn't my few years as a kid that has given me the knowledge of the city. No, that kind of wisdom was only accessible to me after I ran away. There was Copenhagen before and Copenhagen now, two completely different cities. One of them was forgiving, caring almost, it was bright and full of life, with parents on bikes with their children on the seat behind them, and with magic silver men performing on the shopping streets.
Then there is the city as it is now, crowded, cold. The kind people left, or perhaps they started avoiding me. I do look like a bad type nowadays, properly smells like it too. God and I only know how long it’s been since I had an actual shower.
But the city. It’s always been the city. I like to dream about leaving Copenhagen, perhaps even Denmark, but I can’t. What would I even be without this miserable place? I’d be reduced to nothing. I don’t have an education; I ran when I was just fourteen. I don't have a family; I ran from the foster home I was placed in after my mother’s death and father’s department. I don't have a home; sold after the aforementioned death of my mother. I don’t have any friends; I am Camilla Falk.
What I do have is knowledge. I know all the good hiding spots and places to sleep in the streets. I know when and where the cops usually are. I know which people are most likely to give me some cash when I beg, and I know which to avoid. I know which libraries will let me sit for hours to read, and which will kick me out because I look homeless. I am homeless, that’s the whole point of me.
Still I dream.
And one dream shines louder than the rest, screams brighter.
To put it in perspective; my late mother was an Italian immigrant, and with Italian laws I would be able to get citizenship there if I could make it all the way through Europe with nothing but a backpack and some really good legs for running. It’s a new start, a chance at peace. I could work, buy a small cottage in the countryside, maybe become a farmer. That’s what all the heroes do in the books I read when taking shelter in the libraries. After slaying the dragon and getting the girl, they settle down and live the rest of their lives as a peaceful farmer.
I walk peacefully along the road, one block between me and the canal. I avoid the snug and sly bodies of water, knowing what they have already taken. My life matters more than a little change of scenery. I wouldn't be where I am if I didn't price myself above anything else. Survival, then joy. That’s how you live.
My shoes scrape slowly through the thin layers of my old socks. I need new ones, socks and shoes, too. Every piece of clothes on my body could use renewal, some more than others. I gave up on sentiment a long time ago. Sentiment towards tattered pieces of fabric pales in comparison to the cold winters of Denmark, pales in comparison to the harsh and dry summers. Even as I stopped growing out of clothes, I still wore them out sooner or later. The only thing I have left of back then is my own body. My feet ache and my eyes drift towards the window of a boutique, and then dissociate as I stare at a pair of black boots. Practical, quiet, sturdy. I steal or buy clothes that remind me of myself. It’s almost autumn, and I am not looking forward to the nearing weather. I can tolerate the sun; I only have to remove layers and apply sunscreen to my pale skin. Rain is another story entirely. My shoes will get soaked, my clothes too. I won't be able to find a decent place to sleep, all the dry spots being taken by the rest of the city’s homeless population. Worst part is that I won't be able to seek shelter in the libraries, since I will be wet and dirty all the time. I hate rising suspicion, which will be impossible if I am a puddle of mud inside the clinical clean library. Perhaps my life would be better if I had been born in a less socialistic country. Everything in Denmark is made to protect the people and prevent poverty, and I am just trying to be alone and on my own. If I could erase myself completely I would.
I buy some lunch at a food truck and continue on my walk. I spend most days like this, just walking. Sometimes I run too, mostly when I am in a weird mood and need to just get energy out of me. Today I don't, no, today is calm. There is something in the air, a last piece of summer that makes the food smell richer and the leaves on the trees rustle louder. I close my eyes and turn my face towards the sun, imagining it kissing my face. The sidewalk is trashed with cigarette bums and pieces of paper, but there is a beauty to the city I feel like I won't find any place else. Even though I spend so much time of my life running away from problem after problem, starving slowly and going a bit insane with isolation, I still think of myself as a peaceful person living a peaceful life. That’s my core, that’s what this city is for me.
I open my eyes and hold my hand so that I won't be totally blinded by the sun. My feet have taken me to the library I usually go to, and I think why not? Summer is ending and I want to spend this day sitting down and turning off my thoughts with a nice book. Nothing bad has ever happened to me in a library, and a lot of bad stuff has happened during my nineteen years of living, so that is saying something. Besides, there’s a calm to the air that I’ve learned to recognize. I don't believe in anything supernatural, but I still think there is some kind of energy out there that keeps everything going, and I do believe that I am able to predict it very well, whether that is seeing through lies or finding places to hide.
So I hide in the library. It’s almost empty except for a family with kids and a couple elders, like usual. I go to the young adult section and pick up the book I was reading last time. I wrote down the page number on a slip of paper that I have in my pocket, and soon I am emerged in another life that is more exciting than mine.
Hours pass. I get up a few times, once to go to the bathroom to wash my face and change my clothes, then a couple of times just to stretch my legs. I finish my book, it was alright, and then get up to get another.
There is a girl in the aisle I was heading towards. She is running her finger along the spines of the books in the young adult section. I would have thought she was reading the titles, had it not been for her closed eyes. She frowns, opening her eyes and turning her head ever so slightly to look directly into my eyes. I should feel discomfort, a need to run, sirens in my head, anything. Instead, I feel calm. Her dark skin soothing me like a cup of hot chocolate, her smile like a feather-filled pillow. A soft bed, a long night's rest. Home. She speaks to me in my native tongue, but she use words like they were new to her, like she is coming into my house and immediately finding comfort in the best chair. How can she have known this was the place she would sit best? No one told her what to do, she simply found the way inside.
“You have been browning these books too, no?” She asks, fluent danish, even better than my mom’s used to be.
“A couple of times,” I tell her. I am toying with the book in my hand, turning it from side to side. I was supposed to put it back on the shelf, but I don’t want to take a step closer to her.
“Your energy is all over this place,” She says, now turning fully. She holds out her hand, “I’m Erika.”
I take a step forward to shake her hand, but the movement stirs something in me. The fog lifts, I didn't even know there was any fog, and I suddenly hear my alarms ringing loudly in my head. I can't believe I didn't hear them before. I take two steps back, distancing myself. I have to find my stuff and get out as quickly as I can. What was I doing, talking to strangers? She could be a cop, a social worker. Or worse, she could be someone who once knew me. A family friend. Trying to lure me back to civility. Why won’t they understand that I was never meant to be civil? I was meant for myself and the night.
“Is something wrong?” Erika asks, her tone and composure not changing the slightest, the only thing moving is her brow in an almost invisible fight for control. I could feel the fog moving closer, the sunlight from the loft window melting my bones.
This fog, which is not really a fog, kills something in me I didn’t know I had. It’s sunlight purified, it’s so, so bright. A tiny shadow dies, and with it comes peace like nothing I’ve known before. Panic rises in me. This peace isn’t mine, this peace isn’t mine, this peace isn’t mine.
“I have to go,” I yell, turning around and beginning to walk. I almost fall, a boy having snuck up behind me, cornering me between the two of them. My exits closed, my breath gone. My hand flies instinctively to my side where a knife is hidden, but I can’t unsheath it inside the library. This was my sanctuary and this tall ginger stranger and smiling Erika are invading me.
“In a hurry, eh?” The boy asks, leaning coyly against the bookshelf, speaking English. He is wearing a red flannel and a black turtleneck, finished with two layered necklaces and an ear piercing. I can hear Erika walking closer to me and I turn to face her again, her yellow matching set of skirt and sweater hugging her tightly. Her hands are behind her back, in an almost childish manner.
“I just remembered that I forgot my backpack,” I tell them, an easy lie because it is almost true. I hadn’t forgotten, I could never forget my backpack. It is my whole livelihood. Without it, I have and am nothing. But, that doesn’t mean that my plan don’t involve me going to fetch it. That part was true, and I let that sliver of truth run through my words, bringing me a confidence that made me believable.
“We just want to talk to you,” Erika says seriously, her smile falling just a little. She speaks in English this time, just as perfect, her voice running smoothly, lighting up our surroundings, “We come in peace.”
“No one who comes in peace says that,” I point out, jabbing a finger in Erika’s face. She is smaller in figure than the tall boy, but she somehow comes off more threatening. I think it’s something in her voice. How she changed between languages, how her smile keeps wanting to lower my guard. For all it is worth, the boy is just standing there, while she is creeping closer, mentally and physically. I try to stop it, but my defense turns to anger, “Who even are you guys? You don't know me, so just leave me alone, okay?”
“You’re right we don't know you,” She says, blinking slowly. Has the world always been tugging at my limbs, making me freeze? She smiles gently, “But we know what you are.”
“I’m nothing,” I say, no, laugh. I am nothing, I am no-one.
“You’re one of us,” The boy sighs, stepping forward. For a moment fear passes through Erika’s face, then her face goes back to being pleasantly polite. It gets to be too much to look at, so I turn to the boy, “We got powers like you, we can't die like you.”
“I don't have powers,” I say, almost a question. I thought I knew what they wanted, but now this boy is making me confused, “You are crazy.”
“What I think Aiden is trying to say,” Erika looks at him briefly, her eyebrows sticking out in warning, “Is that the things you do, that no one around you does, we understand those things. We’ve had similar experiences. It’s not magic or powers for you, is it? It’s just your life. But you know you are different, that’s why you are living like this,” here she points to where my backpack is, the place I had been reading in for hours. I was starting to listen, but now I tense up. She knows I’m homeless. Forget officers, forget relatives, I’ve heard of sex traffickers and cults that kidnap homeless teens like this. I’m a perfect target, nineteen and practically nonexistent if you ask the law.
So I do what I do best. I punch Erika in the face and turn around quickly to land a kick in between Aiden’s legs. I almost fall while kicking him, something having somehow burned my hip. It happened so quickly, I am already running away, so I didn't get to see him take out the lighter. At least I am not the only one being violent.
“Shit,” The boy yells, high-pitched. It makes me smile, it's been a while since I’ve done something violent and heroic without it ending in death. I grab my stuff and run out of the place, down the stairs, and out into the streets. I don't stop running, they could be after me for all I know. It’s only when the sun has set that I stop, tucking myself down under a staircase, my black blanket around me and my backpack to hide me even further, making me blend into the shadows. Suddenly I am heaving after air, choking. The calmness of the morning has faded and in its place is only anxiety. It’s okay though, I have taught myself to handle this. I wouldn't be where I am if I wasn't able to take care of myself, mentally and physically. I count in my head, matching my breathing to the numbers. I let air fill my lungs to the brim, then exhale it slowly. Stop. Take in, breathe out. My hands are tightening around my backpack, but at least I am not crying.