Word Count: 1,580
Content Warning: Violence/Abuse, Racial Slurs
Related Works: N/A
I ran into the bathroom and locked the door behind me, leaning against it as I slid to the floor.
“I just want you to get the fuck out, don’t be a nigger about it!”
I flinched in spite of myself at his words and casual use of the slur. A small child materialized near the toilet. She looked so familiar, her face darkened by the summer sun, hair done up in four braids adorned with baubles and barrettes.
But it was her eyes that stopped me in my mental tracks. They were big and turned up at the corners, and so dark I could see myself in them. She was crying, so her thick, curly lashes were stuck together. She hesitated, torn between moving closer to me and staying as far away from the door as possible.
“Hey Tiny,” I said, inching towards her. “Are you ok?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m scared.”
I slowly unlatched the necklace around my neck and flipped the small blade out. “I know,” I said, with a fierceness I didn’t know I felt, “I know that you’re scared. But we’re going to be ok. I’m going to open the door.”
“No! Please don’t. No.” She started to cry in earnest. I moved close enough to wrap my arms around her.
“Listen to me. I’m not letting him break that door down. You can be scared, I’m scared. But Tiny,” I took the time to cup her face in my shaking hands, the chain of my necklace wrapped around my knuckles, “I will not let him win. I will not let him break us.”
Tiny nodded as though she understood. She was too small to understand, but she didn’t know that. She exhaled a shuddery breath. “Ok.”
I stood up and dusted myself off. “Well kid, time to rock.”
I opened the door and went immediately to my suitcase at the foot of my bed, ignoring six feet and 200 pounds of middle-aged rage.
“I’m packing my things,” I explained robotically, “and I’ll be back before checkout to get them. There’s no reason why we can’t be civil.”
“No, that’s not good enough. I never want to see your whore face again. Do you hear me? Are you fucking listening? You are the worst fucking thing that’s ever happened to me and I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN. Fucking leave, now.”
My grip tightened around my knife. It only took a moment, but the moment was enough to send him into a tailspin.
“Did you fucking hear me?” He roared, running towards my workspace.
I leapt up and onto the bed, reaching the headboard in time to wrap my hands around the brass scrolls and shield the back of my head with my raised shoulders. He grabbed my feet and yanked, the tension in my upper body preventing him from accomplishing anything. When he slipped, he let loose a stream of expletives.
“Fucking bitch. I FUCKING HATE YOU! Do you hear me? I fucking hate you, nigger!”
I didn’t have time to brace myself before the first blow landed on my upper back, after which he grabbed my ankles and pulled again. This time, he pulled the bed with him, moving it five feet from his original starting point and right over my suitcase. The room key was a safe lump deep in my pocket. The sweat on my hands caused me to lose my grip on the bed, and I tumbled onto the ground near him. On my back looking upwards, I got a good look at him for the first time since I went into the bathroom. His face was distorted with rage, turning it into something inhuman. Before I could make a move, Tiny ran to the door, frantically trying to unlock it. The top lock was stiff, though, and I knew she couldn’t do it alone. He crossed the space faster than I did and and blocked her escape route.
“Give me the fucking key! Give me the fucking key, and I never want to see you again. GIVE ME THE FUCKING KEY, NIGGER!”
Tiny flinched and looked to me. I got to my feet and stood tall, meeting the empty space in his eyes with the calm storm in mine. “No. I’ll be back in the morning for my things.” He looked stunned for a moment, and I continued. “I see you. I wasn’t afraid the first time and I’m not afraid now. I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU! You can’t bully me into ANYTHING! LET ME OUT OF THIS GODDAMN ROOM!”
Tiny ran and hid under the bed as he picked me up by my throat and threw me into it. Waves of pain radiated from my knee.
I was afraid. I was afraid that I couldn’t run anymore. My knee didn’t obey when I asked it to help me up, and he took advantage of my lack of speed and threw me and a few punches backwards.
Once again on my back, staring up at him. Tiny’s face peered from beneath the edge of the blankets. I felt the wind that had been knocked out of me slowly return. I saw his face understand what I was about to do and go blank.
“HELP! SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!” I screamed, pulling my body towards the door.
“What the fuck are you doing?” He asked, as though I was doing something wildly unreasonable and incomprehensible as I continued to cry for help.
My knee protested as I unlocked the door, but I used the solid knob to pull myself to my feet. I made it into the hallway, still screaming, but stumbled and fell as I watched him begin to get dressed. Tiny ran to meet me as I slammed the door behind us and pushed into a run. The steep, curving stairs proved too much of a challenge for her short legs. I wanted to pull her to her feet, but instincts underutilized made me pick her up altogether. I listened carefully for the sound of the room door opening as we made our way into the courtyard, and then the hotel lobby.
I yelled things I don’t remember and sat down when directed by the front desk attendant. But then he walked in, as calmly as though he came down to pick up his requested Sunday paper. Tiny bolted, so I followed. I stopped groups of men walking towards the hotel.
“Man, grey shirt, jeans. Don’t let him follow me.”
I caught up with Tiny and directed her in a maze pattern until we reached Bourbon Street, where she wanted to hold my hand.
“You’re ok.” I whispered softly in her ear before making phone calls.
We reached our destination, and my friend Jean looked surprised to see me. I made an excuse and rushed into the bathroom, trying not to limp or look as shaken up as I felt.
In the handicapped stall, Tiny cried. I noticed blood dripping into her socks and examined her knee more closely. There was a scrape, but also a horrible bruise.
“I don’t wanna see him again. I don’t wanna see him again! He called me names and he made me feel bad.”
“I know sweetie. You will never see him again. I promise.”
“Yes my love?”
“Why doesn’t he love me anymore?”
I stopped in the middle of cleaning her knee. For once, I didn’t have an answer. All I could do was cry too. “I don’t know angel. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. If someone hurts you like that, they don’t love you, no matter what they say.”
“I want my mommy, Big.” Tiny said plainly, her lower lip wobbling as fresh tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I promise that we will see her soon, ok? But I have some things I need to take care of.” Despite my best efforts, this only made her more inconsolable. “Ok look. What is this?” I said, offering my phone screen.
“And what does that mean? What does it mean to see our name?”
“Where I’m not, and my name is, I am?”
“Exactly. And I have done things, Tiny. I have done things so that we will live forever. Our name exists in places. We will not die because some jackass goes on a rampage. But I can’t promise that we’ll never meet mean people or feel bad. I can only promise that I will get you out of this in one piece.”
Tiny looked away from me for awhile before speaking again. “What grown up stuff do you have to do?”
I sighed. “Well, he hurt you. I need to call the police. I need to do the best I can to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
“And then we go home?”
“Yes. Then we go home to mom and our baby brother.” Tiny considered this as I finished my nursing duties with a small kiss to her knee. “Tiny? You know my friend Jean?”
“Do you like him?”
Tiny thought for a moment. “Yes!”
“I thought you might. He’s talkative, like you. We’re gonna hang out with him, ok? I’m gonna handle this grown up nonsense, and he’ll make you laugh.”
Tiny smiled so that I could see that she hadn’t grown into her front teeth. I smiled back so that she knew we never would.
“I love you.”
“I love you too. So much.”