Days rolled by and the significance of that night’s events seemed to fade. They faded but were not forgotten, not by me anyway. I had tentatively asked a few of the other girls if they’d seen anything out of the ordinary. No one was biting.
I’d asked leading questions such as, “What did you think of that other company?” or “Some of their dancer’s were weird, don’t you think?” The answers I received were simply idle gossip “ugh did you see their hair? I’d die if Delany made us do that!” or they were uninterested, “They were alright. Their prima contortionist was a bit weak.” “Geez why do you care so much about them? We’ve got another performance to get ready for next weekend.” I dropped my meager investigation. I didn’t need any unwanted attention.
I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was remembering things wrong. I didn’t really have a great memory. The last few days had been brutal in rehearsal. Changes had been made to a few routines. I consistently missed the new cues instead letting my muscle memory take over and execute the old movements. When the choreographer drilled me on the changes, my mind was blank. I was shown the steps again and again but I continued to routinely fail.
The choreographer was considering suspending me from performing that weekend. I had to work harder. If I was continually suspended then eventually I’d be terminated. Kicked out of the company would mean no shelter, no food, no job. I would be utterly lost in the world; I’d have nowhere to go.
Luckily we had tonight off. Severe annual winds dictated that the amphitheater needed to be closed up. This kept props from being uprooted and blown about the dark district. The theatre had already become a mess of dirt and trash. The cage had even been knocked over dislodging a vertical bar and seriously denting numerous others. Performances were postponed until the wind died down and the amphitheatre could be cleaned up.
I planned to take advantage of the unforeseen break to practice my routines. However after a tongue lashing from the choreographer and the annoyed, even hateful glares of my fellow dancers earlier that day I needed a break. The performance tracks queued on my music player I lodged the small speakers in my ears. I promised myself that I’d run through the routine in my head on the trip to the library.
The library was one of the few places I went aside from the complex and amphitheatre. There was an old one in downtown, not too far from the dark district. I liked it not only because it was within walking distance but also for the old dusty books it held within.
Paper books were rare in libraries. This old one forgotten by the city and its tax payers however still had shelves of old paper books. Not surprisingly the other girls didn’t see the purpose of visiting such an old library. This meant I could be left well enough alone on my visits. I found the atmosphere to be comforting in a way.
With the afternoon sun still shining low in the sky I set out on my trip. The air was full of debris, disgusting cigarette butts, food wrappers, dirt and other trash. The pressure of the swift moving winds hurt my sensitive ears horribly. The gusts chaffed against my cheeks and blew my hair wildly about my face and neck. I sometimes felt like if I stretched my arms out the air would fill my jacket like a pair of small hot air balloons and carry me away.
The prospect of walking around the dark district alone was always a bit frightening. A place that hosted exotic cabarets featuring underage girls was understandably the haven of other social ills. From illegal drugs to black market dealings, the dark district was the desired location. I was used to it by now though. I didn’t like sharing my free time with the other girls and never leaving the complex would be all too depressing. Moreover I had to be a bit courageous if I wanted to go anywhere. Summoning my courage I headed towards the library in the older part of town.
I was wearing a little bit of makeup. I wasn't brave enough to face the world without my face on. I wore a long skirt so the wind wouldn't blow it up and show off my underwear as well as a pair of flats. No one in the library would know I was a dancer from the dark district dressed like this. I liked it that way.
I passed the tall, tightly pressed buildings. The dark district had started as a small community of the socially unacceptable and the rest of the world had continued to grow around it, boxing it in. When the dark district grew in both population and commerce it was forced to grow up instead of out.
I passed the neon orange graffiti tag for the ‘Pride’ scrawled large and gaudy aside the building that Jimmy did business out of. The weather kept street traffic to a minimum and I’d imagine business wasn’t very good that day. I waved as I passed his shop, faithfully open no matter the weather or holiday.
A short burly man, Jimmy made up for what he lacked in physique with charisma. You could find any electronic voice you wanted in his closet of a store. If you didn’t he’d make sure to convince you that you needed something else. I’d been looking for a small TV when I ended up buying my music player from him. I was almost positive that his business was more encompassing than black market electronic sales thus justifying his more than accommodating hours of operation.
I wasn’t on a first name basis with many other resident/ merchants in the dark district. Aside from corner stores Jimmy’s business was about as legitimate as it got. A restaurant or two and some Laundromats’ were scattered around the district although they were believed to almost certainly be fronts for something less scrupulous.
Not even fast food chains ventured to plant themselves within the tainted soil of the district. There wasn’t a grocery store to be found along the dirt streets. There was a sense of community to the area but it wasn’t all inclusive. You belonged to a faction, a group of similar people and that was your community. You interacted with others solely based on what respective groups you belonged too.
Group’s were variable ranging from ethnicity, occupation or gang relation. I was seen as an exotic dancer and little else. You would rarely see someone walking along the streets alone. Without the context of your group a person was defenseless. On occasion I decided to take that chance.
The closer you got to the border between the dark district and the rest of the world the density of peddlers increased. Stalls selling illegal fireworks or bootleg DVD’s, whatever was popular but the legalities or morays of society disallowed, you could find it here. Close enough to entice non-residents but far enough away to keep from being caught. For many visitors the exotic allure of entering the seedy district was most likely enough on its own to trade a few bucks for something at a borderline stall.
A few blocks into my journey I came to a busy street. The commotion at the corner made me a little nervous. I didn't know if it was some sort of deal. Maybe gang activity, however I didn’t stop to investigate further. I knew if I took an alley way I could get to the library just as fast.
But then the sun was already going down and I didn't know if I should take that chance. I’m not sure why but the alleyways just seemed much more scary when the sun went down. Perhaps it was because it created an inconspicuous place to hide for those who had a reason to. I knew I shouldn't take long to decide, if anyone saw me standing around I might get into trouble.
When Allie had first joined the company as a dancer she had been faced with a similar situation but she hadn’t realized the danger. An altercation between rival gangs had caused a commotion near the corner store. Intrigued she had gotten too close and seen too much. She received a black eye and some bruises for her innocent curiosity. Thanks to the embroidery on her sweatshirt the attack hadn’t gone any further. Former members of the troupe hadn’t been so lucky.
Dance companies like ours were prepared for the difficulties of doing business in such areas. Gangs didn’t want to get involved with the security guards and maybe more so with the political backlash caused by the business companies which supposedly owned such venues of entertainment. I wouldn’t be surprised if those rumors were true. Regardless of the companies protection becoming witness to a crime never ended well.
Deciding, I turned towards the alleyway as the noise grew louder down the road. Fear had already settled into my mind. Unsure of my safety I stared straight ahead and took slow deliberate steps. I could still hear the noise from the street but it was dying down. I wondered if anyone saw me or if I should go back. I could always return to the complex but thinking of the library and the source of independence it gave me bolstered my decision to pursue this opportunity.
I heard rustling branches but couldn't tell where it had come from. Startled I stopped walking. Standing frozen I worried over what had made the noise. Seconds passed like minutes before my reflexes told me to run. Almost to the alley’s end I realized my irrational paranoia letting myself calm down at a brisk walk. A soft green bug zapping light from someone’s backyard hung at the end of the passage way letting me see my dilapidated surroundings; a beaten tin trash can and rows of rotting wooden doors that had been white washed many years ago.
A shopping center was visible ahead of me. My destination lay among the old fashioned wood buildings selling trendy clothes and second hand goods. The view brought a sense of relief. Imbued with bravery from the sight I began to cross the street. I hated crossing streets. It was one of the many things in life that frightened me. Yet there were few cars on the road that night and I was about to summon my courage to run across when I sensed a warm body to my right.
My nerves still jittery I was shocked by the presence. I stood with one foot out in the road, not daring to look at the person. From the corner of my eye I could see that it was a woman, a tall woman. Trying to disregard her and cross the road, a sharp voice grabbed my attention before I’d gotten any farther.
I turned to face her without hearing her words. Now both feet were in the street. My eyes grew wide, heart beat faster, adrenaline level rose. This was the woman from the show the other night.
As she drew closer I could sense tension in her muscles as if she were holding back all of her strength and fury. I didn't know who this woman was or what she had against me. I could feel tears forming in my eyes that wouldn't blink. All I remember her saying was, "YOU!" she yelled, as she drew even closer. Then her voice lowered to just above a whisper, still holding the menacing tone, "You're dead.”
Without further harassment I was pushed to the ground, my hands saving my face from the sidewalk. Mesmerizing yellow gray eyes stared at me disgusted with what they saw. Those strange eyes triggered something. I remembered for that instant like waking from a dream and then it escaped me. The precious knowledge came and went like most things one wants so very much in life.
I cowered on the ground only getting up when I had convinced myself she wouldn’t pursue me farther. I ran, my flight reflex finally kicking in. Across the street without having looked for cars I checked over my shoulder to see if she was following me. There was no trace of the woman. A bit relieved yet still on edge I arrived at the library and fell onto the stoop and began to cry.
The library was closed.