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Nico had nothing in life. A doped mother who sells herself, always on the move, looking for a fluke that will she never have. He loves and hates her; she is his conviction. A prison. But now there’s Max. He is his only help. That strange man who takes an interest in him, without asking anything in return. Nevertheless, he is about to lose him; his mother is taking him away. Because Max is wealthy, this could be the opportunity she awaited. When he learns that his mother is going to rob him, Nico has to make a choice, but it is not easy. Not even Max is what he says he is; there’s a guy chained in his basement. The whole House could turn into a prison. Another, from which it is impossible to escape.
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Illusion Novel # 7
Original title: La prigione
Translated by Manuel Cecconi
© 2018 Illusion
© 2015 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
Nico threw one look at the room, and then pushed open the door with one of the bags he was holding and made his way in the room. He let them fall to the ground without any care, once he reached the center of the room.
“It’s a mess!” he decreed.
Katia entered behind him and closed the door. She was trying, at least, because the lock could not hook up. In the end, she slid the chain, but that seemed to be shaky and did not offer enough protection.
The room was a mess, Nico had not exaggerated, and although the rent was low, it was not justified in any way. A double bed that had seen better times, a closet, a mobile-bar probably empty. A micro-TV and radio lay on a shabby cabinet. A shelf that in the idea of its builder would have to contain a bit of everything. On the ground, a horrible, frangible, vomit-colored carpet and the windows had a yellowish curtain that may have been originally white.
“You will not start complaining again!” Katia snapped.
“Where am I sleeping?” He did not give her time to answer, and added, “You’d better forget to force me to use the bathtub again.”
She burst out laughing. “I don’t think there is one here. Maybe they do not even know what that means. You should be happy if you find a shower.”
“Where do I sleep?” Nico asked again, as that was his priority right now.
“Two rooms, did you hear? He said that the apartment has two rooms.”
“You haven’t visited?”
“What do you say? What does it matter? We’ve been in worse places, and then it’s only for a few days.”
Nico had no confidence in her. He looked around again, puzzled. He went straight through the only door that could see and flung it open. The bathroom was microscopic and, as expected, there was no bathtub. In addition to the facilities, in a pitiful condition, there was only a sink and a squared shower protected by a curtain.
“There’s nothing here!” he yelled. “Are you sure you didn’t get ripped off? Perhaps the two rooms also included the bathroom.”
“It is here, don’t worry. You just know how to look for it.”
Nico came back into the room and had to admit that his mother was right. Half-hidden by the bulk of the cabinet there was a tiny little door, the same color as the wall, light brown poop. He dropped his head inside, horrified.
“But it’s a closet!”
Katia burst out laughing. “Do you want to sleep in bed with me?”
Nico did not intend to do so; he preferred the bathtub if there was only one bed. The storeroom was unable to contain a bed; however, there was a rolled mattress, on the side, tied with string. Sheets, blankets, and even a pillow lay on a chair. There was no other furniture; there would be no room for it, because the mattress, once stretched, would occupy every inch available.
“There is not even a window.”
She shrugged. “You can leave your door unlocked, to avoid suffocation.”
Nico turned to look at her and tried to hook her eyes. “This is worse than the other.”
Katia held his gaze. “Why are you complaining? We have no money, I told you.” She got a suitcase on the bed and flipped through the hinges. “If I can rustle up something, we’ll get a better one.”
“It should not be just for a few days?”
She gave him a mischievous look. “You’re in a hurry to get somewhere?”
Nico was silent. No, they did not have a goal, they never had. Katia pulled out some clothes and began to put them in the closet. She stretched one on the bed, a top with a miniskirt that would be suitable for a younger woman.
Nico frowned. “Do you want to work already tonight?”
She cut him short: “We no longer have a penny, I told you. I had to pay the security deposit for the apartment.”
“And what should I do?”
She shrugged. “Do whatever you want. If I were you, I would keep out of the way tonight. You know that some clients do not like it, they are afraid of being spied on. And you’re grown.”
“I would not stay anyway!” Nico hissed.
Katia burst out laughing. “Good boy.”
Nico remained uncertain watching the two duffel bags and then pushed them into the closet, giving up opening them. Besides, there was no furniture to put his stuff.
“And where should I go? I don’t know this town; we have never been here.”
“Oh, do what suits you,” muttered Katia, pulling her blouse.
She did not wear a bra; she never liked it. She knew she didn’t need it; her breasts were firm like those of a young girl. Nico did not even look away he was now accustomed to his mother’s behavior.
“You could look for work as a dancer,” he said.
“Too late!” snorted Katia. “I no longer have the age. Stop asking me; those days are over.”
Nico remembered that as the best time of his life, in spite of everything. Katia had not been a mother at that time, but at least they weren’t forced to move regularly, and they had a home. He even attended the same school for two years in a row and made a few friends.
“You have to give me some money.”
Katia was tucking her little dress. “Forget it! We don't have it, didn't you hear me?”
“We did not have anything to eat!”
“Well, I’ll arrange it somehow. See to do the same.”
“And what should I do?”
Katia smiled mischievously and caressed his cheek. “Try to be creative. You’re no longer a child, and you are not stupid. You’ll find out something.” Then she whispered, “at most you can always do the prostitute.”
“Bitch!” Nico said quickly.
She laughed and responded: “You little shit!”
Then she ran away before he could grab her, like a little girl who has just done wrong. She slipped the red shoes with a disproportionate heel and carried a tiny golden handbag.
“Put it in order, before you leave. I could bring guests tonight.”
“Bitch!” Nico hissed again in a low tone; she couldn’t hear.
At the door, Katia reminded him: “Hurry up, and then get out. “
Sometimes he thought his life was a mess, but most of the time he did not. He was content to move forward and exist. It said to himself that the worst had passed now he is thirteen years old now and no longer in need of anybody, but it was not true.
The past years had left a mark inside him, and the security he was wearing was a fake. He had never been able to analyze the feelings he felt about his mother. Even though most of the time he was convinced that hatred prevailed, he could not leave her. He clung to her despite all the evil she had done as if she were capable of protecting him from the whole world.
Nico was like that; he was afraid of the world, everything and everyone, but he hid it, he pretended to be strong and that nothing could touch him.
That was just one room, one of many. An endless succession of hotel rooms or small cheap apartments where she had dragged him since he was born. It was no worse than many others were, now he should be used to them. Then it was useless to get angry with Katia; it did not lead to anything, she would not change she was like that.
He drew other clothes from the suitcase of the mother and put them in the closet. Then he took the underwear and threw into a drawer. He closed the suitcase, though it was still half-full, and slipped it under the bed.
Then he ran into the closet, refusing to call it the bedroom. He did not even try to open the mattress; it would not have been of any use to him how. So he sets off the task for the next day. Instead, he opened a hidden pocket of one of the bags and pulled out his secret reserve. He counted the banknotes one by one, carefully. It was less and less, every day. He hoped that his mother would find good customers so that she would be more generous with him the next day. He took a ten-euro banknote, and then he changed his mind and took another one. His heart was sad as he touched those notes, he swore never to do it, but he didn’t want to be wandering around an unfamiliar city with an empty pocket.
Before leaving, he threw one last look at the room, but the initial impression did not change: it was so gross.
Nico had developed over the years a system to become invisible. Annihilate him, being nobody. He could walk into a store, get on a crowded bus, or walk down the street, without anyone noticing or noticing his presence.
Everything about him was ordinary, from clothes to the way of moving. Nothing could arouse attention towards him. In a world where everyone was trying to emerge, he just wanted to disappear.
This system had saved him several times. When he invaded the territory of other boys, for example, or when he combined some shit. It did not always work; unfortunately, he was a type that seemed to attract the trouble.
That was how he got in touch with him.
He was sitting on a wall, legs crossed, watching the world go by when a voice made him jump.
“Do you mean to rob him?”
He paralyzed, for it was not the voice of a boy, but of a man, and was behind him. However, he did not turn, his eyes pinned to the pawnshop on the other side of the road, the one he had been watching for almost an hour.
The voice continued, very close: “You look suspect. I am surprised that someone has not called the police yet. You’re targeting the wrong shop; it’s risky. They have already robbed him three times this year, and now Abdul holds a gun under the counter. He can kill you by just approaching him.”
He started to turn slowly, but a hand fell on his shoulder, freezing him.
“Forget it, let me advise you.”
“I don’t… I wasn’t going to do anything! I was just sitting here.”
“So my advice should not bother you, right?”
He managed to turn around and saw an old man. No, it wasn’t old. Although he had white hair, did not seem more than 50 years. His mother had had clients much older than him.
“Why do you think…?”
The man smiled. “I saw you. I’ve kept an eye on you. I thought it was proper to warn you.”
“I live here. This is my house. You’re sitting on my wall.”
Nico jumped to the ground, escaping to his hand, and immediately turned to look. There was a house in front of him, an old, two-story house, crumpled between tall buildings. Although it was old, it looked very well maintained. It was away from the road and had a garden in front a couple of meters wide, with two shrubby trees and no flowers. The man was next to the gate, smiling at him.
That’s not the way to act, Nico repeated to himself. You have to counterattack, attack, do not show yourself as hopeless as if you had something to hide. However, he could not, not with that man who seemed to read his mind.
“I don’t…,” he stammered again, cursing himself.
“No, certainly not,” interrupted the man. “I was wrong for sure.”
Then he burst out laughing, contradicting his words.
He had to get away, go away and give up those absurd projects. He had just arrived in town, couldn’t end up in trouble again.
“Anyway, you will not find anything from Abdul. He only sells parakeet; it’s not worth it.” His gaze became penetrating. “Or were you looking for money?”
Nico stiffened slightly.
“Well, you will not even find those, he does not do enough business. The others who tried before you were all drug addict, they did not realize it.”
He forced himself to speak: “I am not a thief.”
The man smiled back. “No, of course, you are not. Nevertheless, did I not stop you from becoming it, did not I?”
Nico shook his head, determined. If he did not intend to be noted, he had miserably failed. The passers-by turned to look at them. He should have run away, but he could not. Maybe it would have been worse; they would have thought it had something to hide. In what fucking trouble had he put himself? In the end, he had not done anything; it was just the man who…
“Would you rather speak inside?”
At every sentence that the man pronounced, his discomfort grew. Inside his house? What was he thinking, what did he expect from him? He shook his head again.
The man shrugged. “You can go if you want. I was just saying for you; maybe you wanted to have a chat.”
Nico would never get into the house of a stranger; he was not stupid. He knew how things were going.
“No, of course, it is not the case,” said the man, without waiting for a reply. “I was coming out, though. I am going to the usual bar. You could accompany me, I will offer you something, and we could do a chat.” He winked at him. “We would be in the midst of the people; you would have nothing to fear.”
Nico struggled to speak firmly. “What do you want?”
He had met so many men in his life, all thugs that his mother brought home not to be alone. There were all kinds: some were violent, other perverts, some benevolent and kind, and they were the ones he most distrusted. They had betrayed him all, one after the other; no one had kept his promises.
“I am going there every night after dinner. Sometimes even a few hours, just to hang out. I hate television; unfortunately, I think I am the last one.”
With no concern, as he crossed the gate closing the door behind him, he added, “Do you read? I read very much; there is nothing better than a good book before falling asleep.”
He found the man next to him, but he did not touch him at all.
“They’re just a few steps away. Will you come?”
“I don’t…” Nico started, but the man interrupted him again.
«Please! I expect something more from the new Arsene Lupin. Your stammering is pathetic!”
Then he tried to stay calm. “Who are you?”
“See? It gets better if you force yourself, you can converse too.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Just a little bit. I see you’re anxious. Too much. I would not wish that you could do something that you would regret.”
He shrugged and started to walk. “I offer, of course.”
As always, he was proud. “I don’t need anyone to buy me a damn thing. I can pay!”
“Well, I was the one to invite you, so it’s correct I am the one who to offer.”
Nico was forced to follow him, to continue the conversation, as the man did not stop. “But I want to pay!”
He was almost at his side when the man’s gaze became mischievous. “As you wish. You offer.”
A shadow passed over Nico, and he felt teased. It was not appropriate to throw like that the little money that he had, that man cheated on him.
He burst out laughing again as if once again he had read my mind.
“Don’t worry; I’ll pay for my drinks. You can take whatever you want “. Then, always carelessly: “You had dinner, at least?”
He had a quick sandwich, walking, and was already hungry again. Nevertheless, he nodded.
“You can come, right? There is no one waiting for you?”
That statement put him in alarm. “What do you want? Are you those people who approach the kids on the street?”
The man showed an amazed expression, but in truth, he was not. “That’s how you consider yourself, a little boy? I believed that you thought to be a man.”
Nico felt mocked more and more each sentence. He paused. “I do not want to have anything to do with you!”
The mask fell in a single instant. “Do you need money?”
Nico leaned back slightly, repeating the same words. “I do not want to have anything to do with you!”
“This is not an answer. I repeat: do you need money?”
“I would never…”
He blocked him with a nod. “Stop it; don’t tell me what you wouldn’t do. Just tell me what you are willing to do. Steal, then?”
“You… you’re crazy!”
“May I buy your time? I’ll pay for it!” the man continued, calmly.
Nico shook his head. But an unfortunate phrase escaped him: “For what?”
The mischievous smile returned. “To come to the bar and chat with me. What do you think?”
He has always attracted the troubles. All crazy people, perverts, and the bastard sons of bitches they came to him. But the mother was usually picking them around. This time no, he had found one him alone.
The man was getting antsy. “Well, are you coming or not? This is just a chat between friends. If you want me to buy you a drink, if you want me to pay for you, I’ll do it, just come.”
“What do you want? And do not tell me to chat!”
“Maybe if you would listen to I’d tell you! There are things we cannot talk about on the street.”
Then he walked and never turned back.
Nico remained motionless, his heart struck, looking at him moving away. There, at that moment, without a real reason, he made the decision that would change his whole life.
He ran behind him.
“Is it good? If you like it, you can take another.”
It was the first time Nico had an ice cream in a crystal cup; so far, he had lived eating industrial ice cream. The cup had umbrellas and a long spoon that looked silver made.
“What do you want?” He asked again, for what seemed to him the hundredth time.
They were at the bar for over an hour, and the place was nice. Small and friendly, with a few tables. They settled down at the end of the room, in a desert and quiet spot. The waiters weren’t pushy. At first, he had taken just a coffee, then the man proposed an ice cream, and after that another one. The man had just taken a glass of brandy, which he sipped slowly. It was not what he had imagined, that man had not tried to touch him nor had made indecent proposals. Nico was sure it wasn’t a pedophile; he had noticed how gazed at the shapes of the maid with interest, and anyway he was too big to attract the attention of that sort of perverts. But that consideration instead to comfort him, only had sharpened his fear.
“This is what I want to, that’s all.”
“That you sit here and talk to me.”
Nico sighed and thought he understood. “It’s not what you think.”
He just raised his eyes from the cup to spy on him, but the man did not say anything to interrupt him.
“I didn’t mean to do any theft; I was just looking. I’m not a bum, a starved, nor a drug addict. I have a family! I was just curious, that’s all. I wouldn’t have done anything.”
The man smiled. “See? That’s what I meant. Just speak.”
Nico shook his head. “He did not understand. I do not need any help. I feel good. I’m fine, and I’m not a thief. You would have thought… but that’s not true. I understand that you care, you do it for my good, but it is not necessary.”
The man pulled out a cigar, in spite of the ban on smoking that stood right on top of him. A waiter noticed it but said nothing. Maybe they were accustomed. He passed it through his fingers with loving care, as if it were a precious commodity, so he spun it and turned it on.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
Nico hated them. Some of the worst memories of his life linked to the nauseating smell of cigars.
“No,” he replied.
The man stared at him for a few moments, then turned the cigar on the plate and looked back at him.
“The pipe?” He studied his reaction and seemed pleased. “Yes, let’s go for the pipe.”
He picked up the tobacco bag and a decorated pipe from his pocket and started filling it with care.
“Did you hear? Did you understand what I said?”
The man lit it, a long and complicated operation, and an aromatic smell invaded the environment. Nico had never felt anything like this, but he did not find it unpleasant.
“I have time,” said the man. “I have no hurry. For you is the same, right?”
“You’re in no hurry to go home, right?”
Nico did not even look at the wall clock in front of the bar counter. He had an internal clock that was never wrong: it had to be almost eleven in the evening. No, he was not in hurry, but a good boy of his age, as he would have pretended to be, he ought to be.
“I must go home,” he said.
“Wait. Finish the ice cream.”
He did, and then put away the dish, as if he did not want another.
“So what do you want to talk about?”
The man raised an eyebrow.
“He said he wanted to talk; I’m here, let’s talk. Not about me, I do not want to talk about me. Who are you?”
Nico himself was amazed at his courage. He had been there for quite a while, and nothing had happened.
“What would you like to talk about?” asked the man.
“About you. You said that you live alone?”
The man chuckled. “You’re trying to know if it would be convenient to steal at my house.” Without giving him time to deny, he continued: “I never thought of it. Yes, I think so. I think it would be a good shot; you might find some bucks. Is that how it is said?”
“Did you finish waving your money in my face? What do you want?”
The man shrugged. “Nothing. I observe. I am a good observer.”
Nico frowned. “You observe me?”
“I look at the world. The others. You too are part of it.”
“And that’s all you do, observe?”
He puts down his pipe for a moment. “I have nothing to do; I have time. I just watch, yes.”
“What you did before is not called to observe.”
“Yes, sometimes I happen to interfere. But these are sporadic cases, I assure you.”
Nico shook his head incredulously. “A damn angel. Is this what you believe to be? Do you feel proud of what you did? And what do you think you did? Avoided a theft? Do you think you have brought me back on the right track?”
“Let’s say I kept you out of trouble. But only this time, I still cannot do miracles.”
“You are an asshole!”
He had not shouted, he said with a calm voice, but he believed it. Nico was tired; he could no longer stand the fact that everyone tells him what he was supposed to do, filling him with sermons. They were pieces of shit with a black conscience like coal. Even that had been a useless night. For a moment he had let himself be curious, he hoped that there was something different in that man. Mysterious. But he was wrong.
“Perhaps we started with the wrong foot, boy.”
“Nico,” he said, even though he could not understand why he was saying his name. Maybe because that man no longer frightened him, he had lost all his power.
“My name is Nico. And we did not start anything at all. Nothing happened; there is not much between us two.”
“I don’t think…”
This time he was interrupted by attacking. “You’re an asshole. An unnamed asshole. I told you mine, and if you were just a decent person with a minimum of education, you should do the same. Or don’t you think I am at your level?”
The man burst out laughing. “To think that until a little while ago I had to struggle to tear off a word from your mouth!”
He never mentioned his name, even on that occasion. “Who are you? Do you want me to ask you again?”
“You see who I am. I’m standing here, and I’m talking to you. My past? Do you want to know who I was? Who cares about the past, I asked about yours?”
“Why me? Why not bother a little girl? Or someone of your age, it would be even better.”
“Do you think I’m bothering you?”
“You do that, do you? Get people on the street. This is not the first time!”
“Uhm… yes sometimes it happens”, muttered the man.
He remained silent for a few moments, expelling a puff of smoke. “It can happen to meet someone special. Someone who I would love to know.”
Nico looked at him skeptically. “Me?”
“What’s wrong? Did I bother you?”
“You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. I won’t tell you anything.”
“That’s what you think. You’ve told me many things before. I think I know you well.”
“What would I have said to you? We almost did not speak!”
“And yet I feel like I know you. I know what you are, what you want. I know what you like and what you’re afraid of.”
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