I wake at o’dark-early to the sound of knocking. Pulling the sheets up to my chin, like a little kid scared of monsters under the bed, I say, “Yeah?”

“Morning,” says a guy through the door. “I’m putting a towel, and a gi to wear, outside your door. Bathroom is just off the kitchen. Help yourself to anything you need, be it shampoo or coffee.”

“Thanks,” I call out, thinking. Now please go away. I know it must be one of the guys who helped me last night. But still, I can’t deal right now.

As if he’s reading my mind, he says, “I’m headed back downstairs, but Shana said to tell you that she’d be here in an hour. Wants you to wait for her.”

That works for me; don’t have to be back at the bar until four p.m. and I’m in no hurry to hang out on the street. What if those guys are searching for me? Want revenge? I didn’t get a good look at their faces.

When I’m sure he’s gone, I open the door. As promised, just outside there is a towel and one of those white pyjama things the lady – Shana – had on last night. Weird clothes. But better than putting on my old stuff. Those things are headed for the bin, cos I’m never wearing them again. Probably be warmer, too, than my current loan of silky shorts and a wicked T-shirt, with ‘MMA’ printed in big letters and claws tearing their way out.

Checking both ways, I step out and into the main room. It’s a huge space, like a warehouse, but with a few sofas and beanbags scattered around an old, heavy TV set. At the back is the kitchen area. Easy to see why they let me crash here: not much to steal. It’s not like I could even lift any of that stuff on my own.

I find the bathroom easily enough and do what I have to do. Then I wander out to the kitchen and make myself some coffee and toast. But the room feels too big, too empty, with corners and angles where somebody could come flying out.

Don’t be stupid, Justine. Nobody is here.

I go back to the bedroom they’ve lent me. But it now feels too small, and the walls are closing in. My skin starts to itch and I’m craving company. Don’t want talk. Don’t want to be touched. I just need a place where I can hang out and be, without anybody wanting to know my business. Alone but with a crowd, like in a mall.

I step out and locate the door to the stairs, which is, thankfully, unlocked. I descend the stairs slowly. There are posters all over the walls. Men and women posing with their fists raised, and with quotes all over them. I guess my Grannie isn’t alone in using words as décor. Not that her Shakespeare quotes have pictures. Not that she’d ever have allowed posters like this on her walls. But it’s funny, after years of cursing my Grannie’s decorating choices, I’m finding this stairwell-of-words comforting.

My favourite is the one that says: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Muhammad Ali.

That’s perfect. That’s exactly the type of person I wish I could be. To be able to gracefully pass through life as light as a butterfly, but be able to sting all those jerks who keep wanting to hurt me. That would really be something. But Mister Muhammad Ali probably didn’t get thrown out of his home and have to drop out of high school.

No use looking backwards, Justine.


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