Chapter 2 - You know what they do to guys like us in prison?
After three weeks, she was already feeling sorry that she ever came to study in this city, although not at all for having dumped Keith. She actually wondered why she hadn't done it before. Sure, she missed some of the affection and, well, the other stuff, but clearly it had never been worth it. Besides, she had other things on her mind now.
She never called Rineke. She had thought about it. He was handsome. He seemed intelligent. Maybe he liked her. But then she always remembered the kind of company he kept and gave up dreaming. College was as pointless as ever. She didn't even like what she was studying! But her parents had paid for this year, so no point letting it go to waste
So she attended her classes, kept turning in assignments and day by day tolerated her roommate's habit of leaving her dirty laundry wherever it dropped. She liked her, of course, but they barely saw each other anyway but for breakfast sometimes. Syrup was her name or at least that's what she said , and she worked late at night, so by the time she came home to sleep, Ana was already on her way out.
She went to class in the morning and worked in the afternoons, and then walked back home because it was the only time of day she could do it: when the prawns were all back in their homes in District 9. God, how she missed her old prawn-less city.
Not that she couldn't walk on the same street than a prawn, she just didn't want to. It was much better making sure that by that time she was out, all the prawns were definitely gone. There weren't even any cars on that road at that hour, which was also great, since the sidewalks in that neighborhood were so uncared for; not the most desirable area of the city, what with its proximity to a non-human area, but it was cheap. The cheapest she could find, in fact, and that was always a requirement.
She had come to work and study to Joburg for her friends, because they had all come to get a life here. She had come to be near Keith as well. Now she felt like an idiot, a lonely idiot in a big city with nothing to do, surrounded by aliens, of which she was terrified.
And atop all that, she almost fell flat on her face when her boots slipped on something.
"What the hell!" she protested angrily and bent over to take a look at the gooey substance under the dim light of the streetlamp.
She was no expert, but anyone could've guessed the nature of that red, sticky fluid: blood.
There was enough blood in the road to paint her entire bedroom, and a trail leading away from it told her the former owner of the blood had probably crept towards that corner of the street there.
Whoever or whatever it was, it was still crawling creepily in the direction that her house was. It was a block away, and it was dark, so she couldn't tell if it was a person or an animal. One part of her told her to please stay away and turn around and find a longer way home. Another part thought it was probably her duty to help the poor thing.
And a third part was just curious.
So her cautious part was outmatched and Ana kept walking silently towards the corner, shielding herself with her backpack. She could already hear the harsh breathing of the victim, raspy and wheezy, but didn't stop.
Until she made out the victim's nature.
A prawn was sitting in the middle of the street, complaining and purring, grabbing its leg with its two hands. Apparently it had given up trying to move any further. It was far enough that it hadn't noticed her yet, but close enough for her to distinguish the twitching antennae.
In an almost reflexive reaction , Ana took out her cell phone and looked for the one number she could think of at the moment and, strangely enough, it wasn't MNU's emergency number.
The phone dialed and Ana tip-toed behind a streetlight waiting for an answer.
"Um, hi, this is Ana, remember? From the other night?" she breathed.
"Hey, what's up!" Rineke sounded pleasantly surprised, though there was quite a bit of noise in the background.
there-is-a-prawn, like, one block away from me
Some laughing in the background and then "why?"
"Why? I don't know, do I! I'm asking you! What's a goddamn prawn doing here!"
There was a rumble, then a sound of closing doors and the background noise faded.
"Where are you?" he said later.
"I'm in, uh, Covington Road. I mean, it's not D9 or anything!"
"What's he doing?"
"It's just sitting there, I think it's badly injured
Oh, God, I think he just saw me!"
The prawn had raised its head in alarm.
"Ok, calm down, Ana
"Oh, crap, he's looking at me!"
"It's ok, he's probably more scared of you than you of him."
"I doubt that very much" she giggled.
"You say he's injured."
"Yeah, show yourself to him. Do you remember the sign?"
"Well, show him!"
Ana grimaced at the thought, but did as she was told. She stepped out from behind the streetlight and took a dozen hasty steps towards the prawn, who now more than ever seemed determined to get as far away from the human as it physically could, which wasn't saying much, since every time it made an attempt to stand, it fell over with a cry of pain.
"It's squealing" she commented with a bit of disgust.
"Squealing! He's squealing, you know, like a pig!"
"That means it hurts a lot. Show him the sign!"
Ana put on her backpack and made the sign the way they had shown her with the help of her other hand. It was harder than it seemed. She tried her best to maintain the pose as she showed it to the prawn. And at that very instant, the prawn froze and looked at her with two big, curious eyes, then raised his own hand to show her three large, pointed fingers.
"I think he just answered."
"Good, that means he knows about the association. Get closer to him, see what's wrong."
Ana hesitated yet again, and Rineke seemed to notice, because he added "it's ok, he knows about us. I promise he's harmless."
Ana, who had watched the news way too many times, hoped with all her might that was true as she stepped even closer to the wounded prawn, who suddenly looked relaxed, like it knew it would all be alright now. They were now a scarce two meters from each other.
"Crap, he's looking at me from head to foot.
"Is he calm?"
"Can you see the damage?"
"Um, I think it's the leg. There's a lot of blood
"<Are you from the group? Are you new?>"
Ana stared. The prawn had suddenly spoken. Of course nothing she could understand.
"He's clicking something at me
"Pass the phone to him."
There was a moment's confusion in which Ana frowned before exclaiming "WHAT?"
"Put him on the phone, it's ok."
She shook her head in disbelief, but held the phone with the tip of her fingers and stretched out her arm so as not to get a single step closer to the alien, so much so that the prawn had to painfully stretch out himself to be able to reach it. He took the phone, gurgled something out of pain, or annoyance, then held the phone to the side of his spiky, tentacled head and chirped something in its language. Ana thought he kind of sounded like her CD player having a bad time trying to read a scratched disc.
Ana could hear the muffled, distorted voice of Rineke coming from the phone, but all in all she got nothing out of the conversation . Was Rineke speaking prawn as well? At one point the prawn stopped talking and handed her back her phone. She accepted it gladly.
"Look, I can't talk for long, family reunion, you know, so I'll make it short. He's been run over by a car and has missed his bus home. He can't walk. Do you live nearby?"
?" Ana mumbled suspiciously.
"You have to take him to your place."
"You got to be fucking joking!"
"If we don't get him out of the street, he'll be either detained or killed. Maybe both. It'll just be for the night, until the curfew's up.
do you even realize what you're asking? These things have-have killed people before" she babbled.
"Ana, I know this guy, he won't give you any trouble, he's very smart."
"You mean monkey smart or police dog smart?" And as he didn't answer some distant chattering going on in the background- she insisted. "Hello?"
"Look, I can't talk about this here, I'll call back as soon as I can."
"Please, Ana" and he hung up, leaving Ana in some weird state of bewilderment. She almost forgot about the prawn that was staring expectantly at her from his kneeling position on the ground.
She quietly and slowly put her phone away with a sigh trying not to stare back.
" she began. "I'm going to regret this. Get up, come on."
"<Where are we going?>" the prawn clicked incomprehensively.
She tried to ignore it and insisted.
"Come on, get up. Come on" she repeated, making gestures with her arms to make him understand. "Get up and let's go! We walk" she pointed "to my houuuuuse. My house, understand?"
"<Yes, yes, I understand!>"
The prawn didn't take his eyes off her as he planted his hands on the ground to push himself up and his breathing quickened. He slowly and clumsily got to his one good foot and made to stand up straight, but fell over with a squeal of pain.
"Oh, come on
" Ana moaned. "This is going to take forever."
The prawn gave it another try after shooting her an irritated look, but fell on his knees again with a grunt. Then he just sat there, looking determinedly at her like he was waiting for something.
The prawn lifted his arm and held it in mid air, waiting for her to take it and help him up. Ana gave a sigh so slow and deep, the prawn took it like she wasn't going to get an inch closer to him, let alone touch him, so he sadly lowered his arm.
Ana hesitated, then gave a jerk in his direction.
" she reached for the prawn's arm like what she was about to touch was scalding hot and the prawn responded by happily giving her his arm.
She jumped at the first touch with the prawn's skin. It was hard and tough, but surprisingly smooth and just a bit moist. After a moment's indecision she helped the prawn up to his feet and tried not to let him topple over. He was breathing harshly now. Without warning he laid his entire right arm on her back and leaned on her shoulder with the left. She almost made them both fall on their noses with her reaction and the prawn gave another little squeal of surprise.
A sudden gush of air hit her left cheek and she gave a start.
Turning her head she saw the alien's throat just inches from her face and noticed the hollow folds on the soft skin open and close with the prawn's every breath. She hadn't had the chance to see it that day with Keith. Now she thought it was interesting, but utterly disturbing. Even in the city night's gloom, there were so many things different, or just plain wrong, about the alien now leaning his entire weight on her shoulders.
"Oh, my God, I'm touching an alien" she thought and almost let out a nervous giggle as they stumbled together towards her house's front door, praying nobody saw them from a window.