Dahlia proudly held the envelope in her hands, feeling the folded paper underneath her fingertips. A then she drew it out, led by turmoil of emotions, as if she still didn’t believe the clearly written words it carried.
It’s so dramatic to receive a letter! As if she were in a book, or somewhere in time when everything was slow and uncertain, and the answers had to be waited for. She would’ve been excited even if she’d received the answer electronically, but it seemed more fateful to open the white envelope quickly but with shaky hands, to tear it impatiently but wanting to postpone the ultimate truth. Because what if the answer was unpleasant?
She had already read the letter several times, but each time she drew it out of its paper home she felt uneasy. And now she once again made sure that everything she dreamed of had become reality. She got the promotion she’d always wanted! What more could she ask for?!
Everything happened just two days before her high school reunion. It took a lot of effort for the reunion to be organized and it even seemed for a while that former classmates would not see each other again. There were always those who disagreed with all of the suggestions, and Dahlia noticed that they sometimes did it only to spite people they didn’t like. The long ago started feuds were still alive in those vile minds, even though they probably didn’t even remember what caused them. That was one of the reasons why Dahlia didn’t even want to see her classmates again. Most of them never paid any attention to her. They didn’t want to get to know her, so she never tried to get to know them. And those were the good ones. There were also those who didn’t respond to her standoffishness with disregard. Some found it funny…
But it was different now. She became a somebody, and as she’d heard (and it’s so easy to find out anything about anyone today), those most conceited and mean weren’t even close to her now. She would show up with her head held up high and the painful past she had to share with them would finally disperse.
Lucius was shocked. Is it possible that she’s asking him to do something like that? He was looking into the eyes of Victoria Preaterita, his beautiful, but cruel mistress.
“Do I really have to…?” he stammered.
“Lucius”, Victoria smiled. “Don’t you remember I saved you once?”
“Of course I remember”, Lucius didn’t want to disappoint or offend his mistress with his reluctance.
“And considering you’re just a slave, aren’t you doing quite well here? Don’t you enjoy the privileges other slaves can’t even dream of? Thanks to me, you have a lot more then destiny intended for you.”
“You are right”, Lucius looked at the floor in shame.
“That’s why now, when I’m asking you to do me a single favour, I expect you to say yes, no questions asked”, Victoria was still smiling, which made Lucius feel more at ease.
“I’ll do it, if it’s really necessary…”
“Kill, Lucius, kill. There’s no other way.”
Dahlia was observing all the people she used to spend most of her time with, and she couldn’t make herself feel any connection or closeness. But she didn’t feel fear now, when she knew she could run away as soon as she wanted to. She walked among them as a successful woman who was nothing like the girl they could insult and humiliate.
And then, Aldo approached her, almost completely unchanged. His face was just a little bit sharper and more serious than in high school. As though she was dragged back in time, she felt herself tremble.
“Dahlia! I’ve never seen you after the graduation”, he greeted her cheerfully.
“Yes, that’s true…” Dahlia looked him straight into the eyes, insecure but determined not to look away and run off.
“You haven’t changed a lot. And if you did, I have to say it’s for the better”, he was looking at her without shame, as if they were old friends and he never did her wrong.
“I’ve always known what I wanted, and it came true. Maybe that’s why I look different”, she replied with a smile.
“That’s great!” he said. “When I think about it, you do look much more confident. That’s nice to see. Opposed to the princess over there…”
Aldo looked at the once most beautiful girl in the school. Patricia wasn’t as attractive now. She seemed messy and tired, and the saddest part was that she lost all of her assertiveness. Dahlia had overheard somewhere that Patricia had gotten married only a few months after she had finished high school, and the marriage had ended badly. Dahlia didn’t know exactly what happened, but she knew that Patricia takes care of her son alone, changing one uninviting job after the other.
“You shouldn’t be laughing at someone’s misfortune”, frowned Dahlia, and Aldo noticed that her words alluded to an old, unresolved injustice.
“That’s nice of you. Defending her like that, even though it was her who started… I’m not trying justify myself, I’m equally guilty”, Aldo seemed sincere, but Dahlia knew how well he can play a fitting role.
One day, Aldo and several people he hung out with decided to play a little trick on Dahlia. Even though she didn’t believe him in the beginning, he managed to persuade her that he liked her and that he wanted to meet her alone, far away from their caustic classmates. Dahlia liked Aldo, but she couldn’t even admit it to herself. He was one of them, the people who seemed to be from a completely different universe. Maybe that was the reason she fell se easily into the trap. She waited and waited… And then he finally showed up. But not alone.
“She’s so stupid!” laughed Patricia. “Did you really think someone would ever even look at you?”
An old joke, seen so many times before, and she fell for it. Patricia was right, she was stupid.
“I’m sorry, what we did was awful”, Aldo’s apology snapped Dahlia from her thoughts.
“It was a long time ago”, she smiled, but she felt the old wounds awaken and make her shiver from the cold feeling of dread.
“We should meet once”, he said with ease. “Perhaps even tonight.”
He had the same boyish smile as before.
Lucius still couldn’t come to terms with what was asked of him. He’d never refused to do something for Victoria. He owed her too much. When he first saw her, he was so scared and weak, and then she changed everything.
Lucius was a child of an ordinary man who was driven away to the battlefield. He didn’t know much about his father, he only remembered him as a tired, quiet man who looked much older than he really was. Lucius didn’t even know the name of the land he lived in before the Roman soldiers enslaved him and sold him to an aristocratic family. Shortly afterwards, he was taken to a square to be sold again. The family didn’t need him. Blinded by the sun, he couldn’t even discern the faces of the people around him. In the painfully zealous sunlight, he saw his father’s figure, hunched and broken. He couldn’t save his himself, and he couldn’t save his son.
But there was a silver lining for Lucius. He was bought by Julius, a proud man with upright posture and head held up high – Victoria Praeterita’s husband. Victoria loved the boy as soon as she saw him, and she accepted him as if her own. She and Julius had two sons, both younger than Julius, but already rather separated from their mother. They had to become like their father, sleek and powerful, and they couldn’t spend their time in their mother’s arms. Victoria probably found their replacement in Lucius. He didn’t mind. He got the affection, and a little bit of love, and that was more than he could ask for.
“What’s your name?” Victoria asked him, and he just kept looking at her, confused. Slaves didn’t have names. “Well, you need a name. How did your father call you?”
Lucius couldn’t remember his father calling him. He was ashamed that he couldn’t answer the genteel lady’s questions.
“You are the light of my life, and I shall give you a name. Lucius. My bright Lucius”, Victoria smiled at her own wit.
And that was how a slave became a personal servant to his mistress, and thus received many privileges. If Victoria wanted him to kill someone, could he refuse? Absolutely not. She knows what she’s doing, and he should never doubt her.
The street was neither empty nor cold, summer was in full swing and everybody saw the evening hours as the opportunity to finally leave the safety of their air-conditioned homes. Still, Dahlia was shaking.
She was meeting Aldo. She had about an hour to gather her thoughts about what happened that afternoon. He insisted they meet the same evening. But why? What changed?
Dahlia should believe his honesty. More than anything, she wanted to be sure that she made the impression of a changed person, a more successful and interesting one. Wasn’t that who she was now? Better, stronger, more attractive?
The feelings she thought were long forgotten started to haunt her again. Disappointment and pain. Aldo’s laughter. Patricia’s mockery.
What if they were doing it again? What if this is just another cruel game? She wasn’t vain enough to believe in Aldo’s compliments. She wasn’t sure she’d truly changed. And she didn’t want to suffer again, to be back in her old skin, this time even more insecure, completely broken. Can a person really change? And, more importantly, can a person ever escape the ailments from the past?
Dahlia didn’t have the courage to answer that question, not yet. She turned around and ran back home. She felt the tears well in her eyes. She threw her bag on the floor and crushed on the couch. And then she saw him.
First, she only saw the dusty sandals and dirty feet. And then, she raised her eyes to see an armed man dressed in a Roman tunic.
Lucius came to carry out his task and without a second though he drew a knife on his victim.