You know the kind of girl I’m talking about. She looks like life chewed her up and spit her back out.
You can see it in her eyes if you could even see her eyes. Her loose, tangled hair covers most of her face, and she’s always staring at her feet. You can see it in her hunched shoulders, hear it in her mumbling voice. She’s both desperate and afraid to be heard, hating herself for everything she says and everything she doesn’t say.
She doesn’t live in my building, but I see her almost every day when she visits her boyfriend in the apartment next door. I’ve said hello to her a few times — she always flinches when I talk to her. The first thing out of her mouth is inevitably an apology — sorry for being in my way, or for being here too often, or for taking up one of the dozen empty parking spots. I asked her name once, but she said it didn’t matter.
“Why not? What am I supposed to say when I see you?” I asked.
“Nothing. You don’t need to. I’m nobody.”
“Well my name is —”
But she just kept walking. Head leaning against my neighbor’s door, hands in her pockets, looking like an ostrich trying to disappear into the sand.
“Bye nobody!” I chimed as the door opened to let her in.
I couldn’t be sure under the hair, but I think she almost smiled.
“Bye somebody,” she murmured, disappearing into the doorway.
My neighbor Jeff poked his head out — a scrawny fellow with a soul patch and a beanie which seemed permanently fixed to his head. He nodded sharply at me like a fighter paying insincere respect to his opponent, slamming the door.
I liked watching Nobody from my balcony when she was parking her car. I liked the fluid grace of her movements which transformed regular motions like opening doors and stepping over obstacles into a choreographed dance. I must not have been the only one to notice either because there always seemed to be someone hitting on her whenever I saw her. Not the charming kind either — fat oafs jumping out of their car like they were waiting for her, or pushy street rats backing her up against the building. I thought she was a prostitute at first, but she always rebuffed them so vehemently that I figured that wasn’t the case.
Often at night, I’d see her leaning on the railing of my neighbor’s balcony, smoking a joint and staring off into space. I got the feeling that she was staring into a world that only she could see, but looking at her face, I also got the feeling that it wasn’t a very pretty world. I wish I could see it too. Sometimes I’d go out onto my own balcony and try to make an excuse for conversation, but she’d invariably duck back inside the moment she saw me. If I was lucky and she seemed to be in good spirits, I’d hear a “Bye somebody” before she went. A stupid joke, but it always made me smile.
She couldn’t have been happy, but I suppose it wasn’t any of my business. I’d hear her boyfriend yelling at her through the walls sometimes, although I never heard her say anything back. I figured that she was her own person with her own choices to make, and if she was being really mistreated, then she wouldn’t keep coming back. It’s not like I had proof that she was being abused or anything — and what I did guess, I quickly dismissed as petty jealousy, resolving not to interfere with her life.
That resolution lasted for about two months, but it ended last night. It was after dark and I was getting home late when I spotted Nobody pressed up against my building. Two men in leather jackets were several inches too close for innocent conversation, practically pressing themselves on her while she squirmed to get away. I honked my car horn at them, and one looked over his shoulder. Fat stupid face, mouth hanging part way open, he stared at me for a few seconds before turning back to her.
“I got to go,” I heard her say. “Somebody is waiting for me.”
I honked again. Fat-face turned to walk over to my car. “Cool it, asshole,” he shouted. “This target only has 11 points left anyway. Get your own damn girl.”
I rolled down my window. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You new or something?” he asked, fishing out his phone. He showed me the screen which depicted a GPS map of my neighborhood. Scattered throughout were little targets, each with a name and a life-bar like a video game character has. The target against my building was named ‘Cillia’ with 11/100 life remaining.
“I don’t know what the fuck that is, but I’m not playing,” I told him.
He laughed. More like a guffaw really — deep and guttural without the slightest hint of mirth. “You’re after that piece of shit and you’re not even getting points? Hey Mark — he actually wants this bitch.”
The other guy — presumably Mark — still had the girl against the wall. He made a half-lunge at her as she wriggled free, but it was just to scare her. She looked like she was about to run toward my car, but seeing the fat one over by me, she sprinted to her own vehicle instead. We all watched as she tore out of the parking lot, the biggest smile I’d ever seen plastered across her face.
“Don’t waste your time. Somebody already broke her.” Fat-face slammed my car with the palm of his hand as he turned to leave. “Let’s go, Mark. There’s two more of them on this street.”
I was so relieved to see them go that I didn’t try to ask more questions. Nobody had a name. It was Cillia. And something was tracking her location and broadcasting it out to these creeps. It didn’t feel like I was meddling in someone else’s business anymore. I couldn’t just play dumb and let her sort this out for herself.
A few minutes later and I was hammering on my neighbor’s apartment. “Hey Jeff, you in there?”
“Bug off,” came the muffled reply.
“It’s about the game you’re playing with Cillia.” It seemed pretty vague to me, but if he was involved then he’d know what I was talking about.
Loud shuffling like someone crossing the room in a hurry and the door opened a moment later. He was wearing nothing but his boxers and his beanie, skinny body blocking the door.
“Yeah, what about the game?” he asked. I hesitated, unsure what to say next. He must have misread my silence because his face became animated and hopeful. “Hey did I win the prize or something?”
I nodded stiffly. Jeff threw the door open to welcome me in, practically dancing with excitement. “Holy shit I knew it! I’ve been on the leader-board for weeks — it was only a matter of time. Seriously competitive shit, you know? I’ve got everything ready for you, come on in.” He rushed to a cabinet under the sink and began hauling out cardboard boxes. I still didn’t know what the hell was going on though, so I had to play along to get more answers.
“How many points are you at now?” I asked.
“723,” without hesitation. “19 separate targets, although I’ve been getting most of the points from Cillia, as you know.” He plopped two cardboard boxes on the coffee table beside me, flaying them open for inspection. The greasy smell of stale sex was nauseating. “This one’s got all the condoms in it,” he said. Hundreds of them — all used — neatly tied off into little balloons. “Then this one has all the recordings.”
“723 is a lot,” I said, pretending to be impressed. “Tell me how you were keeping score.”
He looked suspicious for a moment, but it passed. If my question raised any red flags, then he was so pleased with himself that he didn’t dwell on it. “It’s legit, I swear. I used the ‘Break Her’ rulebook and everything. 10 points for humiliating her. 15 points for taking a personal item or making a big decision for her. 25 for unwanted sex or something physical. Then I’ve got a bunch of the small ones I’ve been building up — the daily criticisms, isolating her from friends and family, that sort of thing. What’s the prize going to be?”
“Hold on a minute, I got to ask all the questions first. Standard procedure, you know.”
“How come you never told me you worked for ‘Break Her’? You must have known that I played,” Jeff asked. Again the suspicion, this time lingering on his face.
I shrugged, making notes on my phone as though I was dutifully recording his answers. “What do you think the purpose of the game was? And how did you get into it?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You just got to break her. I started playing when my buddy got dumped by his ex. He paid to have her registered in the system, and I thought it would be fun to join so I could start harassing her. At first, it was just to support my buddy, but it was pretty helpful seeing where all the vulnerable chicks were. Turned out I was pretty good at it, so I decided to try and get enough points to win the prize.”
“Uh huh.” I typed as he talked. My fingers were literally shaking. “And Cillia? Did you ever love her?”
He laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound. A pause, then: “Oh, are you serious? Come on, man. It’s just a game. So what’s the deal? Am I getting the prize today or not?”
I didn’t look up from my phone. I was so disgusted that I couldn’t even look at him. The silence was excruciating.
“Is this legal?” I breathed. Silence again, as both of us digested what I said. My cover was blown.
“You lying piece of shit,” he grunted, protectively ripping his boxes away from me. “You trying to steal my points or something?”
He was on me before I even realized what was happening. Bony arms wrapped around me, the momentum flinging me to the ground. He got a good hit to my jaw before I flipped him on his back. I was bigger and stronger than him, but he twisted under me like a feral animal.
“She’s mine! You don’t know how much work I put into that bitch!” he roared. I punched him to shut him up. He spit blood at me, and I hit him again. I never thought it would feel so good to hurt someone, but now that I started, I couldn’t stop myself. Next, I knew my hands were so soaked in blood that it ran between my knuckles like rivers. Jeff wasn’t moving. And I was okay with that.
Jeff’s phone beeped where it lay on the ground. Somehow the weight of what I’d just done didn’t hit until I heard it. It beeped again, and I lifted it to see what was going on.
It was a notification from ‘Break Her.’ I opened the app, and saw a short questionnaire. Humiliation, abuse, control — a daily checklist for him to go through to get his points. What the hell did I get myself involved in? And who was I to think I could make any difference when a whole world full of terrible people were trying to destroy her?
At the bottom of the form, it asked: ‘Did you see her smile today?’ Numb and overwhelmed, I clicked yes. Immediately Cillia’s life-bar jumped a point, up to 12/100.
Well, that’s some difference at least. Not much, but it’s a start.