22nd chapter

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Her head was throbbing from all the contradictory information she was receiving. Nora has been struggling for days, reading all the regulations and experiences of other people, and could not say that she was any smarter than she was before. Quite simply, none of it made any sense, no rhyme or reason to any of the information she had found. She kept running around in circles, and that made her progressively more frustrated. Nora was getting more irritable and did not have the patience for anything. When she went crazy over Jana spilling crayons out of a plastic bucket, a frightened look on her daughter's face made her take a step back. What is the matter with me? What have I turned into? Is this what our life is going to be like? Me raving at my child because she's a child? Neither she nor I was to blame for this situation, nor can we do anything about it.

The tears ran down Nora's cheeks as she was picking up the crayons from the floor. In an attempt to make a better life for them, she was creating a toxic atmosphere all around them. She was no longer devoted to Jana, she was absent-minded, nervous, frustrated because none of the officials behind those counters had any information, because all of this was taking so long. She was sad because her own country was preventing her from turning her idea into reality. She was tired of everything. When Nora picked up the last crayon, Jana had already forgotten about Nora's outburst and was watching a cartoon on the TV. Nora went to some drawer and dug through it until she pulled out a small envelope with green flowers on it. It was a gift certificate for a massage that Monika had gifted her for her birthday, and that has since been collecting dust at the bottom of a kitchen drawer that Nora used for all kinds of different random things. That's exactly what I need to pull myself together, she thought.

- Stop getting on my nerves! It's not my first time babysitting her. If anything happens, I'll call you. Now go, it's about time you relaxed a bit. You are making all of us nervous.

Monika literally pushed Nora out the door and slammed it in her face.

Nora took a long way to the parlor, enjoying the fresh air and breathing slowly and deeply. She felt as if she was turning into an old spinster frustrated with her life. She was not going to allow the system to defeat her again, to steal her dignity and the right to the life she had imagined for herself and Jana. If she had learned anything by now, it was how not to give up.

The massage parlor was beautifully peaceful. All the lights were dimmed, there were tealights on the dressers, and the smell in the air was sweet and relaxing. A friendly girl, younger than Nora, led her into a completely dark room, and in it, a tune that mimicked the sound of the sea, birds, and crickets was playing in the background. Nora lay down on a table in the middle of the room and decided she would try to completely clear her head. This was her time. One whole hour just for her. She could hear the girl pouring some oil on her hands before she started gently massaging Nora's back in circular motions, putting pressure at all the right spots. Nora felt like she was on cloud nine.

An hour later, she hurried home. How could she be so silly and forget about Snježana giving her Ana's number? She remembered it about halfway through the massage, probably because her mind was so clear and free to wander around. She had to call her as soon as possible and arrange a meeting. Nora obviously did not know what the hell she was doing; she needed someone experienced, someone who could specifically tell her where to start, and what to pay attention to. All the wasted days and weeks trying to figure it out on her own, and all the while, she had someone to reach out to, someone who had gone through a similar situation. I will never again dare to think that massages, or any self-care services, are a waste of money, she thought with a smile, much more relaxed and fulfilled.

Nora sat back in a red think armchair in a vintage coffee shop. She arrived early because she was too excited to wait at home. She ordered a large cup of hot chocolate because nothing could go wrong if you had a double dose of that liquid gold within reach. The table Nora was sitting at was antique with tiny engravings. Nora traced the shape of a rose with thorns with her finger.

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