Dusty air fills my lungs, I crouch, creep like a bug through the old air ducts. I hear him speak the tension in his voice makes my skin bubble. I slowly move through the duct, avoiding the spider webs. I get startled by a large spider that has a spiny back and I quicken my pace. “…them to United States,” says Amit. I catch that he is planning on moving his business to somewhere in the United States. I crawl and hunch through the many turns of the air ducts. I come to the opening in the wall that must have been made for a repair at some point. I often explore the house and the air duct is my most recent finding. I look both ways to make sure no one is coming and I put both of my legs through and slide my body out. I correct my posture and walk to the living quarters. It was only a few doors down. It marked with a sign of some character lying in a bed. I quicken my pace once I enter the quarters and I try to find Anita. Anita is my mentor. She has a soft tan face, her eyes large and brown. They match nicely with her long black hair. I often find myself admiring her for her ability to move around so gracefully. She has been tasked to train me in the art of pleasure. I remember that she told me earlier that she would be organizing the kitchen today and that she would need my help. I was bought at a young age and have grown up in the red light district in Mumbai India. I am now thirteen and I’ve just recently been visited by the demon god Virtra. When the red ran I wasn’t scared because Anita had warned me of what was to come. I am now a woman and I was assigned a mentor, Anita, and I am one step closer to becoming one of the girls... I will devote my life to whoever pays for my services. I in turn will have a place to live and food to eat. Anita tells me that I must find a way to get out and have a life for myself. I always keep my eyes open for an opportunity to escape for good. I run up to Anita, “Anita! Anita!” I say. “I have something to tell you, it’s important.” She puts her finger in the air as she lights a candle on the dresser. I plop down on the floor and wait patiently on the floor with my legs crossed holding my Dashavatara necklace in my hands. Dashavatara is my god of choice -- preservation. He protects me from all the bad gods and will allow me to grow into a beautiful young woman. The necklace was given to by my mother as I was being handed over. I remember the tears in her eyes as she was looking for something to give me. That is when she grabbed her neck and pulled the necklace off. The men who had ahold of me started to pull me away as she held her hands out as far as she could and I grabbed the shiny charmed necklace. That was the last day I saw her. She was forced to sell me for financial reasons. A girl is not worth as much as a boy, but a boy is better to have because they can make money for the family. “Stop playing with your necklace Zahara, you will break it!” she scolds me. “Sorry.” I say with my head down, staring at the ground. “Zahara, I just don’t want you to break your only possession. What has happened?” “I was in the air duct” “Why?” She quickly responds with her hands on her hips. “I was just exploring, I swear,” I say,”but I overheard Amit talking to someone about moving the brothel to the United States.” “United States?” she asks. “That’s far away,” she says this with little concern. I express my interest in the subject to Anita, but she doesn’t know much more and assures me that everything will be fine. I get up. “Zahara, today I need you to help clean the kitchen.” I start walking to my chambers. Anita knows I will do what I’m supposed to, but she also knows that I hate cleaning. I put on my cleaning cloths and stare at the wooden floorboards with intent, hoping a hole will appear and I could pass through into a better place. I realized I’ve been staring for quite some time so I head to the kitchen to start my chores. After making sure that everything was clean I turned off the kitchen lights and head to my bunk. I enter the room on my toes. Shamita, one of my roommates was snoring away in her bed. I never really talk to any of the girls because Anita told me that she is the only person I need to learn anything from. On occasion I say hello, but Shamita never responds. I suspect she just has nothing nice to say. I lie in my bunk and stare at the bunk in front of me. I rub my toes together to warm them. I roll over on my stomach and sigh with relief that another day is done. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “You, you, and you go wait in the lobby,” says one of Amit’s guards, pointing to each one of us like animals. I scramble to my feet and grab my light jacket. I started to go for my shoes when the guard to us to leave now and grabbed me and hustled me out the door. I followed the other girls down the stairs to the lobby where our customers come in. The Gods must be watching because there are no customers. All the leather chairs were empty. All I could hear was the silence and whimpers from the other girls. I get the chills when I see the fear in the other girl’s eyes. They are scared tigers, with fur on edge. We gather in as a group in the middle of the room. There looks to be about thirty of us. No one dares say a word. We all stand in silence in whatever cloths we had on when we awoke. I hear footsteps coming. Through the doorway come two men with guns wrapped around their shoulders. They are faceless; slaves to the demon gods. I clench my necklace in my hands. I feel the sharp sides pierce my skin – the gods telling me to stay calm. Three more men enter and then Amit. “Alright, you girls are going on a special trip,” he says, pacing back and forth in front of us with a slight grin that complements his fancy attire well. “You two go get the ropes and you go get the truck and back it to the door,” he commands the other men. Amit walks over to me and seems to stares into my eyes. I cannot look away. I’m curious. I want to know what makes him tick. I wonder why he is having us gather and where he is taking us and why. I want to understand why he forces us to do the work we do. All the questions I have thought of since I got here float to the top of my mind. I have so many. “Ah,” he grunts. “Look what we have here, a young pretty one.” He strokes my hair softly and puts some of my hair behind my left ear. It gives me the shivers and I let a quick whimper out. “Shhhh, don’t be scared precious. I won’t be hurting you. You are going to America,” he says with delight. “Will I ever come back?” All the other women instantly look at me with deep fear in their eyes. Talking is not allowed but I need to know, I want to know my fate. “She speaks! I know you know the rules, but I’m glad you asked. Where you are going is where you will live the rest of your days; far away from here.” He says with a slight smile. “Life as you know it will change. You are property not a person. Now keep your mouth shut or I will have you punished.” My heart races, I close my eyes. My heart stops for a second and I feel a slight pressure released from my bladder. I keep my posture and my composure as warm liquid runs down my leg. I start recall the things I will miss about India. I will miss Anita most as she will not be coming with us. She is not a part of this huddle. She is my only friend and a mother to me. We were not blessed by the gods for a lovely life, but we have been given our lives. I have made the most of my time here in the Red District. The most a girl could. Tears start to form in my eyes and I quickly bring my hand to my eye and wipe it away. I catch with my eye movement in the dark doorway behind the Amit. It’s Anita and she is looking me in the eyes. She looks scared and the worry on her face causes me to panic. I will never see her and I might never see India again. I can’t breathe. The air feels thin. I smell the fear of the women around me in the form of ammonia. I hear whimpers, footsteps, yelling. I feel sleepy, the world beings to turn black from the outside in. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I take a gasp of air. The cool air rushes in after the long ride in the back of this truck. It has been a hot and sticky ride and many of us have never ridden in a vehicle before. Some of us got dizzy and sick. The smell is a mixture of feces and vomit. I must have fainted. I feel disoriented and the back of my head hurts. I touch the bump and push on it a little and it stings. I grasp my neck for my necklace but it is missing. I panic. I feel my eyes widen and my heart race. “Out, out, now,” say a man pointing to the sun light. I search frantically on all fours for my necklace; my hands and knees sloshing in the focuses and vomit. My stomach stirs inside like the summer monsoons. The gods are punishing me for speaking when I knew I should not have. I am the last one in the truck. “Come on you,” he said with a look of no concern for what I’m doing. “We do not have all day.” I keep looking sliding my hands through the mess as quickly as I could; I felt for anything -- like the necklace. “Don’t make me come in there and get you girl. You won’t like it.” Sliding my hand in the corner of the bed of the truck I felt it. Excitement took over me in such a dismal situation. I clutch the necklace in my hands and run for the sunlight. I take in the fresh air. The man puts his hands around my arm and pulls me to the others. Our spirits lift as the sun shined our faces. Some of the women are still a bit dizzy, but most of us are curious of the place they have brought us. There are boats bigger than any I have ever seen and tall towers that were lifting things. Huge rectangle boxes are stacked miles behind us. One of the men with guns is talking to another man. I panic inside that I have no friends to share information with. I looked at all the girls and try to find someone I know. Two were bed mates. I remember one time when Anita told me to find a way out with her soft eyes looking me in the face. She knew the life that she was training me for was not a good one, but it was her job. It was all she knew. She could only offer me small bits of advice about life. Since I had met her she had always encouraged me to keep my eyes open for a way to live a normal life, but not to do anything that was so risky that it would get me killed. The two men are still talking. The other three are bringing pails of water and stacking them. They put two near us. “Drink up,” one of them says, pointing to the pails in front of us. We clamor to them. Two pails are hardly enough for everyone after the exhausting truck ride. “Here are some mangos,” One of the men says dropping a box on the ground. “We get one each,” one of the others says. She starts handing them out. “Thank you.” It was Shamita one of my roommates. I was surprised she spoke. I grasped my hands around the orange-ish green mango and I stood by her and ate my barely ripe mango; she continues to hand them out to the rest of the women. “Do you know what’s going on?” I ask. “We are being shipped to our job,” giving me information I already knew. “No, I mean what are we waiting for?” “We are waiting to be put into one of these containers and shipped.” “Will they go with us?” “No, they will lock us in the container and some other men will take us out.” I step back from her and start looking around for an escape. I see fence, rocks, a shed, and four guards. I quickly begin to put things together. One guy had disappeared with a fancy one. Some of the women start to sit on the dirt and close their eyes. I’m not like them. I’m not going to sit here and wait for them to take me from my home. They have stolen my childhood, but my womanhood is going to be free. I must make it free. “I must be free.” I say under my breath. “No, you must keep quiet,” says Shamita. “You must not cause waves or you will never be free. You must have patience. The gods will let us know.” I analyze my situation; have nothing to fight with and no shoes to run with. I throw myself into a full on panic and my heart begins to race once again. I can’t stand the fear around me. I can’t stand not knowing what is going on. I am helpless. My vision is starts to blur. Darkness starts to creep in from the corners of my eye sight again. The world goes black. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The clucks of chickens wake me and I sit up and look around. Hay dust fills the air. Most of the women are sleeping, but I see Shamita sitting in the corner, she must be thinking about leaving. I get up slowly and walk over to her, trying not to step on any of the other girls. “Hey, why are you staring at the door?” I ask, whispering so that the others do not wake. “I’m keeping guard.” “Of what?” “Everyone.” “How are you going to protect them?” “I can’t,” She replies, still looking at the door. She hasn’t even blinked. “Then how are you guarding them?” “Little girl...” “Zahara,” I interject. “Zahara, neither you nor I can protect us, but the gods will. In order for the gods to have a better view of what is going on, they need to have eyes to see with,” she explains with her eyes on me. “Oh, I did not think of it that way.” “Why do you wear that necklace?” she asks. “It was given to me as a young girl and I have adopted this as my god of choice.” “See, you too are eyes for the gods, but for a specific god.” I nod and sit down next to her. She is the closest thing to a friend I have. “Shamita, why have you never spoken to me before all of this?” After a moment she says nothing. “Do you have any family?” She says nothing once again and I start to lose faith in her as a friend. “Baby girl, I did not speak because it was not my turn to speak. Our paths were not yet ready to cross,” she explains. “Now we are here together and your past is letting go. We are moving in the future. There may be little we can do about our situation, but I encourage you to never lose hope. Do not bind yourself to the wills of these men. Live freely inside. As a friend I tell you this. Now let’s get back to guarding.” I just stare at her for a minute and accept what she said. I look away and my eyes start to get heavy again. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Wake up,” the man shouts forcing open the door, creating ringing noise in my ear. We all jump up from our sleep and start scrambling to our feet. The men keep yelling at us and telling us to move faster. We file out the door and are told to run down this road. Many of us do not have shoes and the road is stone. The sharp rocks penetrate our flesh on the bottom of our feet. The only thing that keeps my mind off the pain is the extraordinarily large moon in the sky. I imagine eating it for breakfast; cutting myself one large slice. I am quickly brought back to reality when I step on a large stone that sticks into the bottom of my foot. The pain stops me as I lift my foot to see if I can get it out. “Go,” the man yelled with his gun pointed at me. I hope into a run again and catch up with the others. The rock is still in my foot, the pain starts to numb the area and I continue down the road. They bring us to a big rectangle box. It was one like all the others around. It was hollow inside; empty and dark. The men are putting covered pales into the back and soon after they start yelling at us to go into the box. I look at the moon again. I think of all the times I’ve looked at the moon. Looking at this moon, this night, it is different. It’s encouraging. The orange glow it gives off speaks to me, lifts me --inspires me. I look back at the box and see Shamita walk inside; the darkness takes her. I can no longer see her tan skin and dark eyes guarding us. Shamita advice earlier plays in my head. I can’t do this, I can’t leave my home. I want my life, I want to be free. I jolt out of line and run for the unguarded space to the right of the container. “Hey, get back here, you little slut” one of the men yells and starts to chase me. I dart over a broken fence into another road. This one is pavement. I start to sprint to a lighted building down the road. The man is close behind me, but I start to pull away as he gets tired. The darkness engulfs me. I take cover behind a crate. I gaze into the sky as the moon slips behind some clouds. With the added darkness I creep like I did in the air ducts toward the building. “Gotchya,” says the man as he wraps his hands around my waist. “Trouble isn’t ya’ girl. Where you going you won’t be,” he said chuckling. He brings me back to the box. None of the other women are in sight. I see the black opening. The man continues to walk closer. “Eh, I caught her up by the foreman’s office. She was gonna’ tell the boss about our gig” he says to the other men when they ask where he found me; the other men chuckle. “Throw her in there, would ya’?” one of the guys says. “I’m working on it.” He brings me close to the box and starts to set me down in the opening. I see the eyes of my fellow girls. Open wide, looking at me. The man pushes me in and the other two shut two big doors in front of my eyes. One of the women coughs and it echoes in my ears. I check for my necklace, but I grab nothing. “I lost my necklace,” I shout. “It was my only thing I owned.” “You have lost nothing; the gods are looking down on you. You have courage and bravery that will carry you through life,” says a voice from the dark corner. “Keep your memory of your necklace, but never forget that you are the eyes of your gods” It sounds like Shamita, but I’m unsure. I crouch on the ground and search in the darkness on the ground for my necklace, but I fear that it was lost during my attempt of freedom. I give up looking after some time and I find against a wall and I close my eyes. A thousand flowers, orange, blue, and green wave to me-- I follow a dirt path. The world is slowly moving. Turtles bathing on logs in the sun. Tigers searching for pray. All crawling, wandering. Women with black hair stands at a doorway. The doorway is dark. She stands as the only light. I feel forced to accompany her. She places a hand on my shoulder. A wild baboon races out of the jungle in front of us. It transforms into a woman. She is quiet, she is kind. She is only upset of the darkness behind us. She grabs my hand and tugs me away from the black haired women. I become a rope and they play tug-of-war with my arms. The baboon women stops and looks the black haired one in the face and says “The gods thank you, they thank you for doing all you can, but this little one belongs to me now. Let go, let go of the past and move on with the future.” The black haired women’s grasp begins to loosen the baboon has made peace. “Where are we going?” I ask with innocents. “We are going to see Dashavatara; the gods have asked for you,” replies the baboon women. “Preservation,” I gasp.
Copyright Clayton L. Munger III 2014