My blindfold was particularly itchy today. I wiggled my nose, trying to dispel some of the discomfort, but nothing seemed to help, I couldn’t reach up and scratch it because my hands were bound and it infuriated me. It was colder this time of year, and Gavin gave us each a thin pair of shoes so our toes wouldn’t freeze, “You’re no use with broken toes. If someone wants you, I won’t be the one to carry you to your new car if you can’t walk.” We didn’t care, we’d actually prefer that he didn’t touch us at all. We all sat in lines on the floor of the huge warehouse in alphabetical order by first name. Since he wouldn’t turn the heat above forty, which in such a space was really nothing we were forced to huddle together.
He must have just opened shop, the smell of crusty old man wafted into my nose and although I smelled it every day, I wanted to vomit. We knew buyers by smell because we weren’t allowed to look at them, the old men smelled the worst. Most of them had been out drinking all night (or since they were rich, a few days). Sometimes they smelled worse than us. The younger men still smelled of alcohol, but also of every type of overwhelming cologne you could think of, in suffocating amounts. “Mute, you say?” A middle aged man spoke to Gavin regarding the sign around my neck that described me. “Are you sure she’s not deaf?”
My ears perked up infinitesimally as they conversed, “If she’s not deaf, she is a very talented lip reader.” So Gavin really didn’t know, good. The man wasn’t interested in me, just my lack of speech. He moved on down the line to look at the other girls. I curled up next to Emily and just closed my eyes. Five minutes later a man walked by, and the way he smelled confused me. He didn’t smell like beer, and his cologne wasn’t overpowering, it was actually quite pleasant. There was a man with him that smelled a little stronger, but it still wasn’t bad.
“Do you smell them?” Emily whispered. I nodded against her shoulder. Their footsteps stopped, and then backtracked to right in front of us.
“Father, I still don’t see why this is necessary.” The younger, sweeter smelling one complained, “I don’t want one. After what Job did to Breanna, I’m entirely put off of the idea.” They still stood in front of Emily and I.
The older man spoke, “Andrew, you have to get one. You know what your uncle did to his own son when he refused his own…company. You don’t even have to use her, hell, befriend her for all I care. You still have to get one. What about her? She has very pretty blonde hair.” They were talking about Emily.
For a moment, I felt a little bit of hope for Emily, she might actually get to be with nice people, or at least people that wouldn’t rape her every day. “She is beautiful, too beautiful. You know Job’s attracted to blondes. She wouldn’t be safe. Maybe this one? She has pretty black hair, and she’s…mute? Could you tell if she was deaf, father?”
The father called Gavin over, and they spoke briefly about my muteness. “Would you mind if we examined her privately?” The older man spoke. I squeezed my eyes shut in irritation, I hated this part. It was humiliating. Every potential buyer was allowed, if he wished to examine the “goods” somewhere slightly less public.
“Of course,” Gavin spoke, “Let me just…” he kneeled down and pulled my blindfold off, ripping out a few strands of my hair. “They…want…to…look…at…youuuu…” He said slowly, like he was talking to a mentally challenged child. I almost laughed at how ridiculous he looked, but I remained stoic and nodded. Gavin pulled me to my feet. I followed the three into a curtained off dressing room-type area. The difference was there was a medical table with stirrups so they could check our virginal status. “Well, I’ll leave you to it.”
The older man gently set me up on the medical table with ease. I pulled my knees up to my chest, hoping they would just believe that my file says I’m a virgin, it was true, after all. “I’m going to look at your ears, okay?” He said, looking directly into my eyes.
I signed “OK”.
The man named Andrew sucked in a breath, “She signs, she must be deaf.”
“Not necessarily. She might have grown up with deaf parents, she could have been taught sign language in school and become a selective mute. She might have had her tongue cut out.” He turned my head gently and clicked a light in my ear, I jumped when he snapped his fingers in my ear. “She’s not deaf.” Andrew nodded, and the man turned my head back to facing the front.
“She has beautiful eyes.” Andrew spoke, I blushed, “Why don’t you speak?”
I focused on the man, not answering his question. “Open your mouth.” I did so only slightly and he stuck his finger in my mouth.
On reflex I bit his finger, we all did. His reflex was a little harder, he slapped me across the face. “Dad!” Andrew admonished. I stayed staring at the ground. Andrew took my face between his hands and gently rubbed where he’d hit me. I still didn’t look up, as cruel as Gavin had been, besides teaching us what a beating was like, he never hit us, I wasn’t used to it. “Jesus Dad, you left a hand print. You okay?” He forced me to meet his eyes. I signed OK again, forcing away the tears welling in my eyes.
“Sorry son, it was a reflex. She’ll be fine.”
He gave his father a look, “That doesn’t make it right. She’s the one I want.” Gavin suddenly appeared in the little tent. “Oh, good. Gavin, this is the girl I want.”
Gavin nodded with what was supposed to be a regretful expression, “She’s quite the gem. We’ll miss her, let’s sit her in the lobby and discuss payment.” He yanked me up by the hair and pushed me on the ground.
Andrew quickly helped me up, “That won’t be necessary. Is a million enough?” Gavin’s eyes widened and he nodded. “Great, we’ll go get the money.”
Gavin cleared his throat, “If you’re taking one of my prize girls, I need her dress back.” My eyes widened.
Andrew’s father nodded. “Very well, let my son take care of that, there are some matters I wish to discuss with you about the medical practices you use on these girls.” The two men exited the tent.
Nervously, I tried to make my dress longer by pulling down the hem. “I won’t hurt you.” Andrew said softly. “Here.” He took off his hooded sweater and pulled it over the dress, it was actually longer on me than the dress, but I still felt more uncomfortable. “Now just take your dress off under it.” I wiggled my hands, they were still bound, “Oh, sorry.” He went to lift the jacket, and I jumped, “Relax.” I stared at him warily while he used a pocket knife to cut the rope. I quickly stepped away from him and shimmied out of the dress, being careful not to expose myself as I did so. “My hoodie’s longer on you than your dress.” He smiled, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
My stomach was in knots. For three years I’d sat there next to a girl named Erin, and then Emily. I felt ill to leave them behind, and even worse to be leaving with dangerous strangers. I mean what kind of family makes you get a slave? It’s 2012 for Christ sake, and not to be racist, but I’m about as white as you could get.
Gavin and Andrew’s father reentered the tent, “Well everything’s settled. Let’s go.”
“Good, let’s go home.” I jumped away from him when he went to wrap a leading arm around my waist, “You’re quite skinny.” He said softly, poking my ribs. I glared at him and wrapped my arms around my middle, wanting to disappear as we walked.
The wind outside was biting, I pulled my fists back into the sleeves of the sweatshirt, Andrew pulled the hood up on my head. I allowed him to tuck me into his side, as the wind was about to knock me down. He was a whole head taller than me, and his curly light blonde hair hung in his blue eyes, one of which had a purple and brown ring around it. It was almost too cold to breathe, and I was grateful when we got into the black Mercedes, with Andrew’s father driving and the two of us in the backseat. I buckled myself in, it had been years since I’d been in a vehicle. I poked the side of his eye, trying to get a good look at it. “I got a black eye a couple weeks ago.” I made a face, I was mute and a slave, not stupid. “Right. Got into a fight at a bar.”
“Dumbass.” His dad muttered.
“Hey! You did when you were my age.”
“And I was a dumbass. But now you are a dumbass.” I decided to give up on listening to their stupid banter and lean my head against the window. There was snow on the ground. It had been so long since I’d been outside. I appreciated the tinted windows, otherwise the brightness would have hurt my eyes. “So Andrew, while I was speaking with Gavin, did you get the girls’ name?”
Andrew smacked himself in the forehead, “No.” He turned to me, “What’s your name?”
I quickly signed the letters, he glowered at me, “You don’t sign Dad, do you?”
“No, I don’t. I think Allie does though, doesn’t she have a deaf son?” The older man said.
Andrew sighed, “Yes, but Emilio had her killed last year.”
The man frowned, “My brothers.” He sighed. “Well, if we can’t get her to speak, we’ll just have to learn. I’m sure you can learn the alphabet quickly enough.”
He looked down at me, “Why don’t you speak?” He asked again. I stared up at him balefully, considering signing my answer. In the end though, it might serve to frustrate him and he might decide to hurt me. Instead of getting angry at my silence, he continued to search my face. “If it’s by choice, I can only imagine why. You have the most beautiful green eyes.”
I took a deep breath to rid my cheeks of the telltale blush, and turned again to look out of the window. Two compliments in a day, let alone a week were too much for me to handle. There was so much wrong with what was happening – I was seeing the world, the snow on the ground and the clouds shielding the sun; a boy was being nice to me, they should have stuffed me into the trunk of the car, but instead let me sit in the comfy leather seats with them. I was probably stinking up the whole cab, but they didn’t seem to mind. My fingers stretched, aching for any instrument, they hadn’t touched one for years. Somehow I knew I hadn’t lost what knowledge of music that I’d had. I was overwhelmed.
We’d been driving for hours, Andrew’s dad, whose name I’d learned was Antonio pulled into a gas station. Andrew escorted me to the bathroom, but turned and went into the men’s, not even looking back at me. I took care of what I needed to do and went back out to the car. I curled up on my portion of the seat and wrapped my knees around my legs. I was exhausted and confused by the onslaught of emotions from today.
“You’re always curled up, don’t your legs ever cramp?” Andrew said as he and Antonio slid back into their seats. I shook my head. “I grabbed you a couple of things.” He handed me a blanket and pillow, and a cup of something warm. I sipped it and pulled the cup away and stared at it in surprise. I’d forgotten about the existence of hot chocolate. I spent a few minutes sipping it, but after a few minutes, I knew I’d already had too much sugar, it was already buzzing through me.
I stared down at the cup, upset I couldn’t finish it, because I really wanted to. “What’s wrong?” Andrew asked. I held the cup out to him, “Sick of it already?”
Antonio spoke for me, “She’s been on a basic diet for years, the sugar’s probably going to make her wig out for a few minutes before she crashes and falls asleep.” I nodded at what he’d said, “That’s why I suggested you get a small size.”
“Oh.” He said softly. I started wringing my hands, feeling the high set in.
I was getting nervous, I’d never felt this jittery before. Antonio did us all a favor and pulled over, then had me get out of the car. “Run to that tree and back. It’ll help.” I took off like a shot, running like I never had in my life. It was nice. I laughed at myself. When I hit the tree, I touched it and threw myself back in the direction of the car. It started to move slowly and I gasped, trying to push my muscles faster, but Antonio was right, I was getting tired. I slipped and fell twice. Finally I reached where the car had been, then pushed myself toward where it was now moving.
I slammed myself into the door and the car stopped gently. I ripped open the door and threw myself inside. “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” I signed over and over again. Frantically trying to convey regret for whatever I’d done wrong enough for them to consider leaving me in the middle of a snow coated field. I couldn’t help it, I started to cry.
“Hey, hey, hey…what’s wrong?” The silly smile vanished from his face. I just kept signing about how sorry I was. Begging him with my hands not to leave me in the middle of nowhere in the snow. For a moment, his eyes followed my hands until he stilled them when he gave up on trying understanding. “What does,” He signed ‘sorry’ “mean?” I started to cry louder. “Are you hurt?” He started looking me over, I shook my head. “Can you mouth what it means?” I mouthed the word and buried my head in my knees, trying to control my raucous sobs. “Sorry?” I nodded. “Why would…” He sighed, “Dad, I think she thought we were leaving her.”
Antonio said something I didn’t hear. I was sobbing and freezing from the snow that had accumulated on my body when I fell. “Come here.” He pulled me against his side. “We weren’t leaving you.” He wrapped his arms around me, stiffening when he felt all the snow and water, “Did you fall?” I held up two fingers, “Twice?” He sighed when I nodded. He sat me up for a moment and pulled his long sleeve thermal shirt off, leaving him in a plain white tank top. “If I turn around, will you take the wet hoodie off and put this on?” I nodded and accepted the shirt. He turned and faced the window, Antonio kept his eyes on the road, I quickly changed. When I turned back around, Andrew had one of the blankets wrapped around his shoulders.
Without ordering me this time, he pulled me to his side and wrapped the other blanket around me. My bare legs were grateful for the warmth. My eyes closed slowly of their own accord. “Here.” Andrew set the pillow on his lap and rested my head on it, helping me situate so the rest of my body was laid out on the seat. “Go to sleep, I’ll wake you when we get home. I’m really sorry…sweetheart.” He said in absence of knowing my real name. The last thing I registered before I fell asleep was his fingers combing through my hair.