I was a pet. I only existed to benefit a man. I was there to boost a man’s mood. I was on earth to be an accessory for a man. Father ruled mother and I around as if we are his servants. He went out all day in his silk turban with gold scarves that mother and I bought him. Then, mother and I would take the scraps of the soup and eat it before Father awoke. I checked Father’s room and I covered him with yet another blanket. I tiptoed back to the kitchen making sure not to disturb Father in his “so precious” sleep. Mother opened the front door and we sneaked into the empty stable. The imprints of cows in the hay reminded me of the cows and chickens we used to have just days before. But as usual Father just gave away our hard-worked gold. Before I knew it, mother and I would be thrown away too.
I miss papa so much. Last year when he died, mother married this man. He was horrible. Once he came to our little hut, he bossed us around to get supper going meanwhile we had been chopping vegetables all day and sweeping the floor since dawn. Once the stew was fully cooked and mother bathed Father, we watched as he quickly ate the bean and lentil soup. Once he was done and lied down for his dusk nap, Mother told me that if we didn’t have a man in the family we really wouldn’t have a house to live. I rested on my bale of hay with mother on the plank of wood next to me and I tried to wake up less than 52 times that night.
I woke to a strange woman in many jewels and gold jewelry. She was talking to Father and mother was listening from the kitchen. I heard Father say to the lady, “You want Yaha? You want that thing?”
The lady answered, “Yes, she will provide you with money and maybe a new life.”
Father’s feelings towards me changed. “Well, yes,” and then he used a word I had never heard him say before, “My daughter…”
Mother came to the barn. She whispered in my ear, “They are going to come and take you in three days time. You will go to the city and work for us. The lady says that you will send us money for the house. Just like Esha.” Esha was our neighbor down the hill. Last year she left for the city with the same lady. Every month she sent a bundle of Indian Rupees. Rumor has it that Esha will be back next year. I will miss mother with my whole heart. I hope Father treats her well and I will miss them very much.
Later that day, mother and i started packing. I brought my best silks for my job and my new blouse. Then, mother slipped something in my hand. I looked down and a golden chain slipped through my fingers. On the chain, an elephant lay on a golden circle which opens up. Inside the necklace, a drawing of mother and I rests. I believe everyone has a talent. Mother’s talent was art. When papa was alive, mother drew all the time. Since papa passed and mother married Father, she hadn’t drawn anything, or so I thought. The necklace was beautiful and mother clamped it around my neck. I tell her, “I will always think of you.”
Mother replied, “I love you. I will pray to Brahma for you.”
I tied my bag and hugged mother. I will miss our hugs.
Two days later the lady came. She had a big grin on her face and handed Father a big sash of Rupee and he reflected the grin. I kissed mother and Father. The strange lady grabbed my hand and tugged me from mother. I looked back for the last time with tears in my eyes. Mother blew me a kiss, I smiled and continue walking. The lady grinned so wide I could see her gums. She had metal in her mouth and goosebumps climbed up my arms. She shoved me into a cart and snarled, “No more pretending,” and ripped off her hair and a lock of hair is in her hands and her head is shaven. I wanted to run home. I wanted Mother. I wanted to hide in Mother’s arms. I wanted to cry. I didn’t want to be there.
The cart rumbled down the dirt roads. I felt every thump and shift through my soul. I suddenly felt the roads become smoother and the noises become louder. I poked my head through the sheets in the cart and peek outside. I saw these metal structures high as the clouds and more people than I have ever seen. There were more food than could feed my family for our lives stacked on carts all around me.
A man walked to the cart and I heard the lady arguing with him. He opened the sheets and saw me curled up in the corner. He forced me out of the cart and pushed my shoulders backwards. He measured every part of me. Then, he shook his head with disapproval and I am forced back into the cart. The strange lady called my name. “Yaha will not eat her scrap of bread today.” The cart continued to drag along the roads.
I woke to loud voices once again. I peaked out from the cart and saw men selling fish saying, “Precious fish for sale.” Even the food had a beautiful name. I wished I was a fish. Able to swim freely and mate with who they want. I took a spoon from the corner and carved a fish into the wood of the cart. I thought of mother and papa and knew they would love the art. The cart stopped and I hide the spoon and my thoughts of mother.
This time the man was greasy and heavy. He shoved a naan down his throat and smiled. The bread squished between his teeth and not only is it visible but so is his personality. He pulled out a wad of rupee and I knew he can pay the price so goosebumps climbed up my body. The man slid his hand down my back and whispered, “Don’t worry, sweetie.” His breath smelled like onions and turmeric. He needed a mint lassi, and I knew he can definitely afford it. The rude lady grins almost as wide as he does. As he was handing over the rupee I thought of mother. I thought of what she would tell me right now. I missed mother. I pushed mother out of my mind and told myself that I will never see her again if I am with this man. I run.
Through the vendors. Through the children skipping in the square. Through the men dragging around their servants. Then I saw the elephant. This huge gorgeous creature stood ahead of me. Our eyes locked and time stopped. The elephant wrapped its trunk around my body and for the first time since I left mother’s side I felt protected. Then I remembered the locket mother gave me. I rubbed my fingers along the engraved elephant. I felt as if hugging the elephant is hugging mother and papa together. Then I felt ice cold and I saw the rude lady with two large men. The elephant was spinning and everything went dark. All I could hear was the cursing of the lady. A sharp pain drove up my back. All was silent.
I heard more people. I opened my eyes and I thought I was in the cart. Not everything was clear. I looked at my drawing and it did not look right. I closed my left eye and the fish was perfect. I closed my right eye and the entire cart was fuzzy. A sudden burst of light and pain entered the cart. Without thinking my hand flew to my left eye and the pain was gone. The lady dragged me out of the cart and my hand stayed on my face. She pried my hand off my eye and fell backwards in awe. Her steps were stuttered and she tried to walk back to me and screamed. She started crying. The lady stormed to the front of the cart and we were back on the road.
We passed six more towns and each man had the same expression as the strange lady did. One man said to the lady, “Kamī, I am disappointed in you, how could you get stuck with such an ugly piece of merchandise?” and walked away with a smirk. The lady rolled her eyes and as she was walking to the front of the cart. I asked her, “Your name is Kamī?”
The lady responded, “No, that is what they call me, you can call me Maya, that is what my family calls me. Did you know you are the first to stay with me this long?” Then Maya shook her head and murmured, “This can’t be happening…” She walked to the front of the cart and said, “No dinner for you.”
The cart rolled along. I heard the approach of another city. I saw more people than any other city. As Maya’s footsteps near the opening of the cart, she said, “Welcome to New Delhi,” under her breath. Another greasy man waddled over. I knew there was no running now. This man’s hair was gelled back and his shirt was unbuttoned. My stomach turned. He slipped his hand down my shirt and I backed away. Maya smirked this time. She demanded the usual number, “Six thousand rupee.” The man handed over a wad of cash without hesitation. I noticed something. He never looked at my eye. His eyes never left my hips. At that moment I knew why he didn’t care about my blurry eye. I looked at Maya as she grinned running into the cart and sped away as fast as possible. The man grabbed my arm and pulled me down alleyways and we ended in a small opening.
We ended at a giant house. Inside an extravagant cooking quarter was in front of me. He showed me twelve rooms and two of them had long beautiful wooden tables topped with baskets and baskets of food. High ceilings and long shining crystals hanging from them. Why would you waste gems on your ceilings? He also had these glass pear shaped things everywhere. They were also hanging with the crystals and on the tables. He brought me to a door but instead of a room, there was only a decreasing elevation. He made a gesture for me to go down and as I made my way down, I heard murmured conversations and the closer I got to the bottom, the quieter they get. There are many other girls. I counted and there were nine of them. They look at me and laugh and continue their conversations. There were mats on the floor and concrete walls. I heard the door above us slam and the girls talk louder. I was unsure of what to do. I sit in the corner and run my fingers across the elephant necklace and the girls stare at me. I close my eyes and try to block out their chatter.
The next morning they surrounded me and stared as I got up. One stopped me and asked me about my eye. I told her I see a blur and she handed me what she called a ‘mirror’ and I saw that one eye looked at the mirror and the other was rolling in circles. No wonder no one wanted me but this man didn’t care. The girl told me her name was Nandita. She used to live on the streets by herself and she explained that the man told her he would give her food and a bed. What she didn’t know was that the bed would be his. She warned me that if he wanted to talk to me in private to do it quick because when it is quick it is less painful. After, if he likes it, you get more food and are welcomed back and stay, but if he doesnt, you’re back on the streets.
While Nandita was explaining life here to me, a bell rang and everyone got in a line. I shuffled to the back and an older lady makes her way down and hands us each a scrap of bread and walks back up. She returns a little later with a piece of meat and gives it to four tall girls who smile and eat it quickly. I think I will not do something I don’t like just to eat.
We are ordered upstairs and each one of us given a long wooden pole with hairs on the bottom and forced to ‘sweep the kitchen,’ ‘clean the toilets,’ ‘dust the furniture,’ ‘soak and dry the dirty clothes,’ ‘wash the dirty dishes.’ Some of the girls that received the meat are allowed to prepare food in the kitchen for the greasy man and his “family.” My arms ache and my head pounds. My fingers feel frail and my legs stumble down the stairs. I lie in the corner and try to take the pain away from my body.
The next day more bread, more cleaning, more aching, more talk, more sleep. About twice a day, a girl was called upstairs and when she came back received an extra scrap of bread.
The cycle repeated for 72 days. I know this because the nice girl Nandita who gave me the mirror engraves a line on the wall everyday. Days that someone new entered she made the line deeper so you know when your time started.
The next morning the old lady comes down and says, “Yaha you are wanted.” I go up to the cooking area and the man is there. He brings me to a room. I get scared but follow.
Leaving the room my body stinged and I felt as if my soul is drained. I looked back and saw the greasy man still in the bed smirking with his rolls spilling over and gelled hair out of place. I could not think straight. When I walked back I saw two little girls marching down the hallway and they asked me, ‘Is daddy in there?” I look at them and barely nodded. Tears crawled down my face and I passed another girl. This one seemed to be about twelve. She looked at me and asked, “You’re new?”
I nod silently and she gives me a tight hug. “You are different, none ever cry. I like you. Tonight meet me in the kitchen after Lila brings you supper.”
“The old one, my mum. Follow her up the stairs and when she closes the door, stick behind and crawl out into the kitchen and I will be there. Oh and my name is Rajani.”
“Why?” I asked with confusion. “Why would you want to help me? Wouldn’t you want to stay with your mother and father?”
“My mum is silent. She pretends I don’t exist. And that man in there, I wouldn’t call him my father. You know, I heard some white people talking on the streets and they called him a strange word. I think the word was ‘rapist.’” I nodded and walked down the stairs. This all was a lot for me. All I could think was that I could leave this place.
When Lila came downstairs with the bread, I took my scrap and I sneaked behind her. No one saw me except for Nandita and I looked at her and she mouthed, I’ll pray to Brahma for you. I felt a burst of pride and hope through my body. I thought of mother and I felt suddenly happy and my goal was right in front of me. We smiled at eachother and I continued tip-toeing up the stairs. Through the crack in the door, I saw Rajani.
Rajani was holding a sack. It was filled to the rim with not only luxurious food but water canisters. She smirked and motioned me to come towards her. I slowly opened the door and crawled to her. We sneaked through the rooms and ended at the front door with the crystals and bright glass spheres on the ceilings. She whispered, “It’s called a chandelier and those are light bulbs.” I tried saying chandelier but instead said ‘candlair.’ Rajani giggled and as she opened the door a blaring alarm went off. We heard shrieks from the lower level where all the girls were. Now there were only 8.
We ran. We ran and ran. I saw the greasy man run to the door when we were down the alleyway he didn’t say anything but just stared. All eight girls surrounded him cheered. They were all smiling and jumping. Only one woman wasn’t happy. We saw Lila standing in the doorway frowning with her hands on her hips. I pushed her out of my mind and thought about mother. Nothing could stop me from getting to her.
At the end of the alleyway two tall men stood in the way. They were dressed in black pants and shirts and had a gold patch on their chest and nice black shoes. I ducked past them and Rajani passed me the basket and I grabbed it. I waited for Rajani. I run my fingers run down the textured elephant on my necklace and think of mother. Rajani tried dodging the police but they grabbed her. She shrieked and scratched them. She screamed, “YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME IN THIS HELL HOLE! NO, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HE DOES TO ME!”
She flew her wrist into one of the men’s face and kicked the other in between the legs. The cheers from the house grew louder. We ran faster this time and Rajani smiled and said, “While those two Bēvakūphōṁ were strangling me, I stole his gun.” She smirked and pulled out a metal handle and as she pushed her finger a loud boom echoed, cats scattered and glass shattered. Rajani smiled wide enough that her dimples could touch her eyes. She shoved the powerful device into the sack and we continued running.
We ran through towns, through people, through homes, and through time. We ran and never stopped. If we stopped we would be misusing our newly found freedom. We ate while running and we talked but running but we never stopped. We ran through the days and nights and holidays. We didn’t try to run, our legs just wouldn’t stop. We couldn’t control our legs but now we could control our fate.