fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Forty Four. {fiction}

We spent the night, the next day, and one more night to rest up and further strategize, with the help of Matthew and others who had made forays into town.

The Slavers had never attempted to attack the monastery, but were certainly feared by its inhabitants.

The night before we left, just after dinner, a young man named Tyrone gave us a clearer picture of what we were up against.

“Anyone caught by the Slavers almost never makes it out. The few that have told us that the men captured are generally worked to death. A healthy man is more of a threat to them. If a man fights too much, they kill him right off, sometimes torturing him first. One guy had a finger a day chopped off while chained to a table, then each toe. He finally died when they cut off the second of his arms.

The younger women are used for sex and as household servants, the older women work in the fields and manage the livestock. And what they mean by ‘woman’ is often girls as young as 11.”

My stomach turned at these revelations. Suddenly Sylvia was there rotating above me on a rope strung from the rafters like a newly felled deer, her rainbow dress torn and blood smeared over her exposed thighs. Her mother, Emma, had been sitting in the kitchen, waiting for her to come back from the main house but had fallen asleep, face cradled in her crossed arms.

Technically, Lem, Jeff, Darian and the others hadn’t actually killed Sylvia. They had just brutalized her so badly that she could not bear living any longer than she had to after they released her. Not even for her mother, asleep on a nearby table. Maybe she hadn’t even seen Emma. Sylvia had easily found a rope and taken her own life as fast as she could.

Her mother awoke to find her like that. She blamed herself entirely for her daughter’s death, not seeing that even if Sylvia had not killed herself, in a way Darian and his men had already stolen her life from her. It was their doing, not Emma’s, and in a way not even Sylvia’s.

“I need to go outside for a bit,” I said, extricating myself from the dining room table.

Victorio stared at me for a moment, then said, “Okay, I’ll be going to our room pretty soon.”

But a minute later he was outside with me, while I vomited vigorously against a scrubby juniper as I clung to its limbs. He held my hair back with one hand and steadied the rest of me with the other. I vomited another couple of times, wiping the foul spit from my mouth with my sleeve, Victorio’s solid form offering shelter from this internal storm.

When it was clear that my stomach had finished revolting against me, he held me gently and against his chest.

Then the crying started, just as violent and uncontrollable as the vomiting. My whole body, mind and soul shook and moaned like a hurricane, tearing me nearly to pieces. How would I ever be whole again?

“They killed her! They killed her, they killed her, they killed her!” I groaned into Victorio’s chest, sobs wracking my lungs and throat. He led me carefully over to a nearby bench and sat me on it without ever loosening his grip on me.

“How could they do that? How could they do such a thing to Sylvia? She was such a sweet person. She was my best friend! I loved her, and they killed her. She didn’t kill herself, they killed her!”

Faces appeared in some of the windows of the monastery, and a few minutes later Matthew was beside us, asking Victorio, “Is there anything I can do? Is she going to be alright?” I felt Victorio nod and heard nothing more from Matthew. A minute later, Frank, Ching Shih and Tochuku sat silently on another nearby bench.

As my ranting and sobs transformed into hiccups, I saw that Ching Shih looked even more stunned than Frank and Tochuku, as they caught the gist of what I was saying.

I had told Victorio that Sylvia had killed herself after being gang-raped, but hadn’t told him anything more than that.

Sitting with my friends, my family now, around me, the whole story just flooded out like water through a burst dam. About my mom dying of a simple bladder infection, how Emma took me in, about the beautiful rainbow dress Sylvia made. And Darian asking for her to come serve them that night. All of it.

Ching Shih, the most stoic person I had ever met in my life, had tears streaming down her face and dripping off her chin. I had never heard much about Ching Shih’s life before her arrival here, but now I wondered.

By the end of my story, I had half-lain myself across Victorio’s lap, snuffling and blowing my nose into a handkerchief someone had handed me, talking more slowly and quietly as I neared the end of my tale, while Victorio stroked my hair.

“We’re with you now, Lakshmi,” said Frank in a soft, soothing tone, “We’re not going to let anything like that happen to you. You can stay here while the rest of us go. We’ll pick you up on our way home. It’ll be fine.”

I sat bolt upright. “What? What are you talking about?”

Frank looked flummoxed, “I, well, I just thought, I mean… I know that Tyrone was just talking about how they treat the women and girls there… well, I just thought that made you think of what happened to your friend, and you were scared something like that might happen to you…”

“No. No way. There’s no way I’m staying here. If I stay here, then they’ve taken my life already! No. That’s not happening,” my voice rising hysterically, I said decisively, “you are not going to leave me here!”

I saw a slight smile curve the corner of Ching Shih’s mouth as she wiped away her tears. She understood.

Frank and Tochuku sat staring at me like I was some kind of rabid animal they had just come upon.

Victorio didn’t even skip a beat, “Well, I guess we’ll head out in the morning, eh?”

As we all walked to the door, Ching Shih stepped up and put an arm around me, eyes shining. She whispered into my ear, “We’re in this together, little sister.”

That night I slept like a newborn baby, completely spent, completely trusting, if only because I lacked any energy with which to envision my enemies any longer. The emotional labor of rebirth had worn me out.

Victorio slept as if slaughtered by his enemies, as usual, not stirring a muscle from the time he passed out until the morning sun split gleaming through the blinds in our east-facing windows.

We had packed as much as we could the day before, so very quickly we went from a dead sleep to each holding a napkin filled with a to-go breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, wrapped in dense sliced bread, kindly prepared by our hosts. The horses clomped into the chill of the early fall morning, while we still rubbed the sleep from our eyes.

Frank led up our band, taking us down out of the hills on which the monastery sat, then south, then west, then south again. It was late afternoon when we came to an area to the southwest of town, where we would wait until it was late enough at night to risk the two-mile trek into the heart of the southern side of town.

In the meantime, we took turns napping, eating and keeping watch, hidden in a dense stand of oak and mahogany.

“Hey there, Lakshmi, time to get goin’.” Frank was lightly jostling my shoulder while whispering into my ear.

Night had deepened and a nearly full moon was already high in the sky. Some light would be helpful along the way, but a full moon might shed too much light. A full moon in a place with no electric lights was a powerful thing. I could see my surroundings so well that I had no trouble identifying the species of trees in our little forest, even from many yards off. We would be easily visible too.

Still, it would be better than traveling in the daylight. Victorio had packed my bag for me and was attaching it to my pinto, Beans, while I wrapped my blanket around my shoulders, shawl-style, and slung myself up onto her. The night had already turned frigid, in contrast to the pleasant daytime warmth.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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