by Íris Santos
The reality about a girl I know. The reality about a girl you know.
| The acrid odor of the rubber burning on the scorching pavement, the acid stench of urine and the smoke of chicken grilling at someone’s doorstep merged into one. The frenetic traffic jam did not forgive nor apologize to any pedestrians eager to reach the other side of the road. Observing from afar you knew each one of these people had a place to go, but I’m placing a bet: most were running errands. That’s how most people worked in this country. Everything was temporary because managing their time has always been more important than to work countless hours and receive nothing in return. Hard-working women hauled themselves back and forth on the avenue with a strain in their eyes; here and there they squinted, trying to balance the basins or washing buckets on their heads with the weight of small babies heavying on their tired and tightened backs. They sold anything you could think of: wallets, lady’s bags and purses, party dresses, secondhand clothing and shoes, black-market watches, brassieres and undergarments, fruit, vegetables, sausages, fresh fish or even dried fish. Men illegally parked their bikes along the avenue’s curb, waiting for customers to be taken somewhere. Most didn’t own a driver’s license or wore a helmet; their deal was all about making money in the shortest span of time possible.
Little Djamila stalled by the curb and glanced left and right, left and right, until she was sure it was safe to cross the avenue. Unhooded tuk-tuks mounted on flat tires drove in both directions carrying iron beams in a way that it was surprising they hadn’t rammed them into somebody’s windshield yet. Blue and white mini-vans throng the bus stops, racing to make it first, time was money and money was time. The faster they drove, the merrier people they could transport, crammed in the metal box like factory caged hens.
She sang the church hymns still stuck on a loop in her head and the syllables streamed from her mouth under her breath, interrupted by the unevenness and gaps of the unpaved road. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. With a Bible under her arm and a heart heavenly elated, she strutted to the alley three blocks away from her four rooms adobe house, swerving from the dirt to keep her church clothes clean and kempt.
The setting Sun cast a soft yellow light on the landscape, the cicadas chirred joyfully in the tall hedges beyond the outskirts of the neighborhood and the world seemed to have stopped for a moment while Djamila took a turn to the alley. Here the reek of the stagnant waters bordered by sludge smelled of sulfur and carrion. Djamila wiped the sweat off her forehead and lightly kicked a scampering chicken forth on her way home.
Just around the corner, the long shadow of a man was cast upon the earth. When Djamila noticed it was too late. One of his hands enveloped her mouth and nose while the other was dexterously wrapped around her stomach. Djamila inhaled and exhaled frantically, her vision blurred and tears abound on her lashes like droplets on a leaf.
“Hush, don’t scream or I will kill you. Stay quiet and be a good girl.” His hoarse voice was followed by the burning stink of alcohol and tobacco.
By this hour, the first stars shone shyly in the sky. The rush in her veins scared her to the point of shock and disbelief. She could not comprehend how that could be happening to her. She had a vague feeling of what was to happen next, thanks to all the conversations and jokes she heard throughout her short life.
The stranger tugged her coercively to a recondite corner and pressed her back against the adobe wall. Little Djamila sobbed, her tears and muffled cries couldn’t reach past the aggressor’s hand while his other hand reached under her white satin skirt. This foreign and unwelcome touch constrained her body and a centered sharp pain shoot toward all her limbs. A high-pitched wail escaped through the man’s fingers and blood spattered Djamila’s hem skirt.
Orange weavers and sparrows fled in a scare, chirping in stress, their wings flapping in haste into the night.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
“My dear, what have they done to you?”