by Kel Williams
A sci-fi snippet about a man and child, both in pain.
| “If you keep whining, I’ll start looking for someone far more qualified to do your job,” the captain threatened impatiently, “Just wash her so you can put her to bed. It isn't hard.”
Mitri bit back a retort and turned the earpiece off again. He sat Nina on the toilet and lifted the small wall that turned the shower into a bath, fastening it and all the while muttering to himself and Nina, “You need a maternal figure, someone capable of caring for your mental as well as emotional needs, not another orphan who has no idea how to treat a child. I don't even know how much you're capable of processing with your young mind. Do you understand the situation in the least?” He turned on the water and watched diligently as warm water filled the bath, “I can't even begin to understand how traumatized you are. You should be terrified of me as well, not allowing me to ferry you around like a little princess.”
When the bath was filled, Mitri finally had to deal with actually washing the young child. He had no idea how to start.
“Okay, do you need help taking off your clothes?”
She blinked at him, then looked at her clothes. She put her arms up, giving Mitri easy access.
His shoulders fell. “I should be glad you’re still willing to trust. It means we got to you in time.” He helped her out her clothes and put her in the bath. She splashed at the water, a slow smiling emerging.
He watched it, feeling like he was seeing a flower blooming. The terror, the blankness, the utterly horrifying reality of the day melted from her face as she played in the water. For a second, Mitri couldn’t taste how vile this situation was, how unutterably horrible it was to find an abused child being sold like a toy.
She continued to play while he washed her, not paying him any attention while her world of make-believe unfolded. Despite not making a sound, her face was alive and energetic. Her hands spoke for her, playing out a battle between aircrafts and sea vessels. Mitri felt a smile tug at his mouth.
Then she murmured, “Mummy.”
Mitri froze, a feeling of ice cold dread washing over him. She didn’t even seem to notice that she spoke, too immersed in her little game.
“Nina,” he said slowly, “Nina, where’s Mummy?”
She stared at him in confusion and shook her head.
“What do you mean ‘no’? Nina, where’s your mummy?”
She shook her head again, more adamantly.
“You can talk. I know you can. You need to tell me where your mummy is so I can go find her. Don’t you want to see your mummy again? I can take you to her.”
She just kept on shaking her head, mouth shut tight. The playful little girl was gone and now, he was left with the distressed reminder of how horrible this universe could be.
“I just want to get you home,” he pleaded. “Just talk to me, Nina. God,” he ran a hand a hand through his hair, “That isn’t even your name.” He was losing himself.
The realization prompted him to take a deep breath and find his center. “I’m sorry. Let’s just get you to bed, okay?” He rinsed the soap off of her and wrapped her in a large, fluffy towel. “Everything's going to be okay. We'll find your mummy and get you home.” He dressed her in a sleep gown and carried her to bed.
He sat on her bed and stared back at her. It was strange, that this little girl could resemble his brother so much. He could practically see the traumatized brown eyes, newly orphaned, asking him what happened, why, if they were alone now. Then later, downtrodden, hardhearted brown eyes still expecting him to answer questions that didn’t have answers. He could remember sad, hopeless brown eyes saying goodbye.
Tiny hands touched his face, bringing him out of his thoughts. Nina stared at his tears in amazement. Her mouth was open, mouthing words of comfort like a silent lullaby. Her icy fingers rubbed the tears away clumsily. He had thought it before, didn’t he? That she was cold as a corpse. The fact that she was still so cold was another weight on his heart.
“Lay down, Nina,” He guided her under the covers and made sure the blanket was snug around her. “Go to sleep.”
She nodded and burrowed deeper into the bed.
Mitri moved stiltedly to his own bed and prayed the next day wouldn't take so much out of him.