“How many do you need?” asked Jovan, raising his eyebrows. He ran one manicured hand over his stiffly gelled hair and slid his desk drawer open with the other.
“One, for now,” said the man they called “Blankie.” “But, if the merchandise is good, and you make us a good deal, we’ll be back.”
His face was expressionless. Jovan rubbed his chin, wondering if the man had earned his nickname for his deadpan looks or for some childhood fascination with blankets. He had to stifle a laugh. Anyways, it didn’t matter – “Blankie” was going to be a tough customer. Jovan fumbled in his desk and pulled out ‘the catalogue’.
“Have a look,” he said, holding it out to his guest. “Tell me what you like. We’ll see what I can do for you.”
Blankie grabbed the book brusquely and opened it with his rough hands. He flipped through the pages with deliberate attention. Jovan couldn’t help but notice that he was more thorough than most customers. Finally, Blankie paused.
“How much for this one?” he asked, thrusting a fat finger at the picture.
Jovan smirked. “That one’s good. Very good choice.”
In the next room, Dahlia pressed her ear to the wall, listening. Sweat beads rolled down her face and back.
“She’s very beautiful,” Jovan continued.
Dahlia exhaled in relief. “Not me,” she thought. She glanced at the gentle beauty, with the empty eyes, who lay motionless in the corner.
Jovan chuckled conspiratorially. “She’ll make you thousands -- easy.”
“I’ll give you $100,” said Blankie
“Worth more!” said Jovan, spitting the words in disgust. “She has light skin. I give good deals here, but I’m not stupid. She sells for at least $200.”
Blankie shook his head and returned to the book, flipping to the previous page. “I’ll take this one,” he said. “She’s got dark skin, and she’s ugly -- so you give me better price.” Blankie drew a wad of bills from his pocket and placed them on the desk.
Jovan’s hands flew at the bills like famished little birds. He drew the cash towards his nose and breathed deeply as if drinking in a delicious aroma. A smile of supreme satisfaction crossed his face.
“She’s in the next room,” he said. “A big man like you, I don’t look think you’ll need any help getting her out of here. So, enjoy your purchase.”
Dahlia knew what was coming, and it filled her with fear. She breathed deeply. She felt the blackness of her skin and wished she could rip it off, the ugliness of her face and longed to be beautiful as she’d never longed before. She heard footsteps outside and the sound of the door knob turning. The fear rattled through her like a runaway train, even as she begged it to be still. “I will be strong,” she told herself, trembling. “I will be strong.”
The door swung open, and her eyes fell upon him. “I will be strong.” She forced herself to mouth the words. Then, she felt the coarseness of his hands on her smooth skin and in that instant, she knew her strength had fled from her, evaporated completely. She fell forward, collapsing into a heap on the floor. For a brief instant, before her cheek began stinging, she saw the delicate flowers she had picked from the field and felt sorry. Sorry for snapping them at the stem when they were in full blossom. A tear slid down her cheek.
The man with the rough hands threw her into his trunk like a sack of rotten potatoes – and she let him do it. With no strength, no voice, she couldn’t even fight. Dahlia heard the key in the lock and found herself plunged into a deep darkness.
Robbed of vision, her ears became attuned to each passing sound. With surprising clarity, she heard the men’s laughter, the crunch of the gravel, the music blaring on the radio. Then the throbbing in her head and in her ears, and at last the beautiful voice of her mother. The voice of lullabies and hymns.
“The Lord is light,” said the voice, “and in Him there is no darkness.” The suffocating heat strangled her, and yet she strained to hear it again. “In Him there is no darkness.” She panted for breath. “In Him there is no darkness, no darkness, darkness.” And finally, she lost consciousness.
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