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What's Mine Is Yours

It wasn't that long before my family sold me for $20.00. There was no reason for me to think it was not going to happen. I was twelve. Twelve was the age that they had brought all of my sisters into labor. Twelve was the age when all of my older sisters had gone away. Two men, always different ones, would come not long after the birthdays of Nadia, Olya, Katya and Banya. Now it was my turn. Previously, my sisters had been sold for more money, thirty dollars sometimes. Kolya, she was $50.00. Fifty dollars, they got into order to send her away. Father always held a grim face, like sad spirits were pulling it down. Mother always went to the market the day the men came. She said that they were business men and that father deals with business. Mother usually is home when father deals with other kinds of business. I think it's that she does not like these kinds of deals.

Petya and Igor were never sent away. They are my brothers. They work in the factories now, but they do come home and I do see them. When Nadia left, I was told that she was going away for a long time and then Olya was going too and I should expect not to see them for a while. When Kolya was about to leave, when she nearly turned twelve, I cried. Banya came to me at night. I wanted her to think I was sleeping. She came to me and said,

"Natasha," and she put her hand to my forehead. "Natasha are you ill?"

"Yes, Banya," I replied. I remember sniffling to make it seem real. I sniffed like I needed to sneeze, not like I needed to wipe my eyes. "I only have a cold."

Banya had known I was lying. She had seen me like that the night Kolya left. In fact, she had been that way too. Even though we were young, only seven at the time, we still understood. We understood that when Koyla was going away that she wouldn't return. We could tell in mama's face. We could even tell in papa's speech. Everyone would have dinner that night and mama would cook a big dinner to cover up the sorrow with delicious smells of cabbages and fruit tarts for dessert. Mama would always place it in the center and let us marvel at it with hungry eyes, but in truth, we weren't hungry at all. The sadness seemed to overpower the will to eat. The first time I saw those pies, I ate well. I smiled at mama and thanked her gladly while my older sisters seemed to be gloomy and sad. I did not understand before.

Later it became apparent to me. "I do not want pie," I would say. "Thank you, mama." I knew it was rude. I knew that mama had made her special pie for us. Still, the pie reminded me of missing what home used to be like with my other sisters. It just got worse after Koyla left. When Banya left, Koyla swore she would never leave me. She held my hand and told me that she would not leave me alone. Koyla was a stubborn one. When she had wanted my pie, I gave her it. When she wanted the softer pillow that mama had bought me at the market for my sixth birthday, I would take the stiff and lumpy one that Koyla used. I slept with it after in the room I used to share with Koyla and Banya and I wish that Koyla had taken the pillow with her.

On my twelfth birthday, like all my other sisters, two men came to the door. I was expecting them and they had taken me away and exchanged money for my departure. The man offered $20.00 this time. I had always known I wasn't worth much. Mama would always kick me around the house and tell me I needed to work as hard as my sisters. She told me this especially after they were gone. I used to cry for them and I knew that it seemed weak because mama and papa never cried for them.
I stood outside and the men led me away into this car. I looked back through the window and the men did nothing as I turned around in the seat. They were serious men and there were no smiles coming from the man in the back seat that sat with me or the man in the front who drove the car. There were no smiles back home either as I looked back at the house. Papa had already gone inside but mama was standing outside. Mama was actually there in the house and I had realized the whole time that she had never left like she did with my sisters. She was crying and she was crying hard. I looked back at her, looking at her crying and I shed a tear too. I was afraid to do anymore because of the men but mama's expression was not only of sadness. It was telling me telling me that I should be careful and that I would be afraid. She wasn't telling me safe stories in her eyes and I remember looking at her confused asking "What do mean, mama?"

Now I'm in this strange place. The men who seemed harsh before are ten times as much now. There are bruises on my knees and on my back and on my neck. I'm with many other girls and we live here underground this store. When I first came here, I was pushed into a room with fifteen other girls. It has been a year now and some just as sick and ill as the first day I came. These men do awful things, I have learned since my stay this first year. I understand mama's fear. I understand why I should be afraid when the men come down, when we're lined up or when we spend our nights in fear. I understand that the dark is unpredictable, that if sleep does come that harsh dreams are inescapable. I understand that when those men that come to purchase, that they are not at all kind. I do not understand that I cannot go home. I also wonder if home is safe either anymore. It was home that sent me here, after all. The memory of papa's face and mama's tears only bring bitter memories.

What I pray for now, before the nights come and my holders send me away with strange men, are my sisters. I pray that my sisters are not in the same place. I pray they're not looking for me. They tell me, my holders, that they will die if I leave. They tell me they know everything about them; my sisters, my brothers, my parents. They say I will only leave once their debt is paid off, but I have never seen anyone leave. No one will pay off their debt, or their parents' debt. I want to keep my sister's safe, so I don't make noise and I don't speak up. There are many girls here. Some of them hold the spirit of the others in their hands. They keep us alive somehow, though after living here, I do not know why they want us to survive.



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