“Are you ready?” the mother asked.
“Yes, I am.” The little girl of twelve said, looking her mother straight in the eye. A glimmer of hope flickered in the little girl’s eye, the very thought of being able to earn for her family was too good to be true, too exhilarating to let slip.
“Good. Do you remember what to do?” the mother asked.
“Yes, mother. I must stand in the stall, with all the oranges neatly arranged on top of the crate. And when anyone comes, I must tell them to please buy some oranges. And when they ask me how much it is, I must show the people this chart.” The little girl shook the thick card her mother had written prices on.
“Remember. Sell everything. You understand? No money, NO FOOD!”
The little girl nodded. The responsibility for her family now rested on her little shoulders. She would do her mother proud!
The mother was convinced.
In a trice, the little girl tugged the broken wheel barrow along. It tried to keep up with her, trundling and slipping, sometimes getting stuck in crevices and nooks in the rugged road. She smiled through it all, feeling the altruistic pleasures of being so young and yet taking to entrepreneurship. She was little, so little, that both her hands were needed to carry one orange safely. Those little fingers, with those little fingernails, they were hands of a little child that should belong to school, of a little girl that should be playing with dolls. But here they were, ridden with dirt, scratched with the yoke of labour, forced to sell, to earn, to live. She had worn her best dress, the one from the big donation that those pretty women from the UN brought in. She kept it for her best occasions- Christmas at the Church, playing with a new friend, and now, selling oranges.
She quietly found a spot, and gently dragged unused upturned crates from around her, that were otherwise lying unused, wasted discards from other marketers. The place around her was deserted, the market place would begin filling with people in a few hours. She carried the oranges up to the stall, neatly arranging it. One or two of the round fruits decided to play truant, slipping and falling. The little girl didn’t let her excitement plummet, no matter how many times she bent over and replaced the mischievous citrus roundels. Eventually, a little of her excitement seemed to rub off on the oranges, and they decided to behave, sitting down exactly where she placed them with those angelic little hands. The little girl waited with bated breath, hoping for her pockets to be filled with money. The lure of a full meal, the possibility of another dress, being able to afford it... were simply too tempting for her to keep away from appearing in her mind’s eye.
Just as she began imagining a scene where she saw her mother happy, joyful and excited at the money she would bring home, she noticed a man walking up to her stall.
“Oranges, eh, little girl?” he asked.
“Y-yes sir.” She stuttered, but quickly gained her confidence. “Would you like to buy some?”
“But of course.” She noticed his teeth, they were dirty. He had a spanner in one hand, and he wore dirty overalls. “I will buy all of them.”
The little girl was overjoyed. The dreams that had just been little birds in her head now had wings. They were phoenixes, rising out of the ashes of broken hopes of the past. They blazed, grew bright, and drew circles of fiery happiness, all in her mind’s eye.
“But you must let me touch your oranges.” He said.
The little girl was puzzled. How else would he take the oranges if he didn’t touch them, her little mind wondered, putting the colourful dreams on hold to ask the strange question of itself.
“What do you mean?” the little girl asked him. Her eyes were wide in wonder. Did this mean he wouldn’t buy the oranges? A little hand clasped down on her heart, cold and clammy, covering it with an icy sheet of worry, of worry that there may not be a complete sale after all.
“Why don’t you come to my car? I’ll show you what I mean.” He offered.
Well, what could it do to her if she went along? Surely, he was going to buy the oranges. If she refused to go, he might refuse, and she would go home empty handed... and then... and then... No. She would go home with money. All those dreams will come true.
“Come.” He said.
She followed him to the car that was parked a little away, inside a dark alley. The alley was as dirty as it was dark. He beckoned her to the back of the car. She followed. She stopped beside him, and leaned forwards to see what he had to show her. She couldn’t see a thing, and turned around to ask him what she had to see. She saw his eyes- a venomous serpent had taken over those eyes. They gleamed with a sick happiness in them, a flame that burned in a way that frightened her. She watched with fear as he forced her dress of her. The cold air and the uncertainty, the sheer wrongness that all of this had to itself coupled made the little girl feel vulnerable. The impending attack soon unfolded before her eyes. She felt like knives were plunged into her. Something wrong was happening. Just as the impunity passed over her, a wave of shame washed over, sheathing her with a sense of being dirty. The little girl crumpled down into a heap, a confluence of pain, sickness and shame washing her over. She shivered, shaking like a leaf in the wind.
“Here is your money.” He said, giving her a thick wad of notes. She reached out and took the money, unwittingly dressing herself haphazardly. She was bleeding, pain knifing through her body like it would split her. She was crying, but she had no idea. She ran fast back to her stall, one hand tightly clasping the notes in a fist. She didn’t care for the oranges. They sickened her to the pit of her stomach. She swung the wheel barrow and ran home, the broken contraption rattling behind her.
She stopped a few metres shy of her house, straightening her dress out. She bent over and collected mud in her little fingers and smothered it all over her dress. It blotted out the evidence of the incident. Good, she thought. In another universe, in another time, in another circumstance, the streaks of wet mud lining her dress would have killed her. She was a slave of circumstance, a sentinel of victimhood in a culture of silence. Should she speak, that would be the death of her.
She knocked on the door of her house. Her mother opened the door. A sour expression connected her lips and eyes in a sense of putrid distaste for every blow that life had dealt her so far, and was likely to deal her in the coming days.
“Back? So fast? Stupid fool. What did you sell? Why are you so dirty?”
The little girl looked up at her mother and pressed the thick wad of notes into her hand. The lady found the notes to tally up to a generous amount- one that was the equivalent of the money one sees in dreams.
“Go wash yourself. Filthy child.” That was all she had to offer to the family’s newly appointed breadwinner.
Months passed, and the little girl was deflowered with astounding regularity. Silence became her religion, she embraced it with fiery passion. Candour could lead to her to her downfall, she knew, and silence would be the best path, she decided.
Until her mother noticed the gentle protuberance of her belly.
She was pregnant, doubtless.
“Who is the father, you filthy whore? What have you done, you filthy being?”
She couldn’t say anything. She went to her market place, where she met him.
“Big deal. You filthy whore. What am I supposed to do?”
A door closed right there for the little girl. Just into her teens, and pregnant already.
Her mother spared no time in giving her the ultimatum. “Who is the father, whore?” she would ask, “No answer, no place for you in this house.”
One morning, the girl walked out of her house in the early hours. She found an orange where they stored their supply. She pulled it out, threw it on the ground and stepped on it with all her might.
The crushed orange lay right there, destroyed forever.
“Are you ready?” the mother asked.