The three of them were almost drooling. I gripped my shirt a little harder and steadied myself. The thought of them touching me, of them hurting me, it sat in my feet and crawled upward until I had to stop myself from whimpering. But I stood there.
It wasn’t the hunger, obviously. I don’t get hungry. I don’t eat. I don’t worry about that.
It was the elements. The staring. The smell. Who knew if taking such a dive was worth it but I’d rather try that than sleep on another bench. I was sick of the homelessness. I was absolutely sick of it.
I didn’t have anywhere to go.
“$30 each, right?” One of them spoke. I couldn’t make out his features. I couldn’t look at him. I thought of Osh and wondered what things looked like for him now. I wondered if he forgave me yet, if he would stop staring at walls with his eyes wide enough to rip when I was around. If all he saw was me covered in his mother’s blood.
I don’t have anything else to think about.
“Sure. I don’t want to be hurt. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“It’s cool. We have some fun and you can stay here for a while. That’s all. Promise.” I heard the rustling sound of money and swallowed, hard, hard enough to hurt my throat. Astor the whore.
“Okay. I don’t know what to do.” One of them snickered at my proper voice. Something my mother worked so hard to achieve, my intelligence, was considered a joke out here. I’d gone from being beaten with hammers for saying a word incorrectly to being mocked for saying one right. I looked out the window. It was almost never cold enough for jackets and yet, here, snow. Something pretty to look at while I was devoured by demons.
One of them ran his hand up my thigh and I stepped back a little. The apartment we were in reeked of weed. Beer. Adult things that I didn’t understand but probably would soon. I felt a pressure in my head but kept steady. You don’t let people like this see you falter. It all just leads to more pain.
More recurring pressure.
“Go clean up and come out. Leave the clothes in the bathroom.” He placed the money in my hand, $90 crumbled dollars. I nodded to the floor and escaped to the tiny, dirty bathroom. Every inch of my seemed to contract, an ugly noise begging to rip from my throat, but I steadied. This was the life my mother left me. This was a thing I had to do. It would happen, it would be terrible, it would be over, and then I’d have somewhere to go. I could clean the bathroom later.
Slowly, I stripped off my clothes. I folded them neatly and placed them on a pile of clothes on the floor. Astor the forgotten.
I stared at my underwear and finally gagged. My stomach lurched and I barely made it to the dirt-ridden toilet, stomach acid filling the bowl. There were no towels to clean up with so I wiped my mouth and ignored the smell.
It wasn’t like they would care.
Naked, hair tied in a useless ponytail, I opened the door.
Blood covered the ceiling, the floors, the walls. Death smelled like shit and piss and vomit. This type of death, the type where my mother blew brains out and slit throats and snapped necks, I was too familiar with it. Three hands sat on the floor, facing me, piles of money in two and a blood-stained machete in the other. I picked up the machete, shaking, too scared to look around. Too scared to see if she was still there. On the wall, fresh and dripping, was a sentence written in blood and a single handprint.
WHERE IS YOUR PRIDE?
I put my hand over the handprint, wanting to feel like I was near her again, wanting to make her take me back.
The words on the wall seared into my hand, almost. I crumpled, rage folding me, and plopped down on the blood-soaked carpet. My pride. Where was my pride? The woman who murdered my father, murdered Osh’s mother, tried to kill me every chance she got, she wanted to know where my pride was? While I slept in the street and ran from disgusting men and shivered in the rain? A scream stuck in me, rotted me, tore me to fucking pieces, but I just sat there.
I just sat there and wished I could cry. Just once. One good cry.