Chapter 5: Peak Season
Once in a month, the girls and I always had to listen to Tuya talk about how ungrateful we were that she had taken us in instead of allowing us to rot in the middle of the dessert. This usually happened during a monthly meeting that she set up to always remind us that we were only to work for her for seven years, and then become independent to do whatever we wanted with our lives.
She always complained about the same thing – how the older girls had learnt to satisfy her clients while Cyril, Taban, Qara, Sarnai and I were always so childish and frigid. Cyril usually got rebuked because she was always crying whenever the men were with her. Some of them had complained that this turned their urges off or irritated them. They never told Tuya though that they always had to beat Cyril out of irritation or just forcibly penetrate her thighs.
Tuya was furious when she called for us sat the end of another month, her eyes burning with irritation. She pointed at Cyril a few times as she spoke and sometimes hit a fist on the table. Eventually, she stopped talking and glared at every single one of us.
“And some of you also had the gut to attempt to run away!” She spat.
Run away? I thought with a frown then. Why haven’t I ever thought of that? Why haven’t I thought of stepping away from the borders of the house and get lost within the city? It was a big one after all.
“Sarnai? Qara? You girls have anything to say?”
Tuya obviously was demanding for an explanation. Cyril and I shared a confused look as both girls stepped forward and knelt in front of a still-furious Tuya.
“We weren’t trying to run away.” Qara said. “Sarnai and I were only trying to see the city.”
“We have been locked in the house for long, Tuya.” Sarnai added. “We just thought we could go out a while and come back before….”
Sarnai couldn’t complete her last sentence. Tuya’s palm landed hard on her face, shutting her up and rendering the rest of us silent and shocked at the same time.
“I am not a fool, you idiots.” Tuya shouted. “You packed your bags – everything I bought for you – and tried to board a ship yesterday afternoon. Xanadu here saw you leaving the house while Hulagu had your ship pass with him all the time. Do you think you would do anything in this city or have any of my clients help you to escape and Tuya would know nothing about it?”
The situation was obvious now. Sarnai and Qara had obviously trusted someone – one of the men that raped, beaten or tortured them – to help them escape. It had only been a set up as Tuya had known about it all and had found them before they could set sail and escape.
“We are sorry.” Qara was crying now. She was shivering as her arms stretched forward to grip Tuya’s feet.
“Oh, but you aren’t sorry yet.” Tuya hissed. “You will be soon.”
She waved her hands and Xanadu and Hulagu stepped forward immediately. They threw both Qara and Sarnai over their shoulders and left the sitting room, both girls wailing so loud the entire house still echoed with their cries long after we could hear them no more.
“Perhaps you all could learn from what happened today,” Tuya groaned, turning to the rest of us. “I have always been kind. I helped you. I gave you a home….”
I was no longer listening. I had thought about the reason I hadn’t thought about my own escape before. I know now – it was because I had been in the position before. They always caught up with us – our kidnappers or masters. I would have been back in the syndicate cart I escaped from years ago if the desert sands had not been kind to me. If I left now, the same way Qara and Sarnai had attempted to, it would only take such little effort to find me.
“What would happen to them?”
The words had blurted out of my mouth before I could control myself. My curiosity had driven towards whatever would be done to Qara and Sarnai.
“Them? Oh, do you mean your friends who decided to trash my kindness?”
“Yes.” I said, nodding my head. I hadn’t expected a response or her calmness towards me.
“What would happen to them?” I asked again.
“Nothing damaging, I promise. Let’s just say it is the peak season and both would be needed somewhere else.”
I became silent. I didn’t understand a single thing that she had said. Nonetheless, I nodded and bit my lips, having a feeling that things were about to become worse for Qara and Sarnai, and as usual, there was nothing any of us could do about it.
“Now, how about new instructions for the house?” Tuya muttered a second later, stepping towards the center of the sitting room. “Henceforth,” she said, “every girl is to have no conversation with the men. You are to do everything they say, clean up afterwards and wait for further instructions. I know some of you think you are grown up already and old enough to contact the authorities. No one will help you but Tuya, you hear. I have helped you thus far; don’t ever forget that.”
There were a few more instructions about how we should walk, speak and act with each man that visited the house and we all pretended to listen attentively – or perhaps I was the only one that did.
Eventually, when the talk was over, Tuya announced that she would be leaving for a few days while Xanadu and Hulagu would be back to take care of everyone. She dismissed the meeting and was about to head for the door when Hulagu came in through the door and whispered in her ear. Tuya nodded and pointed to us.
“They are not to step foot out of the house for the two to three days I am gone.” She groaned.
Hulagu shrugged his broad shoulders and gave his usual curt frown. As soon as Tuya was gone, he turned to us with the same frown and had us hurrying towards the restrooms without a single word. Cyril held on to my hand as we moved. It felt as if she was terrified suddenly. She kept staring into my eyes, pleading for something I couldn’t figure out in an instant. I thought about asking her what was wrong but suddenly, Hulagu was behind us with his eyes fixated on Cyril’s chest.
“You stay behind.” He grinned, pointing to Cyril.
“Why, Master Hulagu?” Cyril asked with a trembling voice. She clutched my fingers tighter, almost breaking them.
“Oh well, you are not to ask questions. It doesn’t matter anyway; even Yuna can watch.”
Watch what! I was appalled. Staring at both Cyril and Hulagu, I suddenly realized that Hulagu had been one of the men constantly raping Cyril. Neither of them mentioned it but Hulagu’s palm had suddenly gripped Cyril’s breast while his cheeks rose up in absolute admiration and lust.
“We can do what we did the last time, uh, sweetie?” He said as if I wasn’t even there to see him behave like a psychopathic pervert.
“Leave her alone.” I tried to whisper but my voice always failed me when I needed it. My words came out as a soft breath instead of a groan.
I could only watch as Hulagu dragged Cyril towards him. We were still at the passage and everyone else seemed to have disappeared in a jiffy. Cyril dragged me with her and whatever Hulagu did to her, I had to watch, dumbstruck.
Tears rushed down Cyril’s cheeks already. Hulagu gave me a freezing stare before reaching down underneath Cyril’s dress. Cyril tried to clasp her thighs together to resist him but Hulagu reached forward with his second hand to strike her across the face. When I impulsively stepped forward, the same hand hit my cheek, keeping me rooted to where I was.
“You just watch.” Hulagu told me. “You don’t have to move.”
Hulagu had become aggressive. The next time he reached for Cyril, he raised her off her feet, severing the clutch of our fingers. He held her throat next and pulled up her dress, so it could hang around her neck. His lips closed around her left nipple next while his other hand was already feeling the edges of her thighs.
I looked around helplessly now, thinking about how to put a stop to what was happening. There was nothing I could do. I was always helpless. I felt so useless. I was never trained to be an adult at so early an age. I never had to take care of anyone, or myself.
“What the hell are you doing? Tuya only just left you fool!”
There was a fourth person in the passage suddenly. I felt relieved for the first time to set my eyes on Xanadu. Hulagu stepped back from Cyril abruptly, thought he still kept his palm around her neck. Xanadu’s eyes moved from Hulagu to the roughened texture of Cyril’s dress and then to the helplessness that was visible on my face.
“Walk away, Xanadu.” Hulagu hissed. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“Oh, but it does.” Xanadu said, shaking his head and taking further steps towards us. “Unless you would prefer that I put in a word about this to Tuya when she gets back.”
“That what, you idiot?” Hulagu asked, already cursing under his breath.
Xanadu hadn’t expected that Hulagu would be defiant and unrepentant. He was speechless for a few seconds before he pointed to Cyril and began to stammer like a man who was unsure of every word that left his lips.
“That…that…you are the reason the poor…poor girl hasn’t been strong enough to face any of the men and…and pleasure them. You break each one more than they are already broken, you fool.”
Xanadu’s speech influenced Hulagu eventually. He groaned, stepped away from Cyril finally and spat at our feet. Cyril ran into my arms immediately, sobbing uncontrollably. I felt sad about everything. I felt sadder that I hadn’t known what to do. I just stood there as I always did whenever each of us were defiled.
At that moment, anger sieving through my bones, I silently promised myself that I would find a way to be stronger. I needed to be able to do something whenever I was being hurt, or whenever those that I loved were in pain.
Hulagu strode off, saying nothing to us, or to Xanadu. Xanadu stayed behind though and took a step towards us. We stepped backward impulsively, suddenly afraid of him too. We had to fear every man now. The home we lived in wasn’t a safe haven. It was hell simply because we were girl children that could be taken advantage of any time.
“Go into the restrooms.” Xanadu told us with a sigh. It was as if he pitied us – an emotion he often had to dismiss.
“Do not step out until evening.” He told us. “And clean up too.”
I slowly nudged Cyril towards the door and nodded, thanking Xanadu. His footsteps disappeared down the passage as we stepped into the room. Tarban was the only girl with us now and she hid behind the shelf, obviously aware of what transpired outside the room. Immediately we stepped in, she joined us at the bed and sprawled beside us, sobbing.
The room became utterly quiet and I thought the day would end that way until Tarban cleared her throat and said, “I know what will happen to them.”
I didn’t need to ask who she spoke about. I just kept quiet and let her talk.
“Qara and Sarnai.” She said. “They will be sold off or forced to go somewhere else to work. Bangkok maybe. Rai – he smells of alcohol all the time he has been in the room with me – he said a week ago that he helps to sell some of the girls that had been here before us, especially towards the end of the year”
Peak season. I remembered that Tuya had mentioned that earlier. Somehow, I also remembered how long it had taken before she realized that she could do away with us one by one. The promise of independence after seven years didn’t seem realistic to me anymore.
That night, I realized that it was going to be exactly four years soon since Tuya brought us to Chiang Rai.