The auction was in town.
Every year, as per Mr. Fanchise’s rules, the village of Mukhauta was to hold a yearly auction (run by him, obviously) in which people were able to sell things that they thought were of good value. Most of the time, it was jewelry, or goats, and cows that were rumored to produce milk that could cure the plague.
But this year, this year’s auction was horrifying.
This year, Mr. Fanchise had somehow, somewhere in his twisted mind, decided that people (read, men) were allowed to sell their women in the auction for money.
Money, and women.
When I had found out of his idea, you don’t know how badly I had wanted to spit in his face for it. It was a disgusting, horrendous idea; an idea that made me realize that many men still felt superior towards women, even though that idea was by no means true.
Mr. Fanchise, however, seemed to see nothing wrong with his idea that men were much more superior to women, despite his wife coming from the “Land of the Free.” He gloated in everyone’s faces every chance that he got at how brilliant his idea was and how much money they (read: he) would get from putting a price on a female human being and selling her as if she were some ragdoll.
I felt as if I were going to throw up.
To be honest, I could have cared less if Mr. Fanchise was getting his money from the Mafia or from drug dealing, but to stoop so low as to sell women in order for the men of the village to flourish? That was his ideal lifestyle?
Actually, I wouldn’t have known about the auction had I not bumped into Mrs. Malhotra on the way home from the store. She was a middle-aged lady who was in charge of the schools in the slums (and by a school, I really mean a deserted, muddy area underneath an unstable bridge).
She was a chatty young woman, a few years older than Gabriel. She had a few grey hairs if I remember correctly, but she always managed to dye them before I would be able to gather evidence of her aging.
She had caught me when I was leaving the supply shop later in the night, and by then I was already rushing to get home to prepare dinner. When I called Mrs. Malhotra chatty, I really meant that she was a mother. They never stopped taking.
I hadn’t noticed her at first, and when I did, I remember swallowing the groan that was pushing up from my throat when I saw her. I wanted to continue walking; to act like I hadn’t seen her, but she had already caught my eye—the damage had already been done.
So, swallowing whatever little self-pride I had left for myself, I slowed my pace so that she could catch up, adjusting the basket on my arm. I saw her eyes brighten when she realized I was letting her catch up to me, and somehow, I couldn’t help but feel my heart warm knowing that I had done something kind.
At first, she had just blabbered about useless gossip coming from the big, rich cities like Mumbai or New Delhi. So and so was becoming Prime Minister, this actor was getting married, this actress was caught doing drugs: the usual trash. I was only half paying attention to her, making sure to grunt and nod my head whenever she paused, and I would have kept doing that until she had brought up the auction.
Now, quite frankly, I had never been to the auctions when they had taken place; I had no interest in yelling and bidding and then loosing to the next nose-picker beside me. My Dad, on the other hand, loved going to the auction and had never forced me into going, mostly because he was embarrassed about having a twenty-year-old, unmarried daughter (a taboo in Mukhauta).
Now, imagine my surprise, when Mrs. Malhotra calmly states that the theme for the auction this year was to be a woman’s bidding.
A woman’s bidding.
As in, an auction to sell woman.
I whipped my head towards her, asking her to repeat her sentence again, but somewhere in my brain, I had already understood what she had said, and I just wasn’t able to accept it.
Mrs. Malhotra confirmed my fears calmly again, saying that this year’s auction was to be a women’s auction: an auction in which men could bid on, and permanently buy a woman to claim as their own. A slave to do their bidding.
I nearly recoiled at her words, but since I didn’t want to have an earful from my Dad about being respectful towards elders, I blankly nodded with her, blocking out whatever else she had to say about the auction.
I mean—an auction for women? What year are we in? The 1700s? Are women still supposed to be housewives? Are we still supposed to beg for a man’s mercy? Are we still supposed to bow down to the opposite gender? I would think not.
I was fuming on my way home, finding some excuse to leave Mrs. Malhotra and her long list of rumors that she had heard from most likely unreliable sources. I didn’t really have anyone to vent to on this: Dad was just as bad as Mr. Fanchise was when it came to the rights of a woman. I was surprised that he had let me finish school, but it was only after that I realized he only did so that he could guilt trip me into staying in the bakery to help him, as I owed him a huge debt for paying my school funds.
Thunder roared across the skies, the monsoon season striking hard, and striking fast. The cool droplets of rain that soaked my skin cooled my heart, but the anger still sizzled inside of me, the coal only cooled, but not broken. I could feel the dampness soak my hair, the tendrils coiling on my cheeks in smooth, circular patterns.
Clutching the basket closer to my chest, I broke out into a run on the streets, having to leap over many protruding stones and small holes from the homeless trying to build shelters. I could see many men, despite the rain, gathering towards the town square, but I was too worried about making sure my clothes stayed dry to worry about whatever they were building.
For the past few days, the stronger men of the village had been building something large in the center of the town, almost like a stage. Usually, the auctions were held on the streets, so I wasn’t sure if the new building was supposed to be for the new type of auction or not. I didn’t care, anyway. I sure as hell wouldn’t go and support anything degrading of my gender.
I dashed through the streets, only pausing to dodge men carrying banners or potholes.
Yeah, they sure are building a stage, I thought to myself as I passed the large set-up. It was made entirely of wood, the large pillars, and stalks supporting a plastic tent above the two posts. Gabriel was ordering around men at the center of the stage, his own body carrying nothing except the ridiculously expensive jewelry he insisted on wearing, as if he understood Hindu culture better than any other Hindu did.
I wanted to gag, but I didn’t, the rain pounding harder on my back, as if it were trying to break my spine with a sledgehammer. The drops blurred my vision, causing me to blink multiple times to clear my brown orbs. I could see a slight violet glow on my shirt, but I was too tired to care, almost certain that the supplies in my basket were soaked. Dad was really going to murder me now.
I hoped that Gabriel didn’t see me as I ran, ducking past men carrying decorations and sliding past children playing with mud on the road. The rain had started to simmer down, the heavy droplets dissolving into gentle touches, and somehow, I couldn’t help but feel as if a rough, yet loving hand had been caressing my face. I knew it would never happen, but a girl can wish, right?
When I reached the house, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment at how quickly the sinful touch had left my body. The sun glanced out from the thickets of the clouds, drying the thick locks of black hair on my head.
Sighing, I shook my head, reaching into my pocket for the rusty pair of spare keys Dad had given me for the door to the house. I remember how reluctant he had been to give them to me, and had it not been for the fact that I was the one who ran errands for the house, I was pretty sure that he would never have given me the keys.
When I opened the door, the blast of pastries and a rich strawberry scent blasted on my nose, vanilla somewhere in the mix. I shut the door behind me, wrenching my keys from the golden lock and switching the sign on the door.
A dark, velvet pastry caught my eye. It was one of the pasties that my Mom used to like to eat; one she used to eat and share with me whenever I was upset.
Thinking of Mom brought a searing pang through me, but I brushed it away quickly, seeing Dad’s boots tucked in the corner of the shop. He was home already, and I wasn’t.
That wasn’t good.
All of my earlier hurt and sadness disappeared quickly, and I made a run for it up the steps hidden behind the counter. The wooden boards creaked with every harried step I took, and I could only pray that Dad was in the shower or in his room with the music on.
Unfortunately, luck was not on my side today, for once I reached the top of the steps and opened the door leading to the living room, Dad was standing there, his arms crossed over his chest, but his head hanging limply along his neck. He looked like a child who was waiting for their mother to scold them.
I was going to ask him why he looked so dejected, until a short, yet dark figure caught the corner of my eye. A scowl pulled on my lips and I suppressed a groan.
Pagal, Gabriel’s right-hand man, stood beside my Dad, a smug grin plastered on his crooked lips. His eyes shifted continuously around the room, his hair spikey and looking as if he had gotten electrified. His clothes were a wrinkled, muddy mess, but somehow, he still managed to look prim and proper, if that was even a thing?
His eyes were wide, as if he had them glued to the TV for too long. His crooked smile widened as he took me in, his eyes running shamelessly up and down my glossy, slim frame.
“Dad...what’s wrong?” I asked cautiously, setting my basket down. “Why is Pagal here?”
“Radha...I’m sorry, Radha...I had no other way,” Dad, for the first time, sounded genuinely broken. He couldn’t meet my eyes, something that further increased my anxiety. Dad always looked everyone in the eye so that he could gauge how dominating they were against his power as a man.
“What do you mean? Dad now’s not the time to speak in metaphors,” I stammered, my eyes drawing to Pagal’s. He held a stack of papers in his hands, one of them with Dad’s signature clearly written on them.
“Radha, a pleasure to see you again,” Pagal said, his voice slithering around my throat, as if trying to choke me.
“Shut up, Pagal. I wasn’t talking to you,” I snapped.
Dad’s eyes flashed. “Radha.” He said condescendingly, his eyes burning holes into me.
I ignored him. “Can someone please tell me what the hell is happening?”
Again, Dad’s eyes flashed, and he looked ready to berate me for cursing again, but Pagal beat him to the chase, his eyes widening maniacally.
“Good you asked,” he chirped. “You see, Radha, your father owes Gabriel Fanchise a large sum of money, a payment to the many favors he took from the Fanchise family.”
“What?” I looked at my Dad. “Dad, please tell me that Pagal’s lying!”
Dad looked conflicted, his eyes shifting and his body unable to stay still. “I—I wish I could, Radha, but what Pagal is saying is the truth. I owe Gabriel and Mark a large sum of money, and now, I need to pay it off.”
“Pay it off?” I repeated, confusion wrapping around my brain. “How do you intend on paying Gabriel Fanchise off? We aren’t rich!”
“Ah, that is where I come in,” Pagal interrupted cooly. “You see, there is an auction happening later today, a woman’s auction, in which men can sell women in their house for a hefty price, if you get what I’m saying...”
At first, I didn’t understand what Pagal was insinuating; about me and the auction. All it took were a few shifty glances from Dad, and a few greedy looks from Pagal to make me understand what exactly they had been talking about.
“Y—You wouldn’t...” I stammered. “I—I mean, D-Dad? I...after everything I did for you...everything I put aside to help you...this is how you repay me?”
“I didn’t want to do it!” Dad snapped, his emotionless facade breaking. “But I had no choice, Radha! I...I need you to do it, although you don’t have much say in the matter anyway.” Dad quickly collected himself, something that hurt me. “Pagal and I have already signed the documents; you are to be sold today, whether you like it or not.”
“What?!” I burst, clenching my hands. “First of all, this isn’t my debt, it’s yours. And if you had even told me about it, instead of locking me out, maybe I could have helped you—!”
“You’re a woman!” Dad cried. “Women are not made for making more money than men! You are my property, Radha, just as your mother was, and you have no say in this!”
“Mom wasn’t your property, and neither am I!” I shouted back, the hairs on the back on my neck standing up. “She worked hard for this family—much more than you ever did!”
“Don’t take that tone with me, young lady,” Dad growled. “You are the reason I am in this debt! It was you and your mother who wanted a bakery so badly! I needed the money to make it possible! Now you need to pay up!”
“Pay up?! I’m your daughter!” I screamed. “I am not a—a toy you can sell! I am—!” Someone roughly cupped their hand over my mouth, encasing me in their buff arms, and it took me a sharp moment to realize that Pagal had slipped behind me, holding me steady against him.
Whenever I imagined being in a man’s arms, I always imagined it to be a sultry, special moment. Maybe in the darkness of the bedroom, on my knees, with his lips on me, anywhere. Those daydreams that had me waking in a heated sweat, my body on fire, as if their lips had been on my neck, on my skin, on my own lips.
I struggled in Pagal’s arms, but he was stronger, despite being shorter than I was. He held me firmly, covering my mouth tightly. Over his thick fingers, I could hardly see my father’s face, but I knew it would hold no pitying emotion.
Tears pricked my eyes. The man that had once sworn to protect his family was willingly giving me away to an auction; was willingly giving me to a random slum boy as his bedwarmer, as his housewife. I never imagined that I’d ever be Belle, but I always thought that I’d marry whoever I wanted to marry, not some regular slum boy.
“I’m sorry,” I heard Pagal whisper in my ear, his breath making my nose wrinkle in disgust. That only made me struggle harder, my cries muffled by his salty palm.
Something pricked my arm, but before I had any chance to decipher what exactly Pagal had done to me, I felt sleep overtake me in a powerful wave, one that I knew deep down I couldn’t fight.
So, I didn’t.
When I woke up, I was met with a sharp slap of cold wind, the air flowing briskly through me, rousing me from my deep slumber.
“Ugh...where am I?” I groaned, blinking the sleep out of my eyes. Had Dad turned the AC higher than usual? Had he even bought an AC?
As my eyelids adjusted to the new, dim light that trickled from the window, memories crashed into me. Memories of Dad selling me to the auction, memories of Pagal capturing me and holding me firm against him, memories of him pricking me with something, something sharp.
He sedated me, I thought, anger boiling in my stomach. That goddamned man poised me.
I wrenched my arm to check the wound that he might have left, as I felt my arm burning, but something cool on my wrist pulled me back with a grunt.
“Oof!” I grunted, shaking my head. I pulled my arms closer to my face, a gasp tearing from my throat.
Two rusty, silver chains were snapped on my wrists, pinning me against a thick piece of board. I was naked, the cold air slicing my sensitive skin, touching parts I didn’t want to feel.
Had I been raped? I thought, fear suffocating me. Had Pagal touched me? Had Gabriel touched me? Just the thought of Gabriel running his dirty fingers over my skin made me shiver in repulsion.
Something jingled on my right, and when I turned, I caught the eye of a chained, equally beaten and naked young woman, someone who resembled Mrs. Malhotra very much.
“Who are you?” I asked, hoping to find out where exactly I was.
“I’m Sonya,” the girl replied. “Sonya Malhotra, wife to Singham Malhotra.”
Oh, so she’s his wife, I thought, remembering seeing her husband on the front page of the newspaper for falsely claiming that he could talk to God.
I narrowed my eyes. “Hi, Sonya. I’m Radha. Where...are we?”
“Backstage of the auction,” Sonya replied, blowing a tangled lock of hair from her face. “There’s a curtain in front of us, and soon, we’ll be brought upfront for men to bid for us.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. I yanked against my chains. “Oh, hell no! I ain’t letting hundreds of men see me nude! That’s not happening! Not today!”
“We don’t have a choice, Radha,” Sonya stated miserably. She looked up, and I followed her gaze. Strong light peeked from underneath the royal red curtain; the auction was going to start.
I didn’t want to cause a scene, especially not naked and in public. I glanced at Sonya, who was already looking as if she were planning her funeral.
Swallowing a whimper of fear, I dropped my hands, the chains clattering in defeat against the hard boards. As the light washed into the hidden part of the stage, I could see many other woman, all close to my age, chained to a post, all of them looking just as miserable as Sonya did.
Well, I ain’t looking miserable. If I’m going to be sold, I’m not going to let any man see how afraid I am. They’re going to see me as I am; not some damsel in distress.
As the light enveloped my body, I could see the wide expanse of men that had gathered to bid for the small number of women we had on the stage. I couldn’t see my Dad anywhere, and while a pang of disappointment spread through me, I brushed it aside. Who was I to think that he was going to come and save me, anyway?
The men who had all assembled immediately brightened when they saw all of us, or rather, all of us chained and bare before them. It disgusted me, almost as much as the mere mention of Gabriel Fanchise’s name did.
I watched hopelessly as Gabriel eagerly skipped his introductions, yanking Sonya forward. I didn’t see her husband in the crowd, either.
“This here is Sonya Malhotra, a young woman of thirty years old,” Gabriel announced, having no qualms about selling a married woman to hungry slum boys who were only looking for sex and a housewife while they fucked other women.
“She’s a Muslim; dark brown eyes, black hair, mildly overweight,” Gabriel continued, yanking Sonya’s chain from time to time, as if she were a dog.
I couldn’t look at Sonya, or at her face as the men began to bid, their signs rising and falling, their voices growing louder and louder.
Something at the back of the crowd caught my eyes. It was a group of three men, although they didn’t look like they were part of Mukhauta. They were all frowning, mumbling to themselves.
One of the men was slim and lean, his lips looking as if he were born with a permanent scowl. He had a dark red bun atop his head, a few strands lose around his face. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could see his skin, which was a frighteningly pale color, just like the American’s, except paler.
The man beside him seemed more like a boy than a man. I couldn’t see his eyes, either, but I could see that he was also lean. He had dark skin and dark blue hair styled in...a buzzcut, I think? I had heard a couple of the boys mention that during one of my visits to the market.
The blue-haired man kept gesturing towards the stage, seemingly talking to the scowling man. At least, that was what I thought.
Until I looked up.
I heard Sonya’s chains clatter to the ground, an indication that she had been bought. My heart squeezed, and in my attempt to look away, I caught him.
I couldn’t exactly see his face, but I knew that he was a man, for women were not allowed to participate in this year’s auction (unless, of course, you were being sold.)
He was extremely tall and extremely muscular. His skin looked blue, but that was probably just the light playing tricks on my eyes. After all, no man was born with blue skin, unless you were Krishna.
I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could see long tendrils of his dark hair coiling around his neck and upper chest, which had been covered by a tight-fitting shirt. A dark cloak fell down his back, a shadow and what seemed to be a dark mask covering his face. I couldn’t see his face at all, but somehow, that intrigued me. I wanted to know more about the man; I wanted to study him more, but Gabriel yanked at my chains, forcing me to my knees, a submissive pose.
“This is Radha Mohan. She’s twenty, Hindu, and able to bear children,” Gabriel said. The cheers that had once been for Sonya’s auction elevated, piercing my ears.
I winced, but Gabriel hardly noticed, and I took the opportunity to shake myself of my fears. Whatever happened, happened. I couldn’t change that; I could only work with it (and maybe find a way to escape).
“She is slim, has dark black hair, and brown eyes. Any bidders?” Gabriel roared to the wild crowd beneath him.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Gabriel loved being the center of attention, of being the King to the peasants. He yanked at my chains, and I growled lowly, bending my head in the submission that he wanted me to portray.
“Hey! What the fuck are you doing?!” Gabriel cried. Something slammed on the ground, and gasps circulated around the crowd.
Taking a risk, I looked up, catching the dark skin and blue eyes of the man I had once been studying. He looked down at me, smiling brightly, all the while holding Gabriel in a chokehold against the podium.
“Sorry about this,” the man said. “I don’t usually like using violence, but my master isn’t willing to have bids made on the girl of his choosing.”
Gabriel looked just as appalled as I was, and he squirmed in the man’s hold. “What do you mean? This is an auction? You have to bid—!” The man tightened his hold on Gabriel, and while I felt a bit sorry for him, that pity was immediately diminished when the man snapped his fingers, my chains clattering to the ground.
“Yeah, sorry about that, buddy. She’s already claimed for someone else,” the man said. He flicked his fingers, and with a loud bang, Gabriel was flung across the stage, colliding into a group of men underneath him. Nobody tried to help him; they were too busy running for their lives.
The man turned, snapping his fingers again. In a blinding flash, the chains of all the other women were snapped, the metal collapsing on the ground.
“Run! Run while you can!” He cried over the pandemonium around us. The women didn’t need another warning from him; they quickly scurried out of the stage, hardly giving me or the man a second glance.
The triumph that once spiked in my stomach quickly dissolved when the man’s dark eyes fell on me, but there was no danger lurking in his orbs, not like when he looked at Gabriel. He stooped down to my level, offering me a skinny, dark hand.
“Hey, I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I—I only need to take you to my master; he’s the one that wants you,” the man said calmly, soothingly.
I bit my lip harshly, a multitude of questions swarming in my mind. Fear and confusion battled inside me, and I was unsure whether I should give the man my hand or run for my life.
The man chuckled, ruffling his hair. “I’m sorry, I haven’t introduced myself.” He coughed, though it was barely audible through the chaos beneath us. “My name is Damien. I am a loyal subject to my King, who has desired for you to be part of his palace.”
“A-As a possession?” I asked shakily, peering up at Damien. King or not, I was going to be nobody’s possession, no matter what.
“God, no!” Damien cried. “My master does not fathom human slavery or treating them as objects. He...well, I can’t exactly say what he wants from you, as I am not completely sure myself, but I can assure you, he, nor anyone else in his palace, will cause any harm towards you.”
I looked at Damien; from his dark, almost sincere eyes, to the palm he had outstretched to me. Was the dark man his master? Was he the man that wanted me? The man that ignited a curious and warm fire in my belly?
I glanced at the crowd underneath; at the furious Gabriel, to the police that had begun to arrive at the scene.
Well, it’s now or never, I thought. And quite frankly, I’d rather meet this master than become Gabriel’s wife!
I placed my hand on Damien’s, smiling cautiously at him. “Take me to your master; take me to my...husband.”
Another chapter done! Rohan and Radha will soon meet! How do you think that’ll go? What does he want from her? Will he kiss her?
Published: July 6th, 2020