The steel gates slam to a close behind us. It makes me flinch and gasp, as I suddenly realize that I am now a part of whatever is inside of here, and the outside world is now lost and locked behind me.
I turn my attention to the compound around me, becoming startled as I see woman after woman walking in a straight line behind each other, all of them, dressed somewhat the same. They walk in synchronization with their arms by their sides, staring on ahead as though they have no where else to look. Their outfits are not outfits--but uniforms. The older women are wearing grey sweaters with grey trousers, while the younger women wear grey-collared gowns that flow down their legs to their ankles and wrap themselves in a dark, grey shaw. All of them, are barefoot.
I notice how each of their hair is combed into a tight bun, not a single strand falls out of place, and most of the women wear bandannas. Some grey, some white, some black. Not a single color is located on their body.
There are lines and lines of them in every direction that I look. They are all being lead somewhere different by a person wearing a black and white gown in front of them. All of them act the same, all of them walk the same, all of them terrify me.
My mother stops the car outside one of the many buildings that inhabit the ground. I gaze at the building--it is a small, orange-bricked cabin that no line of women are directing themselves towards.
“Out of the car, Elizabeth,” my mother says as she swings her door open.
I reach my hand out to the door handle, my heart begins beating twice as fast as I remember all of the women I have just witnessed, aimlessly walking past the car as though it would kill them to even glance at it.
What the hell is this place?
I open the door and step into the fresh, cool air that feels like heaven against my skin. I’ve spent hours cooped up in that car, so I take a few moments to regain my comfort, before I am snapped straight out of it.
The door to the cabin bursts open, and into the light of day steps a short-haired, middle-aged man with tan skin, a thick moustache and frosty, dark eyes. He doesn’t regard me at all, his only interest is my parents.
“You must be the Sanchez’s,” he says. “Thank you for seeking our help.”
“We are desperate,” my mother tells him. “Thank you for accepting her at such short notice.”
I want to wave a hand in their faces, to avert their strange introduction and direct their attention to me, the person that is standing here, right beside them. But I remain silent, watching them intensely as I think of the words I should say when I do need to say them.
“I am all too familiar with desperate,” the man says sadly. “I reviewed your case last night and I felt that this situation needed correcting immediately.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” says my mother. “What you do here is inspiring. I only hope you have the patience for this particular challenge, as it is a rather difficult one.”
“I have dealt with the most difficult of difficult,” the man responds, and then he finally looks at me, eyeing me from my toes to my hairline. “I broke them all.”
“Broke?” I say.
“Hush,” my mother sneers at me. “You don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.”
“What do you mean you broke them?” I ask him, ignoring my mother.
“Do you see the problem?” my mother says.
The man flicks his eyes from me to her. “I do. That behaviour will not be tolerated here. Let that be a warning.”
I find myself grinning at him. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
His face falls sinister as he takes steps towards me and he leans above me with fury mounting in his ice-cold eyes. “You are brave, Miss Sanchez,” he says through his teeth. “Bravery at Cross Academy is not heroic. And not one person here sees it as heroic. Do you understand?”
“Good. Let that be lesson one.” He scrolls his eyes to my parents. “You may leave now.”
“What about the contract?” my father says. “We need to sign.”
“That won’t be necessary,” the man says. “Elizabeth can sign herself. You have brought her to the right place. We will contact you with updates. God bless you.”
“God bless you,” my parents say at the same.
I stand still beside the man as my parents surrender themselves back to their bland, black car. No goodbye, no advice, no real reason as to what the hell any of that meant--I truly mean nothing to them. I am merely an inconvenience, a burden, that they have finally released themselves from. I watch as the car begins moving from me, back towards the steel gate that slides open for them to exit. I watch as the only two people that I have all but tried to love, leave me behind as though I am just a hitch-hiker that they’ve finally dropped off, as though I am a stranger.
“Come,” the man says, his hand falling onto my arm. “We have lots to discuss.”
I slowly turn around, to allow him to lead me towards the entrance of the cabin, while secretly I am wishing that my parents will turn around and come back for me, to tell me that it’s all a mistake, that they have always loved me, and I do mean something to them, and leaving me here alone is just a joke that they took too far.
I’d be okay with that. If it was just a joke. One day, I’d laugh.
One day, I’d even forgive them.
But as I linger at the doorway, my eyes scanning over that gate, my hopes are crushed with a sudden realization: they are never coming back.