Aurora had been given two things as she came into this world: a life to live and a name to be called by. The woman wanted nothing to do with her. The man also wasn’t particularly fond of her when he first saw her, but he had a feeling she might come in handy. He ordered the woman to bring her into their broken home and take care of her until the girl would be old enough to take care of herself. The woman had no other choice but to comply.
Time went by, and the baby turned three. By then, she was old enough to comprehend her misfortune yet too young to understand the meaning of life, and, more importantly, the meaning of death. Little Aurora was scared all of the time, but there was no one to hold her, to stroke her black silky hair, to kiss her, to comfort her, and tell her that it’s all going to be alright. Aurora couldn’t remember the last time she had been touched. As long as she kept quiet, they didn’t bother her too much. The few times she dared to cry, had cost her gravely: her food and her one-eyed, one-legged miserable-looking, stained teddy bear. She promised never to cry again or ask for anything if they bring her back her teddy. Even the hunger hadn’t bothered her so much when her teddy wasn’t by her side. He was all she had in this world and she couldn’t fall asleep without him. When Teddy was away, the complete darkness in her room had taken the form of evil monsters, of invisible claws, only waiting for her to close her eyes so they could cut her open. But when Teddy was there, lying beside her on the big ripped pillow on the floor, sharing the blanket with her, the darkness was her friend again. Its soft layers of blackness stroking her young face, carrying the singing wind and the tenderness of the smiling moon from the open window, wiping away the mute secret tears coming out of her eyes. With Teddy, she could see how beautiful the darkness was; how it swallowed all the noises of the day, all the screaming; how clean everything looked when it was dark; how kind and quiet. Sometimes, she would hold Teddy real tight and ask the darkness, the nice darkness, to take her with it. As far away as possible from this place, from these people.
The house was always dirty, she was always dirty, and she needed it to be clean; she needed to be clean, so badly. Indifference was the answer. Indifference meant survival. That much she had known. It wasn’t easy, though. During those long hours, in which she had been sitting somewhere inside the closed, small country-side house, hearing them scream at each other, or on the front porch, or even on the dry, yellow grass, stretching from the front stairs to the steel barred fence, she would practice. She would stare at the filthy soles of her feet and the unattended nails, which made her seem like a small animal rather than the little toddler that she was. She would stare at the junk-covered floor of “her” room, which was actually their storage room; she would stare at the piles of old newspapers scattered on the dusty wall-to-wall brown carpet covering the floor of the small living room; she would stare at the television set, with its sellotaped antennas; she would stare at the peeling yellowish flower-patterned tappet, at the empty bottles of whiskey and beer on the crooked table, at the always-full ashtray, and close her eyes. She would then concentrate very hard, trying to turn them all into nothing in her head. The first stage was to stare at them until they stopped making any sense to her; until they turned into a blurry mixture of images and colors. Then, in the blink of an eye, they would be gone, just like that. Only then, when she had been surrounded by beautiful nothingness, could she fill it with trees, flowers, blossoms of all possible colors, skies, birds, sunshine, shimmering flying lights, and kind hands, not the evil claws from her nightmares. Hands that would lead her through the house along the exact path of the soft rays of sunlight which had somehow managed to penetrate the closed shutters, guiding her to the shut window, to the open world, waiting for her, outside.
Her training had paid off. Aurora was indifferent when the man stomped his hairy feet; she was indifferent to his shouts, to his threats to kill the woman, to the woman’s screams and crying, to seeing the woman being shoved against the kitchen table or thrust to the floor, over and over again; she was indifferent to the blood streaming down the woman’s face, to the dishes which would sometimes be thrown onto the floor, right beside her. Little Aurora was like a ghost. She had become so good at staring soundlessly at the nothingness she had created, the man and the woman would sometimes forget she was there. The man had taken out all his rage on the woman, but he had never laid a hand on Aurora. Neither of them did. She had been spared, for some reason. Although Aurora hated the woman, hated them both, she didn’t like seeing the man hit her. Somewhere, deep inside, she felt something that resembled empathy towards the woman; the same woman who had wanted nothing to do with her; the same woman who had told her how much she loathed her when it was just the two of them, blaming Aurora for binding her in eternal bondage to the man, whom she hated even more that she hated her own daughter.
Not a day went by in which the woman hadn’t emitted grunts and snorts, complaining about the hassle involved in caring for such a spoiled evil girl like Aurora. Not wanting to be in a future debt with the bitter woman, Aurora tried her best to grow up as quickly as possible. She wasn’t even two years old when she had potty trained herself after reluctantly observing the man and the woman in the bathroom—they never bothered to close the door. She had no other choice; it was either teaching herself how to use the toilet or being punished by not having her diapers changed for hours on end, her stench unbearable to smell.
At the age of three, Aurora started to dress by herself. She also learned to brush her teeth. She saw it on a commercial on the television; she was peeking at it from under the kitchen table as the two of them sat on the sofa with their cigarettes, watching their shows. At the age of four, Aurora learned how to wash by herself. She had been permitted to shower daily, as long as she showered in less than five minutes. The thrusting of shoes against the closed door of the bathroom had been the man’s subtle way to remind her that shower time was over. He was the one who had to pay the fucking water bill, he called from the sofa, his usual post-workday place. Aurora didn’t mind the short shower, though; daily showers were quite an improvement. When the woman had been in charge, she would usually wash her only once in two weeks, and it was very hard staying clean in this house. As far as Aurora could tell, it had never been cleaned.
At the age of five, Aurora started speaking. She could understand everything the man and the woman were saying as early as the age of two or so, but she didn’t dare to speak with them. Other than them, there was no one else around, so she never spoke. The first word she had ever learned was “bitch” followed by “fuck” and “whore”. The words “daddy” and “mommy” had never been heard in this cursed house, nor did the word “love.” But somehow Aurora knew that the words she was hearing were bad and evil. She had known it long before she could fully understand their meaning. Aurora didn’t want to hear them; she didn’t want to say them. The house which she refused to call her own, was orphaned from books, toys, and cardboard games. All that there was, were old newspapers and scattered crossword puzzle books. And a television set. Thanks to the television set, the “words and pictures emitter,” Aurora could expand her vocabulary dramatically. Words like “deal,” “best price,” “shop,” and “enjoy,” had become very familiar to her. Every day, she learned new words and these new words, enabled her to classify her thoughts, giving each image, each notion, each feeling, their own name. Every night, she named in her heart all the good names she had learned so far, so she won’t forget them. She would think about the dark skies, silently naming them “high sleep.” She would think about the faraway stars, which received the name “gold high.” Aurora’s moon was “white balloon” and her teddy became “Arturo” or “friend.” But the language that had been hiding inside of her never left the boundaries of her body. She heard the man and the woman say that she was too stupid and slow to understand anything. When they weren’t looking, she would allow herself to smile determinedly, reminding herself how important it was for them to continue thinking this way. Her survival relied on her ability to deceit.
The man and the woman never let her leave the perimeter of the house; playing in the big, neglected, fenced front yard was as far as she could go. They didn’t want people to know about her, they explained. It was a secret. Her existence had been a secret. The authorities were not to know she was there. Because Aurora had never spoken with them, barely emitting sounds and sufficing in nodding every time they had given her a new chore, she also never bothered to ask them the reason for that. She never bothered asking them anything, as she knew they won’t give her the answers she had been aching to receive. The answers were waiting for her beyond the “caged door”—the barred steel gate—and the “inside prison”—the steel fence.
When Aurora turned six, she had been given another household chore: making her own food. Before that, the woman was the one who had prepared the meals. But Aurora’s meals were quite different and much humbler than the meals the woman had cooked for both the man and for herself. Aurora had usually been “served” such meals as sticky, tasteless porridge, or pieces of toast with jam, and sometimes, on days the woman wasn’t in a terrible mood, Aurora would even be given a glass of milk and some of their meat. Vegetables and fruit were out of the question. Sometimes, when Aurora would see the people on the television—the only people she was allowed to see; the only children she was allowed to see—she’d go to the bathroom, close the door behind her, stand in front of the narrow, long mirror, and examine her little, scrawny reflection. Compared to the “television people,” she seemed shorter and skinnier. Much skinnier. Despite her efforts to grow up faster, there she was, so small, so tired. She feared she might be too small for this big world, whose real measures she didn’t even know.
Aurora couldn’t choose what to eat, even though she was the one to prepare it. The woman never bothered asking her if she liked the food, if it made her sick, or if she wanted more. Aurora knew better than to leave food uneaten on the plate, even if it tasted awful. Not once did the three of them sit at the table and eat together. Aurora had always dined alone, having separate feeding times. She was fine with it. The last thing she wanted was to be near them more than had been necessary. Arturo, her teddy, usually kept her company as she ate her tasteless meals.
In the first few days after it had been decided that she should cook for herself, the man instructed the woman to teach the girl how to cook and bake. She was finally getting old enough to be useful to him, he said. Like always, the woman didn’t argue. She stood by Aurora and taught her how to make an omelet, rice, chicken, soup, spaghetti, and cakes. It was only then when she heard the woman’s instructing voice demanding her to add more water to the chicken gravy, that she started to comprehend the concept of death. She looked down at the headless, featherless, feet-less chicken lying on its back, swimming in gravy. She had seen chickens on TV so she knew it must have been a living animal before that. Without needing to ask the woman, she knew what had happened to the chicken. Ever since then, Aurora couldn’t bring herself to think about cooking dead animals, let alone eat them. But, of course, she had to. And so, throughout that year, Aurora had not only been preparing food for herself but for the man and the woman as well. She wasn’t allowed to eat what she had cooked for them, though. No. She was to eat her porridge and her toast with jam.
At the age of seven, the man told Aurora that she was old enough to officially take care of herself, as if she hadn’t already done that since the day she was born. They didn’t have time for her, he said. Both the man and the woman started spending more time away from the secluded house. They were running out of money and paying the bills had gotten more difficult. It was the first time since Aurora was born, that the man had allowed the woman to work as well. Aurora couldn’t be happier. She had been waiting a long time for this special day; the day she would be left alone and execute her long-planned great escape.
Aurora woke up very early, at six in the morning, sometimes even earlier, and prepared them their breakfast before they left for work. After seven years of being caged inside the dreadful house, nothing seemed to bother her anymore. Not her constant hunger, not her fatigue, not her loneliness, and not even her hatred for them, because she knew it was all going to end soon. She would stand and fry them bacon, resisting the urge to vomit, as she heard them fight over using the bathroom, their screams piercing the quiet country-side morning. They would sit at the table, waiting to be served, then send her off to her room once breakfast was over. Aurora would drag her small feet to the room, close the door behind her, and breathe in relief. Another tense hour with both of them breathing down her neck went by; another hour which had brought her closer to the end. She would sit on the pillow, stroke Arturo’s stiff fur, and whisper in his ear that it won’t be long, that he shouldn’t despair. She would never ever leave him here alone, with them, she promised. She would wait to hear the front door slam and the ignition sound of the blue pick-up truck as it took off. Only then, could she truly set her imagination free while starting with her daily chores. Now that Aurora was a little adult, as the man had told her, she could do everything adults do. That meant not only cooking food, but also cleaning the house, taking care of the laundry, ironing clothes, and shining shoes.
Cleaning the house seemed like a useless attempt; no matter how much she scrubbed the windows, no matter how much she swept the floor, no matter how much she vacuumed the carpets, working seven, sometimes, eight or nine hours, it would look just like it did before. But gradually, after several months of daily maintenance, the dust started to disappear, the stains on the carpet, the stench of frying in the walls. As the house became cleaner, so did she. An outsider to her mind would beg to differ, given the dirty rags she had been wearing, the burns the chemicals of the cleaning products had left on her hands and slim wrists, the bunions on her fingers and the soles of her feet, the dusty thick long black hair. Such an outsider couldn’t see how clean she became inside, as the outside became cleaner. Now there was much more room to fill the nothingness around her with magical images from her dreams. Now there was hope, for the first time in her life.
This routine, which to Aurora, seemed to last a lifetime, went on for nearly five months until the anticipated day had finally arrived. It was a warm day in early summer. Aurora woke up especially early that morning. A lonely ray of sunlight managed to escape the sun in the sky, “the big yellow,” and travel all the way down to her, to Aurora. This lonesome ray slowly pushed itself through the rungs of the closed metal shutters, finding its resting place on her eyelids. Its warmth and kindness had propelled Aurora to open her big, black eyes and inhale its healing light. Aurora didn’t know how, but she knew that it was time. She kissed Arturo on his forehead, got up from the big pillow, which had become too small for her growing body, and stretched her slim arms and legs. This had been the most magnificent morning she had ever seen, and she didn’t need to be outside to know that. Filled with renewed energy, she marched to the kitchen and started to prepare breakfast. Once the man and the woman left the house, she didn’t begin with her daily chores. Instead, Aurora ran to their room and went carefully through the launderette drawer, making sure to put everything back exactly where it was. Only several months before that, when she had first started cleaning the house, they gave her permission to enter their room. But she was never to open the dresser. Fearing the consequences should she fail to comply, she never did. Until she realized that it was high time to make all the proper preparations for her great escape. This meant finding out where they had kept the money. Thanks to the television set, she had learned that “nothing in this life is free” and that “money makes the world go around.” She had seen numerous commercials with spinning dollar notes and machines which fired an endless amount of coins to cheering crowds. Although she had never seen this money with her own eyes or had touched it, she had a fairly good idea of how it looked. All she needed to do was find its hiding place in the house, and it wasn’t a hard task. The forbidden dresser had been the first place she searched, and surely enough, the money was there. Because there were no books in the house and because the man and the woman told her that school wasn’t an option, she never learned how to read, write, or count. For this reason, she had no idea how much money the thick stash of notes she had found in the dresser, under the man’s underwear, had amounted to. For months, she would open the drawer, hold the stash of money in her hands, and then instantly place it back, tacked carefully under the underwear. They should never suspect a thing, she told herself. She had one chance to do it right, one chance alone. And she couldn’t afford to fail.
But on that wonderful sunny Tuesday, Aurora reached for the stash and didn’t put it back. She hid the money inside a small aluminum box she had taken from the kitchen, then placed it inside a big backpack she had found in the basement. She observed the drawer one last time, verifying that everything was where it should be, and closed it. She ran to her room, tossing inside the backpack a few clean underwear, socks, shirts, and pants, then tied the only sweatshirt she owned around her waist. Aurora had to save the vacant space in the backpack for Arturo. She promised to let him out once they’d reach a safe distance from the house. When she finished packing, Aurora ran to the kitchen, opened the cupboard, and took a loaf of dry bread, a bottle of water, a can of sesame paste, a spoon, the sharpest knife she could find for protection, a can opener, and a salt shaker. Whenever she was alone in the house, busy cleaning it, she would turn on the television and listen to the shows and the music play in the background. She couldn’t sit and watch, of course, there was too much work, but she could listen. One time, she heard the people on the television explain about the most important things one should carry when wandering in a jungle are. They said the first thing to carry with you was a machete or a very big, very sharp knife, but also water, salt—they said something about salt being crucial for survival when being stranded with no food, but Aurora didn’t understand the words they had used to explain it—an energy-rich food source like peanut-butter or tahini, and one’s wits, of course. They also recommended against entering a jungle on your own. It was to be avoided at all costs. Because Aurora had never actually seen the outside world beyond the borders of the steel gate and the barred fence, she had no idea what was out there. For all she knew, she could find herself walking in a dense jungle, struggling to make her way through the foliage. During the long months of preparation, she relied on the television set to accumulate as much useful knowledge about the outside world as possible. She was old enough to understand that it was dangerous out there, and especially for a lonely, little girl such as herself. But other than Arturo, there was no one else. She decided she’d rather die running than continue living the rest of her wasted existence captivated in the old house. After the Jungle Survival show, shortly after finding the stash of money, Aurora set out on a mission to find the biggest knife she could find. As she had spent many hours cooking in the kitchen, Aurora had become acquainted with all the cooking utilities which had been stored in the cupboards. She had also grown to understand the qualities of various types of food and the advantages they provided to the body. It wasn’t long before she realized that she had been malnourished for years, which probably explained her small measures.
As Aurora couldn’t write, she created a to-do list in her head, memorizing it on a daily basis, so she won’t forget anything on the day of her escape. Aurora walked around the house, scanning the surroundings for anything useful while going over the list, and realized there was only one more thing she had to do before being able to leave: finding some sort of shoes to wear. As they never let her leave the house, there had never been a reason for her to wear shoes. There was no need in shoes, they told her, and besides, they were not willing to spend what little money they had on her. Aurora’s upbringing had already cost them enough, they reminded her. During the summers, she would always walk barefoot and each winter, she would wear thick socks. But Aurora knew that she couldn’t go out to the world with no shoes to her feet. Luckily for her, back when she had been searching for day packs in the basement, she had also found a pair of old sandals that were only slightly bigger than her size. It must have been the woman’s; she was petite with tiny feet. Ever since Aurora had found them under a pile of dusty cardboard boxes, not once did she dare to take them and hide them in her room. She was afraid the woman might look for them and force the truth out of her, deeming the great escape irrelevant.
Aurora climbed down the stairs leading to the basement, praying that the sandals were still there. If not, she told herself, then she’ll just have to run away barefoot. Nothing was going to stop her now. No pain, no fear, no blood. Only Arturo, who had been fortunate enough to see the rare moments in which Aurora smiled her big, wide, pure smile, could observe her glowing face, as she reappeared from the opening on the kitchen floor, leading to the basement, the sandals in her hands. Aurora came back up, closed the door on the floor, wore the sandals, which were surprisingly comfortable, ran throughout the house, making sure she wasn’t forgetting anything, used the bathroom one last time, drank a last glass of water, put the backpack on her back, opened the front door, opened the steel barred gate, and ran as fast as she could. She didn’t have time to stop and admire the breath-taking scenery around her; she didn’t stop to enjoy the blooming vast fields surrounding the small house; she didn’t stop to look at the blue sky nor at the birds soaring above her head; she didn’t stop to see what freedom looked like. There was no time. She ran through the open fields, avoiding the narrow dust roads going in between. There was the risk the man or the woman might come back earlier than planned and drive along these roads. Aurora ran deeper into the fields, not knowing where she was going. She only stopped to drink water and verify that Arturo wasn’t becoming ill from the bumpy ride inside her backpack. And then she continued running. She was willing to run until she died, but she wasn’t willing to come back there, ever, never. She was done being a ghost.