S A U D A D E
(especially with reference to songs or poetry) a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia.
IT WAS past the hour of midnight in the busy city of Las Vegas. For some, the night had come to a close hours ago, but for most, it was far from over. As it was for the occupants of a four-walled, cemented prison. Or at least, so it seemed to them.
Twelve young girls lay huddled together on the cold ground, bare, bruised, but without complaint. All except for the newest arrival.
She was a small girl. Frail, delicate. She couldn’t have been more than twelve years of age. The rest feared she wouldn’t last the night if the way she shivered as she sobbed was any indication. But they wouldn’t - couldn’t - do anything to help.
All but one. The eldest of the group - the unspoken leader and mother figure - got up from the huddle, sorrowful brown eyes focused on the new girl. At nineteen, the young woman excelled all the others in age and time spent in what they’ve come to know as hell.
Aviana was her name. It was ironic if you thought about it; her name meant “like a bird,” and there she was, caged up like the animal her name suggests. It had been a long and torturous twelve years.
Aviana’s brows furrowed.
Had it really been that long?
The girl before her let out a wheezing cough, her shaking hand rising to her face as she tried to muffle the sound. That was something everyone learned by the first day of captivity.
Aviana crouched next to the girl, joints cracking from having spent the last few hours in an uncomfortable position. The girl’s eyes widened as she took the woman in, eyes darting down before flying off her figure as if she’d been burned.
The girl pulled her knees closer to her naked chest, trying to cover what the older girl so easily left in the open.
Aviana was confused for a moment but soon remembered that not everyone had grown up in a place like this. They were used to simple luxuries such as clothes and undergarments. Aviana, in short, couldn’t remember what that was like.
“What’s your name?” Aviana’s soothing voice broke the eternally tense silence.
She made it a rule to avoid questions like, “how are you,” or, “are you okay,” knowing that they were terrified, emotionally unstable, and most definitely not okay.
The young girl was hesitant to give an answer, but Aviana’s warm smile and kind eyes persuaded her to trust.
That will get her hurt.
“Kayla,” The girl mumbled softly, sniffing as she cleared the remnants of her tears.
“Come, join us, Kayla,” Aviana offered. “You’ll freeze to death if you stay here by yourself.”
She knew this first hand, having spent many nights curled up on the cold floor with nothing to keep out the winter chill. She had barely had the energy to open her eyes in the morning, but that ever hopeful voice inside her - the one she just couldn’t seem to crush - cried for her to do so.
Aviana rose from her crouched position, holding out a hand for the younger girl. Kayla accepted the hand with little hesitation and Aviana barely held back a wince at the feel of her ice-cold fingers curling around her own.
Together, they walked to the group of girls who welcomed them with open arms. You didn’t survive this place by shutting others out, so just as Aviana had with all of them when they had first arrived, they settled Kayla in the middle of their huddle, rubbing her cold skin to return some life to it.
No one uttered a word after that; mindless chatter would waste energy and they’d need to be fully charged for when dawn breaks. Unlike the strippers of the business who worked at night, they were the ‘try before you buy’ girls. The ones who customers could have a go of before deciding if they wanted to spend their money on them.
Aviana had only lasted this long because she was the boss’s favourite; no price offered had been great enough thus far. She was grateful for it, knowing life outside the ring was far more dangerous than inside. Once someone bought you, you were theirs; their property. They could kill you if they so wished and no one would ever know. At least here she had a chance at survival.
There it was again; that hopeful voice. Always so wishful and optimistic.
Aviana let out a small sigh of frustration. If it wasn’t for that darned voice she could’ve ended this years ago.
She knew when the morning had finally arrived. Something about the way the creeping sun took the edge off the freezing floor and the atmosphere lightened with the false promise of a new day.
All it promised for Aviana was new power-hungry men who couldn’t wait to use her like a sex doll. She just hoped the boss was busy today; he was always the worst.
Aviana got up from her position on the outside of the huddle, stretching her sore limbs before carefully shaking awake the few that had managed to fall asleep. She was met with tired eyes, a crazed sadness hid in their depths as they realised that a new day had begun.
They waited, as they always did, for the familiar snapping sound of the locking mechanism on the door, finding little comfort in their last few moments of peace. The sound resounded through the empty room, sending a sickening feeling to Aviana’s gut.
It wasn’t for her that she felt fear for, it was for the other girls; especially little Kayla. She had made it through the night with the help of the others, but she looked as if she was about to blow over with the slightest puff of air.
A blank-faced, armed man came through the door, holding it open as the girls automatically filed through. Aviana nudged Kayla forward, making sure she knew what she had to do. The worst thing they could do was disobey, and there was no pity for newcomers.
The room the girls walked into was no better than their cold dungeon; perhaps worse. There were twelve separate cages, each stood tall and proud, metal bars gleaming in the low lighting.
The girls didn’t hesitate, knowing the consequence, and walked straight into the humiliating contraptions. Aviana subtlely guided Kayla into a cage before entering her own, the door locking behind her.
While Kayla looked at the bars in disgust, her pride most likely rearing its head at the thought of being locked up like a dog, Aviana had no response. Her pride had died long ago before it had even had a chance to develop.
It was then that the horrid man himself entered the room, eyes gleaming. The boss.
All the girls straightened subconsciously, hands holding each other behind their backs as if they were their own lifeline.
“Good morning, ladies,” The man said in a voice that, under normal circumstances, would have seemed normal.
He was met with no response, the girls knowing better than to open their mouths in his presence. He wasted no time, listing off girls that had been chosen for private test runs or bought by past customers. Soon enough, Aviana was the only one who hadn’t been called.
She knew what that meant and her heart fell.
“Aviana,” He purred, setting her nerves on edge. “You’re coming with me.”
Customers began filling the room as Aviana’s cage was opened, her forearm grabbed before her boss greedily dragged her away from the chatter-filled room. No matter how many times she witnessed it, it still disgusted her. The way both men and a few women peered over the girls as if they were shiny new toys, discussing which one they’d like to try first, never failed to fill her with hatred for the rest of mankind.
She didn’t flinch when she was led into a darkened room, nor when she was forced carelessly over what they called “the fuck bench.” It had a main body, where the torso laid, along with four lower platforms where the arms and legs were strapped down, and then another platform for the head, which was also strapped face down.
Aviana had found that the only way to stay sane was to find a happy place. Since she didn’t have any such places in her memories, she relied on dreams; things she wished for.
There was one main scene; one that brought her so much peace and happiness it made her shed a tear.
It was a home.
She didn’t care for the size or the look, she just cared that it was home. A place filled with family and friends. A husband, children, perhaps a dog, or two, or three. The smell of coffee roasting in the morning; not that she knew what it smelt like first hand, but she had heard some of the girls talking.
She imagined a place that was always happy. A place filled with laughter and so much joy.
But it was only a dream. Aviana felt another tear slide down her face. It was a dream that she had come up with, in the first few years of being in the ring; when she still had some fight left in her. Now it was just a far-off fantasy; something that would never come true, but she held onto it all the same.
Before she knew it, the boss was gone, not bothering to release her from the restraints. And so, Aviana’s day continued. Men came and went, and the whole time she continued imagining her home. Her happy place.
Once the customers had died down and evening had fallen, one of the girls entered the room, unstrapping Aviana from the bench and helping her back to their concrete prison.
Their numbers had dwindled down to nine, Aviana noticed as they entered the room. The girl, who Aviana now recognised as Elise, propped her up in the corner of the room before sitting next to her, cuddling into her side. The rest of the girls joined them, creating their huddle around Aviana.
She noticed tear tracks down the cheeks of Kayla and sighed, reaching out a hand to caress the side of her face. The urge to comfort her with pointless words was strong, but she bit her tongue. Encouraging words would do nothing but inspire hope, and she didn’t want to lie to her.
Instead, she did what always seemed to calm the girls. A soft melody filled the empty space as Aviana began humming.
It was a song she had heard once; she couldn’t remember where or many of the words, but she knew the tune.
A few lyrics floated around her head, bringing a small smile to her face as she let her fingers gently untangle the knots in Elise’s hair.
Stay awake, don’t rest your head. Don’t lie down upon your bed.
Talk about reverse psychology. Aviana let out a breathy laugh as she continued the song. She had to laugh; if she couldn’t find joy in the little things, she was as good as dead.
You’re not sleepy as you seem. Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.
Aviana felt her own eyes fluttering closed as her humming grew weaker, her mind shutting down for the first time in days. She didn’t hesitate to let sleep wash over her, eager to escape the real world for a few precious hours.