Revised story for Story Fest

CITY TRADER

Janet looked across at Aurelia, and felt a bolt of guilt about bringing her here, the kid was a wreck and she hadn’t chosen this after all.  The bricks she’d stacked up into a brick wall so neatly in her mind earlier were beginning to crumble.  No, stop it, the girl didn’t matter.  Just get her there, get the money, get out.

Aurelia didn’t know they had reached the country’s second city, how could she when she could barely speak any English, let alone read the signs on the platform. She only knew that she must have been thousands of miles from home and she wished her drug saturated limbs would rush her back there.

Her leathery faced chaperone had lingered closer than her own shadow for the entire journey, even following her inside the toilet cubicle. None of the other passengers seemed to find this odd, and that confused Aurelia.  Back home she was sure people would have spotted something amiss and intervened, but memories of back home were foggy now.

As they waited for the carriage doors to open, Aurelia comforted herself by tracing the elaborately stitched pattern on the soft fabric of her bag with her fingertip.  She remembered how proud she’d been to unwrap it on her fifteenth birthday back in June.  And yet today she had mixed emotions for it.  On one hand it held the key to her old life in which she had been a beloved member of a large family.  On the other, it had been the very item that had sparked a connection between her and Janet.  It had been similar to the woman’s own bag and had sparked her interest during the stilted conversation that had followed. Aurelia was now very clear that Janet was not in fact a model agent. The bag and its contents now represented two chapters of her life, the one before September snatched her away, and this one that had become unworthy of a title.  Nothing would have fitted the monotone landscape of the life that stretched out before her now.
“Remember what we told you.  Try to run, leave or talk to anyone and you know what happens.  Don’t you?”  Her blood ran cold at Janet’s whisper, so hot and close it felt like it might have been coming from deep inside her head.

The state she was in, she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t but she got the message, she’d pick that up loud and clear on the first night when her thoughts were still innocent and clear.

“You hear me adorable Aurelia?  Understand that bit of English?”.

With this final question Janet swept her along and into the station, all the while squeezing her arm so tight she could almost feel the woman’s thumb prints on her bones.  Aurelia stumbled alongside her as if it were her choice, eyes rolling back every now and then as the floor ebbed and flowed beneath her feet.

Making their way out into the city, the streets thronged with people yet she felt more alone than ever before in her short life.  She took in the sights and sounds around her, people bobbing along in unison, talking on phones, looking only at the floor, with skin and hair of many different colours that reminded her of the vivid tapestry that hung in her mothers bedroom.  Buildings were tall and grey, poking into the sky like missiles, except one imposing space bubble looking place with silver spheres dotted all over it.  Huge slogans and photos dripped from it.
They moved swiftly through the crowds to who knows where, and the sound of cash registers and credit cards jostling for attention reverberated around her head.  That was the language of the city, everybody and everything could be bought, no humanity here only credit and consumption.  It was only then, for the first time since being snatched, that her eyes began to overflow, the salt of her tears stinging the small lesions that had begun forming on her chin.  She was here to be consumed by the highest bidder and nobody would hear her cries above the volume of the city, not matter how loud she screamed.
Janet spotted the tear stains “Come with me darling.” she sneered close in her ear as always before pulling her sharply off the main route and along a small side street anonymous to her.

Her face burned with shame as she was pushed against a wall, Janet’s sharp plastic nails rough against her face.
Janet squeezed at Aurelia’s small breast “This is all you have to offer now, you are nothing else.” before moving her hand to her throat, gripping with ferocity, her nails drawing small spots of blood on the delicate skin of her neck.

She leaned in close again “You are dead now, you have no feelings, nothing to cry for anymore.  Understand?”

Black spots danced before Aurelia’s eyes making her dizzy and nauseous.  Janet released his grip as she saw her stoop over to vomit.

“Christ!  Stupid little whore.”. She pulled a handkerchief from that damned bag and wiped the splats from the side of her stilettoed boot.

“Oh, so you’re sick now?  You just wait, you’re gonna wish you’d never been born sweet little Aurelia.” Janet smirked knowingly as she looked down at her.
With that she turned her back expecting the girl to follow, but something inside Aurelia switched at that moment.  It was as though vomiting had emptied her of every last glimmer of her lost childhood, her former self, replacing it with nothing but pitch black.  Her head clearer now, she was overcome with a strength previously unknown to her small frame.  Launching herself at Janet, she grabbed her scarf and pulled it tight, then tighter and tighter still until she could hear only rasping gurgling noises coming from Janet’s throat.

Whispering in her ear, she uttered her first words since being snatched, “But I am born. I’m born again, today.”
Now she was the one standing uncomfortably close, and she wasn’t letting go.  Aurelia realised that whilst she hadn’t learnt much English other than a few words from the bible, the city had already taught her that she could talk the language of trade.  Today she would trade one woman’s ending for her own new beginning.  Janet’s limp body slumped down onto the dirt and grit of the tarmac.  Aurelia swapped her handbag for the dead woman’s, before tossing her own bag and all traces of her old life contained within into a large bin nearby.  After straightening herself up a little, she walked back out into the crowd and didn’t look back.

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