“But how will you find me?”
Tears choke her voice.
“I don’t know,” I admit. “But the American will know. He will help me.”
That look in her eyes, it’s hopeless. She doesn’t believe for a second that this insane plan of mine is going to work. And I probably wouldn’t have either nine years ago, but desperation makes a person do crazy things. Lydia’s face hardens and she reaches up to wipe the tears from her cheeks. It’s as if she knows this is the last time she will ever see me.
I kiss her hard on the forehead.
“I will come back for you.”
She nods slowly and I push my way through the tiny room with the pillowcase slung over my back.
“Get under the covers,” I hiss at her as I push open the window.
As Lydia hides under the blanket, I climb my way out the window and into the mild October heat. I crouch low behind the house and make my way around the side and through the hole in the fence surrounding the south side of the compound. Javier has gunmen everywhere, but I’ve always found them rather dense and lacking in the guard-the-compound-from-escapees area because rarely does anyone try to escape. Mostly the guards all stand around talking and smoking cigarettes and making vulgar gestures to the other girls who are enslaved here. The one standing at the entrance to the armory is the one who tried to rape me six weeks ago. The only reason Javier didn’t kill him is because that one is his brother.
But brother or not, he is now a eunuch.
Weaving my way in-between small buildings, I make it to the tree-line and stop in the shadows cast by the nearby house. I stand up straight and press my back against the stucco and make my way carefully around to the front where the twelve-foot barbwire fence starts at the front gate. Outsiders are always made to park their vehicles just beyond it where they are escorted into the compound on foot.
The American would not have been allowed in any differently. I’m sure of it. I hope.
A large swath of light from the post covers the space between me and the area of the gate that I need to get to. There is one guard posted there, but he’s younger and I think I can take him. I’ve had plenty of time to work these things out. All of my teenage life. I stole a handgun from Izel’s room last year and have kept it hidden under a floorboard in mine and Lydia’s room ever since. The second I saw the American enter the house I had pulled back the floorboard to retrieve it and shoved it in the back of my shorts. I knew I’d need it tonight.
I inhale a deep breath and dash across the light in the wide open and just hope that no one spots me. I run hard and fast with the pillowcase beating against my back and the gun gripped in my hand so tight it hurts the bones in my fingers. I make it to the fence and breathe a sigh of relief when I find another shadow to hide within. Shadows move at a distance, coming from the house I just left. I feel sick to my stomach and could actually vomit if I didn’t know I had more important things to do and fast. My heart is hammering against my ribcage. I spot the guard out ahead standing near the front gate and leaning against a tree. The hot amber of a cigarette glows around his copper-colored face and then fades as he pulls his lips away from the filter. The silhouette of his assault rifle gives the impression that he has the gun strap tossed over one shoulder. Thankfully he isn’t holding it at the ready. I walk quickly along the edge of the fence, trying to stay hidden in the shadow cast by the trees on the other side of it. My worn out flip-flops move over the soft sand making no sound at all. The guard is so close that I can smell the funk of his body odor and see the oil glistening in his unwashed air.
I creep up closer, hoping my movement doesn’t attract him. I’m right behind him now and I’m about to pee myself. My legs are shaking and my throat has closed up almost to the point that I can hardly breathe. Carefully and as quietly as possible, I pull my gun back and hit him over the head with the butt as hard as I can. A loud whack! and a crunch! turns my stomach. He falls over unconscious and the burning cigarette hits the sand beside his knees. I grab his gun, practically having to tear it off his arm because of the heavy weight of his body, and then I take off running through the cracked gate and outside the compound.
Just as I had hoped there is only one vehicle parked out front: a slick black car that is probably the most out-of-place object in this area for miles. Nothing here but slums and filth. This is an expensive city car with shiny rims and an attitude.
One more hurdle. But upon seeing the car my confidence in the American having left the doors unlocked are diminishing. Surely he wouldn’t in these parts. I place my hand on the back passenger’s side door and I hold my breath. The door pops open. I don’t have time to be relieved when I hear voices coming through the front gate and I catch a glimpse of a moving shadow from the corner of my eye. I crawl in the back floorboard and shut the door quickly before those approaching are close enough to hear it shut.
Oh no…the overhead light.
I grit my teeth watching the light fade above me so slowly that it’s torturous, until finally it blinks out and leaves me in darkness. After shoving the pillowcase underneath the driver’s seat I try to hide the stolen rifle just behind the seat between the leather and the door. It leaves me with enough time to squeeze my little body as far into the floorboard as I can. I wrap my arms tight around my knees which are pressed against my chest and I arc my back over and hold the awkward position.
The voices fade and all that is left is the sound of one pair of legs approaching the car. The trunk pops open and seconds later it closes again.
I hold my breath when the front driver’s side door opens and the overhead light pops on again. The American shuts the door behind him and I feel the car move as he positions himself in the front seat. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Finally the light fades. I hear the key being slid into the ignition and then the engine purrs to life.
Why aren’t we moving? Why are we just sitting here? Maybe he’s reading something.
And then he says aloud in Spanish, “Cocoa butter lotion. Warm breath. Sweat.”
It takes a moment for my brain to register the meaning behind his strange words and to realize that he’s actually talking to me.
I rise up quickly from behind the seat and c*ck the handgun, pressing the barrel against the back of his head.
“Just drive,” I say in English, my hands shaking holding the gun in place. I’ve never killed anyone before and I don’t want to, but I’m not going back into that compound.
The American slowly raises his hands. The glint of his thick silver watch catches my eye but I don’t let it distract me. Without another word he places one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the gear shift, putting the car into Drive.
“You’re American,” he says calmly, but I detect the tiniest ounce of interest in his voice.
“Yes, I’m American, now please just drive.”
Keeping the gun pointed at his head, I maneuver myself into the backseat and I pull the gun away from his reach. I catch him glimpse me in the rearview mirror, but it’s so dark inside the car with just the low lights from the dashboard that all I can see are his eyes for a brief moment as they sweep over me.
Finally the car goes into forward motion and he puts both hands on the steering wheel. He’s being calm and cautious, but I get the feeling he isn’t the slightest bit worried about me or what I might be capable of doing. This scares me. I think I’d rather him be begging for his life, stuttering over words of plea, promising me the world. But he looks as dangerous and as uninterested as he did back inside the house even when he put a bullet in that gunman’s head he so casually named Guillermo.
We’ve been driving for twenty-eight minutes. I’ve been watching the clock in the dashboard, the glowing blue numbers already starting to burn through to my subconscious. The American hasn’t said a word. Not one word. I know it has nothing to do with being afraid. I’m the one with the gun but I’m the only one of us who is afraid. And I don’t understand why he hasn’t spoken. Maybe if he would just turn the radio on…something…because the silence is killing me. I’ve been trying to keep my eyes on him while at the same time trying to get some kind of idea of my whereabouts. But so far the only landmarks that I’ve seen are trees and the occasional stucco house or dilapidated building—it all looks the same as the compound.
Thirty-two minutes in and I realize I’ve already lowered the gun at some point. My finger is still on the trigger and I’m ready to use it if I have to, but I was stupid to think I could hold it up pointed directly at him for longer than a few minutes.
I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get tired. Thankfully the adrenaline is keeping me wide awake for now.
“What’s your name?” I ask him, hoping to stir the silence.
I need to get him to trust me, to want to help me.
“My name is inconsequential.”
He doesn’t respond.
I swallow a lump in my throat, but another one just forms in its place.
“My name is Sarai.”
Still no response.
It kind of feels like torture, the way he ignores me. I’m beginning to think that is exactly what he’s doing: torturing me with silence.
“I need you to help me,” I say. “I’ve been a prisoner of Javier’s since I was fourteen-years-old.”
“And you assume I’m going to help you because I am also American,” he says simply.
I hesitate before I answer, “I-I…well, why wouldn’t you?”
“It is not my business to interfere.”
“Then what is your business?” I ask with a trace of distaste. “To murder people in cold blood?”
A shiver moves through my back.
Not knowing what to say to something like that, or even if I should, I decide it’s best to change the subject.
“Can you just get me across the border?” I ask, becoming more desperate. “I’ll—.” I lower my eyes in shame. “I’ll do whatever you want. But please, please just help me get over the border.” I feel tears trying to force their way to the surface, but I don’t want him to see me cry. I don’t know why, but I just can’t let him. And I know he understands what it means to do whatever he wants. I hate myself for offering my body to him, but like I said before about desperation….
“If you are referring to the United States border,” he says and for some reason his voice surprises me, “then you must know the distance is longer than I care to have you in my car.”
I raise my back from the seat just a little.
“W-Well how long would you allow me?”
I catch his dark eyes in the rearview mirror again. They lock on mine and this too sends a shiver through my back.
He doesn’t answer.
“Why won’t you help me?” I ask, finally accepting the fact that no matter what I say to him, it’s futile. And when he still doesn’t answer I say with exasperation, “Then pull over and let me out. I’ll walk the rest of the way myself.”