“One of you little bitches,” she spat in Spanish, “took my fucking makeup bag! I want it back! And you’re going to tell me who has it!”
“I don’t know!” I screamed, curled on my side in the fetal position. And it was the truth—I had no idea who took it. But it wasn’t unusual for Izel to say that things had been stolen just so she had an excuse to beat on me. She hated me. Hated me more than she hated anything or anyone, I was a stupid, white, American whore…a puta. “Una estúpida, blanca puta Americana!” And she was jealous that Javier protected me the way he did.
“I’m telling the truth!” I sobbed uncontrollably into my hands.
An agonizing pain seared through my body as her foot thrust into my rounded belly and I lost my breath in one sharp gasp.
“Ahhhiiieee!” I cried out in pain when my breath came back. My legs came up into the fetal position again, my hands gripped my stomach as I tried to cover myself, to shield my belly from anymore blows. Vomit came up in my mouth and I couldn’t hold it down. Lying on my side, I expelled as much as I could onto the floor, vomit pooling around my cheek. I gasped and cried and choked, my eyes shut tight as I lay there hoping it would all just go away.
The sound of the door slamming into the wall was loud and frightening. The rumble of heavy boots thundering across the wood beneath me shook me to my bitter core.
“No, no, no! Javier, yo no fui!” Izel pleaded, futilely trying to defend herself.
I opened my eyes to see Izel’s throat caught in Javier’s iron hand, her little caramel-colored feet lifted from the floor.
“YOU NEVER TOUCH HER!” Javier roared in Spanish, his face merely an inch from hers as she choked in his grasp. “I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU, IZEL!”
Javier slammed her writhing body so hard against the wall that the large mirror several feet away cracked in three places, fell from the plastic hooks and shattered across the floor in a thousand pieces. When the glint of reflective shards rose up in my vision I covered my eyes and head again with my hands to protect myself.
Izel screamed then as if someone were cutting off her hand. I watched in horror—and sickening relief—as Javier’s fist came down again and again on his sister’s face until he knocked her unconscious and blood covered everything that made her recognizable.
He let her limp body drop against the floor and he came over to me, scooping me up into his big arms.
“Deal with Izel!” he growled to the men standing out in the hall as he carried me out.
The men hurried inside the room.
I only ever felt safe in Javier’s arms. I hated it whenever he left me there, in the compound, surrounded by dozens of sexually hungry men who carried guns on their backs and evil in their hearts. And Izel, who every day wished I was dead.
Javier carried me out of the flat-roofed building where many of the girls were kept, and he took me to the house I stayed in with him all the time that he was there, the house I was supposed to be left alone to live in even when he was gone, and not put with the other girls where conditions would be considered deplorable. Because this house was my home. It was my home with Javier.
I didn’t choose it. I didn’t live with him willingly. But over time, I grew to accept it.
I didn’t speak when he carried me inside. I just cried, my face pressed into the fabric of his shirt, the little black buttons that held it closed over his massive chest making indentions on my cheekbone. I grasped the collar of his shirt with my fingers tighter when pain shot through my lower back.
“How long has she done this to you, Sarai?” he asked as he carried me into the bathroom.
Carefully, he stood me up, placing my bare feet gently against the wood floor, and he slipped the gown over my head.
“You stink of filth,” he said, not with reprimand, but with anger towards Izel for allowing me to get this way. “Look at you—how long?” His giant hands collapsed about my flimsy biceps and he looked down into my dirt and tear-streaked face with his dark brown eyes. “Tell me, Sarai. Don’t lie to me.”
I said nothing. I just continued to cry, lowering my head to look at the floor. Droplets of blood fell from my lips and dotted the floor around my feet. My whole head throbbed and my gums were sore and I feared my front teeth were loose.
The faucet squeaked noisily as he turned the water on in the bath. Water gushed from the opening as Javier bent his 6’2 height over the tub and plugged the bottom with a wash cloth.
He helped me into the tub; in addition to the pain inflicted by Izel, my large belly made it difficult to do on my own.
“Lay back, mi amor,” he said and positioned a hand at the back of my neck to help me.
Still, I said nothing. I let my head fall to one side and I stared off at the wall, covered by dingy green wallpaper peeling away in spots, while Javier washed me with the utmost care. He was always careful with me when I was sick or hurt or pregnant. Even refrained from rough sex with me in these times, settling for safer, more tender moments. But he was always in control of me. Always.
He shut the water off.
Another shot of pain raced through my back and around my front, digging into my lower belly. One of my hands came up out of the water and grasped the side of the tub. Javier let the wash cloth fall into the water between my legs and he held me by the arm. His dark eyes bore into mine with concern as he looked to and from me and my stomach, knowing something was wrong.
“I’m OK,” I told him and laid my head down on his arm, just below where he’d rolled up his black sleeve so he could bathe me.
Reluctantly, he took the wash cloth back up and began to clean away the weeks’ worth of dirt from my legs. He wasn’t supposed to be back for a few more days. Returning this early, and unexpectedly, didn’t give Izel enough time to get me cleaned up and back to the way he left me. She never would have beat me that close to when he would return. She’d always make sure the evidence had faded, or go over with me any one of a hundred lies we’d told him over the few years I had been in the compound. Izel knew I wouldn’t tell Javier what she did to me.
“Sarai?” he said in a comforting, deep voice.
Water steadily trickled into the tub from the cloth.
I looked at him.
“You’re protecting them,” he said in Spanish and then continued in broken English—he always resorted to English when he felt guilty or sympathetic. “I know it’s so you protect Izel. But no nothing you can do for these girls. They will be sold. You never see them again. And they no care about you. They do what they have to to live. Too easily broken. Do you see what I say to you?” The warmth of the wet cloth went carefully over my mouth and cheek, and then he wiped my forehead, stopped and looked down into my eyes.