I hadn’t realized I was breathing hard until someone behind me ruffled some papers around. Looking up and seeing men and women carrying on quietly—while I sat on the ground, legs crossed head against a shelf—was enough to make me want to yell in rage. Had they not experienced what I had?
The details made my skin tingle. The story line made me feel as if I were actually there, running with her, for my life, across the concrete and away from the traffickers. As I read, I felt myself run with her as she scooped up her sister, whom she highly treasured and would do anything for. I continued to engross myself, only stopping to re-read the heart-stopping parts.
I ran harder. Faster. My feet seemed to pick themselves up, moving as an involuntary, independent mechanism.
Run, run, run. The word echoed in my head and exploded in my chest.
Chased like outlaws, sold like property. We were the hunted, the helpless, the abused. And because of our age and gender, Avnita and I had been marked as the most wanted. We had not just experienced life. We had been thrown into it, unwillingly learning the ways of the world and being abandoned by a mother who could not afford the burden of children.
The streets of Kolkata are not the safest places in the world. No alley is ever completely unoccupied, no shadow ever empty. And under the cover of night, evil becomes more apparent. It shows itself in its ugliest form, swimming in the darkness and festering on its prey.
Tonight, my sister and I are the quarry.
But I refuse to become a victim. After vowing the enemy would not reach Avnita, even if it meant I had to die for it, my hands shook. More than likely, one of us would have to give their life to escape this time.
And I refused to let it be her.
People of every age had become the enemy. Teenagers would show up and steal our food, clothes, and most of all, our dignity. If we didn’t immediately serve them right away, harsh punishments were always the consequence. Some of the younger ones were trustworthy. Older men and women were out of the question. Girls like us didn’t converse with them, trade with them, or even look them in the eye if we could help it.
On the other hand, none of us would think twice about stealing from them.
They would kidnap you, sell you, use you. Anything to make a profit. Some enemies would cut off a limb, pluck out an eye, or beat you until you are bruised and broken; and at the end of it, they would send you out into the streets to beg. Their horrible actions would instigate sympathy from other Indians, and in the end, a native might give you a small number of rupees. And before you can make your get away, the enemy snatches it before the coins ever reach your pocket.
Check back tomorrow for Part Three.