She was in her mother’s room with all the other girls crammed in there on their rare day off. The girls in the house got one day off every three months to do as they pleased. “Ugh. She just has the most amazing hair,” Aria, one of the girls in her young twenties said as she braided it. Asha giggled behind her hands. Aria was her favorite. She was always so happy and cheerful. And she had the prettiest lopsided smile that made her green eyes glitter.
“Tell me about it. I have no idea where she got it from. Lord knows it wasn’t me and her father could have built a bird’s nest in his hair.” Her mother called from across the room. The bed was huge, for obvious reasons, and took up most of the room. They only had one little mirror in there and a tiny closet to hang up their clothes. It wasn’t a lot but it was enough for them. They were safe and happy.
Everyone always told them that they looked so much like each other. Their light brown hair and piercing gray eyes were one thing, but everyone told them it was when they looked angry that they looked almost identical. Their eyes would light up with this fury that could burn people alive. It was a terrifying sight, not something someone wanted to be on the receiving end of.
Her mother was painting the nails of the only other little girl in the house, Effie. Effie was only 5 years old, but she had more wisdom than everyone in the house combined. She didn’t talk much, but she saw and heard everything. When you talked to her, you could see in her hazel eyes that she understood everything you said. And she had an uncanny ability to comfort those that were in trouble.
Asha and Effie were almost inseparable.
Yeah it was a tough life. There were times she had to sit in the closet and try not to listen as her mother did unspeakable things to put food on her plate. There were times some drunken sailor would take a look at Asha and think she was one of the whores and lunge for her. But she had a family. A family that cared for her and protected her.
Not once did she feel like she was in danger here. Not once did she think this day would come.
Her mother had just finished painting Effie’s nails and was waiting for them to dry before putting on another coat. They didn’t do this often, but when they did, they made sure to do it right. Her mother had just opened the bottle cap again when they heard banging on the front door. Everyone in the town knew it was their day off and not to disturb them. Even the most crude customers respected this.
The girls all just looked at each other and shrugged; they would probably go away when nobody answered. But when Asha looked at her mother, she looked troubled. And when she continued painting Effie’s nails, there was a slight tremor to her hands.
When the banging on the door didn’t stop after a few minutes, Lydia, the head of the house grew concerned. “I’ll go down and tell them the rules. Probably just a drifter who didn’t get the memo.” Lydia was the hardest working out of all of them and made sure her girls worked just as hard. She was tough but one of the most compassionate souls among them.
“My pistol’s in my room if you wanna scare ‘em off, Auntie Lydia,” one of the girls piped from the corner. The room burst into giggles. Yeah right, Lydia was probably scary enough. Asha was giggling behind her hands when she glanced at her mother to see if she got the joke, but her mother was biting her fingers, her eyebrows knitting together.
“What’s wrong mama?” Asha asked. Her mother glanced up at her and gave her a soft smile. “It’s probably nothing sweet pea. Go back to –“ Her mother was cut off from a loud bang coming from downstairs.
And the entire house erupted into chaos.
They could hear Lydia screaming and sobbing and male yelling to check upstairs and leave no survivors. The entire room exploded and the girls ran to their rooms, to the bathroom, and downstairs, looking for a place to hide or find a way to help.
Asha screamed, running for her mother. Her mother grabbed her before she could take another step and dragged her to the closet. By now, the entire room was empty except for her and her mother. She shoved Asha in the closet which was barely wide enough to hold her slim frame.
“Mama! What about Auntie Lydia? What happened to her?” There were tears streaming down Asha’s face. She had no clue what was happening, but she could hear the screams and even she knew the sound of gunshots. There was grunting and begging to please stop. To please show mercy.
Her mother grabbed Asha by the arms and squeezed until Asha yelped in pain. “Look at me, sweet pea. You are a survivor.” Tears rolled down her mother’s face, making her gray eyes look huge. “You are strong, and you will get through this. Remember that I love you and I will always be with you.”
Her mother pulled out the false wall in the closet and shoved Asha in the tiny space. There was only room for one. “Mama, what’s happening. What are you doi-“
“No time for that now.” She leaned down and gave Asha a kiss on the forehead. “Be quiet and don’t come out until you know it’s safe.” And she sealed the wall in front of her. And Asha did what she was told. She stayed quiet and didn’t come out until she couldn’t hear anyone in the house anymore.
It was too dark to see anything in there, but she could hear everything. She could hear her mother begging for her life. She could hear Effie sobbing and screaming for Asha to come save her. She could hear the gurgling when Effie started choking on her own blood and she knew it was too late.
When she finally stepped out the closet, it was like her head had gone numb. She knew what she was seeing. Blood everywhere she stepped. Her mother’s lifeless body on the bed, a look of terror and anger on her face. Asha stepped through the house, stepping on Effie’s blood, seeing her body on the floor, a slash across her throat. And didn’t feel anything.
There was a hollowness in her chest where her heart was. She couldn’t feel the pain, the anger, the anguish of seeing her only family dead on the floor while she sat in safety and listened. And then she came across Aria. She was on the couch downstairs. Her eyes were closed and she looked peaceful, almost like she was sleeping. Except for the large blood stain on her chest.
And then Asha felt it coming back to her. The pain in her chest. The closing of her throat as she realized she would never see her mother’s kind eyes, never see Aria’s beautiful face smiling down at her, never feel Lydia’s warm hug, or hold Effie’s tiny hand in her own. Asha broke down right there, over Aria’s body, sobbing until there was nothing but emptiness left there again.
Silently, Asha walked toward the door, covered in the closest thing she had to a sister’s blood, walked out the door, and fainted two steps away from the only home she ever knew.