It was early evening the first time she came to; that much was for certain. There hung in the air the decadent quality of a good old Latin afternoon, what they called ‘the gloaming’ in more civilized lands. Here, between rural mud house and spacious corn field, it was simply time for the children to go back inside, lest that darn evil Goblin snatch them and eat them for dinner. It was time for the weary father to hang his tools upon cheap plastic hangers, time for the wives to serve them their distilled spirits and a good chunk of horse meat, time for the laundry to be taken down from the lines; closing of windows; shutting of doors; as if the entire countryside encroached upon itself and everything seemed to have a quality of smallness where none had before existed.
But she knew it was early evening, not because of the rustling of reusable diapers falling from their hooks, or because of the mothers screaming various names out from the clay casas, no, no; she knew it was evening because everything had now taken on a despairingly beautiful orange glow. And that color, she knew, was characteristic of the Honduran afternoon.
It took her a while to regain her senses; despite the torrent of bleeding light that slammed through the cardioid-shaped window, she could not hear or smell much. The light was pretty much it as far as sensorial information went. It was disquieting.
Slowly, the room around her began to take shape. She observed, in one corner of the filthy space she was in, a plastic folding table, circular, smeared with chew and dotted with hundreds of little cigarette burns. One of the legs appeared to have been bitten by a small canine creature, the outline of a strong mandible carefully etched against the white plastic. There were four chairs scattered around the table, a slight memory of patina corroding away. None of the chairs were similar in the slightest. A flickering light bulb swayed back and forth on a string of mule hair, its light threatening to go out with every oscillation. She looked down at her feet; they were bathed in dirt.
There was an internal churning, and then she threw up onto her lap. Blackness consumed the corners of the world again.
In retrospect, the circumstances leading up to her current predicament were her own goddamned fault.
She had been advised all throughout the day not to, but she did anyways, and well.
Look where it had gotten her.
Her mother would no doubt be gloating at this precise juncture.
I told you so, Missy, she would whisper. Missy, with a capital M.
It occurred to her that if she were asked, right then, to describe her mother, she would be unable to do so.
It subsequently occurred to her that she didn’t really mind it either way, this fact.
Further emotional insight was interrupted when four men walked into the room. The door was made out of red clay, just like the walls. It did not bang or scrape, more like make a muffling sound as if two hands were being rubbed together. She suddenly felt a strong pain in her right temple.
They smelled of piss and gunpowder. There were three of rather tall build, with the fourth shorter specimen trailing behind. They resembled each other in that vague way that all men from the Latin mountains resemble each other: the small dirty teeth, the protruding dark eyes, brown skin the color of mud right after it rains, flattened button noses, pubic hair rising from their shrunken heads. Nasty people.
They were jeering at her, throwing little pebbles and pointing guns into her face. She had heard enough about the Honduran countryside to know what a pack of inebriated Indians would do to young pale girls. The chair she was bound to screeched as she tried to edge away, but with every jolty movement, they only laughed louder.
God, please let it be over soon, she thought, again and again, in mock prayer.
The stomach began to act up again, and, as the men drew closer, she threw up in their general direction.
They were horrified. One of them slapped her with the butt of his cheap revolver, and her neck went slack and she disappeared into unconsciousness.
“Hey. Hey, girl.”
She woke up, startled, to find the smaller of the four men crouching near her, pressing a wet cloth to her forehead. Her mouth formed an O shape as she made to scream, but the man slapped a grimy hand over her chapped lips and shook his head twice.
“They finally passed out, mi amor. Don’t wake them up.”
She stared at him, her eyes wide.
“Now, if I take this hand off your mouth, you need to promise to stay fucking quiet.”
She noticed his English was awful, burdened by a heavy accent. But he looked at her, and she shook her head yes, as if she had understood.
He removed the hand from her mouth. She screamed anyways.
The other three men were sprawled in erratic positions on the floor. One of them stirred slightly as the girl screamed, but the shorter man covered her mouth in a quick, disconcerting action.
“Dios mio, but you got some lungs on you,” he said. And when he smiled, she noticed his teeth weren’t stained.
The house she had lived in for the past nineteen years of her life had always seemed slanted to her. This detail she could clearly remember.
“Mira, I’m going to put some tape on your mouth, so you’ll shut up,” the man said to her, pulling from his pants pocket a gray circle. He cut a piece of tape off with his teeth; no small feat, considering his left hand was still tightly wrapped around her mouth. With another deft movement, he removed his right hand and substituted it with the dark duct tape that smelled of factory-prescribed plastic.
And the reason she knew it was slanted was because whenever she saw her mother she suddenly felt this pointed nauseating cramp somewhere near her intestinal tract.
“So,” he said to her, observing her closely.
She grunted in response.
“I was hoping to have a conversation with ju, but you’re screaming makes it hard.”
“Listen, mi reina, they won’t feed you. These men? They’ll let you starve.”
What do you care, she wanted to scream.
“Look, it’s been eight days we’ve had you here now.”
“Your parents must be worried.”
Oh, I bet. Worried sick between the lunch breaks of corporate accounting and t-charts. Balance the assets to the owner’s equity: no liabilities—OH DEAR, where’s my daughter? Total number of shares outstanding plus treasury stock gives you total shares authorized. Accumulated depreciation is added back to the account to calculate actual cash funds. Straight line method used on all non-inventory assets i.e. plant, property and equipment, except for land. Land doesn’t depreciate. I wonder if they’re feeding her, they’ll think. Perishables are not accounted for. Make sure your accounts balance. Always. No red on the ledger. The ransom money will definitely mark a significant decrease in revenues, which will then necessitate an explanatory note in the 10-Q appendix.
The accounts need to balance, they’ll think. Debit $100 thousand (in Lempira currency, which later needs to be converted to dollars, of which the bureaucratic monstrosity of it all is too muddled to go into detail here), credit one junkie daughter. A balanced account, the CPA-certified person’s wet dream.
She looked at him for a prolonged silence, while one of the men snored rambunctiously. Or maybe it was all of them, chorusing in on a madrigal of grunts and snorts. The symphonic perfection that was only reached through complete and total inebriation. She could even hum along to it, if she so pleased.
The short man stood up and left the room. A faint smell of cheap tobacco filtered through the door; the man was smoking. Jealousy rushed through her veins, warm and bursting to the surface.
The slanted house was usually empty. Her siblings had long ago graduated and left the godforsaken isthmus that was Central America, leaving in their wake an air of emptiness. And she had gone to her classes and then the driver had picked her up, every day from school. And every day she had asked him the same question and every day he had given her the same answer.
“Where’s my mom, Giovanni?”
“She’s busy, mi niña.”
But it had stopped hurting sometime near the end of senior year. If she really wanted to think about it, delve full-bore into the stickiness of it all, the apathy was probably directly correlated to the drug use. Not to say that because of the apathy she now consumed copious amounts of cocaine, but maybe, just maybe, the illicit material had given way to the apathy, was more like it. Correlation doesn’t necessitate causation, or something along those lines. Whatever.
It had started as a recreational thing—God, it sounded banal just thinking this. Like all things detrimental in this world, she had had no idea. Simply rolled up a red one Lempira bill and snorted away on a friend’s marble bar counter. And when she resurfaced, the people around her laughed. Even clapped. And the next day, when she woke up, she remembered everything and she was crushed by the realization that she wanted more.
Body mass turned to bones. Humor and wit became violently irrelevant. Minutes of sobriety stretched into hours of full-bodied consciousness. It seemed to her that the colors of the world had lost all manner of spark; everything had taken on dark hues, mixed from the same gloomy palette. It wasn’t until one especially gruesome period of withdrawal, a weekend she spent with her grandmother up in the north coast city of Ceiba, that she realized the extent of the Substance’s hold on her. And right then, with surprising determination, she flushed what little drugs remained hidden in the false ceiling above her bed, watching the water foam and finally disappear from the porcelain toilet bowl.
After two weeks of deprivation, she found herself at the nadir of her existence. She would not speak to anyone. She would barely eat. She spent increasing periods of time in her room, behind locked doors, laying on her bed and staring at the ceiling. It was a monotonous life. Nothing was loud.
It had been exactly two weeks on that Monday morning that she told her mother she was going out for a walk while eating breakfast. Her mother had raised her head from her laptop. She had stared at her evenly and replied a short No.
But she insisted, and her mother still said No.
She asked the driver to let her out, but he said No.
The maids caught her trying to jump the concrete walls and they pulled her back and said, Esta niña tiene el diablo metido.
That might have been the tipping point.
And so, here she was. A botched attempt at a drug run and the men had grabbed her and taken her and she had awoken in this grimy place, wasting away as the afternoon glistened on.
They hadn’t even given her the fucking drugs, was the worst part.