A Day in Her Life

I woke up my body sore and tired. The small warmth on my face told me it was time. I needed to get up before my mother came screaming for me to do my chores, and the sun turned from just warmth to blistering heat. Certainly, my mother might have given birth to me but compared to Shaella and Paco's mothers, she was my master and I, her servant. 

No, her children were Yulmin and Anrea, but not for the reasons you might expect. She loved them because she could use them. Their beauty in our arid desert made them rare commodities. Teron, my mother, would stop at nothing to get out of this hell hole. Smack dab in the middle of the Hoqurg Desert. 

This mining village, constructed of tents and mud houses, perfectly blended in with its surroundings. The housing and commodities all circled the Pit, the giant circular hole that spiraled down into the depth of the earth. The further you went from the mine, the better the quality of living. 

The profit from the bloodletter mines is what brings rich businessmen to the middle of nowhere. Those who mine are contracted by our blood. Which is the substance necessary to release the stones from their sand cages. You could never tell our blood is unique. It's as red as the sand when we bleed and dries to the color of mud like everyone else. 

I lift myself up, my arms trembling a bit from the beating I got yesterday. A group of kids who have deemed themselves good enough to decide who out of the children who scavenge will get to eat rallied behind a pathetic fool who can't afford a night with my sister decided to take it out on me, when really they should blame my mother. 

I quickly jump down from the roof, on which I sleep every night, harnessing the dormant power within me to absorb the shock. Every time I use it, my thoughts flash to the stories that come from the traveler's mouths, but I quickly shove them out. 

I take off with a run, and my body knows where it has to go, takes me to the Pit. I make sure to evade the workers going in the same direction, especially my father—no need to see someone who acts like he doesn't see what his wife is doing. 

I meet up with Shaella and Paco, both having volunteered for this to meet up with me. They don't really need to wake up this early, and while it does bother me that they do, I am grateful for the company. 

We get there before the hoard of men and race down the spiral path to the mine's middle layers. The bladders of the sand whales are neatly stacked, waiting for us to take them. I grab three, Shaella and Paco each take two. Their fathers will take two or three more when they come back up from work. 

I go to the source of water we have apparently been using for centuries. Long before, a blood-contract was made between the owners of this mine and our people. I frown. 

"It's flowing even less..." I mumble. No water did not bode well. 

"It's the fucking Mashrens, using our water to sustain a trash garden and that large shitty basin of water that cool off in," grumbled Shaella. Her family may be the most well off out of the three, but her foul mouth could have come straight off the streets. 

Paco shook his head, "You guys are worrying too much. It's just the seasons it'll come to pass." He said softly, smiling as he started filling one of the bladders with water. 

Shaella scoffed. I braced myself for her snarky comment hoping she wouldn't go too far, "A season, huh, you mean like you being gay is just a passing fancy?" 

I inhaled a sharp breath. This girl would wind up getting killed for her words. "Shaella, don't be mean."

She snorted, "This fucker is completely denying everything wrong about every fucking thing going on here." She continued in a mocking tone, "No, our life isn't too bad, the water won't stop flowing even if we're overusing it, I'm not ga—"

Paco shoved her out of the way as he ran off. I turned towards the half-full bladder. I felt a tinge of bitterness, knowing he wouldn't be scolded for not coming back with it, but let it fade. Being born in a good or in a lousy family was all luck. I just had some really sucky ones. 

I transferred the water he had collected into my own pouches and stuck one of them to the pipe that concentrated the flowing water. I glanced towards Shaella, who had stumbled onto the ground from the push. 

She was staring at the floor. She looked out the small cave we were in that has been eroded by water. Our time passed in silence as I filled my other two pouches. 

***

I rolled the well-filled bladders into the house and opened two of them into our bath reservoir. Anrea and Yulmin would soon be ushered in by Teron to clean themselves off from the night's activities. 

Turning back, I went towards the small stove, a metal box, and started heating their food. It looked so much better compared to the plain rice porridge I would be getting in two hours. However, I would never envy it. The nice-looking and tasting food came at a cost that was much too high. 

After starting the fire in the kitchen, I knew it was time to heat the bathwater. After that, I sat on the floor close enough to tend to the flames but far enough not to feel the heat. 

With time on my hands, I started shifting my brown skin into that of a lizard. The scaly surface fascinated me, mostly since it was on me. I could never turn entirely into a lizard, except for the first time the dam suppressing my true nature broke. There hadn't been anything threatening. I wasn't going to die. No, I had just wished to leave, to escape. Not only this place but who I was was. 

As the uglier and youngest daughter of Teron, my identity tethered me to a home where I felt no love, no freedom, and no hope. So my body decided to turn into the last non-human creature I had seen, a lizard. 

I will spare you how disoriented and panic-stricken I felt, but it probably felt similar to the feeling of being trapped in another person's body. However, after calming down, I was lucky since I instinctively recognized that it was still my body. I was comfortable with it. 

Ignoring the basically 360 vision of lizards, how small I was, and my mother was very soon going to step on me. She had come to wake me and had luckily missed my use of this magic. I skittered away quickly up until the edge of the wall of the house. Then I hesitated because, after that, it's a full-on vertical fall or wall. Sure, lizards can climb onto vertical surfaces, but humans can't.

I ended up just going for it since it was that or a flick from Teron that would send me flying. It worked, and I had quickly made my escape. What happened then is a story for another time. 

I jolted from my thoughts from a snap in the wood, heating the water bath above it. I quickly threw in more wood, hoping Teron hadn't realized I hadn't been paying attention. 

After a moment, my older sisters' heads peeked out from the back doorway. They smiled and waved and quickly went back inside. This was how they let me know they were done when Teron forgot I was outside taking care of the fire, most of the time. 

I grabbed the bucket near the doorway and went to the bath. Taking up some water from it and quickly went back outside, careful not to let the water slosh in the bucket and wet the floor. Extinguishing the fire, I made my way back to the tub.

The water was quickly cooling, which I had learned to welcome. After washing myself, I got out, changed back into my clothes, and made my way to the front. That is to be taken literally. Our house's facade is a boutique for the blood-slaves, yours truly, to find beauty and self-care products. We because quite famous after Yulmin came back from being borrowed by a famous brothel in the capital of our desert. 

Not only because she was now considered high class, but because of what she had learned there. Makeup and aphrodisiacs. To keep it a commodity, only a small amount of both are sold a month. Most of the time, we sell jewelry made of tiny leftover shards from the bloodstones. 

These stones are a beautiful bright green, which I have been told is the color or something called "trees." The same color as my eyes. These shards are how Teron gets paid to sell off her daughter's nights. My sisters then create the jewelry from them to get sold. 

Now back to the front, the women that come here have no idea we are an exclusive brothel. Many of them who pay for the makeup and aphrodisiac are being betrayed by those coming here later. 

Although I am not sure how long that will last since Yulmin has told our mother she will also take female customers. I sighed at the thought. I asked her if that was because of her sexual preference or trying to kill herself from sleep deprivation. I got no answer. Even Anrea doesn't know. Both are so private, which is understandable considering most men in the surroundings know their bodies by heart. 

I grimaced at the thought and opened shop. I sat on a stool and contemplated for the thousandth time how I could leave this place. My shifting would undoubtedly help but as frustrated as I was unable to turn into that lizard again. 

My eyes fell onto the eye-catching glimmer of the stones on display, and I thought of my sisters without me. What would my mother do? Would she also force them to do the chores? Was she actually that stupid and work her moneymakers, as bad as that sounds, to death? 

A few regular customers came, followed by a young adult. Her skin was fair, just like her hair. Her clothes were clearly of high quality, even though she was trying to blend in with us. 

I saw her blush under my stare, which turned sharper the longer she dillydallied in front of the stall. 

She can't be wanting to steal, right? I wondered in confusion. A girl like her probably had more than I would be getting any time soon. I rolled my eyes. One man's trash is another man's treasure. I know everyone has their own problems, it's just that surviving shouldn't be one, but it's mine. 

"What are you looking for?" I asked. She looked up at me wide-eyed as if shocked I had spoken. I clicked my tongue; if she thought I would lower myself even more by addressing her life as a servant, she'd need to be a little more forceful with me. 

"An...an ap...an aphr—" she stammered. 

"Speak up. I can't understand." I said, trying to make sure I was right. The girl was here because of love trouble...didn't they have other places to deal with that than this sketchy area?

"An aphrodisiac.," she shouted, stunning the two other passersby on our street and me. Her small fists were balled up in her clothes, and her face was tinged a lovely shade of red. I hoped my mother hadn't heard, but she was probably too focused on counting her money.

I stifled a smile and told the girl gently, "Come back in a week, and you'll be able to get what you need. I'll personally make sure there is some for you." 

She shook her head and started to break down in tears, "No..." she sobbed, "I'm being married away tonight...I," she hiccuped, "I...I don't want to screw a forty-year-old man." She exclaimed through her tears. 

I stood there, slightly shocked. It seemed it was a little bit more than just love troubles. All the while, screw kept echoing in my head. I wanted to laugh, but looking at her puffy face, I knew not too. I could never have thought a girl of her status would swear. 

I motioned her to come close, "I'll let you in on a tip from a brothel." I whispered into her ear. She looked up sided ways. Her eyes were glistening, I swear they could have sucked me in, but I looked away. 

"Alcohol and drugs will do the job just as well, little girl." I finished. I gave a quick glance at her face to see her expression. A little thrill went through me as I saw her flushed but angered face. 

Pouting, she's pouting that's adorable, I thought. 

She took a few steps back, still fuming, "I am not a little girl," she stated. She turned and made her way towards the better parts of the mining village. As she did so, she looked back, "Thank you!" she said as she finally disappeared behind the red wall of the houses. 

A soft smile still hovered over my face as Teron came to man the store, giving me a break to let me eat. As I ate, I thought of the girl and her fate but did not pity her. How could I with my sisters? Instead, I felt like high society was probably not much different. Apart from the luxury, but greed knows no bounds, and knowing it, no matter how much you have at the end, we're all the same. 

I quickly shoved down my porridge and went past two of the other rooms in the house to peak into my sister's shared bedroom. This was where the magic happened, not at night, that was no magic, but the creation of aphrodisiacs, makeup, and jewels. 

"El!" said Aren, "Your late. Here is the jewelry that you can add to the store." My oldest sister was always very much serious, yet if you judged her by her features, were she to go out, she would be able to topple countries with her beauty. Over time she had learned to hide it, especially to the men she would bed. This had led to Yulmin being known as the beauty between the two. 

"Yeah, sis, I know. The ready jewelry is always on the left of the door. As it has, for my whole life." I answered. 

Anrea's lips perked up a bit, but her eyes, just like Yulmin's, were strained on the task at hand. They were making the aphrodisiac. Their faces were covered, but they had long since built immunity against it, and so had I. 

The first time I had been hit by those fumes had been an absolute nightmare. I had been out for a week, and Teron's anger had been worst than the sandstorms that grace us with their blistering presence multiple times a year. 

I looked towards Yulmin and lost my breath in anger at the sight of her. A large bruise ornated her delicate neck. I saw black, my blood boiled. 

"Who was it?" I seethed. Yulmin looked up. Her eyes were pure and limpid. As if she still believed in the dead thing called hope. 

"Don't worry, mother has banned him for the next couple of weeks." She said softly and looked down again. 

I let out a wry laugh. I couldn't feel anything. Anger was replaced with complete calm. This wasn't the first time. It certainly wouldn't be the last, but the silence of emotion in my heart made me desperate to feel something. 

I walked out of the room, set up the jewelry, and went back inside. I vaguely hear Teron shouting something as I made my way to the kitchen. I took a long look at the stove. And started hitting it all my might. 

Dull thuds rang and were absorbed by the sand that surrounded me. I felt my hands ache but not more than my heart, and I understood. The pain was so great I could not feel it. Once my hands were raw and misshapen. Washed off the blood with water and went outside. 

I did it again, I said to myself as I gave thanks to our last daytime and legal customers of the day. Tomorrow, filling and rolling the bladders back here would be rough. I didn't regret it. 

I placed all the jewelry in boxes and checked the key to the rare goods. I swiped one of each as I usually did before the new batches would join. I was the one that would store them anyway. Teron had as of yet never noticed. 

I then went in to heat up the fire for the family's hot meal. Father, Idmur would be coming back soon. When that was done, I made my way up the lanky wooden ladder to get to the roof. I took some momentum and jumped to the next rooftop. Landing softly by rolling onto it, I continued my journey until I reached scavenger territory. 

Silently I made my way through the streets. Having hidden my hair and feminine features, even when I bumped into a couple of boys from the gang, they let me go. 

Finally, I found myself in the upper-class parts of the city. I blended into the servant crowds and went to a couple of restaurants I knew held good scraps.

Realizing how deep into the high-class neighborhoods I was, I made a u-turn. After a couple of turns, I stumbled onto a small procession. A carriage was being pulled by horses, which I found quite laughable. This deep in the desert, hoses were bound to die. 

I paused. No, they should have been dead already. The carriage curtain moved, a familiar slender hand having pushed it away. 

Our gaze met, her beautiful soul-sucking eyes met mine. Something flickered in them. I knew that it was not a shade of good. But I stood there, transfixed. It wasn't her beauty, no one could compare to Anrea, but the promise of escape. 

When a small woman, a servant but much better dressed than me, came forwards. I smiled on the inside. A get out of jail card, but...at what price?

Inacloud3
Marine bio student and artist/writer