The crowd outside was loud, deafeningly loud. I've just been there. I know. In contrast the room I'm in right now is quiet, maddeningly quiet. All I hear is my labored breathing and the rapid thumping of my heart. I wipe the sweat from my brow. I don't like it here. No one would like it here.
Not for the last time I hope for something better, something far far away from here. I pull from distant memories of soft beds, warm blankets, earnest hugs and comfort filling foods. I try to think of good things.
The door opens and man stands in the doorway, his silhouette, a haunting form that reminded me of whips and chains and spikes. Some of the shouts of the crowd filter in before he closes it again and then its back to complete silence.
He takes a few seconds before he steps closer. He pays no mind to the broken plastic chair by the entrance that I destroyed in my anger and frustration. He just nonchalantly steps over it like it was unimportant. That was how they treated most of us here, unimportant, like dirt on their feet.
The single light bulb in the room cast shadows on the details of his face.
I don't know him.
He comes after every round, asking me the same question. His accent is thick and he sounds like he eats his words.
I don't understand him.
He bends down and I see his face better. Long hooked nose, deep set eyes that just stare at me, A scar on his brow. I've seen him do rounds. I meet his gaze but dont move an inch from where I'm crouched in the corner. He doesn't care about me, about us, and so I don't care who he is.
I don't know him. and I don't want to. I never want to.
He does an overall sweep of my appearance and makes a face of disgust, not pity, never pity, when he sees the bleeding mess on my foot like this was an inconvenience to him and not me. I ripped the nail of my middle toe last round. I almost lost that round. I almost lost my life.
He lets out a sigh and shakes his head, stands up, straightens his jacket, and tosses me a card. I don't know if I should be glad he doesn't beat me during this whole competition. He leaves with some parting words that I still struggle to understand, leaving me again in complete silence.
My heart has slowed down, but the silence was still maddening. I try to forget about the pain on my toe.
I gingerly pick up the card. I could make out some letters , but I was never properly taught how to read so I didn't know what the card was for. Something important maybe.
All I could think of was the last words he said. All I did as I waited was try to make out what he said. I try to piece together and remember, make out just what has he been asking me all this time underneath that thick accent. And why me? Was it only just me?
And as the light turned red, signaling that it was my turn, I walked out of the room holding onto the card tightly in my hand like a lifeline.
I hear the cheers and cries of desperation of the crowd. I see the two girls holding up the string of garter high above their heads, whip marks on their arms and legs, sweat and tears streaming down their faces.
I know them.
And as I look around the crowd and see their cheers for me to win and their degranged desperation, the tears in their eyes, and the crazed hopelessness in some, and yet the tentative hope shining through in a few, hoping that maybe just maybe it will be different this time.
I know them. I've worked with them, I've slept with them, I've eaten with them, I've helped them. I want to help them even now, even if it is for the last time. I want yo save them.
I remember the words the man last said to me that I piece in together.
"Choose wisely, "Mother"."
My heart starts to rapidly beat again. adrenaline pumping in my veins.
I find the man, look him in the eyes and take the card out of my hand, and I gently lay in before me on the ground, and I kneel, and bow head on the ground. I plead silently.
I hear the cries of confusion from the audience and I block them out until all I hear is silence.
I close my eyes. A second, and two. I take a deep breath. I'm nervous. I want to get away. Go back to the fantasy of comfort. But I can't. I know I can't. There's nowhere to run to. No place to go to. Nowhere to hide.
I know nothing else but this, but I know there is something better. I'm hoping for something better.
A life for a life. A life for two. A life for hundreds of lives.
This was a sick game they forced us to play. A twisted version of a children's game, without fun, leaving only dread, desperation, where the consequence is death. They play god and decide our fates, all for their entertainment. They bet on our lives. We bow to their whims. We are puppets under their control.
If I lost in the last rounds, I die, but If I lose now, it's not just me who will perish.
I've already put the card down. I've made my decision. I carry all the weight now.
A Life for a life. A life for two, A life for hundreds of lives.
Which one will you choose?
With my mind made up, I stand up, and take a deep breathe. I block the sounds of the crowd. I block the pain on the toe. I block everything out except for the feel the cold cement underneath my feet. I pray to whoever is listening for I've forgotten how to and have lost faith in it being answered, but maybe, just maybe, this time around, they decide to grant my request. I take a running start, hoping I reach the garter and with everything I've got, I leap.
for context this is based on a children's game called Chinese garter.