I expect nothing from you, and I want nothing from you.
I exist to serve, and I have been given my job - a respectable one cleaning halls and rooms. It's not much, but it's better than a model could usually expect. Mornings I wake and take a shower. It's probably not the same kind you take. The one I take involves stripping naked and standing before dazzling lights as the instant sanitization lasers stab at me like a thousand tiny pinpricks. I'm careful not to open my eyes - I don't want to go blind like the last girl did.
She just wanted to see the pretty lights.
Afterward, in a rush of acupuncture-induced endorphins, I clothe myself. Again, not like you're used to, probably. I'm not as big as my clothes, and I don't have many - just a tunic that ties around my waist and makes it over one shoulder. It keeps slipping down if I'm not careful, but there's nobody to complain to about that. Of the four others who share every room that I do, none of them can change it. They prepare for work as I do.
The tiny room eventually births me into a cluttered hallway of the cacophony of others like me, some bent in old age, but they're not that old, are they? People like us don't get that old; we "retire" early. I check my body then - still young, still firm in the right places, loose in others. It's not my time yet, so I enter the flow of traffic.
As I said, I don't want anything from you, least of all your attention. But you give it anyway, don't you? Because for you, I am only a thing.
I navigate the hallway with care, staying close to the wall, keeping my eyes forever pointed downward toward the floor. That's where you find me and how you find me. You stop in front of me.
"You're a hot one, aren't you?"
I don't answer because what could I say that would deliver me from the situation? My heart races with fear - you interpret my anxiety as awe from your presence when it is only the physiological response of self-preservation.
I do the math before I respond.
"Excuse me, sir."
That's a response, but it's not an acknowledgment. We've been through this dance before, and the following words from your mouth I could quote verbatim.
"What kind of way is that to say hi?"
At this point, I could change it, I suppose. I could greet you with the kindness that you don't reciprocate or even pretend to. I could ask you about your day or the weather, but in that too-bright hall of lights and shadows, where currents of workers like me move in silent unison, flowing like particles around your obstruction, I don't change my mind.
You, whom I don't want, and whom I don't need, and to whom I don't matter anyway, will treat me with courtesy.
We've done this dance too.
"Did I miss your greeting, sir?"
The words sting, and I don't have to look to know that your face is now scrunched up. Your green eyes that could be beautiful are so filled with hate that all the beauty fades. I peak up at you and try to gauge what my future will be. Another night in behavioral reconditioning, perhaps? We'll see, and I'd be lying to say that I'm not afraid because I. Am. Terrified.
"When I speak to you, you return the courtesy," you say, probably knowing that I will ignore you and try to walk away. I do. You grab my arm so hard that you will leave bruises on top of the other bruises that never seem to heal.
"Listen to me, shill. I give the orders, and you obey."
Your face lowers into mine, and you practically shout the words. I heard you the first time, but you need to feel strong and in charge. You need to impress the others who still flow by, now with more effort as some slow to stare. Both you and I know that no one will intervene when you strike me, and nobody does. Nobody stops when I fall.
"You will learn. Your place is there."
You spit on me. That's new. Usually, you kick me, but maybe you're being kind. My sides still hurt from the last time, and the medical examiner said that my ribs had been broken at least once. Perhaps someone told you about it, and you didn't want to be bothered with a justified work stoppage.
Probably just as well. I know better than to wipe the spit off of my face, but I don't even whimper. I stare at you, and our eyes meet. We understand each other. You are the boss, and I am the slave, but you don't stop there. You understand in my unflinching gaze that I'm not broken yet. You see in my vacant stare that spirit still lurks beneath, and it grates at you. I can see it happen, that moment you slip from the man who wants to make an example of this woman who confronts him to this man who must demolish the woman who defies him.
That's when your hand raises, and I don't mean to - I don't.
Sometimes, though, sometimes….sometimes my body wants to defend itself. And, from my prone position on the floor, my left-hand raises defensively.
It's too late.
I realize when I see the bars stamped across the inside of my wrist that my arm has raised itself. In defiance, I will it to drop because all that is going to do is make you angrier. And sure enough, I now see blood in your eyes. It will be a trip to the hospital for me, and maybe - I'm not sure what will happen to you. Does anything ever happen to you?
That's all I have time to think before the punch lands. You swung past my defensive arm, and I didn't block. I didn't even try, hoping that maybe landing one good punch would be enough, but here you are again, now with the left hand.
Finally, the maddening traffic flow stops as others blatantly look on.
When you're done, and your anger is sated, and you have proven your status, one which was never really in question, I lay barely breathing. It hurts, and when I like my lips, I can taste blood.
* * *
It’s a week before I can work again. The rumors are that you did get in trouble, not for any concern for my well-being, not directly. You got in trouble because I’m Ms. Barnett’s favorite. I’m not sure why that is, but she’s taken a liking to me and given you instructions to leave me alone. I talk to her sometimes, I admit it, but it’s not actually talking. More like she talks, and I listen, but whatever. I work for her; she can treat me as she likes. If she talks, I will listen.
Another week before I can tolerate the shower, so Ms. Barnett lets me use her bath, even though I have to get up an hour earlier to not interfere with her schedule. It’s a beautiful solace because I don’t want your attention, and I don’t even see you anymore. But the time runs out, and before long enough, I’m back with the other three and back in the laser shower. I’m back to walking down the long hallway, sheltered against the right wall, hiding from your eyes which seem to hunt me out like an eagle stalking its prey.
I see you first the next time, though, and I stare. My bruises aren’t healed, and you can see the pain across my face.
“What are you looking at?”
But still, I stare. I make you uncomfortable. You match my gaze with those green eyes - such a waste. I can feel my own eyes tearing up, so I don’t blink because I won’t cry. Not here, and never in front of you.
“Yes, sir.” I look toward the hall wall, and you start to walk past, but I don’t move.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“I do, sir.”
I don’t want your attention, but I will always have it.
“Get going then.”
When. I. Am. Ready.
This time, you move past. I see the rage flare up behind your eyes, but for the moment, at least for this week, I’m invincible. You work for Ms. Barnett too, and if she says you don’t touch me, you won’t until she forgets about me again or finds someone new.
I stare after you as you pass, as the back of your neck stays bright red with the hostility that you patiently wait to unleash.
I know it’s coming.
Oh, I know it’s coming.
But I can’t help it. I don’t want your attention, but I’m not going to hide. Eventually, there will only be one of us in this hallway.
I guess one day, we’ll discover whom Ms. Barnett likes the most.