Magda opened her eyes. She turned and looked at the snoring man next to her; his mouth agape, a thin dribble of drool on his stubbled chin which pooled into a damp spot on the pillow, his rancid breath sour in her nostrils and thought, as she did every time she saw him, “I fucking hate that bastard.”
He woke with a snort, scratched his crotch and reached for a cigarette, “Hey, Mags, get me a cup of tea.” She rolled her eyes; she couldn’t bear being called that.
His hand clamped on her jaw, a nicotine stained finger thrust into her face, “Don’t think I didn’t see that! It’s lucky for you we’ve got that gig tonight or else you’d get a shiner for that.” She hurried from the lumpy mattress and went to the kitchenette to make his tea before he changed his mind. He never once suspected that she spat in every mug she made for him. A hint of a smile on her lips as she cursed under her breath, “Dai dracu, pulaman.”
He slurped and belched long and loud as he pulled on jeans and rugby shirt, “Get yourself sorted for tonight. There’ll be you and a few of the other girls. I want you clean, shaved and looking good. These men important clients. I want to keep them happy.” Grabbing his keys and coat, “I’ll be back later,” he called as he left the small flat, double locking the door behind him. She raised her middle finger to the door.
Almost eighteen months now. Almost a year and a half since she had answered the advert to be an au pair and took the train to Bucharest for her interview, only to wake up bound and gagged in the back of a van along with five other girls, en route to their new lives.
The first few times he had tried to have sex with her she fought back, but she learned fast that it was wiser to give in. His punishments were vicious; she knew she would never hear properly again in her left ear, or pee without pain. Besides, after you’ve been passed around enough times you learn how to switch off your brain. For some reason, he seemed to favour her over the others and visited her bed more frequently than theirs. The one and only benefit to this was that he frowned upon customers being too rough with her or leaving marks on “what’s his”. Small mercies.
She nibbled on a piece of toast and thought about home, about her Mama and her little sisters. What did they think had happened to her? Did they think she’d ran away? She hoped they knew she would never have done that, no matter how tight things had gotten at home since Tata had passed. She hoped they knew she loved them. She wondered if she would ever see them again.
There were no tears in her eyes; her days of weeping for her past life were long gone. The grey eyes that once sparkled with youth and energy were now hollow, empty of expression, as glasslike as a mannequin’s. She moved differently these days too; her body had been through too much and had suffered at the hands of too many men. She moved slowly, cautiously, like a wounded animal. Nothing about her was the same.
Her eyes caught the clock and she realised she needed to get ready. She had a plan and she needed to get it perfectly right. If she messed this up he would kill her. Of this she had no doubt. She had heard from other girls what he was capable of; how girls who stepped too far out of line were never seen or heard of again. She also had first hand experience of his fists. She had to get this right.
The sound of his key in the door spiked sweat under her arms. Adrenaline coursed through her. Breathing deeply, she tried to slow her heart rate. She must appear normal.
“Mags! C’mere!” he entered carrying three plastic bags of shopping, “Here’s your stuff for the week.”
She had never been outside the flat alone. When he brought her to the parties, he made her wear sunglasses with the lenses totally blacked out and he lead her to the car. Apart from the concrete floors of the hallways, she had no clue what the block of flats looked like, or even where they were. He had nailed chipboard to the windows. To anyone looking, she just looked like another girl in a too-short dress and over sized shades. But his hand firmly gripping her wrists was a constant reminder to behave. Not that anyone in the council block would have cared if she called out. People tended to not look for trouble in such places.
He cast his eyes over her, “You’re not dressed yet,” checked his watch and grinned, “time for a quick one before you get ready then.” He started to open his jeans and pushed her to her knees.
“I’m starving,” he said afterwards, “make me a sandwich and a cuppa. I’m going for a piss.”
She knew she didn’t have long.
He grimaced as she slurped his tea, “What the fuck? Is the milk off?”
“Oh! I forgot the sugar! I’m sorry,” she lied fetching the sugar bowl over and ladling in two large spoonfuls, stirring for a few seconds, “Is the sandwich good?”
“It’ll do,” he drank more tea, “Not the best you’ve made Mags, it’s bitter. You squeezed the teabag too hard, you stupid cunt. Don’t do it again,” but he gulped the rest down noisily and belched, treating her to the aroma of stale cigarette and the pickle he had just eaten, “You go get into that slutty little dress I brought you. Nothing underneath, right?”
She went over to take the skimpy dress from the bag and began to take off her clothes, aware of his eyes on her. He made her skin crawl.
“Show me what’s mine, “ he said and she bent over at the waist and used her fingers to spread her cheeks, revealing herself to him. It made her feel sick.
“Good. Nice and smooth. The clients prefer that.” He yawned, “Fuck! I’m tired.”
“We have some time yet. Do you want to nap?” she asked but heard him snoring before she turned for an answer.
He was slumped over in the chair, his head on the kitchen table. She could hardly believe it… it had worked! The tiny fold of white powder she had gotten from his new driver had done what it was meant to. She winced as she recalled the price she’d had to pay for the drug; it turned out the new driver had quite unique tastes when it came to getting off. She had told him she needed it to get to sleep but once he got what he wanted he didn’t seem too bothered about her motives anyway.
Now she needed to act fast. She had packed what few belongings she had and stashed the bag under the bed earlier. Keeping her eyes peeled on him, she changed back into her jeans and tee shirt and slipped on her trainers.
Where were his keys? He always locked the door when he visited. His jacket was on the back of the chair that he was slouched in. She knew it was risky but she had no choice, she’d come this far. Holding her breath, she reached into the pocket and took out the bunch of keys. They rattled off one another and she froze.
A loud snort from him, her heart hammered in her chest, but he remained passed out.
She began to move towards the door but paused. She needed money. Her eyes returned to his jacket and she once again snuck her small hand into the other pocket and found the leather of his wallet.
No time to check how much was in it; she silently carried her bag to the door and unlocked the door as quietly as she possibly could.
Time slowed down agonizingly. The door clicked open and she looked out, seeing the corridor for the first time, realizing she had no idea which way was out. “Think!” she told herself and tried to remember which way he turned her whenever they had left the flat before. Muscle memory kicked in and she stepped to the left and snuck down the corridor, careful not to make any noise on the concrete underfoot. The urge to run was overwhelming, she felt like she was wading through toffee. She kept expecting to feel his hand the back of her throat, or in her hair dragging her back to her death.
Deciding not to risk the noise of the lift, she pushed the door to the stairwell and finally fled, practically falling over her own feet as she ran down and down until she burst through the last door and out into the warm, low evening sunshine. Squinting and shielding her eyes from the glare, she looked around to get some bearings, spotting a bus stop across the road.
She had no idea where she was; she had no idea where to go.
Suddenly it didn’t matter. She was outside! She was free! She looked in his wallet and saw a large wad of notes. Lucky for her, he mustn’t have gotten around to buying the coke yet. Magda suppressed a slightly hysterical giggle and thought, “Payday!”
Dizzy with adrenaline and emotion she turned and headed for the road just as a double decker pulled up.
Taking a seat near the back, she looked back at the tower of flats that had been her prison, still expecting to see him coming for her. Her hand rested on her tummy, and she made a silent promise to the new life nestled there to remain free.
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