The very first thought Amira had when she was presented to her new mistress was ‘Mummy was right’.
At the time, she had no way of knowing that even her mother’s worst imaginings would pale in comparison to what she would live through in the ten years she remained in the Mahomeds’ possession.
She had been instructed very carefully by Karim that any mistakes would make her worthless and worthless things were tossed out onto the street, if not killed where they stood and left to enrich the soil.
Her first interaction with Shamima Mahomed drove that point home in a way that made her heart clench in her chest.
The Mahomed mistress took one look at Amira’s face and pursed her lips. She demanded that Amira turn on the spot in a clipped tone and no sooner had Amira completed the revolution than Shamima was shaking her head, looking decidedly put out.
“This is not what I ordered,” she declared. “Take it away and bring me another one. A plain one.”
Karim began to cajole the woman but Amira was deaf to the sales pitch, reeling from the unwelcome realization that the beauty she’d always been taught was an asset could now count against her.
“I suppose,” Shamima said slowly, tilting her head in consideration, “that I can take this one until you find another? And when you do, this one will be returned, of course.”
“Of course!” Karim cried, delighted. “Not to worry, ma’am. If anything is unsatisfactory about her, we are more than happy to provide a replacement, free of charge. Just give me a moment to explain her duties to her.”
He took Amira’s arm and yanked her aside. “You have one chance, you understand?” he growled in her ear. “If you don’t make this woman love you, I will give her another girl and you will be of no use to the mistress or to me. You don’t want that. This country is cruel and unforgiving and you speak none of the languages common here. You will starve and then you will fertilize the soil if you mess this up.”
“I understand,” Amira whispered through numb lips.
“Do you recall what you were taught?”
“Be quick. Be attentive. Be invisible.”
“Good.” Karim nodded once. “Pray you never see me again,” he warned her.
With a final bow to the woman – her new mistress – he was gone, hurrying out the back entrance to another mansion where he would deliver another girl to her new owner.
“What is your name?” Mistress asked in slow Gujurati.
A barrage of instructions followed. Amira strained to process it all as she was told where she would sleep, what time to wake up in the morning and begin preparing breakfast and where the previous maid’s written instructions of the house’s cleaning schedule had been left which she would need to familiarize herself with.
“You may not be here long,” Mistress told her. “But you will still work properly for as long as you are here. I do not tolerate slacking of any kind.”
“No, ma’am.” Amira murmured, on autopilot.
That night, she cried into the thin pillow she’d been provided with and fantasized about somehow escaping and finding her way home. She’d kneel at her father’s feet if she had to. Whatever it took.
She’d well and truly learned her lesson.
The days blurred into one another and it was only an off-hand remark from her Mistress that made her aware she’d been servicing the Mahomeds for six months.
In that time, Amira had been diligent. She’d never let go of her dreams of running but sense told her that she needed to prepare if she had any hope of succeeding.
She’d begged to be allowed to learn English so she could serve better and Mistress’s response had been to hand her an armful of books with an almost-fond little smile playing on her thin lips.
Over the course of six months worth of little sleep, she’d somehow managed to make herself passably understandable in English. Her accent was atrocious, this she knew from the way Mistress would laugh when she tried to speak the unfamiliar words, her tongue tripping over the strange syllables.
But she could be understood. Enough that maybe, just maybe, if she could steal the passport Karim had used to bring her across the world and enough money for a plane ticket, she would be able to get back home.
And then, the Mahomeds’ son got kicked out of his expensive boarding school and returned home to his mother’s arms.
Amira’s very skin knew the instant he looked at her that she was in the presence of a monster. A beautiful, crafty monster.
In front of his mother, he pretended civility, restricting himself to a lascivious grin and roaming eyes. But the second she left the room – at his request that she retrieve something for him – he pounced.
Amira froze, going stiff as a board when his arms closed around her.
He pulled away, rolling his eyes. “Another wet fish. All you girls are exactly the same. A pity, you’re the sexiest thing I’ve seen outside of a magazine.”
Amira kept her eyes glued to the floor, desperately suppressing the outraged shriek that wanted to burst from her. It seemed that even slavery hadn’t taught her to bear her body being used without her permission without feeling a molten hot rage.
She wanted to scratch his eyes out.
He snapped his fingers in her face. “What, you mute?”
“Mom!” he yelled, turning to the open doorway. “Why’d you get a dumb maid?”
“What are you talking about, Zak?” Mistress re-entered the room and Amira felt an almost tangible relief.
The boy – Zak, she would not call him Master – pointed at her. “She won’t talk,” he complained to his mother.
Mistress chuckled. “I’m not surprised, her English is atrocious.”
The boy frowned petulantly. “Well, get her taught then. I’m not gonna speak that backwards language to get her to understand me.”
“Zak, don’t be silly. I won’t waste money on tutoring a maid.”
Colour came into Zak’s cheeks and a horrific expression twisted his exquisite features. “I want you to.”
“Zak, no. There’s no need for it.”
“Fine,” Zak gritted out through his teeth. “I knew you’d say that. You never do what I want. Not ever.”
Amira stared in amazement as he seemed to regress before her eyes.
“Oh, Zak, that’s not true!” Mistress cried instantly. “If it’s that important, darling, then of course we will get her a tutor.”
Zak began to smile, slow and satisfied. “Good.”
It was made clear to her that day who really ruled the home she served in.
She kept away from him as much as she possibly could but nothing could keep him from sneaking into the bedroom she’d been sleeping in and holding her down while above them his parents slept unaware.
“Do you understand me?” he asked curiously, leaning over her with an unholy light in his colourless eyes.
She jerked her head slightly in a nod, fighting tears.
He didn’t rape her that night. Instead, he talked, explaining that he was the reason for the previous two girls his parents had purchased being thrown out unceremoniously.
“They couldn’t keep their mouths shut,” he explained pleasantly, shaking his pretty head. “Can you keep your mouth shut?”
Amira nodded again.
“Yeah, I thought so,” Zak agreed. “You barely even talk anyway.”
He loosened his grip on her mouth and Amira, sensing the test, kept silent.
“This is gonna be fun,” Zak commented, straightening up. “I was getting so bored but now you’re here I won’t have to sneak out of the house to find girls any more.”
“It’ll be easier if you don’t do anything dumb like fight with me or scream or whatever,” he told her. “No one will help you even if they do find out. This is part of your job, okay? But if you talk about it, we’ll get rid of you.” He gave her that unnerving grin again, then yawned widely.
“Not tonight, though. I’m tired. See ya tomorrow,” he chirped at her on his way out, not seeming to expect a response.
“Oh, hey,” he added, turning back to talk to her from behind the half closed door. “What’s your name?”
There was an expectant silence.
“Ami- Amira.” Her throat was so dry, her voice cracked in the middle.
“Cool,” Zak commented. The door clicked shut behind him and she heard the sounds of his footsteps echoing on the marble floors.
It was only when the sound of him had long since faded away that Amira dared to uncurl herself from the little ball she’d drawn into. Her hands shook uncontrollably as she tried to pour herself a glass of water, scattering little drops everywhere.
She didn’t sleep that night. Nor the next.
It wasn’t always. He had girlfriends who were more than happy to share his bed and he was away more often than not, at yet another boarding school for rich young monsters. There seemed to be no shortage of them.
It wasn’t always but in the ten years that Amira knew Mirzaq Mahomed, it was often enough that she lost count of the times he forced himself upon her. Early on, her mind kept a tally without her conscious input, her body remembering every incident acutely.
Later, when she’d learned to turn herself numb and lose herself in the happiest daydreams her imagination could invent, she managed to lose the count.
She would never forget those very first times. Nor would she forget the days he’d been especially cruel.
But the unremarkable ones, those days when all she had to do was lie there and let him do as he pleased, when all he seemed to want was a warm body to lie against… Those days bled into one another.
Perhaps only because she so badly wished they would.
She never escaped. She never even tried. There was no point. Her parents would never take back a daughter who’d been used.
Once, when she was twenty four, she very briefly harboured a hope that it would stop. Zak had shown an interest in a young girl and it seemed that they would marry.
Mistress, who’d long since become Mrs. Mahomed as the world became less outwardly tolerant of slavery, instructed Zak within Amira’s hearing that he would no longer be permitted to sleep with Amira once he was married.
“There are standards,” she told Zak in a biting tone, one of the few times she ever expressed any kind of displeasure with him. “You cannot sleep with a maid and then go to your wife. It’s disgusting.”
He agreed readily enough and then spent the next two weeks so glued to Amira that she truly considered running a knife over her arms, the way she’d once promised herself she would never allow, knowing the satisfaction it would bring Zak if she did.
And then it was over.
She was being spared. She hated herself for the joy she felt at having traded places with another innocent, unsuspecting girl. For someone was still being hurt. It just wasn’t Amira any longer.
Once she finally met Azraa, the hatred became even more acute. The younger girl clearly thought Amira was a poor, young wretch who’d been taken in by the Mahomeds. She didn’t seem to realize that Amira was of an age with her husband. Nor did she understand just what shared her bed.
Countless times, Amira thought to open her mouth and issue a warning to the poor girl, before resigning herself to her own cowardice and turning away again.
When Azraa fell pregnant, Amira wept herself sick and didn’t rise from her bed for two days, cursing herself the entire time.
A child. An innocent, pure child. Half Mirzaq. The very thought made her ill.
She would never be able to make it up to Azraa. But Amira comforted herself by doting on Azraa throughout the difficult pregnancy, ignoring Mirzaq’s renewed interest in her as best she could.
Until the day that brave Azraa finally tore herself away and the monster who’d haunted her for so long killed himself in fury over it.