Throwback Thursday: “Thursday Morning’s Assignment”

This is an Automated post. Find out where Isabella Stines is here:

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My English Professor’s assignments and girls who wear too much make up.

The two things I hated, yet found myself staring at every Thursday morning.

Since it was all too impossible to walk into a library with swag, I flipped up the hood of my jacket and kept my face down. Sadly, this action caused me to bump into one older woman and practically knock down three others. Which, of course, led to “excuse me” and “sorry”, and eventually the recognition of former classmates.

I said former, because after all the required shenanigans for papers deemed necessary for college credit, I had planned on becoming a college drop out.

“Benjamin,” the grand Prof had said to me, “find something you’re passionate about. And research it, pick it apart; then you’ll write a worthwhile paper.”

“Is the paper mandatory?” I asked, though he had just explained to the class it wasn’t.

“If you consider making a passing grade mandatory, then, yes…I’d say so.”

And that’s how I came to the horrible experience of entering the library.

After being directed to the World Events section, I scanned the list of topics that would pertain to my subject matter. Actually, I was still looking for a subject matter, thanks to the contest rules that gave more useless suggestions than it did help. Several minutes passes before I selected a book entitled, Enslaved: The Process of Human

Seemed simple enough. I was pretty sure how the whole process worked, and didn’t really relish the idea of thinking on it. I flipped to the end of the book, scanned the index until I saw the note of Survivor Stories, page 108. Interested, I turned there. Most of the writing seemed scripted and vague, as if the author cringed at the thought of giving details as much as I did about reading them. A name caught my eye; I let it linger only a moment before diving into the rest of the text.
Vallari Sengh

Kolkata, India

Survivor since 2007

I hid behind an unmoving taxi, and slumped to the ground gasping for air. I tried to calculate how much time I had before the enemy would reach me. It would only be a matter of seconds, I guessed, before I had to sneak into another dark alley and run again. I peered behind the wheel of the dirty yellow vehicle. I jerked back; the enemy was just crossing the street. I crawled under the car, for no better ideas came into my mind. There was no time for thinking; only time to act. I tried to close my eyes, but nerves kept my eyelids glued open. I studied the many feet that shuffled, danced, and scurried past my viewpoint. Then, two steady pairs of feet appeared in front of the car. They had no set destination as the others; no, these feet were sturdily holding men who were surveying their surroundings. Looking, searching, and scouting for their next victim.
Teeth clenched, I thought of the possibilities of my future. If the enemy looked under the taxi, I would be caught. If I snuck from underneath the vehicle, I could possibly slip away without being seen. But would that be taking too much of a chance? In the clatter of people and traffic, I failed to notice another pair of feet approaching. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed this man. I had no reason too. Besides, taxi drivers had no business with girls like me.
A door above me creaked open. The driver slid into his seat, causing the taxi to slump down because of the new weight. The door slammed shut.
Heart pounding, I prepared myself for the action that was about to take place. The car started. I was determined to not be caught by the cruel creatures. I placed my blistered hands on the dirty pavement, getting ready to spring up and run like a wild cat. I kept my body flat, taking care not to be run over by the wheels. The taxi moved slowly, inch by inch, and soon became a part of the traffic beside us. As soon as my back was exposed to the hot sun, I scrambled up to my feet and turned the opposite direction of where the enemy was standing.

I ran as fast as my legs could take me, never looking back.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I hadn’t realized I was breathing hard until someone behind me ruffled some papers around. Looking up and seeing men and women carrying on quietly—while I sat on the ground, legs crossed head against a shelf—was enough to make me want to yell in rage. Had they not experienced what I had?

The details made my skin tingle. The story line made me feel as if I were actually there, running with her, for my life, across the concrete and away from the traffickers. As I read, I felt myself run with her as she scooped up her sister, whom she highly treasured and would do anything for. I continued to engross myself, only stopping to re-read the heart-stopping parts.

I ran harder. Faster. My feet seemed to pick themselves up, moving as an involuntary, independent mechanism.
Run, run, run. The word echoed in my head and exploded in my chest.
Chased like outlaws, sold like property. We were the hunted, the helpless, the abused. And because of our age and gender, Avnita and I had been marked as the most wanted. We had not just experienced life. We had been thrown into it, unwillingly learning the ways of the world and being abandoned by a mother who could not afford the burden of children.
The streets of Kolkata are not the safest places in the world. No alley is ever completely unoccupied, no shadow ever empty. And under the cover of night, evil becomes more apparent. It shows itself in its ugliest form, swimming in the darkness and festering on its prey.

Tonight, my sister and I are the quarry.

But I refuse to become a victim. After vowing the enemy would not reach Avnita, even if it meant I had to die for it, my hands shook. More than likely, one of us would have to give their life to escape this time.

And I refused to let it be her.

People of every age had become the enemy. Teenagers would show up and steal our food, clothes, and most of all, our dignity. If we didn’t immediately serve them right away, harsh punishments were always the consequence. Some of the younger ones were trustworthy. Older men and women were out of the question. Girls like us didn’t converse with them, trade with them, or even look them in the eye if we could help it.
On the other hand, none of us would think twice about stealing from them.
They would kidnap you, sell you, use you. Anything to make a profit. Some enemies would cut off a limb, pluck out an eye, or beat you until you are bruised and broken; and at the end of it, they would send you out into the streets to beg. Their horrible actions would instigate sympathy from other Indians, and in the end, a native might give you a small number of rupees. And before you can make your get away, the enemy snatches it before the coins ever reach your pocket.
Other enemies have a different strategy. Once they take you, they dress you up in fine clothes, accessorize every inch of your body in sparkly jewelry, and constantly shower you with attention.
These same adversaries were my worst fears.
And when I felt their hands grab me from behind and I heard my sister Avnita scream, I knew had failed in our attempt to flee.
We had become the captured.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The paper gave a sharp ripping sound that seemed to echo in the silent library. In my haste to turn the page, I’d torn it. Hoping there were no official “book destruction” fees at this particular library branch, I continued Valleri’s journey. She told of her captors, their brutal tactics, swarthy looks, and endless questions of their name, age, and connections. I found myself studying anyone, especially men, who casually walked by my station on the floor. Imagining they were the agents from the book, I pondered how I would get revenge on them, escape from them, and save a beloved family member all in one night.

It had been four days and five nights since the enemy had brought us there. Sounds from a temple that stood miles away carried into the concrete warehouse we had been secluded and stored in. Nearly fifty girls with varying ages (the youngest being of six years) were piled in a single room, with only a locked metal door keeping us from freedom. A single cup of water and handful of undercooked rice were our daily rations.

Hard were the days when the meals never reached our section.

Avnita was weak. Unhealthy and even thinner than before. Neither of us had dared to move from our seats of concrete we selected when we first arrived. No girl was allowed to move unless she was being summoned. The first day, when we learned what a “summons” consisted of, we were satisfied sitting with no occupation for the rest of our lives.

If only it could have been that simple. But the enemy did not capture us to sit us down. We were considered slaves that lived for the summons.

When the metal door scraped open, and two men delivered the call of the evening, the world began to go white. Then, slowly, a fading black. My fingers and lips trembled, and a girl behind me pressed her hand into my back to keep me from fainting.

“Nijita Gupta, Avnita Sengh, Yosjah Rupamajhi…”

I did not have to think about my next action. I stood as Avnita Sengh; even though I was sure they had my true name, Valleri Sengh. Certainly, they could not know the difference. When Avnita started to rise, I gently pushed her back into her place.

It was the greatest act of love I had ever performed.

I stood single file with almost ten other girls in front, near the hated door that was tauntingly offering an unauthentic escape. It would not be true freedom. We would get away from this horrible section, yes; but only to walk into a deeper kind of bondage. Even still, I felt victorious, like a savior to my only sister. I had kept her out of evil’s way for one more night.

“And Valleri Sengh,” the enemy finished, scanning the group of overheated, underfed girls.

No, no, no, my heart screamed the words and my stomach pounded. Someone stand up for me, my thoughts pleaded. Please, someone…for me, for Avnita…

My sister stood, carefully stepping over the tangle of girls.

My efforts to save my sister had been in vain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I couldn’t believe my own nervousness. Palms sweaty, throat throbbing; what was I doing? It wasn’t as if the girl didn’t get away. She was certainly safe enough to write about her experience. Was my concern really going out to two girls on the opposite side of the world, who probably didn’t even exist?

Angry at the thoughts that kept interrupting me; I picked up where I had left off. Valleri and her sister were being led outside towards a dirty gate, with only two men to guard the umpteen number of girls…
And so I saw my chance. Out onto the sidewalk we were headed, and I didn’t have much time. Obviously, the men were carrying weapons. But how could I even think of…

I did the craziest thing I had ever done before of my life. Years of pick pocketing and outsmarting the people of the streets could not compare to my second greatest act of love.

I threw myself at the man closest to my sister, screaming, biting, and fighting with a strength I did not know I possessed. “Avnita!” I yelped between teeth-sinkings. “Avnita, run! All of you—”

And the war began.

Some girls were chosen to stay behind and help me in my efforts to fight. The rest of the girls fled, heading for the streets and away from the enemy. After a few seconds of gunfire, only seven survived.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Excuse me, young man,” a gentleman gestured that he needed to get by. I scooped up my book, wobbled onto my feet and retreated to a nearby chair. A glance at the entrance of the library showed another group of students parading in. I returned to my book, eager to get to the finale. There were only a couple pages left now. Valleri had just rid one man of his knife while another girl engaged him in a short-lived wrestling match. Gripping the knife with both hands, she brought it down swiftly and sliced into his thigh. The man howled through stuffy air. He threw his other attacker to the ground, securing her to where she couldn’t move.

More men were called by the commotion. I strained to see the group of fleeing girls that was became smaller by the second. A herd of men stampeded after them, catching most of the prisoners and dragging them back. I tried to call to Avnita, to warn her, to scream for her to run; but my voice was strangled in my throat. Our captors had regained control.
Forced to stand, I trembled with every step as we were led out into the sidewalk, down the opposite street to where the prisoners had fled. I squirmed, twisted, and caught sight of my reward.
Avnita, with dirt flying around her as she raced towards another alley, escaping the evil I had vowed to protect her from.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I stood slowly, closed the book and headed towards the librarian’s desk. The story had gone on to tell of Valleri’s punishments (branded, lack of food, beaten), prostitution (the different men, her averaging only four hours of sleep each night) and her escape through the organization the book was sponsored by. Up until the time that the book was published, she had still not been able to locate Avnita. Valleri had returned to India to continue the search for her sister.

I had a strange, mixed feeling about the whole ordeal. Sure, it was descriptive, and I was positive slavery did happen like this. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the story might be…well, just a story. I decided to check out the book for further reading.

A portion of the group that had entered earlier stood in front of me, filling out library card forms. I requested one, since this was my first venture to any library since high school. After scribbling, Benjamin Thomas Lyle in the incorrect boxes, I glanced at the dark haired girl next to me, who was obviously doing better than I was. Feeling the very same way I felt when cheating on a test, I stole a quick look at her paper. Balking, my head jerked when I gaped at the way she had filled out her form a second time.

In perfect print, her tanned hand had written: Gupta, Avnita Sengh.

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This is another short story that won first place in a local contest. It was different from anything I had ever written, since I wrote it from a college dude’s point of view. The story was scribbled the night before the deadline (I had my procrastinating problem at 15, too. Some things never change).  Hope you enjoyed it!

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Isabella Stines spent most of her childhood diving into books and breaking the rules by reading past her bed time. Still an avid reader, she spends more of her time as a student and musician in addition to writing, fueling her creativity with Ramen noodles and sweet tea. Stines is currently working on her first trilogy.

You can find Isabella on Pinterest ( ) and tweet with her on Twitter:


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