Nalesh’s fingers were long and skinny. They could’ve been the fingers of a musician, of a baker, of a model. They could’ve been all of those things. But they weren’t, they were fingers which picked at scabs and old scars when things got tough.
Like when she went hungry, when her boat creaked, when water lapped against her ankles or when a man with jittery body movements jostled next to her during the storms. And if they hadn’t been picked, then they wouldn’t have been Nalesh’s fingers. They would’ve been someone else’s.
Someone walking around a tall building with books, someone who wore dresses which swirled and had never cried through the night because the village well had run dry. Maybe they wouldn’t have watched their mother beg and cry as diseases took all her family, or heard the grunt and groans as a body was sold for Narlesh’s fare. Under no circumstances did they need to worry about animals nipping at their ankles in a dirty cargo hold as they slept.
“We’ll be there soon,” a voice called out to the mass of contorted bodies she was squished in. “A new life awaits you.”
She would’ve believed the voice, if it hadn’t said the same thing every night since they’d been boarded by well-dressed humans with white shirts and pants without patches. “Officers,” they’d called themselves and they’d flashed bright lights into her eyes, hauled her to the top deck and talked in a language she didn’t understand.
Then they’d told the Captain something and the land she could see from the ship started to disappear until it was no more. Only sea remained, and then trickles of light as she was shoved back into the hold with all the others.
“Jutral,” Nalesh remembered her mother whispering to her before a woman with scars had pulled them apart. “Jutral is freedom.”
Nalesh wasn’t certain about that. But she knew life was unfair, and there was a man named Yton who turned all the boats away. Every single one. And he hated little girls whose skin was darker than the night sky and had dreams bigger than his.
So in that hold, under all the limbs of everyone else — Nalesh took out the tiny sketch of Yton she’d given away several meals for; and vowed, “On Zinneel’s tomb, I promise you forever peace.”
With a sigh, Nalesh put the sketch back in her underpants and waited. Her chance for freedom was coming and she knew nothing would stop her from taking it.