Brutalist Stories #102 — A Ship to Odessa
“What’s your name, child?”
“I don’t know,” she looks up at me, eyes like bright silver moons in the dark of the brig.
I nod and make a sound of confirmation. She’s no different to the rest of them they throw in here, stolen away from somewhere, someone, more meat for the grinder.
The brig is wet; it’s always wet with the heat, the moisture of our bodies. The leaky old ship trudges along, through the thick swamp of a sea that’s outside and our naked bodies glisten in the little light that pushes its way through the cracks in the ceiling.
I’m sat, back against the iron hull, knees up, hands resting on them, my head dipped between, growling and thinking of a time and a place I’ll never see the likes of again.
“What’s your name?” she asks, the girl with no name.
“Call me Ishmael,” I say, and a smile creeps out the side of my face. Why not? What difference does it make for her?
“What’s your port, Ishmael?”
I raise my head again, and my eyes meet hers, those moon-like orbs floating in the darkness, reflecting just enough light to shine through, a shadow of a dirty face around them. “Odessa,” I say.
“That’s my port too,” she says and crawls over to me, sitting her back against the hull, knees raised just as I. She grabs one of my arms, wraps hers around it, like a teddy or other comforter.
“What are you doing?” I say, letting my arm sit for a minute.
“We’re going to the same port; we can be friends.”
“It doesn’t work that way child,” I say and pull my arm back.
“But — ” the door to the brig swings open before she can get the rest of it out. I know what’s coming here.
“You child!” comes the shout from the silhouette of the man stood in the doorway, arm pointing forward.
“Help me,” she says in a whisper, a quiver in her voice, trying to hold onto something that’s not there, not in her.
I dip my head back between my legs. “Child, it doesn’t work that way.”
The silhouetted man pulls himself through the bulkhead, pushing through the emaciated bodies of all of us around, now lit with the light from the doorway, all bone wrapped in dirt ridden flesh. I look at my arms, my hands, worn smooth, leather-like fingers, shaking with weakness.
I turn to the child, her face lit, small cheeks sunken and covered in dirt, she’s staring up at the man coming toward her, her bottom lip jumping. “No — ” another small whisper as the man reaches her.
There’s a kick in my gut, and tension runs up my arms and down my legs. My jaw clenches, teeth grinding, eyelids closed tight as I take a breath and push away the screams of the girl as the man grabs her and pulls her. Kicking and begging cries for help and not a single body moves, including mine. I push it back down. Swallow the guilt whole, not the first time I’ve tasted it.
More meat for the grinder. A girl with no name.