Prism & Pen
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Prism & Pen

Take it on Faith (17): A Secret Asexual Traitor to Her Country

Labor camps and culture shock hit full force.

Chow mein (a Chinese noodle and vegetable dish) on a plate
Source: Focused on You on Unsplash

As Amalia and I left the plane, I asked her more about her background. She told me that she grew up in one of the Empire’s orphanages but calling them orphanages was quite generous. They were more like labor camps that exploited the poor and desperate. In these orphanages, children worked long hours, even longer than the hours that adults worked, under the guise of it being “educational”.

Amalia said that she had her ways of avoiding death by machinery, but that not all kids were as lucky as she was. She personally picked out pieces of skin, bone, and organs from other kids who fell into the machines. The appointed orphanage mothers often said that it was easier for children’s hands to clean smaller machine parts. Even if that was true, I couldn’t justify exposing children to that sort of thing.

“How could anyone send their kids to one of these places?” I asked, appalled by their very existence.

“That’s the thing. Most half-decent parents wouldn’t send their kids if they knew what went on at these places,” Amalia explained. “Well, I’m not exactly sure how I ended up there, but you get the idea.”

She wouldn’t elaborate much on her life outside of the camps, but she said that the labor camp eventually got rid of her for questioning orders too often. That was a feat in and of itself. I didn’t exactly know how Amalia wasn’t beaten into a pulp psychologically, but I sensed that it had to do something with finding support where she could.

“Oh, speaking of kids, yours are over there with Yuri. Hi, Yuri!” Amalia yelled as she jumped and waved in a way that seemed rather uncharacteristic of who she was.

Yuri was a tall man who looked like he was in his mid-twenties, maybe early thirties. He approached me as my husband and kids followed closely behind. There was no feeling like it as they all swarmed me for a hug. After we all reunited, it was like all was right in the world once again.

Since we were all hungry, we tried ordering Chinese food at one of the airport vendors and, trying to stay safe, I ordered some chow mein. As I picked up the noodles with my chopsticks, I noticed that something was amiss right away.

There was dill in this chow mein. I kept eating, but I was so taken aback that I couldn’t enjoy it. If dill was going to be this prevalent, we were definitely going to need to cook our own food. Meanwhile, Yuri ate an entire plateful of wilted dill covered in a soy sauce mixture. He seemed confused when I declined to try it in favor of some sweet and sour chicken.

All three kids seemed rather open to trying new foods, especially Cara. She seemed to try everything she could get her hands on, but was rather taken aback when she bit into a Szechuan peppercorn in a vegetable dish with beets. Expecting a meltdown, I braced myself, but she took a sip of water and continued eating as if nothing happened.

As Amalia passed around a fish on a platter, Lydia took the head and skillfully worked out all the meat. She told me that she saw a tutorial on the Internet for eating fish heads and always wanted to try it. Asher even ventured out of his culinary safe space to try a cabbage soup with lotus root. Despite that, he still picked pieces of bell pepper out of his food and gave them to me.

After that, Amalia dumped some wrapped sweets into her purse and ran off saying that Yuri would take over until we settled into Belarus. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure if we would ever truly settle. Everything was just so…different. I should have been happier or at least more grateful that we were all safe, but somehow, all I felt was bewilderment. I’ve always felt like an outsider because I was Black, Armenian, and queer, but nothing felt like this.

I wasn’t sure if it was psychosomatic or if I caught a random travel bug, but I could have sworn that I felt physically dizzy with everyone around me, including my own family, speaking rapid-fire Belarusian. I could barely keep up, even if I tried to concentrate on one person or one topic. Sounds blended into each other; the longer I listened, the harder it was harder to pick out individual words.

Yuri handed me a key and a piece of paper with an address on it, but at this point, I didn’t even trust my own eyes. I handed it to Gavin and let him handle it. I just wanted to go home, wherever that was.

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Valentine Wiggin

Valentine Wiggin

Death-positive, sex-positive, and LGBTQ-affirming Christian. Gen Z. I hate onions. She/her