The Short Story Series were originally published on Through Frog Eyes as a collaborative effort between a guest photographer and my writing. I am relaunching the stories individually for all those who are new to the website and Marie Balustrade´s writing. The IOE Series features guest photographer Ismael Ortiz Escribano from Spain for four stories. Click HERE for the full set.
Ramesh had been shadowboxing for the last hour at the far end of the courtyard. It was close to high noon, when most other people opted to sit in the shade or remain indoors, but he needed the air and the illusion of being free again. Rivulets of perspiration running down his back felt good after the long hours of sitting in the dark prison cell. The days were long without anything to do, and since his cellmate had been sent down to solitary confinement for a month, he had nobody to talk to either. He yearned to returned to the life back in India where he could move around the village and be greeted with respect by the younger people. As the only boxing trainer of the region, Ramesh had built up a reputation over the years as the maker of champions.
Money, however, was always tight and there was no regular flow, since it all depended on sporadic sponsorships. His wife had died years ago and with her, the only steady income the family had ever known. It had been almost ten years since he last heard of his daughter as well, and the evil tongues of the villagers claimed she was working as a prostitute in Mumbai. Ramesh was no stranger to legal entanglements, but he had always managed to find a solution among former students and old boxing friends. Home was not exactly a palace, since had neglected the upkeep over the years and financial difficulties forced him to sell off one item after another. If there was a way to turn back the clock, he would never had agreed to be a drug mule to Thailand. Blinded by the fistfuls of money flashed before his eyes that fateful evening at the corner liquor shop, and he was desperate enough to do anything.
Christopher sat on the boat trying to catch his breath. He was so seasick that he could barely work and had to lean overboard so often to vomit. When he signed up for the job of janitor in his little village rural Nigeria, the recruiter left out the little detail about the job being on a merchant boat. He had placed his thumbprint on the contract without understanding any of the words, and been led to believe he would be working in a fancy office building in Nairobi, Kenya and wearing a brand new uniform that included new shoes. Shoes! He had never worn shoes before. Everyone walked barefoot in the village, and only those who went to town wore flip flops. He had heard stories about people from the neighbouring village who had gone to school and wore shoes some strange thing called socks, but education was something his family had never considered important.
One year later, he was still on the boat, as sick as he was on the first day. He was assigned below deck most days and rarely saw the sun. Only when the rest of the crew was asleep or had retired to their cabins did Christopher dare go to the main deck and catch some fresh air. He had made friends with some of the other crew members but they were all older than him. The age difference did not bother him, nor did he complain about the various beatings that rained down on his body throughout the day, but it was when some of the men used his body in ways he had only seen animals do that he felt revolted. The captain laughed out loud when he first complained about the abuse. “You are my slave and I own every part of you, so I can do with you as I please.”
Fatima found the cold marble steps of the mosque strangely comforting. Her eyes wandered about the rest of the complex and noted the cleanliness and silence of her surroundings. It was such a difference to the hellhole she was living in. Her parents had thrown her out of the house for talking to a foreign man who had just stopped to ask for directions. Her uncle happened to be passing by on his bicycle at that very moment and misconstrued everything. He pedalled to her home as fast as his short fat legs would allow and reported the scandalous situation to her father. By the time Fatima reached home, her bag had been packed and placed outside the door. She could not even enter the house and all she heard were angry screams of her father from the other side of the door calling her an ungrateful whore. At a complete lost what to do next, Fatima went back to school with her head hung as low as possible so nobody would recognise her. Once she found one of her teachers, she asked for help to enter one of the shelters for abandoned and abused women on the other side of the city.
The women’s shelter called Open Arms was run by one of the foreign organizations established after the Gulf Wart. Accommodation offered was basic and temporary, and the women were expected to find alternative arrangements after six months if they were single, and one year if they had children with them. There was a separate wing for those who were pregnant, and a psychiatric ward for those who had been raped or so battered that they required additional psychiatric care. Fatima was worried because her six were up tomorrow morning and had absolutely no place else to go. The entire clan had disowned her and nobody dared to reach out to her for fear of being suffering a similar fate. The school had also expelled her because the tuition could no longer be paid, which broke Fatimas’s heart. One one more semester to go before graduation and she could have been a qualified nurse. One of the women at Open Arms hat told her about an abandoned building on the outskirts of Kabul. There was no electricity or running water, but it would be some sort of a roof over her head.
Soledad looked up from her bench beside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It was beginning to rain again but she still had so many more pigeons to feed. The birds knew she would be there every morning and evening too feed them at the exact same time and they waited for her faithfully. On the days when she was too sick to get out of bed or could not remember who she was, the birds continued to wait for Soledad until the city sanitation engineers came around to clean the piazza and drove them away. She had once been a rich grand dame driving a white Jaguar, but the day after she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s her husband packed his bags and moved in with his secretary 25 years his junior. “I don’t want to be around a crazy old bat the rest of my life, I have my needs” he spat in her face. They had opted not to have children early on in their marriage because of their busy social life and both their flourishing careers. “That was the biggest mistake of my life” she lamented as the rain grew stronger and mixed with her tears. “Now all I have are the birds to befriend my solace”