For months she had been hiding things. I few dollars here. An old, but valuable ring there. Little things that he would not notice. Insignificant things that would not warn him about her eventual escape.
Some may call her hiding of things theft, but she didn’t look at it that way. The items she had chosen were already hers. He had given them to her. So she couldn’t really steal what was hers, could she? And anyway, if it was that, she thought it was justified. After all, he had stolen her youth, her freedom and her life. Now, Mikhaila was taking it back before it was too late.
At age 15, Mikhaila had met her now husband and owner. He was an older foreigner with cruel eyes. He selected her over several other girls in the line up. She remembered how he stopped to look her over, up and down like she were a prized mare at a breeding show. She turned. She smiled. She look down at her feet demurely. Not just because that was what her owners said to do, but because she was afraid of this stranger’s penetrating glare.
He must have liked what he saw, because he bought her then and there. Right there in the line up, he stated, “This one. She will be my wife.” Mikhaila cringed inside, but outwardly smiled and glanced up with a bow to her new master who was 10 years her senior. Then, her and her friends were paraded around for a few more minutes for show and herded out of sight for the men to finish their business.
Of course, the men who ran the house, didn’t call this display a line up. They called it opportunity. They ran the home something like an orphanage and school, but in reality, it was really just a place to sell young girls to wealthy foreigners. From childhood, girls were groomed for marriage. They learned to cook, clean, and sew. They were educated to make enlightening conversation. They were exercised to remain fit, healthy and attractive. They were styled in the most attractive clothing and hairstyles. They were even instructed in the arts of pleasing a man. Overall, they were molded to be the perfect wives, and they came at a cost.
At times, it was easy for the girls to forget they were property to be sold. There in the home, they were educated, pampered and protected. It was almost like an all-girls school, and they enjoyed each others company. But, when they reached their mid teens, their owners started to market them-their virginal beauties for sale.
Mikhaila had only been to a few lines ups, so she was still naive. Her, like many other young girls, fantasized about handsome young men coming to the line ups. They would fall madly in love with the girls and whisk them away to a life of happiness.
Of course, this was not the norm. Men who wanted to buy a wife did so not for the need of love. No, they were more interested in controlling a glamorous woman who they could display on their arm. They needed to show their power, their wealth and their virility.
Geruf, an elite and powerful businessman, needed to show all of those things, especially to his father who had been grooming him to take over the business. For his whole life, Geruf’s father had told him love was pointless. It only made a man weak. It ruined his priorities.
Naturally, Geruf agreed with his father as he had been the only dominant figure in the young man’s life. He desired women of course. He was a young man after all. But through decades of his father’s teachings, Geruf only saw women as objects and treated them as such.
When Geruf was 25, his father sent him to the home to select a wife. That was when he met Mikhaila. Unfortunately, she had caught his eye on his first visit and the deal was made.
Since the girls could not marry until they were 18, the men who wanted legal wives had to wait. However, while they waited, they could come visit their purchased fiancee to get to know her and confirm there was no buyer’s remorse. If there was, they could make an exchange.
Her owners were wise businessmen though. The girls were not allowed off the property during these visits. This way, their girls remained in their desired conditions, untouched. It also was a way to charge the wealthy men more money. For the privilege of selecting a young bride, the buyer then had to take on the cost of her boarding and education. But this way, he got to choose a young girl before others. One young enough to help mold. One young enough to build a believable history with.
Geruf’s father had thought of everything. By having his son pick out a wife early, the couple could be photographed during their regular visits. The pictures built a lovely history for his son’s long-distance romance. It would make his marriage normal and almost expected. Then at 28-years-old, his son would be established in the business and married to a woman fit to display and trained to behave. It was a perfect plan, and for seven years, it worked.
Geruf was leading the business and Mikhaila played the model wife. She entertained with him. She kept his house. She did as he bid all while looking perfect. But as the years passed, Geruf became increasingly cruel. Mikhaila would reach out to him, trying to ease his stress and make him smile. But just when she thought she had broken through, his dad’s training came out with a vengeance. It was as though the closer Mikhaila got to Geruf’s heart, the crueler he became. He beat her, burned her and raped her to regain his power. He needed to fight any feeling of love with anger. To reestablish his feeling of control, he took hers.
A few months ago, Geruf beat Mikhaila for speaking her mind. She dared to jokingly correct him in front of his father. It was a mistake she would not forget, he made sure of that. And he made sure his father knew she was put in her purchased place because he beat her right there in front of him. She remembered catching a glimpse of his father as she struggled under Geruf. He was smiling. He was proud of his wife-beating son.
Later that month, Mikhaila discovered she was pregnant. Though Geruf had ruled this was her next duty for him, he didn’t know it yet. Mikhaila sat with the positive tester in her hands, crying on the bathroom floor. She had already been preparing to escape one day, she just didn’t have a date. But now it wasn’t just her, it was her and her baby. She curled up, thinking about how Geruf’s father sat there while his son beat her. He sat there smiling because his son’s purchased wife was being corrected. She was just a thing to her husband and her father-in-law, even after all these years. After all she did, she was still nothing more than a piece of property. How would it be any different for her child?
It would not be different. Her child would be property just like her. That’s when she decided on a date to escape. She had no more time to waste.
That was two weeks ago, and here she was on the road, driving to her new life. In a car that a friend had rented for her, she was slipping away in the night while Geruf was on an overnight business trip. She only took a few items and left their house in perfect order but with the front door oddly open. She even left lingerie on the bed and dinner fixings on the counter to look like she was planning him a romantic dinner. Nothing looked like she had planned escaping for months. Nothing looked like she had planned this day to escape from her pretend marriage and real enslavement. Nothing would ruin his precious image. She would just simply be missing. So, as she drove up the hill and into the light of dawn, Mikhaila saw hope for the first time in her life.
For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo Challenge.