Here’s a sneak preview of my latest novel about slavery. It follows the stories of three modern-day slaves: Malaya, Javin and Santino.
I’ll have an announcement about the book tomorrow. Let me know if you’d like to read more.
Rural Countryside, The Philippines
“No! Mama, no! Don’t let the man take me!”
Malaya’s shrieks of panic pierced the quiet morning air and reverberated off the tin roofs of the surrounding shanties. “I don’t want to go with him! I want to stay with you! I want to stay with you and my brothers!” Her wails intensified as the man gripped her arm more tightly, pulling her upwards so that only the tips of her toes brushed the dirt path.
“Malaya, you must go with him.” Mama held her head high as quiet tears streamed down her gaunt cheeks. “It is best.”
“No, Mama, it can’t be best. Being with you is best.” Malaya choked on her tears. “I will work harder, I promise! I will spend all day in the cane fields, and I won’t complain. Please let me stay, Mama!”
“The man says that he will find work for you in Manila. You can work to make money. He says there is much money to be made for hard working little girls in Manila.” Mama reached for Malaya, grasping at her hand as the man turned to open the door to the dusty compact sedan that blocked the narrow street. “He promises that he will send us the money you make. Then we can buy food. Your brothers would no longer be hungry. Don’t you want that, Malaya? Don’t you want to do whatever you can so that they don’t go hungry?”
“Yes, Mama.” Malaya hung her head and sniffed loudly. “I want to make money for food. I will go with the man.” She raised her head to search her mother’s eyes imploringly. “Will you come see me in Manila? Will I get to visit you?”
“The man said he would send me your address as soon as you started work. We will do our best to visit you when your father returns home.” Mama released her hand and took a step back. “You go now. You work hard. Be a good girl.”
“It’s time to go.” The man, who had remained silent during the exchange, spoke abruptly as he shoved Malaya into the back seat of the car where two other girls already waited. Without another word, he closed the door on Malaya, climbed into the front seat, and drove away. Malaya twisted on the rough fabric seat to get one last look at her mother, who had already turned and was heading back into their tiny home, counting the dollars given to her in exchange for her small daughter. Malaya wondered if she would ever see her mother again. She began to sob.
“Don’t cry.” The girl beside her whispered close to her ear. “It won’t do any good. It will only make the man angry at you. You do not want the man angry at you.”
“It is true.” The other girl’s whisper held a sense of urgency that checked Malaya’s cries. “You do not want to make him angry. This will be the result if you do.” She leaned forward, revealing a swollen lip and bruised cheek.
Malaya swallowed her tears and clamped her hand over her mouth as she studied the older girl’s misshapen features, her eyes wide in sudden fear.
“He did that to her when she tried to run this morning.” The first girl supplied the information in a hushed voice, her lips again close to Malaya’s ear. “We went with the man yesterday when he came to our village. Over the night, he…did things. To both of us. Things that made us want to run. I was scared and did not resist, but Diwata tried to run. He caught her, and then he hit her. He did more things to her. Then we left and came to your village.”
“What kind of things?” Malaya whispered into the other girl’s ear. “What did the man do?”
“Bad things. You will find out tonight, I am sure.” Diwata looked out the window at the passing countryside, avoiding Malaya’s stare. “For now, we must be still and try to sleep. Nights do not mean much sleep. Perhaps the man will be nice to you, because you are young. But I do not think that he will. You will see.”
“But what will I see?” Malaya persisted, louder than she intended. The man turned to glare at her over the seat. She lowered her voice. “What does the man do? I thought he was to find us work to feed our families. Good work in Manila.”
Diwata laughed bitterly, a harsh sound muffled by her hand over her swollen mouth. “There is nothing good about this man. He will not find good work for us. Now be quiet.”
“What is your name?” Malaya tried another tactic, leaning close to the ear of the girl beside her.
“Lailani.” The girl eyed the man in the front seat warily. “Diwata is right. We should rest now. Be quiet. We can talk later.”
Malaya put her head back against the seat and tried to close her eyes, but the fear gripping her throat threatened to rob her of any air she could grasp in the stuffy car. Sweat broke out in tiny beads on her forehead, yet a chill rolled down her spine in spite of the heat. She popped her thumb in her mouth, a move that had comforted her since she was a baby. Just as she was beginning to think she could no longer stand the silence, the fear, the unknown, she felt Lailani’s hand slip into her own. The gesture reassured her that no matter what was to come, at least she would not have to face it alone. She sighed deeply, and settled back to endure the bumpy ride.