Copyright 2008 by EC
EC's Erotic Art & Fiction - http://www.ecgraphicarts.com/
(warnings: erotic discipline, sex between adults, public nudity, harsh police interrogation)
Chapter 6 – Nothing to be proud of
Cecilia was awake as soon as it started to get light outside. She started breakfast for the household, roused her nephew to force him to get ready for school, and finally laid out a pressed shirt and suit for Victor Dukov. Up until late April, most of those tasks had been handled by Mrs. Dukov. Cecilia took over the household responsibilities shortly after the cancer diagnosis and had been in complete charge of the house since May.
As Cecilia pulled a stack of dishes out of the cupboard and started distributing them around the dining room table, it suddenly occurred to her that Maria Elena, if she remained in Victor’s house, could take over most of the housework. The idea made sense, because it would automatically give the Colombian a place to live and right away make her a useful member of the household. More importantly, having Maria Elena take over the chores would free Cecilia to concentrate on her own responsibilities at the university. She felt that she owed it to the Dukovs to help out when Mrs. Dukov became sick, but she had no intention of taking care of the house more than a few weeks. Four months had gone by and there was no sign that Victor was ready to assume any of the household responsibilities, or any sign that anyone else was about to come in and relieve Cecilia. Now, possibly, she had stumbled across a solution to her problem.
Cecilia woke up Maria Elena and ordered her to join her in the kitchen. She continued to cook, but told the Colombian to start taking food to the dining room and to clean the pans. That freed up Cecilia to push her nephew to get ready for school and to check his homework. She then checked on Victor, who was close to being ready to go downstairs. Ordinarily Cecilia would have started making his bed, but she realized that she could have Maria Elena do that. Yes, she thought to herself, Prisoner # 101025 is gonna earn her keep from day one.
Once the table was set, the Colombian stood quietly, not sure whether to sit down or not. Cecilia made sure that Victor, as the head of the household, was properly seated before Pedro could sit down. Then she addressed Maria Elena:
“Kneel. Once Victor gives you permission to join us, you’ll need to thank him and you can take a seat.”
Once Maria Elena and Cecilia sat down and started eating, Cecilia explained:
“You’ll have to kneel before each meal, ‘cause you’re a criminal. It’s not just you; Jason has to do the same thing when he comes over. It’s not so bad, because Victor is at least letting you sit at his table, which is a favor in this country. In a lot of households criminals have to eat in the kitchen because of the shame they’ve brought upon everyone else. There’s a lot of parents who won’t even allow their kid to sit on any of their furniture if he’s collared. He has to eat standing up and kneel if he’s talking to anyone. Victor won’t make you do that unless he’s pissed at you.”
Cecilia briefly talked to Victor in Danubian to present her idea of having the detainee permanently stay at the house in exchange for helping out with the chores. He was much more receptive to the proposal than Cecilia had anticipated, which meant that the only person she still had to convince was Kim. If the Spokeswoman agreed, then Cecilia would simply tell Maria Elena about the arrangement and she would be expected to comply.
However, as she considered the prisoner’s situation, she decided that she did at least owe her an explanation. She asked Victor to take Pedro to the school bus stop while she and the prisoner would remain behind to clean up from breakfast. Once the kitchen was clean, she ordered Maria Elena to sit down in the living room so she could braid her hair. Since properly braiding her companion’s hair would take about 30 minutes, Cecilia used that opportunity to explain the plan of having her live with Victor Dukov permanently.
“There’s a couple of things I’m worried about. First of all, I’ve got my classes, my fiancé, my nephew, and 60 exchange students to deal with, and I’m not doing any of that very well because I’m having to take care of Victor. I owe him a lot, but I also have my other responsibilities and I need some help. Also, because of your language problem, you’d have to stay here for a couple of months anyway, so I figure we can make that permanent from the outset. That way you won’t have to worry about where you’re gonna live, because that’ll be taken care of. So, we’ve got a solution to several problems. Does that make sense?”
“Now, you’re not here to relax. You’re here to help me and Victor, and you’re here to do what I tell you. Eventually you’ll know what needs to be done, and I’ll expect you to do it automatically. Victor’s OK with the idea, so the only person I need to talk to is your Spokeswoman. I don’t know if she has any other ideas about where you should live, but if I have my way, you’re staying here.”
With that Cecilia told Maria Elena to stand up and look at herself in the mirror. The prisoner looked very different with her hair tightly braided. She did not like her appearance at all. Cecilia picked up on her disapproving expression:
“You’re in Danubia. This is they way women keep their hair. A lot of those strange looks you got yesterday had nothing to do with the fact that you were naked or collared, it was because of your hair. Women just don’t have loose hair in this country. That’s something that actually they’ve gotten stricter about over the last couple of years, I think because they don’t like the foreign tourists coming in with their hair flying all around.”
Cecilia grabbed two large sacks of books and student papers to take to the university. She handed the heavier one to Maria Elena and the two women exited the house. They walked several blocks along tree-lined streets before entering the main campus of the National University. Because classes had not yet started, the university was largely empty, with the exception of grounds-keepers and several groups of students who were exercising.
The prisoner was shocked to see that the majority of the people on campus were naked. Cecilia explained that exercise was normally done in the nude, since swimwear and most athletic clothing were prohibited by law. The students who were running wore shoes and nothing else. As for the grounds-keepers, most of the older employees were dressed wearing nothing but knee-pads, aprons, and wide-brim hats, while several collared criminals working under their direction were as naked as Maria Elena. This was one weird country: they made such a big deal about braided hair, but no one cared about public nudity.
Cecilia noticed the gardeners and commented: “This might not be a bad job for you, working in the garden at the university. It’s right next to where you live, it would fulfill the work requirements of you being out in the open, and wouldn’t require much language. I don’t think your Spokeswoman thought about this as an option. I’ll suggest it when we see her.”
Maria Elena said nothing, but inwardly cringed. Digging in the dirt with her hands? Certainly that was beneath her; she wasn’t a peasant, after-all.
Cecilia led her companion to the exchange program office to drop off the books. She then told Maria Elena to follow her to a professor’s office to introduce her and request that she be added to the exchange program’s Danubian language training group. Cecilia ordered the prisoner to kneel during the introduction, but then told her to stand up. The professor and the program coordinator talked briefly before she turned to Maria Elena:
“OK, you’re in luck. The professor’s gonna add you to the program. To make sure you’re not totally lost in class this afternoon, right now he’s gonna give you the basics of Danubian and teach you the alphabet. I need to meet with some of my students anyway, so I’ll just leave you here.”
For the next two hours Maria Elena received a very intense class in Danubian language training. The professor grilled her on the alphabet and taught her some fundamental phrases and questions that she needed to know for simple survival. She learned numbers and how to say her legal name in Danubian, she learned how to ask for permission for basic needs such as going to the bathroom, and she learned greetings appropriate for a criminal. Finally the instructor gave her a study guide from the class and ordered her to review it until Cecilia returned.
Twenty-four hours had passed since Maria Elena had been arrested, but already her new life was beginning to take shape. She had a place to live, she knew what her legal situation would be, and she had learned a few words and phrases needed to exist in the country that held her captive. She understood that there would be no transition for her. She already was considered a criminal and as such, had her established place in Danubian society. No one considered her as Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres, the Colombian detainee. To the Danubians she was Prisoner # 101025, property of the Danubian Republic. The people around her would assist her as much as they could, but only to help her understand and assume her duties as a criminal. No one was interested in helping her regain her freedom or return to her old life.
Three hours after she departed, Cecilia Sanchez returned to pick up her prisoner and escort her downtown to the Central Police Station. Cecilia explained that within a few days Maria Elena would be expected to make the trip by herself, pointing out which trolley routes she needed to know to travel downtown and to return to the university:
“Downtown’s pretty hard to miss. It’s got a huge wall around it and if you get lost; just look for the cathedral.”
Maria Elena noticed that with her hair properly braided, she did indeed draw less attention than she did the previous day. Of course, most of the men at least noticed her, but their glances were not much more than she got in Pereira when she wore her favorite mini-skirt. On interesting difference was that the men who looked at her were much better behaved than many of the younger men in her home country. There were no remarks, whistles, or cat-calls, because the Danubians considered such behavior dishonorable. The men were free to look, but whatever thoughts they had about the naked prisoner they kept to themselves.
When Cecilia escorted Maria Elena to Kim’s office, Criminal # 98946 was waiting in the reception area to let them in. The Spokeswoman invited her assistant and her two guests to have tea with her in the back office. Cecilia reminded Maria Elena that it ultimately was Kim who was her mentor and it was with Kim that she would have to work out the details of her future life as a criminal.
Cecilia conversed with the Spokeswoman in English, explaining her idea of having Maria Elena stay with Victor Dukov permanently and possibly request work at the university as a groundskeeper. Kim seemed very satisfied that her prisoner already had received her first class in Danubian. She asked what Maria Elena thought of Victor. When Maria Elena answered honestly that she wasn’t sure what she thought of him, Kim responded:
“Did you know that I used to work for him?”
“Yes, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, he told me last night. He also said that you were one of his favorite employees.”
Kim turned her head slightly. She tapped her neck and glanced at Cecilia, who shook her head.
“Did you know that when I worked for him, I was a criminal?”
When Maria Elena heard the translation, she wasn’t sure she had understood correctly. Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna…a criminal?
The Spokeswoman called her attention to a tapestry hanging on the wall behind her desk. She took it down, revealing several objects from her own past. There was a brightly-colored t-shirt with a marijuana leaf on the front, a criminal’s collar with a broken latch, and a small picture of herself with the following inscription:
“Zék nom. 98945 - Kimberly Lee – USA”
Maria Elena studied the portrait on the mugshot. The image must have been taken about seven years before, when Kimberly Lee was only 18 years old. Her hair was very short and her expression reflected pure terror and bewilderment, a total contrast with how she currently looked, sitting confidently at her desk.
“For two years, my name was Criminal # 98945. I served a two-year sentence for smoking marijuana behind the Temple of the Ancients. For two years I wore this collar you see hanging on my wall and I wore nothing else. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I…y…yes…Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna…I understand…”
I am telling you this, because I want you to understand that I had to endure some of what you will have to endure. You have no right to assume that I really don’t know what you are going through, because I was there myself. Seven years ago, I sat in that same chair where you’re sitting, the very same chair. Just like you, I sat naked on a towel, because as a prisoner I was forbidden to wear clothing. And just like you, I went on trial and was punished. I know how you feel right now, because everything you are feeling I felt myself. Do you understand me?”
After listening to Cecilia’s translation, Maria Elena managed to respond:
“Dóc-doc, Advodkátna Lee-Dolkivna.”
“When I told you yesterday that the Path of my Life was to serve as your custodian and your mentor, I actually meant that. I have a Path in Life, which was laid out by the Creator before I ever set foot in Danubia. That is why I was arrested and that is why I served a two-year sentence. You will understand that you too, have a Path in Life, a path that brought us together.”
Maria Elena face was blank, because she had no clue how she should respond. The Spokeswoman continued:
“I am telling you this, because I don’t want you to assume your life has ended just because you were arrested. It hasn’t. Your life has changed, but it hasn’t ended. Nor has your life been suspended. You will lead your life day by day, and your duty to the Creator, to everyone around you, and to yourself, is to make the best out of it. And those words are not mine. They were from my own Spokesman, something he told me the second day of my sentence.”
Maria Elena was silent. Finally she was able to respond with a question: “So…Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna…I was wondering…what’s gonna happen to me? My life…the one you’re talking about…what is my life gonna be like?”
“You’re screwed legally, and I’m telling you that up front. You’ll probably be wearing a collar for 55 years, like the arraignment committee told you. So, you’ll live out the rest of your life just like you are now. No clothes, no makeup, no jewelry. No drinking, no drugs. Your purpose will be to serve society and those around you. You will lead a demanding life, but you will also always understand what is expected of you. No one will lie to you, and you won’t lie either, because you won’t have any reason to lie. At some point you’ll come to terms with what happened, and when you do, you’ll learn to speak Danubian, make new friends, and probably fall in love with someone. Then the years will go by and you’ll get older, just like everyone else. That will be the Path of your Life, as they say here.”
“The Path of my Life…”
“The Path of your Life…you will understand…just like Criminal # 98946…just like me…just like all of my other clients.”
Maria Elena’s thoughts returned to her conversation with Cecilia, and the possibility that she might have been double-crossed and murdered had she completed her trip to Germany. Her mind was full of doubt…was she extraordinarily lucky, or unlucky? What really awaited her in Frankfurt…la plata or el plomo?
The Spokeswoman did not give her client much time to reflect, because there still were several issues that she needed to resolve, the most important of which was making sure she was gainfully employed. Cecilia immediately brought up the idea of having Maria Elena work as a gardener at the university.
“Yes, that’s better than anything I was able to think of. The best thing would’ve been for her to work for Victor, but since she can’t ride a bicycle, I guess the university is her best option. I’ll call over there and see if they need anyone.”
Kim picked up the phone while Cecilia told Maria Elena what had been decided. It was obvious that she was not at all happy with the prospect of being a gardener. Cecilia responded:
“What’s wrong with being a gardener?”
Maria Elena couldn’t express what she was thinking, but what bothered her was the idea of ruining her hands. Even two days after being arrested, her manicured fingernails were intact, the final link to a former life that allowed her to worry about her appearance. At any other time in her life she would have dreaded getting her hands dirty, but in Danubia that fear was even stronger, because it was her last shred of personal vanity, one that she had hoped to preserve.
“Please…can’t it be anything else?”
“Yes, it can. You can change jobs after you learn to speak Danubian. But right now you can’t communicate, which limits what you can do. If you don’t like gardening, then that’ll be an incentive to do well in language class.”
Maria Elena paused, desperately trying to think of an argument that would get her out of the gardening job. Meanwhile, Kim put her hand over the phone’s receiver and asked Cecilia in English:
“What’s the language class schedule for your students?”
“13:00 to 16:00, Monday through Saturday. In the mornings they go out on city tours.”
“What about P.E.?
“16:30 to 17:30.”
“Do they want her to participate in that?”
“Yes, to be in the language program, she’s gonna have to participate.”
“OK, then I’ll have her work from 9:00 to 12:00. I’ll have to petition the Ministry to get it approved, because that’s a reduced schedule. I want her to learn Danubian and, for the moment, that takes priority over working. Also, you can tell her that if she’s getting a reduced work schedule, she’d better bust her ass at night for you and Victor. You tell her I’m doing her a favor.”
Cecilia translated, adding that she wanted Maria Elena to thank her Spokeswoman. The prisoner did not look happy at all. Cecilia became irritated:
“What’s your problem? That’s a huge break for you! You’re only gonna have to work three hours a day! I wish I could work just three hours a day! Now, you get on your knees and you thank her!”
Reluctantly the Maria Elena did as she was told, repeating a phrase she had learned that morning:
“Spakéebo dék mene.”
Once the prisoner was on her knees with her hands resting on her thighs, Cecilia realized why she was so reluctant. She had beautifully manicured fingernails. Obviously that would change the moment Maria Elena’s hands went into the dirt. Well, that was just too bad, because Danubian women (even ones that held professional jobs) didn’t let their fingernails grow out or wear nail polish. One more thing for her to get adjusted to…
Criminal # 98946 stuck her head in the door to let Kim know that the police had just brought in a new detainee. It was obvious her time with Prisoner # 101025 had ended, because now she had to deal with her newest client. As the women exited the back office, they saw a cop standing over a very depressed young man. He was completely naked and was kneeling with his hands cuffed behind his back. Unlike Maria Elena, whose detention had not really been normal, the young man had been photographed and assigned a criminal number right after being arrested. After exchanging salutes with Kim, the cop handed over the client’s paperwork and introduced him as Prisoner # 101098.
Cecilia commented in Spanish:
“We need to go. Kneel and say good-bye.”
Once they had exited the Central Police Station, Cecilia addressed Maria Elena’s fingernail problem, explaining that painted fingernails were similar to unbraided hair in Danubia; something foreign and not considered appropriate. “…in a way it makes sense because, look at yourself, for example. Here you have this really great work schedule and all you can think about is ruining your nails. Don’t think I can’t sympathize with you because I do. You take a look at my pictures before I came here, and you’ll see I liked bright red lipstick and bright red nail polish…and they always had to match. I was thinking about that all the time…but once I came here I had to give it up.”
Cecilia glanced at Maria Elena’s hands:
“You got ‘em done in Panama?”
“Yes, sort of a last treat before my trip.”
“Well, enjoy them for now, because when we get home tonight you’ll have to cut ‘em short. It’s not because you’ll be digging tomorrow, you’d have to do it anyway. No matter where you’d work, you’d have to cut your nails.”
Thirty minutes later Maria Elena was sitting in a class with 15 exchange program students. Most of them were from the United States, although there were two Canadians and a guy from Ireland among them. After being able to forget about being naked in public for several hours, in the classroom she felt very intimidated because she was the only nude person in the group. She noticed the guys constantly looking at her, but as best she could, tried to ignore them.
The professor came to her aid by watching for anyone paying more attention to the naked Colombian than to his class and calling on that person. Time after time he tripped up inattentive classmates, until finally they were able to focus on the fact that they needed to concentrate on Danubian vocabulary and not on Maria Elena’s body. The professor avoided calling on Maria Elena the first day, but she knew that he’d expect her to participate after the newness of her situation wore off.
After class the students immediately headed to the gym, while Maria Elena stayed behind to wait for her translator. When she showed up at the door, the prisoner was shocked, because Cecilia was completely naked except for a pair of running shoes. In her hands was another pair of shoes. It turned out the extra pair of shoes were Maria Elena’s, borrowed from her seized clothing.
“Exercise time. I need to go out with my group, and you’re coming with us. Put these on.”
They left the language faculty building to join a group of about 30 women, all of whom were completely naked except for running shoes. A group of naked young men had gathered about 100 meters away and already were standing in formation. Maria Elena recognized them as the male participants of Cecilia’s exchange program. In both high school and at the university, men and women always exercised in separate groups, to prevent them from being distracted by members of the opposite sex.
The women were all from Cecilia’s exchange program. Four larger-breasted women who had obtained medical waivers carried folded sports bras in their hands. However, they would only be allowed to put on the bras when the group was ready to start running. During the stretching exercises and immediately after the run they would have to take them off.
A female Danubian fitness instructor, who was equally naked, was in charge of the class. She picked up a leather switch and snapped at the group in Danubian. The women quickly lined up and spaced themselves for stretching. The instructor used the implement to point at a couple of students who had not positioned themselves properly within the group. Very quickly they complied with her commands.
As scary as the scene might have been for someone who had never seen a fitness class at the National University, it was obvious that Cecilia and her students were used to what they were doing. Fitness was a serious matter for all students and participants in the foreign exchange program were no exception. The students had been informed about fitness classes during orientation and had to sign waivers upon entering the program. The instructor kept a sharp eye on everyone in the group, and a quick swipe of the switch across the bottom or thighs was the penalty for anyone not putting full effort into her exercising. Nearly everyone in the class, Cecilia included, had taken a stroke or two at some point.
Maria Elena was included in the fitness group because she would be attending language classes along with the US students. As long as she was studying Danubian with the exchange program, she would have to exercise with the North Americans. Cecilia explained that the newcomer would be expected to stretch with the group on the first day and perform some of the more basic exercises, but for the moment was excused from running. Within a few days she would be expected to run with the others, once she was completely recovered from her experience at the airport.
An hour later Maria Elena joined 30 very exhausted women in the shower. The women chatted in English, but there was one student from Miami who spoke some Spanish and was able to communicate with her. She commented that a couple of the guys in the group also spoke Spanish, one of them fluently. That was heartening news for the prisoner, the hope that she might be able to converse with someone besides the bossy Dominican.
Upon leaving the shower room, Cecilia told Maria Elena to pick up her study materials and follow her back to Victor Dukov’s house. They were joined by Cecilia’s fiancé, who would be accompanying the two women back home. Later Maria Elena would learn that anytime she traveled around Danube City, she liked having Jason go with her, even if she was wasting his time. It was not because Cecilia perceived any danger in the Danubian capitol, or because she wanted to show him off. Instead, she suffered from real anxiety if she was separated from him for more than a few hours. Maria Elena later calculated that Cecilia could spend up to six hours without Jason in her sight: anything more than that made her nervous and depressed. She didn’t merely love him: her feelings towards him came much closer to a desperate need for him.
That night, however, Cecilia was not wasting Jason’s time. The couple would be going out on a date, to a place called the Socrates Club. Cecilia promised to invite Maria Elena in the future, but informed her that night she needed to clean the house, cook dinner for Victor and Pedro, and study Danubian for the next day’s lesson. “After your trial, you’ll have plenty of time to go to the Socrates Club…you’ll have the rest of your life to hang out there.”
Cecilia left instructions in the kitchen for dinner: a salad, boiled potatoes with fried vegetables, and blackberries for dessert. Victor helped Pedro with his homework while Maria Elena cleaned up from dinner and straightened the house. She laid out the clothing that Victor would wear the next day and changed his sheets. Finally she managed to take a bath.
After that she sat down to do something she hadn’t done in three years…study. She had dropped out of school at age 16, missing graduation by only one year. A wasted opportunity, just one out of several chances in life she had passed up. At first it was hard for her to concentrate, but suddenly a long-lost feeling of hope welled up inside her as she tried to memorize the guide book given to her by the professor. She now had a goal for the following day, something that was achievable. She was determined that, if called on in class, she would give correct answers and outsmart the norteamericanos.
Two hours later Maria Elena was too tired to continue studying and was satisfied that she was adequately prepared for the following day. She decided to make herself some herbal tea before going to bed. She quietly slipped by Victor, who was in the living room praying in front of his wife’s portrait. There was something very sinister about that black prayer robe…she thought to herself…very medieval…from a different time…
She pushed that thought aside and quietly boiled a kettle of water. She poured herself a cup and proceeded to take it upstairs when she noticed Victor just standing in front of that picture. In a flash she realized she had a very good opportunity to ingratiate herself with him, by offering him a cup of tea. She took the cup originally intended for herself and walked up to him. She lightly tapped the spoon against the cup to avoid startling him. As soon as she was close to him, she knelt, and without saying anything, offered him the tea.
It was a small gesture, but it had a huge effect on Victor. With trembling hands he took the cup. Then he held out a hand to help Maria Elena rise to her feet. His eyes were full of tears. He pointed at the picture:
“Minák jínokt. Onákt nad Juní mortk dék.”
He took a sip from the cup. After a long pause he spoke again:
“Spakéebo dék. Spakéebo.”
Maria Elena was able to ask him one question, something she had learned that afternoon in class. She knew how to ask if he would be alright:
“Ved búdkt doc-doc dék?”
He nodded. “Dóc-doc…dóc-doc…”
However, his expression told her something very different. It was clear that he wasn’t going to be alright. She tried to give him a sympathetic look. He drew a deep breath, wanting to tell her that he deeply appreciated her effort at condolence, but also knowing that she would not understand what he was trying to say. He drank the rest of the tea and handed back the cup.
Finally he touched her hand and repeated:
With that Maria Elena figured she was dismissed and returned to the kitchen to clean the cup and put it away. When she re-entered the living room, Victor already was gone. She decided that she too, needed to go to bed. She brushed her teeth and noticed her fingernails. With deep regret she searched among Cecilia’s items in the bathroom and found a fingernail clipper. She held the device to the first nail, took a deep breath, and clamped down. She clipped as quickly as she could, but could not prevent tears from welling up in her eyes as she contemplated her ruined nails.
Maria Elena looked at herself in the mirror: her uncovered body, that horrid collar, her face without any makeup, her ears devoid of earrings, and those weird braids. It was surreal and terrifying to think that the image in the mirror was what she had become. On the inside she didn’t feel like what she saw in the reflection, but she knew that it was only a matter of time before what she was on the inside would match the image she saw in the mirror.
She heard a question in her mind, from a voice that was as clear as if it had come from someone standing next to her:
“Is becoming different really so bad, Maria Elena? Can you tell me that you actually liked who you used to be? Is there anything you’ve ever done with your life that you can say you’re proud of?”
She turned around with a start, but there was no one in sight. Even so, she could feel the presence…of something…or someone…and it was enough for her to answer out loud:
“No, nothing to be proud of…nothing…absolutely nothing…”
She returned to her room and lay awake on top of her sheet for a few minutes, but finally forced herself to go to sleep.
Chapter 7 – An understanding
Maria Elena woke up in the middle of the night. She realized that she was awake because she heard someone coming through the front door. Still not accustomed to living in a country where break-ins were very rare, she silently went into the hallway to investigate. Very quietly she looked down the stairs, to observe Cecilia and her naked fiancé embraced in the front entryway. They were passionately going at it, a make-out session they would not even think of doing if they suspected Victor were watching. Cecilia was running her hands up and down Jason’s body, concentrating on his bottom. She spoke to him in English:
“You’re a bad boy…such a bad boy. You know that, don’t you?”
“I’m bad…yes Cecilia…so bad…”
Cecilia took his penis in her hand and began massaging it.
“And what happens to bad boys like you?”
“We get spanked. Ohhhh…”
“Hmmmm…spanked…Really? Is that what you want, bad boy?”
“I…Oh yes…please…spank me…”
“Hmmmm…you really are a bad boy…if that’s what you want…and you do deserve to be spanked. Well, you know I can’t do it here…but tomorrow night…I’m gonna spank you good…on the bare bottom…Hmm? You like that?”
She gave him one last squeeze, leaving him very erect. She gave him a lingering goodbye kiss, and with that he was dismissed. She totally loved getting him aroused before saying goodnight and sending him home. Of course that meant he would have to walk instead of taking the trolley and try to stay out of people’s sight. There was no chance that his erection would go down anytime soon and his fiancé had forbidden him to touch himself.
Maria Elena didn’t understand much of what Cecilia had said to Jason, but it was obvious that she talking to him seductively. Even in the darkness she could make out his attractive figure and very erect penis. She felt a strange longing for him, something that terrified her because the last thing she wanted to do was cross Cecilia. She knew that the quickest way to gain the Dominican’s animosity would be to show any attraction towards Jason. And it was obvious that Cecilia was extremely vigilant for potential rivals because she was very aware of how attractive Jason was.
Maria Elena quickly retreated back to her room to avoid being caught. She curled up on her bed with her back to the door as she heard the Dominican’s quiet footsteps in the hallway. Cecilia peeked in to make sure the prisoner was in her bed and doing all right, unaware that she and Jason had been watched. She quickly got cleaned up and went to sleep.
Once Cecilia’s door was closed, Maria Elena lay on her back. For the first time since she had left Panama, she was aroused. Slowly she began running her fingertips over her breasts and stomach, before gently stroking the insides of her thighs.
She fantasized about Jason…his lovely body…his shy expression…imagining herself in Cecilia’s place, with his bare body always within her reach. Then, in her mind she changed places with him, imagining herself as he had been over the past four years, never wearing anything…and then…
She paused and sat up, realizing that she already was in Jason’s place…just like him she was naked and collared…destined to never touch clothing again. She got out of bed and looked at herself in the dresser mirror. Naked and collared…her Path in Life…well, at least she had a body that was worth looking at…at least that…
She lay back on her bed…her body still aroused as her mind tried to settle on something, a thought or a fantasy, that would allow her to climax. Naked and collared…and kneeling…
Suddenly her thoughts returned to that moment when she knelt to offer Victor a cup of tea. At the moment she had not focused on sex at all, but looking back, she found the thought of serving the master of the house while naked, kneeling, and collared, totally erotic. As her fingers explored the sensitive area between her legs, the idea of being Victor’s naked servant took hold of her. She would kneel to serve him his tea and coffee, she could care for him, she would surrender to him. She would be his…to do with as he pleased, and he would not be able to live without her…
…just like Cecilia could not live without Jason…Oh yes…
She climaxed, sweat pouring down her body as she imagined herself, always naked…always kneeling…the perfect servant…
Slowly the spell lifted and her body’s desires released her back into reality. For a long time she lay awake, realizing that she had just fantasized about something that could be all too real. It looked like it was indeed her destiny to live as Victor’s servant, because Cecilia had openly stated that she wanted Maria Elena to take her place running the household.
The prisoner pondered how such a life would unfold, and how Victor eventually would see her. She paused, wondering: is that all I want for myself? To be a household servant? Her thoughts wandered again, because she recalled that Kim had told her that she was property of the Danubian government. Her service would be to Danubia as a whole, not to a particular person…and yet…she felt that was not the message she was getting from Cecilia.
Finally she managed to go to sleep…but the memory of herself kneeling and serving Victor held fast in her imagination.
Maria Elena woke up early the next morning. She was still very confused about the tumultuous thoughts and fantasies she had endured just a few hours before. She went downstairs, wondering if Cecilia was already awake. When she saw that the kitchen was empty, she presumed that the Dominican must have overslept due to her night with Jason.
The prisoner decided to boil a kettle of water while she set the table and laid out ingredients for Cecilia to cook. She still did not know what to make for breakfast and would leave that to her translator, but at least she could help her set up. Once the water boiled, Maria Elena prepared a pot of tea and poured a cup.
Now she realized that she had an important decision to make. Should she take the cup upstairs and offer it to Victor in his room? Yes, she had fantasized about doing just that a few hours before, but should she do it for real?
Yes, she would. She determined to test at least one fantasy and was curious to see what would happen. She would be the first person Victor would see that morning, and she would offer him the first cup of tea he would drink that day. Trembling slightly, she went up the stairs, very conscious of being naked. However, her exposure no longer humiliated her; instead she was experiencing a much more complicated feeling of sexiness and vulnerability.
She lightly knocked on Victor’s door.
“Nad budshkt dék.”
“Nad budshkt dék. Doc.”
Presuming that he had given her permission to enter the room, she pushed past the door. He was almost finished getting dressed; only lacking his tie and his shoes. Maria Elena trembled as she approached him, not able to understand herself why she was so scared. She knelt, shyly holding up the cup of tea.
Victor seemed surprised, but he took the cup and responded:
Maria Elena was very nervous, because she had no idea what she wanted or what she expected to happen next. Part of her was desperate to get the awkward moment over as quickly as possible, but another part of her insisted that she was where she belonged, on her knees in front of the master of the house. Victor took a sip of tea. He sensed her unease and rescued her by first pointing at his feet and then at the closet.
“Mení chórni scárpikti tám dek.”
Maria Elena remembered that chorno in Danubian meant black. By pointing at his feet, Victor had indicted he wanted his shoes, the black ones. He had issued his first command to her. She immediately got up and brought him the shoes. She knelt and held them out for him to put on. Once he finished, he smiled slightly and touched her bare shoulder.
He let out a short whistle and pointed at the door, and with that they descended the stairs to have breakfast. Cecilia already was setting the table, with Pedro impatiently standing by, waiting to sit. Maria Elena pulled out Victor’s chair for him to sit down and quickly knelt, awaiting permission to join the others at the table. Cecilia glanced at her with a curious expression, but at the breakfast table said nothing. After breakfast Cecilia attended to her nephew while Maria Elena cleaned up from breakfast. She quickly returned to Victor’s bedroom to make his bed and clean the upstairs bathroom.
At 9:00 Maria Elena started her new job at the university. She would work under the direction of an older couple who had been groundskeepers for nearly 40 years. Her new bosses knew exactly how to treat her and make her feel comfortable, because over the years they had employed dozens of criminals, including several foreigners. Maria Elena’s first assignment was very easy to understand; she needed to clear grass that was growing among some flowers without damaging the flowers themselves. The gardeners talked very little, but showed her what needed to be done and what to do with the discarded grass. The work was tedious and time-consuming, but the only way to do it was by hand.
Maria Elena was still somewhat self-conscious about her body, and at first tried to sit to avoid exposing herself. However, she was not able to move through her work very quickly and her legs began to cramp. Finally she gave up on sitting and got on her hands and knees. She realized that every time she leaned forward she was exposing herself, but her only other option would have been to not have the flowerbed finished before she got off at noon. It also occurred to her that if the sun shined directly on her bottom it was likely her bruises would heal faster. As she knelt forward and started pulling out grass roots, she felt the warm morning sun shining between her legs and realized that she liked the sensation. The unimaginable was happening: she was enjoying the sensation of being naked outdoors, of feeling the warm air and sunshine on her exposed bottom-hole and vagina. Exactly 48 hours after the moment she was arrested, her inhibitions faded completely and the prospect of facing a life in the nude no longer horrified her.
She had an excellent day in class. She was able to fully participate and keep up with the norteamericanos. She was not any better than most of them, but she hardly could have expected that after just one day. Still, her efforts at studying had paid off. For the first time in three years she was learning something that actually was worth knowing, something that was a complete break from the futile life of pleasure pursuit she had led before her arrest.
During the break she talked to the female classmate who spoke Spanish. The woman’s name was Carmen and she was from Los Angeles. Her Spanish was not that great, but she spoke well enough to hold a conversation. Carmen talked a bit about the exchange program, although it was obvious she was curious to know what had happened to Maria Elena. She didn’t feel comfortable asking directly and the Colombian was not about to volunteer any information. It was a strange and uncomfortable conversation because while the two women talked about the university, in reality Carmen was trying to figure out how to get the Colombian to tell her why she was collared.
The Californian brought up Jason, hoping to talk about collaring, but Maria Elena changed the topic to discussing how attractive he was. Then she decided to get some information on Jason, knowing that Carmen was likely to know something about him.
“Yeah, we all know a little bit about his story. He and Cecilia came to Danubia about four years ago. I think what happened was that he had to testify at some trial…you see…uh…did you ever hear of an American company called Mega-Town Associates?”
Of course Cecilia had heard of Mega-Town. Who hadn’t? Their tentacles had extended throughout Colombia, devastating the country’s small retailers.
“Well, what happened was they came here to testify in a trial, because some of their executives got caught here when they tried to overthrow this country’s government. I guess it was a big deal, a really big deal…I mean, they had an actual battle with Mega-Town mercenaries about 30 miles south of here…and another one in Rika Chorna…and they were gonna kill the Prime Minister…I mean, they were really serious about taking over. It was Jason and Cecilia who helped the government stop ‘em, and they had to come here to explain what they did so those guys could get convicted. Of course, once they did that, they couldn’t go home, so they’re stuck here.”
“But, what’s the deal with Jason’s collar?”
“His father was one of the guys behind the takeover. I guess he felt really bad about that…and so he went to their Church…and they told him he should wear a collar to show everyone he’s sorry about what his dad did. I think that’s the story.”
“And he’s been naked since he got here?”
“I think so. At any rate, none of us has ever seen him wearing anything. I think he kinda enjoys being nude, although I don’t know what he does when it gets cold.”
“Do you ever talk to him?”
Carmen smiled and shook her head.
“Talk to him? Uh…no. If you don’t want trouble with Cecilia, then you’d better stay away from Jason. A couple of girls from last year’s group learned that the hard way. I mean…Cecilia’s not a bad person, but you don’t want to mess with her boyfriend. You just don’t want to go there.”
Maria Elena would have liked to continue the conversation about Jason, but it was time for the exercise class to start. It was obvious that she still was not ready to exert herself as much as her classmates, but it was equally obvious that she had only a few days to catch up with the others. The sinewy instructor ominously tapped the switch against the newest student’s inner thigh to force her to do some additional sit-ups.
Later in the class Carmen took two cruel strokes across her backside for attempting to walk during the run in a hidden part of the path where she thought the P.E. teacher couldn’t see her. In the shower her face was flushed with embarrassment and her eyes were full of tears, so Maria Elena did not attempt to talk to her anymore that day. Two thin reddish welts had formed across both sides of her bottom and already they were raised and looked very painful. Carmen would have an uncomfortable time sitting in class the next day and it was likely those welts would last a week. Maria Elena shuddered, because her classmate had taken just two strokes. She remembered that criminal on the stairs of the Central Police Station who had received considerably more than that, and…she remembered her own upcoming trial…
Maria Elena went back to Victor Dukov’s house by herself, because Cecilia needed to stay at the university to council several students and catch up on paperwork. Pedro wouldn’t be at the house either, because his class had gone on an overnight field trip. That meant Maria Elena would be alone with Victor. That was something she looked forward to, but she couldn’t have explained, even to herself, why. She served him dinner and, as usual knelt before he gave her permission to sit at his table. She shyly attempted to engage him in conversation, trying out some of the new phrases she had learned in class that day. She found that most of the time she could make herself understood, but still could understand very little of what he was saying. When he finished eating, she again knelt to request permission to clear the table. When she noticed his shoes were dirty, she requested permission to clean them.
Throughout the rest of the evening Maria Elena dedicated herself to Victor’s needs. She hung up his suit coat, put his shoes away after showing him they had been shined, turned down his bedspread, laid out clean towels for him to get cleaned up, and brought him two cups of tea. She also laid out his black prayer robe, knowing that he probably would spend part of the evening in front of his dead wife’s portrait. While he was praying, Maria Elena cleaned up the kitchen and the bathrooms, and took a bath. She wanted to be presentable, to make sure Victor found no fault with her…
When she served him yet another cup of tea, he told her to get several photo albums from a bookshelf, so he could show her some of his past. He knew that he still could not really converse with her through words, but there were other ways to communicate. Letting her know about his past was one way he could open himself up to her.
Showing his naked guest a portion of his past was an important step in Victor’s life. He always had trouble communicating with people, especially with fellow Danubians. And yet, somehow he felt a connection with the young Colombian, partly because she was so desperate to please him. Victor was grateful for the attention, something that neither his sons nor Cecilia were able to provide at the time because of their own responsibilities in life. Maria Elena was different, because she had nothing to do apart from having to learn how to speak Danubian. Perhaps it was precisely because Victor and Maria Elena could not communicate in words that they felt they had something in common. Perhaps in their case, words would have gotten in the way.
Another reason sharing his past with Maria Elena was important was because Victor was finally ready to move beyond his wife’s death. He was not yet aware of that change, but after four months of grieving and heaping guilt upon himself for her death, subconsciously he was hoping for something or someone to pull him out of his emotional morass. He didn’t have the inner strength to escape on his own; he needed something in his life to change.
The photos ranged from Victor’s own childhood, through his time in high school and college, his marriage, and his sons at various ages. He pointed out his older brother Vladim at various stages of his life, including several photos of young Vladim as a criminal while Victor was still in high school. Yes, for five years the country’s current Prime Minister had been a collared criminal. There were photos of a neighbor girl called Maritza Ortskt, who later because Maritza Ortskt-Dukovna, and photos of Victor’s nephew and niece. Victor also had photos of his employees, including several of Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna, back in the days she was called Criminal # 98945 and she spent her summers riding around Danube City naked on a bicycle delivering messages.
What struck Maria Elena was how ordinary the lives portrayed in the album truly were. Even Vladim Dukov, the Prime Minister, seemed such an ordinary person, right up to the day he was elected. There certainly was nothing to distinguish him from the rest of the family in any of those photos, except that he had worn a collar for such a long time. Yes, even the country’s Prime Minister had done what Maria Elena was having to do. Even the Prime Minister…
Maria Elena collected the photo albums and returned them to the shelf. She knelt, and exchanged glances with Victor. At that moment, something very important happened. They both realized that they cared about each other.
That night Maria Elena spent a long time masturbating on her bed, as her mind wandered from topic to topic. She visualized Jason Schmidt, desperately wanting to fondle him in the way Cecilia had fondled him the night before. She thought about herself, on her hands and knees in the university garden, her bottom facing towards the sun and the warm rays touching her exposed womanhood whenever she reached forward. She thought about the naked norteamericanos during the exercise class, their sweaty bodies exposed to anyone walking by who cared to look at them. Her thoughts wandered to her classmate Carmen, standing in formation after the run, her eyes full of tears as she rubbed her sore bottom…
But most of all, Maria Elena fantasized about herself with Victor…Her desire to serve him and her desire for him to hold her and comfort her. There was something about him that she found very desirable…but what? It was strange, he was not particularly good-looking and he even had sons who were older than her, but she desired him…
The next morning, Cecilia noted Maria Elena’s behavior during breakfast. She suspected that the prisoner might have developed a crush on Victor, which wouldn’t have surprised her, given her circumstances and traumatic arrest.
Cecilia had very mixed feelings. She was relieved that the Colombian had so quickly adapted to her new role in the house. She was very happy that she no longer had to worry about anything other than caring for her nephew. She also was glad to see the possibility that Victor could move beyond his wife’s funeral. To be honest, she found her host’s nightly praying sessions in front of the portrait rather creepy.
However, Cecilia was becoming increasingly concerned about what was witnessing at the table during meals because she did not think that any romantic involvement between Victor and the prisoner was a good idea. There were plenty of young men at the Socrates Club and as soon as Maria Elena met some of them she probably would forget about Victor. She just needed to wait…
More importantly, Cecilia was convinced that Prisoner # 101025 did not understand what being a collared criminal actually meant. She was not Victor Dukov’s personal servant; she was property of the Danubian government. The Ministry of Justice, through Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, could reassign her whenever it chose to do so, according to the perceived needs of the Danubian state. For example, at a moment’s notice she could be forced to live in a camp at the other end of the country and participate in a public works project. Cecilia suspected that if Kim knew what was going on, Maria Elena would be moved immediately. She did not want the courier transferred out of Victor’s house, for purely selfish reasons.
On their way to the university she decided to talk to her housemate, not about her growing feelings towards Victor, but about what was expected of her as a criminal:
“…you need to understand that you don’t belong to Victor. You’ve been assigned to live in his house, but that’s because of me and my Spanish. It has nothing to do with him.”
“But…I thought you told me that I was supposed to help him out. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”
“It is, but you gotta look at it this way. You’re being kept at Victor’s house because, for now, that’s the most convenient place to keep you. When the government needs you somewhere else, you’re gonna get moved and no one’s gonna care about what you or Victor think about it. I’ll give you an example of what can happen. Last spring a canal overflowed near the river upstream and flooded a bunch of farms. They had to sandbag the area so the Public Works people could get in there and fix a levee. To do that, the Ministry shipped in 600 criminals from Danube City and kept them there for three months. For three months those criminals never saw their families, and that whole time their employers had to figure out how to get along without them. No one: not the criminals, not their families, and not their bosses, had any say in the matter. The Public Works Ministry said ‘we need 600 criminals to fill sandbags’ and the Justice Ministry said ‘sure, where do you want us to send ‘em?’ Whatever was going on in any of their lives didn’t matter. They got called to the Central Plaza, they were loaded onto buses, and three months later they came back. The point is; it could have been a year. Or three years. Or the rest of their sentences. That’s what it means to belong to the government. You have to understand that.”
“But…did they go back home…I mean, afterwards?”
“In that case they did. But that’s not something you can count on. Home is wherever the government decides to put you.”
Cecilia continued: “I think you’ve done very good adjusting to things in Victor’s house and helping out. I’d bet had you been from the States you’d still be crying and moping and feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve actually adjusted extremely well. You just need to remember who you belong to.”
A question popped into Maria Elena’s thoughts. She felt it was general enough to not arouse Cecilia’s jealousy:
“What about Jason? Does he have to do all that stuff too?”
“No. As long as he wears a Church collar, he’s property of the Church. He doesn’t have to do anything for the government, but trust me; those Priests keep him plenty busy. Sometimes I wish, that if he has to be collared, that he was just an ordinary criminal, because he’s always busy on the weekends.”
“But…could he quit…I mean, lead a normal life…if he wanted to?”
“He could, but that’s between him and the Creator. I’ve never said anything about it because it’s not my Path in Life to question his conscience.”
Cecilia’s last comment opened up a bunch of new questions in Maria Elena’s mind, but the conversation needed to end because they had arrived at the university. Cecilia had to chaperone yet another group tour, while Maria Elena had to report to the groundskeepers to find out what she needed to do that day.
The rest of the day was the first out of many that would be Maria Elena’s routine: work, lunch, class with the norteamericanos, and exercise class. Carmen’s bottom still was clearly marked with the two welts from the day before, but she seemed none the worse for the experience.
“Everyone’s gotten at least a swipe or two. The instructor watches to see what you’re capable of doing, and then if she thinks you’re not putting everything into the workout, you’ll get it. I got lazy yesterday…can’t argue with that…my fault.”
“She hasn’t hit me…”
“…because she hasn’t figured out what you can do…how fit you are. Once she has that figured out you’ll get hit if you’re not putting 100% into your workout. But at least she’s fair about it. She knows that 100% effort for someone else isn’t 100% for you. And if you’re sick or got a sprain or whatever, all you have to do is tell her before class and she’ll have you do something else, as long as you don’t try to BS her.”
Maria Elena thought about what Cecilia had told her, but decided that she should continue trying to get as close to Victor as possible. Her efforts that night were crimped by the presence at dinner of not only Cecilia and Pedro, but also Victor’s youngest son and his fiancé. The young woman was absolutely beautiful and elegantly dressed, leaving the naked prisoner feeling very intimidated. For some reason she felt extremely uneasy kneeling in front of that young Danubian, in particular when she gave her several haughty looks. However, Maria Elena’s unease made her even more determined to ingratiate herself with Victor.
For the first time Victor was eager to be alone with the naked prisoner. After dinner he put on the prayer robe that she had laid out, but his prayer session was somewhat shorter than usual. For the first time in four months he had something else on his mind besides guilt. His thoughts were on the naked Colombian and his own desires to…to do what with her? Hold her? Touch her? Comfort her? Make love to her?
Maria Elena went about her daily chores while he was praying, but she had the hot water boiled for tea and was vigilant to make sure she was ready when he finished. She was a bit surprised when he ended his prayer early, but she was prepared. She quickly poured his tea and presented him with the cup.
When he sat down, their glances met. She stared at him with her intense dark eyes, thinking: I’m here for you Victor. You can take me if you want, because that’s what I want. I’m yours. I don’t care what the government says, I’m yours…
Victor stood up and motioned for Maria Elena to stand up. He wasn’t ready to make love to her…and yet he wanted to…at least touch her. He wanted to talk to her, but the language barrier was still insurmountable. But her expression…no language barrier there…Prisoner # 101025 was offering herself…there was no doubt about it…and he badly wanted her…
Without saying anything, Victor shyly reached out to take Maria Elena’s hand. However, the moment their skin touched they heard a thud upstairs. That was followed by footsteps running to the bathroom, a door slamming, and more footsteps. Then they heard Cecilia’s voice in English: “Pedro, just stay there. I’ll get you some water.”
Cecilia came running down the stairs and rushed into the kitchen. She glanced at Victor and Maria Elena on her way back up.
“Pedro just threw up. Stomach virus. I need you to help me with his sheets.”
And that was it for that night. Maria Elena was drafted to help Cecilia deal with her sick nephew.
However, as she went up the stairs, Maria Elena turned to look back at Victor. They exchanged a final glance. Victor Dukov and Prisoner # 101025 felt connected, that they understood each other. So much separated them: language, culture, age…and yet, they felt a bond that neither of them could have described or even understood.
Chapter 8 – A day with “Socrates’ Mistresses”
Maria Elena woke up early and set up the kitchen so Cecilia could prepare breakfast. Cecilia entered the kitchen with a rather concerned look on her face, partly because Pedro was still in bed sick, and partly because correctly suspected that she had interrupted something between her housemate and Victor.
As usual, the prisoner focused on serving her host and making sure he was ready to go to work. She assisted him dressing much in the way a wife would help a husband get dressed; brushing off his suit and straightening his tie. He was flattered by the attention and happy for the companionship.
Cecilia attended to her nephew, pretending not to notice what was going on in Victor’s room. She was in an awkward situation, because she was determined to forestall any romantic involvement between her host and her housemate, but she knew that there was no point in trying to openly confront either of them. She did not want to tell Kim what was going on either, for fear that the prisoner would be moved and she would have to resume doing everything in the house. Instead she reasoned that if she could keep Maria Elena occupied until her trial and introduce her to other young criminals, eventually she would settle on a more appropriate partner, one closer to her age and social stature.
Because it was Saturday, there was no field trip and no P.E. class for the exchange group. The students had their language class in the morning and were released at noon. Maria Elena did not have to work on Saturdays, so she would attend class with the norteamericanos and, like them, be free in the afternoon.
After class Maria Elena was planning to go back to Victor’s house and wait for him. However, Cecilia was determined to keep her occupied. In the middle of the afternoon she took her housemate to a nice two-story residence at the western edge of Danube City, almost into the countryside. It was the home of Vladik Dukov, who was the son of the country’s Prime Minister. Cecilia also learned that Criminal # 98946 lived there, because she was married to Vladik.
“That house used to belong to Spokesman Vladim Dukov, before he got elected Prime Minister. But now he’s living in the Prime Minister’s residence downtown, so he turned his place over to his son and his wife Tiffany.”
“That’s her name before she was arrested, Tiffany Walker. I call her that, and I suppose you will too, once you two can talk to each other. Her married name is Tiffany Walker-Dukovna, but her official name is Criminal # 98946.”
“98946? Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna told me her number was # 98945…and Tiffany is # 98946…”
“Yes, because they were arrested together, along with another American girl called Susan. It’s a long story, what happened to those three…but the short version is that Tiffany and Susan were arrested with Kim for smoking pot, but then they got released while she went on trial and got convicted.”
“But…then…if Tiffany was released…why is she collared?”
“She came back to Danubia.”
“She came back on purpose. She knew she was gonna get arrested, but she came back because she had to.”
“On purpose? But…”
“It’s a very long story. You’ll find out about it soon enough. Now…look over there.”
Cecilia pointed down the street. Just a few doors beyond the house was a yellow sign with an electronic sensor.
“Those yellow signs mark the edge of the Danube City collar zone. If you go past any of them without having your collar turned off or re-programmed, an alarm will go off. If that happens, you’ll have to kneel next to the sign and wait for the police to come get you. Don’t try doing anything else except kneeling next to the sign, or you’ll get in serious trouble.”
“What happens when the police come?”
“They’ll take you downtown and there will be a hearing to find out why you went past the sign. You’ll be switched, but how many strokes you get will be determined by what you were doing that set off the alarm. If it was just carelessness or not paying attention to where you are, normally you’d get 20 strokes. If it was something you had no control over, like being on a city bus that gets diverted and takes a different route, you’d just get 10.”
“That’s not fair…If you’re on a bus…”
“No, it isn’t fair, but it’s up to you to stay within the collar zone. That’s how they see it.”
Cecilia led Maria Elena into the house and to the back yard, where several women already had gathered. Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna was present, along with Tiffany Walker-Dukovna and three young Danubians. All of them were naked. Cecilia was the only person still dressed among the group. After saying hello to the others in Danubian, she quickly undressed as well.
Maria Elena knelt upon seeing her Spokeswoman, but Cecilia told her to stand up.
“This is one time you don’t kneel. We’re all equal here.”
In the back yard there were two plastic chairs and a large tub of warm water, along with bottles of shampoo, combs, towels, and several bowls and pitchers. It turned out that Maria Elena had been invited to participate in an ancient Danubian tradition: the weekly hair washing and re-braiding.
Danubian culture considered a woman dishonored if she appeared in public, or even alone in front of a male relative, with her hair unbraided. Women kept their hair tightly braided at all times, except on Saturday afternoons, which was the only opportunity during the week they had to let their hair loose to wash, comb, and re-braid it. Danubian women normally did not touch their own hair, but instead gathered with female friends or relatives to attend to each other. The tradition was considered very intimate because it was the only time it was socially acceptable for Danubians to touch a person of the same sex. Maria Elena did not realize it at the time, but for her to braid her hair with Kim and the others was an important gesture of friendship towards someone who barely knew them.
The Danubians were introduced as Eloisa, who was Kim’s best friend; Tatiana, who was a fellow Spokeswoman from the Ministry of Justice; and Valia, who was another friend of both Kim and Eloisa. Eloisa stood out, because she was very pretty and had blond hair, which was rare in a country where most people’s hair was brown. Maria Elena looked hard at her…because she seemed…very familiar…
The women took turns sitting down and loosening and shampooing each other’s hair. After everyone’s hair was clean, they drank wine from a large goblet while waiting to dry out for the final combing and braiding. The goblet was a symbol of equality among the group; women who shared the intimacy of braiding also shared the intimacy of drinking from the same cup.
Cecilia taught her housemate how to braid Eloisa’s hair while Kim and Tiffany braided each other’s hair. However, the big surprise came at the end, when it was Kim, not Cecilia, who braided Maria Elena’s hair. Supposedly Kim held custody over the prisoner, but in that backyard they were not Spokeswoman and client, but instead two women sharing an ancient ritual. The fact they both were naked was an important part of that ritual, because without their clothing they were equals. Both understood that as soon as the Spokeswoman put her clothes back on, Maria Elena would have to kneel for her. However, Kim was determined that her client clearly understood that she saw her as a person and not a foreigner, in spite of their very different positions in Danubian society.
For most of the afternoon the others chatted in Danubian, with Cecilia translating whatever she thought was important. Towards the end, Kim and the Danubians started singing. Maria Elena recognized the song…and the voices. Suddenly she realized who she was with…three of the singers from the band Socrates’ Mistresses! Yes, of course she recognized Eloisa…and Kim and Valia…they were from that controversial New Age band! They were international celebrities, and here Maria Elena was…sitting naked with them and having her hair washed!
The entire experience that afternoon had a profound impact on a person who had come from a country that still placed great emphasis on wealth and social status. She couldn’t even begin to imagine spending such time with a famous Latin American singer or soap opera star. However, in her new life she had shared an afternoon with three famous singers from Danubia, who thought there was absolutely nothing strange about her being in their presence. She still felt that she was nothing, just a pathetic dishonored prisoner, a failed drug trafficker with a squalid past, an uneducated low-life. And yet, that was not how the people in Danube City saw her. Yes, she was a criminal, but she also was a person who had her place in society and, as long as she understood her responsibilities, was worthy of being treated with respect. To the three Danubians, she was Kim’s client and a member of Cecilia’s household, so of course she was welcome as part of the group.
The afternoon ended in the traditional manner, with the husbands and fiancés of the women showing up together to retrieve their respective partners. It turned out that all of the women were married with the exception of Cecilia, who was engaged. Jason, as always, was completely naked except his collar. The other young men were dressed. For the first time Maria Elena saw Victor’s nephew Vladik, who was in full police uniform to greet Tiffany. The criminal, in spite of the fact that she was his wife and very pregnant, got on her knees to greet her husband. Like Kim, Vladik was a public official and it was Tiffany’s Path in Life to kneel for both of them, as a display of respect for their positions. The other four men were musicians from Socrates’ Mistresses.
As dictated by ancient tradition, each of the men had brought a flower that he put in his partner’s hair. The only member of the group who did not have a man picking her up was Maria Elena. As an uncommitted woman, there would be no flower for her, no gift marking the renewal of her relationship with her beloved and the world around her. In her imagination she pictured Victor, standing among the others in his dark business suit, holding a flower to put into her hair. She was determined that, soon enough, his Path in Life would include bringing her a flower every Saturday afternoon.
Kim turned to her client:
“We’re singing tonight at the Socrates Club; would you like to come?”
Before Maria Elena could say anything Cecilia interjected:
“Of course she would…I’ll make sure she’s there. She’d love to see you sing…and also have a look at the club.”
Actually, that wasn’t Maria Elena’s desire at all; what she wanted was to go back to Victor’s house and spend time with him. However, before she had any time to react or think of a reason she shouldn’t go, she had been drafted to join Cecilia and Jason to see Socrates’ Mistresses perform live.
The group said goodbye to Tiffany and Vladik, who stayed behind at the house. The others boarded a trolley to go downtown. Jason and Maria Elena had to stand, but the others, to show sympathy and solidarity, chose to stand with them. It was just starting to get dark outside when the trolley stopped in an old section of the city just outside the ancient wall.
The Socrates Club was a unique institution, because it was the only place in Danube City where criminals could meet and socialize. The club occupied an entire block: there was the main building housing a restaurant and dance hall, an adjacent building with small rooms that could be rented by the hour, and an old armory that had been converted to a fitness center and gymnasium. The clientele were mostly criminals and ex-criminals, but anyone in a romantic relationship with a criminal was welcome as well. An important rule of the club was that, whether a person was collared or not, clothing was strictly forbidden anywhere on the grounds. Criminals always showed up naked, of course, but ex-criminals and other visitors had to surrender their clothing and other belongings at the check stand right inside the main entrance. The rule was that anyone who had completed their sentence had to show respect to those still collared by entering the club completely undressed.
The Club’s importance extended far beyond being a simple haven for criminals. Most evenings started with people speaking on stage to recite poetry or express their feelings, followed by live performances of musical groups of criminals and ex-criminals. Singing was a hobby for many club members, but for the more talented performers, singing at the Club could turn into something much more significant. Most famous Danubian musicians started their careers performing naked on stage in front of hundreds of fellow criminals.
Performing at the Socrates Club was how the most famous Danubian group of them all, Socrates’ Mistresses, got its start. The group had been the most popular band in Danubia for more than five years. Their music also was popular throughout Europe, especially in the countries immediately bordering Danubia. In the US sales of anything by Socrates’ Mistresses was boycotted by all the major music stores, but the group had a fiercely devoted following among political activists and university students, who obtained their music off the Internet or from friends who had visited Danubia.
“Socrates’ Mistresses” performed live at venues in Danube City and Rika Chorna, sometimes to very large crowds. The band also was a fixture in the Central Plaza during national holidays such as New Year’s Eve, the Summer Solstice, and the Day of the Dead. However, the group had their start in the Socrates Club, and it was in the Socrates Club where they always introduced new songs. No matter who else in the world liked or bought their music, Eloisa and her fellow musicians considered the clients of the Socrates Club their core audience. In spite of the group’s fame, their source of inspiration and their “home” remained among Danube City’s criminals.
The band had a unique style of singing that combined traditional Danubian female vocals with instruments that ranged from ancient to modern. The music typically was classified as New Age, although the overall sound was distinct from most New Age music in the US. The stage performers included five women singers and 10 male musicians. Eloisa was the leader of the singers and ultimately had final say over the band’s musical direction. She had the most beautiful voice that Maria Elena had ever heard, as well as an instinct for music unmatched by anyone else in the group. Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna was the lead singer for any song in English, but when performing she always deferred to Eloisa’s guidance.
Upon entering the front door everyone in the group undressed and stuffed their clothing in cloth bags. Other friends of Kim and Eloisa showed up and undressed as well. When the band members surrendered their clothing, all of them held on to a single item, a Ministry of Justice collar with a broken latch. Cecilia explained that Socrates’ Mistresses always performed in the nude, and during performances they always wore the collars assigned to them when they were criminals. “It’s to remind them, and everyone else who’s watching them, where they came from and how they got their start. Actually, it was Kim who thought up the idea a few months after they got released. The others really liked it, so that’s how they always sing.”
Once inside, the group sat at a row of tables that had been pushed together. There were a total of 35 naked young people sitting at the tables: the stage performers and various wives and friends. The women of the band all were married to other band members, but the remaining men also had brought their wives. Cecilia introduced additional members of Socrates’ Mistresses, although Maria Elena was too overwhelmed by the large group to be able to remember any of the Danubians’ names.
However, one new acquaintance very much stuck out for Maria Elena. A second young Asian woman joined the table along with her Danubian husband, a person who looked like a slightly older, slightly more heavy-set version of Kimberly Lee. It turned out the woman was Kim’s older sister Cynthia. Cecilia greeted her very warmly; obviously they were very close. Maria Elena immediately noticed that both Cynthia and her husband were wearing collars identical to the one Jason had on. Apparently, just like him, they were performing Public Penance for the Danubian Church. Their bodies were deeply tanned and it was evident they had not worn any clothing for a very long time.
The club’s main room was very large, capable of fitting hundreds of customers. In the center was a small stage: in front of the stage there was a large dance floor, and beyond the dance floor were dozens of tables for sitting and dining. The food at the club was simple and cheap, consisting of salted deep-fried vegetables and dishes full of fresh blackberries. The only drinks available were organic beer and water.
The club, as always, was full to capacity. Maria Elena estimated there might be over 700 naked people in the room. She was a bit overwhelmed seeing so much exposed human skin: bare bottoms, penises of all imaginable shapes and sizes, naked breasts, uncovered vaginas. Several nude waiters wearing orange tennis shoes moved among the tables, taking orders and delivering food. A few of the collared criminals had switch-marks on their backsides; some fresh, others faded, from punishments administered a week or two before. Many of the naked women were pregnant, including several sitting at the Socrates’ Mistresses tables. As bizarre as the scene would have been for anyone not familiar with Danubian society, it was obvious that it was a typical evening for everyone in the room.
The band members excused themselves to get ready to sing, leaving a reduced group of about 20 people. Immediately they had to consolidate and give up several tables to other customers, leaving Maria Elena sitting between Cecilia and Cynthia. It turned out that Kim’s older sister was much more approachable than the Spokeswoman herself and was genuinely curious to know more about the stranded Colombian. Cynthia and Maria Elena exchanged numerous details about their lives, but Cynthia also was interested in learning more about Colombia. Cecilia translated with a mischievous expression, all the while running her hand up and down Jason’s thigh and occasionally touching his penis. He sat quietly, blushing because he had a furious erection.
While Maria Elena was talking to Cynthia, various singers performed on stage, most of whom performed very melancholy-sounding music. Part of the conversation included telling the newcomer what the songs were about; all of which were very serious themes. The entire genre was very different from what she was used to in Colombia; cheerful Salsa that either talked about sex or the joys of dancing.
Maria Elena realized that not only the sound, but the very purpose of Danubian music differed from Latin American music. In Latin America the purpose of popular music was for light entertainment and dancing, while in Danubia the purpose of music was to make a person reflect on serious subjects. That change suited her just fine, because in her current situation dancing to rapid happy music was the last thing she wanted to do. The songs coming from the stage were very sad-sounding, but at the same time were very relaxing and calming to her frazzled nerves.
Cecilia excused herself and tapped Jason on the shoulder. Even though he was fully erect and embarrassed, he immediately stood up. The couple exited through a small door in the back of the room. For about 40 minutes Maria Elena and Cynthia sat in uncomfortable silence while they waited for their translator to return. When she came back, leading Jason by the hand, she had a much more relaxed look on her face. Jason was no longer erect, but his bottom was red. Apparently his fiancé had spanked him. When the couple sat down, she resumed her conversation as though nothing had happened. Within a few minutes she started stroking his thigh again, occasionally touching his penis.
Shortly after Cecilia returned, Socrates’ Mistresses got on the stage. Normally they sang three songs when they performed: one of their original songs, one of their more recent songs, and the new song they were introducing. The group only performed at the club when they were introducing new music, but every new song was tested among the criminals at the Socrates Club before anyone else had a chance to hear it. The criminals of Danube City did not have much in their lives, but one privilege they did enjoy was the being the very first audience to hear new music from the famous group sung live.
Kim and Eloisa took their positions at the main microphone, with the other three women standing slightly behind them. The 10 musicians sat behind the singers. As soon as men had positioned their instruments, Eloisa tapped the microphone and started moving her hand to set up the beat. The first song they performed was one of the group’s most famous, “My bicycle”, or as it was titled in Danubian: “Nemát mi biciklét.”
As soon as she recognized the song, Maria Elena’s memories transported her back to Colombia, to Pereira, and into the arms of her first boyfriend, Jose Pablo. He had totally loved “Nemát mi biciklét”. She knew what the lyrics were about, because he had translated for her: the story of not appreciating what one has in life until it is too late. Maria Elena certainly had not appreciated what she had in her life until it was too late. She had not appreciated her mother, who had struggled to keep her in a good school so she could have opportunities in life, nor the boyfriend who had loved her, nor the boss who had been patient with her and tried to give her an opportunity in his store. No, she had not appreciated any of that. Her life in Pereira was not flashy, but it could have been a decent life if she had just understood what she was sacrificing to look for adventure and quick pleasure.
Oh, how Maria Elena wished Jose Pablo could have been with her to see Kim and Eloisa sing in person, in the place where his favorite song was created. She would have given anything just so he could have had that moment, the opportunity to watch the band whose music meant so much to him. She would have given anything just to have him hold her once again; to tell him she was sorry for what she did and somehow make him understand that she actually meant it.
However, it was too late. She could never apologize to Jose Pablo because he was dead. It was because of Maria Elena that he had died. When she broke up with him and he found out why, he was determined to get revenge against drug traffickers by joining the Colombian Army and become a paratrooper. He never made it that far; just a few weeks after he got out of basic training, his unit was ambushed by guerrillas and he was killed in combat.
At first Maria Elena didn’t think much about his death, but later it began to weigh on her. Now, hearing that song, with all those memories coming back to her, the burden of guilt fell even heavier on her shoulders. What weighed on her the most was not only his death, but the fact that at the beginning she didn’t really care. What evil had possessed her that she didn’t even care about the death of an honorable man who had loved her? She buried her face in her hands.
Jose Pablo…I’m so sorry…
Maria Elena wasn’t much company after Socrates’ Mistresses sang their first song. She sat with her face buried in her hands for a very long time. However, Cecilia and Cynthia didn’t see anything strange about their companion’s behavior, because plenty of criminals at the Club had to deal with grief and guilt. They didn’t know the details of Maria Elena’s anguish, but they understood she was dealing with a personal crisis and that they needed to leave her alone.
Anyhow, Cecilia’s fingers had worked their magic on Jason and he was ready for another round of sex. She tapped him on the shoulder, grabbed his hand, and led him to the back door for a second time. They would return to a room they had rented for the evening where he would make love to her. He then would go over her lap to be spanked for his indecent behavior of having an erection in public, and once his bottom was sufficiently punished, there would be yet more love-making.
Kim and the others returned to their group a few minutes after finishing the debut of their newest song. Cecilia and Jason were gone and Maria Elena still was crying with her face buried in her hands. Cynthia figured it would be best if the Colombian went home and offered to take her. Kim accepted the offer and Cynthia, who had taken Spanish in high school for a couple of years, spoke just enough that she could make Maria Elena understand that they were going back to her house. The Colombian was ready to leave and grateful to be escorted back.
Maria Elena, accompanied by Cynthia and her husband, stepped out of the club. It was very late and the weather had changed. It was foggy and a chilly drizzle was falling on the streets. The three naked people shivered as they felt the wet pavement on their bare feet and the cold damp air hitting their exposed skin. Cynthia pointed up and said:
“Otoño. Sí…uh…tu dices otoño?
“Sí, señora, así se dice…el otoño.”
“Temprano…mucho llueve…mucho frío…invierno…”
She hugged herself to indicate that soon the weather was going to get cold.
“Señora, que nos pasa durante el invierno, cuando hace frío? Nos quedamos desnudas?”
“Desnudas…sí Maria Elena, invierno desnudas…”
The Colombian took a deep breath. She would have to confirm that fact with Cecilia the next day, but from what she understood from Cynthia’s bad Spanish, she would have to remain nude no matter how cold it got outside. Not a pleasant thought…
The naked prisoner and her companions took a late trolley to the university. At the university transfer station they got off. Cynthia and her husband had to catch another trolley to go to their own home, but she pointed down the street that led to Victor’s house. The couple then boarded the trolley going west, leaving their companion shivering alone on the platform.
Maria Elena slowly walked along the quiet street. She felt numb, not only from the chilly rain, but also from the emptiness in her soul. For a long time she silently stood in front of Victor’s house in the dark, punishing herself by allowing the cold mist to soak her bare skin.
Chapter 9 – Dinner with the Prime Minister
Chapter 9 - Dinner with the Prime Minister
The next morning Maria Elena was awake early to set up the kitchen, in spite of having had only a few hours of sleep. Cecilia was up as well, fixing breakfast for her nephew, who was still in bed sick. The Dominican clearly was exhausted from having spent the entire night with Jason, but she also felt guilty from having dumped caring for Pedro on Victor while she spent Saturday out of the house. She’d have to make it up to both of them on Sunday, although it was obvious the only thing she wanted was to go to sleep.
Cecilia took her nephew’s breakfast to his room while Maria Elena awaited Victor. Because it was Sunday, Victor had no reason to dress in a suit; instead he put on a prayer robe to go to a nearby church for early services. As dictated by custom, he wore nothing underneath the robe and was barefoot. Apart from putting on a single piece of clothing; there was nothing he needed to do to prepare for worship.
Maria Elena wanted to accompany him, partly out of curiosity and partly out of wanting to be with him. However, the thought of going outside in the nude on a cold drizzly morning did not appeal to her, and she was intimidated at the prospect of being naked at a Temple service without understanding anything that was going on. Victor did not give her any indication he wanted her to go, so she held back and quietly watched him as he went out the door. He joined a group of neighbors in the street, all of whom wore black robes. Victor and his companions knelt in a circle, stood up, and solemnly marched out of sight.
Cecilia had crawled into her nephew’s bed to read to him, but promptly fell asleep. Pedro was asleep as well, so Maria Elena was left alone. She cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, but those tasks were completed within 30 minutes. Out of boredom she turned on the TV, but all the channels were playing the same public service message, a still picture of an old temple with scrolling text. Maria Elena later would learn that the message was a request in archaic Danubian for the viewer to leave home and attend services at the Temple. On Sunday mornings there were only two socially acceptable activities in Danubia: resting or attending worship services.
The prisoner’s melancholy mood from the night before returned, as did her desire to step out into the chilly misty weather. Although it already was mid-morning, the only sounds she heard were drops falling off the trees and the ringing of Temple bells. The bells had a somewhat different sound than what she was used to hearing in Colombia, which she found sinister and spooky when combined with quiet dripping of water and rustling of tree leaves.
Maria Elena looked at her ruined fingernails, which still had traces of fingernail polish. That polish was the final reminder that, just a few days before, her life had been totally different from what it was now. Her nail polish, just like all of the other items she had brought with her from Panama, was gone, seized by the Danubian police. She took a deep breath, because she realized that her only material possessions were a toothbrush and a comb, both of which had been given to her by Cecilia. That was it, just two insignificant personal hygiene items that she could call her own. She was stripped…totally stripped, completely cut off, not only from her former life, but also from the world of material possessions.
Two hours after they left, Victor and the others returned. It was clear that their religious obligations had ended, because instead of marching in silence they were chatting casually. The neighbors disappeared into their respective houses while Victor noticed that his house guest was standing alone in the street. The poor girl was soaked and shivering…why was she standing in the rain instead of staying inside where she could be warm and dry?
Before he could say anything, Maria Elena went to her knees and touched her forehead to the ground. She was immensely glad to see her host and enormously relieved he had returned. He wondered what was going on with her, but his first concern was getting her back inside before she got sick. He tapped her on the shoulder:
“Doshéschkt dék holódnikt. Pogánakt dék nad tebe…pogánakt dék nad tebe.”
She knew the words “holódnikt”, which meant “cold”, and “pogánakt” which meant “bad”. She correctly guessed that he had said “This rain is cold. It’s not good for you.”
“Ya pogánakt. Ya negát harásh...ya…”
Victor whistled to show his disapproval of her last comment. She had told him in Danubian that she was no good, but with a long low whistle he disagreed. There was nothing wrong with her, she was a nice girl…but he didn’t know how to tell her that in Spanish. With a quick short whistle he ordered her to stand up and follow him into the house.
As soon as they got inside, Cecilia handed Victor a message from his brother Vladim. The Prime Minister had invited Victor’s household to Sunday dinner at his official residence. Cecilia explained in Spanish that meant he and his sons and their wives were invited, along with Cecilia, Jason, Pedro, and Maria Elena. The prisoner wanted to make sure she understood correctly:
“Vladim Dukov…isn’t he…this country’s president?”
“No, not the president…the Prime Minister…”
“But he’s their leader, right?”
“And…I’m supposed to go to his place?”
“Yes, along with the rest of us.”
“You’re part of Victor’s household, just like me and Pedro. He’s invited, so we’re invited.”
“But…I can’t go see the Prime Minister. I’m not wearing anything…”
“Maria Elena, you’re collared, so guess what? You’re naked. It’s what’s expected of you, and just because you’re naked doesn’t mean that your life or responsibilities have stopped. Jason won’t be wearing anything either, nor Tiffany. And if Cynthia and her husband show up, they’ll be naked too.”
Maria Elena shuddered at the thought of being naked in front of the nation’s Prime Minister, but decided it was best not to argue further. Cecilia continued:
“Now, obviously you need to show proper protocol when we get there. Just follow what Jason and Tiffany are doing. The Prime Minister expects you to follow protocol, but he also knows you’re new at this and if he needs to, he’ll tell you what to do. Basic rule is: if he speaks to you, kneel before you open your mouth. Second rule is: don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. Anyhow, I’ll have to translate, so I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
Victor re-appeared dressed in traditional attire; loose pants, boots, a linen shirt, and a gray tunic. Cecilia had to excuse herself to change into a long white linen dress and make sure Pedro was properly outfitted with a linen boy’s shirt and linen pants. Maria Elena took a shower, but there was nothing else she needed to do to get ready. She simply dried off and nervously waited for the rest of the household.
Jason showed up at the door, his skin wet from the cold mist and his uncovered body covered with goose-bumps. Upon seeing Victor he knelt. Maria Elena followed suit and knelt next to him. She was very grateful to have another collared person with her, to not feel so alone and freakish.
A short while later Victor and his companions got off the trolley that took them from the university to a park outside the Old City Wall. The Prime Minister’s residence was just on the other side of the park. It looked somewhat like some of the nicer 18th-Century houses that Maria Elena had seen in historical districts in Colombia. It was not very large, but the house and its architecture were very attractive.
According to Danubian custom, the Prime Minister’s son was responsible for greeting other members of the family and ushering them into the residence. Upon seeing Vladik in his police uniform, Jason immediately dropped to his knees and put his forehead to the ground. Maria Elena followed his lead. As she knelt and bent forward, she felt the cold air blowing against her exposed bottom-hole and vagina. She realized that she was lewdly displayed, and also that Victor was standing immediately behind her and could see everything. She blushed, but she knew that, as a prisoner, modesty was a privilege she no longer had.
Vladik saluted Victor, Cecilia, and Pedro before granting permission to Jason and Maria Elena to stand up. Vladik then led his guests into the residence and into the main reception area. Victor’s sons already were present with their wives, as were Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna and her husband, and Kim’s sister with her husband. Also present was Criminal # 98946. Besides Pedro, there were several other children and babies in the house.
Cecilia told Jason and Maria Elena to join Cynthia, her husband, and Tiffany in the center of the room. As dictated by protocol, the five collared people knelt together and placed their foreheads on the ground.
The Prime Minister and his wife entered the reception area in formal attire. The couple greeted everyone standing; then told the five collared guests to kneel upright. One by one Vladim Dukov greeted them. He warmly took both Cynthia’s hand and Tiffany’s hand as he asked them to rise. When Jason stood up, the Prime Minister shook his hand and patted his arm. Maria Elena later would find out that he loved Cynthia and Jason as much as if they belonged to his own family and felt uneasy making them kneel. However, protocol was protocol. As long as they were collared, it was the Path in Life for the two Americans to kneel, regardless of whatever personal feelings the Prime Minister had towards them.
Cecilia instructed Maria Elena to stand up when the Prime Minister greeted her. Blushing furiously, the Colombian complied while struggling not to cover herself or look away. She looked Vladim Dukov in the face. He looked very much like his younger brother, but his hair was much shorter and his expression was different. Unlike Victor, who always wore an unpleasant expression, Vladim’s face was more tranquil and kinder, but also more reflective. Maria Elena could tell that, of the two brothers, Vladim was by far the more intelligent.
The Prime Minister greeted Maria Elena, verifying that she was from Colombia and asking how she was doing in Victor’s house. Her heart pounding, the prisoner answered while Cecilia translated. It was a totally bizarre experience, to stand naked in front of a Prime Minister at a formal family dinner, an invited guest, even though she was a criminal facing trial. Within a few days she would be convicted, sentenced, and whipped, but for the moment she was a guest of the nation’s leader and would eat dinner with his family.
The experience was about to become much stranger. Two naked collared young women entered through the front door, both holding bouquets. They knelt on opposite sides of the entrance. Two other naked young women then came in, carrying small trumpets. They blew a loud high pitched note before kneeling next to the women carrying the bouquets. A fifth naked young woman entered the room and announced:
“Honored guests of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Danubia! The Grand Duchess of Danubia wishes to join the Honorable Prime Minister and his family for dinner!”
Vladim Dukov responded: “We would be honored to have Grand Duchess Anyia sit at our table. Please tell my daughter I wish to have her join us.”
The entire room came to attention, except for the five collared guests, who immediately dropped to their knees. Maria Elena was totally perplexed…had she understood right? Did Vladim Dukov say “my daughter”?
A young woman, who could not have been any more than about 22 years old, entered the room followed by six naked attendants. She was dressed in elegant linen and wore a white tunic with a gold griffin engraved on her chest. On her head she wore a small crown. Maria Elena looked at her: daughter…yes…the woman looked like both Vladim and his wife Maritza. Anyia…yes…now she remembered that both Victor and Cecilia had mentioned that the Prime Minister had a daughter called Anyia, although no one had said anything about her being the Grand Duchess of Danubia.
Anyia took the two bouquets from her kneeling attendants and continued towards her parents. The two women who had given her the flowers stood up to follow her, while the trumpeters stood guard at the entrance. The Grand Duchess approached the elder Dukovs and handed each a bouquet. Then, with a dismissive royal tone of voice, she addressed the five naked persons kneeling in the center of the room:
“Collared guests of my father: I grant you permission to rise and to sit at his table.”
Maria Elena’s companions responded in unison: “Thank you Grand Duchess Anyia.”
Anyia’s attendants took up positions around the table, with the Grand Duchess sitting at one end and her father sitting at the other. Ceremonially they were the most important people in the room; Vladim as the leader of the nation, and Anyia as the Grand Duchess, the wife of the country’s Grand Duke and representative of the Danubian Royal Family. They were seated first, although Vladim waited for his wife to join him before he sat down. Once Anyia and her parents were seated, her attendants quickly took positions behind the other chairs to seat the remaining guests.
Once everyone was sitting, Anyia tapped a spoon on her wine glass to call her servants to attention. The young women immediately departed to the kitchen and reappeared with four bottles of fine wine and appetizers. One of the attendants presented a bottle to the Grand Duchess, who sniffed the cork and tasted a small portion. She granted permission for it to be served. The servants filled everyone’s glasses, with the exception of Maria Elena and Tiffany. As collared criminals, they were not allowed to drink alcohol.
As she ate the meal’s first course, Maria Elena noted that it was obvious the Royal House servants were extremely disciplined and highly trained. They moved silently and quickly, knowing their duties without the Grand Duchess or anyone else having to tell them what to do. Whenever they weren’t attending to someone’s needs, they immediately went to their knees and kept their eyes facing forward. Their faces were expressionless and their bodies immobile while waiting to serve or attend to the desires of their mistress. All of the women were quite attractive and in very good health, but two of them had welts from a switch criss-crossing their bottoms.
Another interesting detail was that several of Anyia’s servants did not appear to be Danubian. There were two blond women in the group, one of whom was very tall and had a tattoo on her ankle. There was a short woman with olive skin and thick black hair who was from Sicily. There were a couple of others that had mixed ancestry: two who appeared to be part Asian, and another who was part black. Maria Elena did not know it at the time, but the Grand Duchess was fascinated with having foreigners as her servants and liked to “collect” them. She did notice Anyia looking at her intently, but assumed that was due to simple curiosity. Maybe she never had seen a Colombian before…
Maria Elena noticed that the collars of Anyia’s servants were different from those issued by either the Danubian Ministry of Justice or the Danubian Church. They were much more elegantly crafted, inlaid with silver trim, and marked with the seal of the Royal House. However, like the Ministry of Justice collars, the servants’ collars included a sturdy ring that could be attached to a chain.
As the meal progressed, it was obvious that the Grand Duchess was enjoying herself and the fact that her position allowed her to act so imperiously. The Prime Minister and his wife looked very ill at ease with all the formality, precisely because it entailed their daughter. Everyone else sitting at the table also seemed unhappy with what was going on. Anyia’s older brother Vladik tightened his lips. Maria Elena noticed Kim and Cecilia exchanging nervous glances, Jason staring sullenly into his plate, and Cynthia with a hurt expression on her face. Anyia’s cousins and in-laws didn’t seem very pleased either. However, the young woman was so full of herself that she was oblivious to the discomfort she was causing for the rest of her family.
Maria Elena then observed the Prime Minister as he quietly took control of the table and put everyone at ease without overtly offending his daughter. He had a reputation as a skilled negotiator who could talk his way out of any difficult situation, a talent which saved the night for his guests. As much as Anyia wanted to be the star of the evening, her father undercut her without her even realizing it. He engaged everyone at the table in conversation, including the newest member of Victor’s household, but in a way that Anyia did not feel slighted. Still, everyone at the gathering knew that, without the skill of her father to keep her under control, Anyia quickly would have ruined the meal.
Once the final course had ended, two minivans boasting the Royal House emblem arrived to pick up the Grand Duchess and her naked entourage. Anyia said goodbye to her parents by formally kissing each on the hand while her servants knelt with their foreheads pressed to the floor. As soon as Anyia was ready to step outside, the four tallest women of her group held a large canvas cover over her to protect her from the rain. The two trumpeters stepped outside as well, to blow their horns and announce the exit of the Grand Duchess.
As Anyia’s servants boarded the minivans, Maria Elena noticed the Prime Minister tightening his lips and exchanging a disgusted look with his wife. Vladim Dukov was an unassuming person who treated everyone with respect and courtesy, while his daughter, because of the nobility she had married into, was totally the opposite. Presumably he should have been proud to see her in such an exalted position, but in truth he was profoundly disappointed and embarrassed every time she was in his presence.
The departure of Grand Duchess Anyia and her entourage lightened the mood in the Prime Minister’s Mansion considerably. The Prime Minister passed out drinks to his brother and nephews, while Jason conversed with the husbands of the Lee sisters. Most of the women gathered around Maritza Dukov while she described a trip she recently had taken to Vienna. The children ran around the dining room table in circles and ducked under the chairs.
Kim tapped Cecilia on the shoulder, letting her know that her translating services would be needed. She realized that Maria Elena was totally bewildered by the bizarre spectacle from the Grand Duchess that she had just witnessed, and felt that she owed her client an explanation. Kim explained that actually she knew Anyia quite well, having lived with her during her sentence as a collared criminal. Vladim Dukov had been Kim’s Spokesman and, because she had nowhere else to live, she stayed with the Dukov family.
When Kimberly Lee first met Anyia eight years before, the girl was 14 years old. For a Danubian teenager she was somewhat rebellious, but otherwise was very ordinary, with a typical circle of friends from her school. As a young teen, she had never really been pleasant company because of her ill temper and moodiness, but she was approachable and did enjoy having fun. Kim and Anyia spent a lot of time together doing mundane tasks such as grocery shopping. Anyia taught Kim many things she needed to know about her new life in Danubia, such as how to braid her hair and a multitude of slang expressions and popular phrases. Towards the end of Kim’s stay with the Dukovs, Anyia began to mature. That was to be expected, but no one, certainly not Kim, could have foreseen the Path in Life that the Creator had in store for her.
Anyia’s personality and interests changed completely when her father was elected Prime Minister. As soon as he took over as the leader of Danubia, Anyia started hanging out with the sons of various leaders from his political party. As a teenager she dated several influential young men, coldly calculating which one could offer her the most in life. She built upon her experiences and set her ambitions higher as she completed her final year in high school. On the night of her school’s graduation ball, she met and danced with the Crowned Prince of Danubia, the son of the nation’s Grand Duke. The Crowned Prince already was nearly 30 and she was just 18, but she carefully assessed what she needed to do to win him. Within a few minutes of conversation she discovered that he was not happy with his fiancé, figured out why he was not happy, and presented herself as an alternative.
Although she was not from the nobility, the Crowned Prince was attracted to Anyia from the moment he met her. She was a commoner, but she also was the daughter of the nation’s Prime Minister, which would make her a respectable partner. She was attractive, her background set her apart from the other women he had known, and he found her to be a nice change in a life of Royal monotony. Within a month a scandal erupted when the Crowned Prince broke off the relationship with his long-term fiancé and started dating Vladim Dukov’s daughter. However, the girl used her father’s popularity and some excellent acting to get the public to accept her as the partner of the Crowned Prince. She had decided that her Path in Life would be as the wife of the Royal heir and the nation’s future Grand Duchess.
Anyia was only 20 when she married the heir to the Danubian throne in a lavish ceremony. Perhaps she would have been alright had she and the Crowned Prince had enough time to develop their relationship, have children, and prepare themselves for their ceremonial roles as the Royal representatives of the Danubian people. However, just a year after his son married, the old Grand Duke made a state visit on a humanitarian mission to Africa and was assassinated by drug traffickers.
The murder of the Danubian Grand Duke caused several important changes in the Republic. Vladim Dukov’s government became even more intolerant of drug trafficking, passing several harsh new laws to augment the nation’s already draconian anti-drug efforts. Following the Grand Duke’s funeral, the Prime Minister went to the U.N. and gave a defiant speech that excoriated the failure of other governments to do anything about organized crime. As for the Royal Family, the old Grand Duke became a national martyr, even though in life he was a tepid person who had accomplished nothing apart from living off his ancestry. There was an outpouring of support for the Crowned Prince and his young bride, both of whom were coroneted in a lavish ceremony.
The early coronation, the tragic circumstances that brought it about, and the show of public support for the new Royal Couple had an unfortunate psychological impact on Grand Duchess Anyia. Already her ego was badly inflated because she was the daughter of the Prime Minister and the wife of Royalty, but now, at age 21, she also wore a crown and had become the country’s equivalent of a queen. Her circumstances had not given her the time she needed to mature and put herself and her relationship with the Danubian public in perspective. As she saw it, she was the most important woman in Danubia and embodied the soul of the nation. As such, she felt that the world owed her adoration. She was genuinely taken aback and offended when someone dared to not give her what she was due.
Anyia’s relationship with the rest of her family had deteriorated over the past year. She knew that she could not view herself as superior to her father: after all he was the Prime Minister and the nation’s elected leader. However, the treatment of her mother, who was an academic researcher; her brother, who was a cop; and her uncle, who was a private businessman; reflected total contempt for their positions as commoners.
Grand Duchess Anyia was so much above them…
The gathering lasted until almost midnight, which was very late by Danubian standards. The Prime Minister and his wife wanted to make sure that the evening ended well for everyone by ensuring that his family could go home with other memories besides Anyia’s oppressive spectacle. He passed out yet more wine and called his butler and cook to join the rest of the group. Vladim and Victor led the others in a round of singing, which was a favorite late-night activity of Danubians at parties. There were plenty of jokes that the two brothers should never audition for Kim’s band, since their performance was not stellar. But everyone in the room knew that their singing was genuine, serving no other purpose other than to have fun.
Victor led his household home on the last trolley of the evening. Jason tagged along as well, because it was his duty to see that she was safely home before going home himself. As always, he knelt to say goodbye to Victor before kissing Cecilia and disappearing down the quiet misty street. Pedro was very tired and his aunt occupied herself putting him to bed.
Victor and Maria Elena were alone in the living room. She was trembling badly from being cold: her skin was covered with goose-bumps and her teeth were chattering. Unfortunately, she was prohibited from covering herself. Her only option would have been to take a hot bath.
Victor felt immensely sorry for the poor girl. Maybe he couldn’t give her a blanket to warm up in, but he wanted to stop that shivering and try to cheer her up. She looked at him with very sad eyes…her expression clearly stating: can’t you at least hold me, Victor?
Shyly, Victor stuck out his hand. She immediately took it and snuggled up to him, trying to warm herself against his body. She put her arms around him and started crying. He wrapped one arm around her waist and with his free hand gently pressed her head against his shoulder. To be held…after all this time…to be held…
Long buried emotions and passions welled up inside Victor, the thrill of a new love, a new beginning. After a while Maria Elena quit shivering and quit crying. She was content to just stay standing close to him, to feel the warmth and comfort of his body against hers. The emotion continued to build inside him. Without thinking about what he was doing, he gently touched the prisoner’s chin to turn her face towards his. He looked at her eyes…yes…she wanted him to kiss her. Their lips met, shyly at first, then much more passionately…
So…it was done. Victor and Maria Elena were in each other’s arms and had exchanged their first kiss…two broken, lonely souls that had found each other. They were separated by language, by age, and by social status…but none of that mattered. Each desperately needed the other.
Cecilia put her nephew to bed and fretted about some mud stains on her fancy dress. Then, she realized the house was totally silent. She checked both Victor’s room and Maria Elena’s room. Both were empty. Cecilia had an unpleasant feeling. Hmm…better check downstairs to see what’s going on…
She descended a few steps and peeked into the living room. Victor and Maria Elena were passionately kissing each other…
Cecilia flinched. SHIT!!!! Shit…shit…shit!!!! I should’ve kept a better eye on those two! This is my fault! Kim’s gonna kill me!
She thought about continuing downstairs and interrupting, but hesitated. She knew there was no point in doing that; they’d only wait until she was asleep and continue. No, there was no way she was gonna keep those two apart and she should have realized it from the beginning…no point at all. The matter was out of her hands.
Cecilia managed to calm down. She still was angry at herself, but that anger was subsiding. Well, at least she no longer had to lose any sleep worrying about keeping her host and her housemate apart: she had failed and the issue was settled. She also realized that, if Maria Elena was occupied with Victor, chances were that she no longer would try anything with Jason. That had worried her from the outset, because it was clear that Jason had noticed the prisoner and enjoyed looking at her. At least that was one concern she no longer had.
Cecilia took off her clothes and went to bed. She shut her door, no longer worried about standing watch over Maria Elena. There was nothing more that she could do.
Only the Creator knew what Path in Life was in store for Victor Dukov and Prisoner # 101025.
Victor took Maria Elena’s hand and led her upstairs. Outside her room they kissed again, but they were not sure what to do next. They still couldn’t communicate with words; everything between them had to be via expressions and gestures. Maria Elena looked towards his room and back into his eyes…yes, she was ready. To make absolutely sure, Victor ran his hands down her back and caressed her bare bottom. Her hungry expression did not change. With that he led her to the master bedroom.
Maria Elena sat on his bed and undressed him: pulling off his tunic and shirt, then untying the strings on his boots. Once those were off, the only item left was the linen pants. Like most men in Danubia, Victor did not use underwear.
In bed they took their time. Maria Elena was content to feel the gentle caresses on her body from the hands of a man who was much more patient than either of her two previous lovers. His passion was different from what she was used to, because he was older. For a long time she simply relaxed, but finally she began to caress his penis and massage his thighs and stomach. She reflected that three sons had come from him: but maybe he wasn’t done yet. Perhaps more children were destined to come from his body, children that she would carry for him.
When Victor was ready, Maria Elena lay on her back, eager to surrender herself. For the first time in nearly a year, Victor Dukov made love to a woman. He was much gentler than she was used to, but at the moment that was what she wanted: a slow gentle experience.
Maria Elena did not return to her own room that night. She stayed with her lover, violating her status as a criminal by sleeping under a warm blanket in the arms of the man she hoped to love. Chapter 10 – A moment in life with Victor
Maria Elena woke up with a start. She was not in her own room, not lying uncovered on top of her own mattress. Instead, she was under a cover, sharing a warm bed with her lover. She nervously glanced at the bedroom door, realizing it was open. She remembered that Victor had closed it the night before. She wondered if he had gotten up in the middle of the night; or if Cecilia had peeked in and not bothered to close it. She closed the door, hoping it had been Victor who had left it open.
She returned to the bed and sat down. She looked at him, studying his lined face and aging body. Time and stress had taken their toll on his health and appearance. He was not physically attractive, but she had not been looking for that when she began her relationship with him. She wasn’t worried about being with someone who was young. Instead she wanted to be comforted and protected by a person she could look to as an authority figure, someone who she could respect and who she felt could guide her.
As a young teen, Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres had been fascinated with some of the older male teachers at her school, especially the school director. Nothing ever came of her interests, nor could she ever figure out why older guys would fascinate her. She had never taken any psychology, so she did not have the education that would have helped her understand her own needs. A psychologist could have looked into the girl’s past and quickly identified her basic issue with men. Her father had abandoned her mother when she was very young, forcing her to be a single parent throughout most of the girl’s life. Señor Rodriguez was missing, leaving his daughter with the burning desire to find an older man who would give her some direction. Of course the popular culture around Maria Elena told her that she needed to find a handsome young guy her own age, which clashed with her hidden hope of finding someone older who could replace her father.
Maria Elena’s traumatic experiences over the most recent two weeks had intensified her subconscious need to find a mature man with authority who could protect her. Victor Dukov, who was a business owner and the head of the household that had taken her in, fit her aspirations perfectly. Victor’s own circumstances; the fact he was recently widowed and his sons were grown-up, added to his availability and desirability in Maria Elena’s mind. She would heal him, and he would heal her.
Maria Elena lightly kissed Victor on the cheek and stood up. She’d have to go downstairs and get the kitchen set up for Cecilia to cook. It was Monday, so once the kitchen was ready she’d come back to her lover’s room and help him get dressed. She would be his adoring partner…he would rely on her and not be able to live without her.
It turned out that Cecilia already was awake and had gone into the kitchen first. A quick glance sent the message that yes…she did know the prisoner had spent the night with their host. There was no greeting. The Dominican simply began with:
“I hope you understand what you’ve gotten yourself into. If it goes bad, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The prisoner blushed. Cecilia continued:
“I saw you two last night…in the living room. I checked the bedroom later on…and I left that door open on purpose.”
There was another pause, because Maria Elena didn’t know how to respond. Cecilia gave her a very skeptical look.
“You don’t have…anything to say about…what you did?”
“Not really…it just happened.”
“No, Maria Elena, it didn’t ‘just happen’. I saw it coming as early as Thursday. I warned you. You knew that I was watching you, and you knew why…”
“But was it really that wrong? We love each other…”
Cecilia rolled her eyes.
“You love each other? After six days you love each other. You don’t even speak the same language, but you love each other. He’s 46 years old and you’re 19, but you love each other. Please…give me a break. You can’t love someone you don’t know in just six days…It doesn’t work like that!”
“Well I do love him! I don’t care about any of that stuff you’re telling me! I love him! What’s wrong with that? Why can’t I love him?”
Cecilia rubbed her forehead and sighed. She thought: Maria Elena, you don’t get it…
“You can’t love him because you belong to the Danubian Government! That’s what I was trying to tell you last week! There’s nothing wrong with you having a relationship, but it really has to be with another criminal, with someone in the same situation as you. If you’re married to another criminal, the Ministry will try to respect that and they’ll do what they can to keep you together, as long as you…”
“I don’t want a relationship with another criminal! I want Victor! I mean…what about Tiffany? She’s not married to another criminal! What about her? Why can’t I just do what she’s doing?”
Cecilia did not know how to answer Maria Elena without spending the entire morning explaining the unique circumstances that had brought Vladik Dukov and Tiffany Walker together. It was true that he was a cop and she was a criminal, but they first met when he was suspended from his position with the National Police and performing Public Penance. When he and Tiffany started their relationship, Vladik was little more than a criminal himself. Anyhow, Cecilia didn’t want to argue further. She wasn’t going to convince her housemate not to pursue Victor; the only thing she could do was try to get her to think about what she was doing.
“Maria Elena, it’s a long story about Vladik and Tiffany. Your situation is different. It just is. I’m worried about you and Victor, and I don’t want to see either of you get hurt. I just don’t think you being with him is such a good idea. Right now…I really can’t figure out how to tell you why I feel that way. But I know him. I know this country. I know what it’s like to be criminal. And, I know some things about you. I really think that a year from now, you’re gonna have different needs and Victor’s not gonna be able to fill them. That’s when things are gonna go bad between you two.”
Cecilia’s words were met with a hard, skeptical look from the prisoner’s eyes. No, she wasn’t going to be convinced. Her only option was to give up on trying to dissuade her housemate and fall back on at least making sure she adhered to criminal protocol:
“I hope I’m wrong. But I do want you to think real hard about what you’re doing. And there’s something else…”
“The next time you see her, you’re gonna have to tell Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna what’s going on. That’s not just protocol, it’s the law. The Spokeswoman holds custody over you, so she gets final say over whether or not you can have a relationship with someone. You need to talk to her, because if you don’t, you’ll get charged with insurrection and in theory you could get Victor in trouble.”
“But…she’ll simply say no.”
“Not necessarily. What she will do is force you to be sure, in your own mind, why you want to be with him. And, I’d imagine she’ll want to talk to him as well. Then she’ll make a decision. She won’t say no until she talks to both of you.”
As Maria Elena knelt to hand Victor his shoes and finish helping him get dressed, her heart was very heavy. She was learning that romance, especially for a criminal, was not something that simply happened in Danubian society. For her to love Victor, other people had to get involved. Her romantic life would be documented in her criminal record. To have a relationship with Victor she would have to obtain official permission, and to marry him she would have to seek permission yet again. She felt enormously sorry for him, because for her sake he would have to seek the approval of Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, someone half his age (and his former employee on top that) for a decision that really should have been up to him to make.
Maria Elena returned to the university that morning with Cecilia and Jason for a normal day of work, class, and exercise. She spent most of the afternoon with Carmen, realizing that the Californian was her best chance at having a friend among the US students. Maria Elena was aware that there was nothing Carmen could really do to help her situation, but it was nice just to have someone else to talk to in Spanish besides Cecilia.
After class, the norteamericanos split up by sex to undress and attend physical fitness training. As usual, Cecilia handed Maria Elena her running shoes, which she was only allowed to use during exercising. As usual, the gringas took off their clothes in the locker room for a ritual that many still were not comfortable with.
Exercise proved to be a very unnerving experience for Prisoner # 101025. The instructor announced that she was ready to fully participate in the program, which included the runs. The Colombian would be expected to run three kilometers non-stop, which was the distance that the other women typically ran every other day. Cecilia made the mistake of telling the instructor that she couldn’t use her switch to punish Maria Elena because she was going on trial the following week and faced a full judicial switching of 50 strokes. The instructor cheerfully responded:
“That’s not a problem, Director Sanchez. Since you are in charge of the prisoner and are responsible for her success with us, then I will simply give you any strokes she earns. If she fails to live up to my expectations, then I will hold you responsible.”
Maria Elena noticed the Dominican’s dark skin turn a shade lighter. Cecilia turned to her and translated what the instructor had just said, adding:
“You’d better do what she wants, and do it right. If I have to take any strokes for you, I’m gonna be pissed.”
“No…Tell her I’ll take the strokes…It’s not your problem.”
“It is my problem, because you have to go on trial next week. When it’s over and you get sentenced, you’re gonna get your butt whipped. You can’t have any marks on you when that happens, so in the meantime I have to take your punishments for you ‘cause I’m in charge of you. The only thing is, I’m not gonna take any punishment for you ‘cause you’re not gonna earn any, ‘cause you’re gonna bust your ass on that run. Get it?”
“Yes, Cecilia, I get it.”
Maria Elena certainly did try as hard as she could, but there was no way she was capable of running three kilometers non-stop. She fell to her knees and threw up after completing just half the distance. Cecilia screamed at her to get up and keep moving. Maria Elena cried as she staggered along the university sidewalk, pain tearing through her sides and her legs trembling from weakness. She put everything she had into the run, terrified that Cecilia already was in trouble. It was just a simple physical exercise, something that everyone else in the group had long since mastered, but for Maria Elena it was every bit as awful as what had happened to her the previous week in the interrogation room.
When Cecilia and Maria Elena finally crossed the finish line, both were expecting the instructor to hit Cecilia several times with the switch. However all she said was:
“Good effort, Prisoner # 101025. You put everything into it, and that’s all I’m asking. Wednesday I’ll expect you to do a bit better.”
Cecilia had to stay late at the university that night, because one of the male participants had decided to quit the program. He was having trouble with the Danubian language, was not getting along with his host family, and to top off everything else, he had taken three strokes that afternoon from his physical fitness instructor. The program director was used to dealing with crises stemming from Americans struggling to adapt to Danubian culture. Normally she was able to convince the students to stay by reasoning with them. They already had paid their money and could not get a refund, if they left Danubia they would lose the semester because there was no time left to enroll back in Chicago, and if they quit, that decision to give up would forever haunt them. If a student was determined to leave, she did what she could to get him or her to put it off as long a possible.
There were cases where Director Sanchez spent an entire semester convincing a student to “wait just one more week…just another week…is that really gonna hurt you? Just one more week?” She always pointed out: “I know it’s hard, but if you at least wait another week or so, do you think you’d really lose anything? If you really can’t stand it, you can always decide to leave later on, but once you leave, you can’t decide to come back.”
In the end the student usually procrastinated one week to the next, right up to the end of the semester. During the three years Director Sanchez had been counseling exchange students, 130 had participated in the program and only 4 ended up leaving early.
Maria Elena went home by herself. She noted that Victor was helping Cecilia’s nephew with a homework assignment, so she started dinner and began straightening up. She washed a load of clothing, set the table, served three portions of food and set aside a fourth for her housemate, for whenever she came home.
All the while she was attending to the needs of the house; two huge worries loomed in her mind: her upcoming trial and the horrific switching she would have to endure, and her concern over what to do about Victor. She dreaded the upcoming session with her Spokeswoman even more than she dreaded her trial, because she was convinced that Kim would put an end to her relationship with her host and embarrass him at the same time.
Victor made sure Pedro was properly cleaned up and in bed before putting on his prayer robe and performing his nightly vigil beneath his wife’s picture. Maria Elena wondered if the Danubian Church had a formal mourning period and if Victor would ever get over doing that strange ritual and move on with his life. She felt that he could move on, but that he would need her to do so. That was something Prisoner # 101025 could tell her Spokeswoman; that Victor’s future depended on her. She was offering him the chance to emerge from his emotional pit of grief and guilt. Maybe she was his last hope, the final opportunity he would ever have to return to a normal life. Did Kim really have the right to take that away from him just because of protocol?
With that thought Maria Elena felt much more confident of herself. Yes, she now knew what she needed to say that would counter the doubts of both Cecilia and Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna. Victor’s life was at stake. Maybe his relationship with his guest was not “correct protocol”, but did anyone have a better option for him? Did anyone else know how to get him to return to his old life and find happiness?
She finished in the kitchen and set a pot of water to boil for tea. As usual she would make a cup for her host and kneel beside him to serve him. She now knew a few words and phrases, so she could communicate with him at a very simple level. As she waited for the water to boil she went to the bathroom and studied her reflection in the mirror. She noticed that her breasts now were as tanned as the rest of her body, that the marks from her swimsuit were completely gone. She was developing a new tan-line, the one on her lower neck that was the result of constantly wearing a collar. She knew that her neck would be uncovered very briefly the following week, when she would take off the temporary collar and be fitted with her permanent one. For a few minutes her neck would be uncovered, then covered again, permanently.
Permanently. This would be her life. How strange…only a week before she had been sitting on a plane, worried about delivering a kilo of cocaine. Just two weeks before she still was in Colombia. Just two weeks, but it felt like so much more than two weeks. So much had happened in just two weeks…so much… The worries she had just two weeks before had no presence in her life at all now. She was a different person, worried about different things, with different goals and aspirations. It was not her choice to become different, but nonetheless she was able to accept what had happened to her. Just one week after her arrest, Maria Elena had fully adjusted to the Path in Life that the Creator had set up for her.
The prisoner knelt with her cup of tea. This time Victor quickly finished his prayer and took the cup. He stroked her face and touched her hair. Yes, she was his escape, the sign sent to him by the Creator that he was free to stop grieving about his dead wife and move on with his life.
A few minutes later they were upstairs in his room. Maria Elena pulled off his prayer robe and carefully hung it up. He took her hands and kissed her passionately. The couple embraced, then he explored her bottom with his hands. He felt bad, because within a week her backside would be covered with painful welts, but after her trial he would comfort her. She would spend the night crying on his bed, as he gently rubbed lotion onto her body. Finally he would hold her hand and she would fall asleep. The next day she would wake up, and he would be there for her…and for once he would be the one with a cup of tea for her…and she would begin her new life…
Yes…my poor little foreigner…
He became aroused much more quickly the second night than the first. She had reawakened those old feelings and passions, something that just a week before he felt that he had no right to enjoy. There was so much in him that she had brought back, so much of his life that she had restored. He now had something to live for, apart from running his business and serving his employees and clients. He held, in his arms, a lovely girl that he could call his own and love.
That night she got on her hands and knees on the bed and he took her from behind. She was so lovely…so different from the Danubian women he had known…so lovely…his Maria Elena…
The next day Cecilia asked the university gardener to let Prisoner # 101025 off work early so the two women could see Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna before lunchtime. At 11:00 she met Maria Elena at the shower. The Colombian sighed, because the trip meant that she would have to come clean about her relationship with Victor sooner than she had wanted. She cast an angry look at Cecilia, suspecting that she must have placed a call to Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna to arrange the appointment, precisely to mess up her plans with him. The Dominican, who was extremely observant and picked up on everything, snapped:
“Quit looking at me like that. I didn’t call your Spokeswoman. She called me. She wants to talk about your trial. It’s got nothing to do with Victor.”
The two women arrived at the Central Police Station and entered the Spokeswoman’s office. At that moment Maria Elena saw the reality of her future close-up, because a badly beaten criminal was lying face-down on a foldable table that looked like a padded massage table. He was very young, perhaps even younger than Maria Elena. His bottom and the top part of his thighs were a solid mass of reddish welts that were about a centimeter wide each. Where the blows crossed each other they formed blisters that were purple. Seven reddish stripes crossed the criminal’s upper back. In spite of the severity of the punishment, Maria Elena noted that he was not bleeding anywhere, but that was not much consolation. It was obvious the young man was in a lot of pain and content to just lie still on the table.
Cecilia explained that all criminals received their first judicial punishment immediately after they were convicted. The first switching was part of the ritual of trial and the criminal’s formal introduction to the reality of his sentence. No matter how many or how few switchings were assigned during sentencing, the first one always came at the end of the trial. A formal police switching consisted of 50 blows administered to the criminal’s bottom and upper thighs over a 30-60 minute period. Following the switching, the punishment was certified by the trial judge, and then the criminal had to be photographed. Once that was taken care of, the convict normally spent a couple of hours lying on a “recovery table” in the Spokesperson’s office until he could stop crying and walk home.
“No matter what happens during your sentencing hearing, next Monday you’re gonna be switched and this is where you’ll have to recover. A week from now this is gonna be you.”
Maria Elena looked at the man, studying the painful welts and blood blisters that covered his backside. She had known being flogged was going to be part of her punishment, but to actually see it up close...
“Your Spokeswoman had to go through this three times. She told me that it feels like you’re being ripped apart, like it’s gonna kill you, like it’s never gonna end. When the cop is whipping you, it’ll be the longest hour of your life. You’ll want to scream, but you need to resist and stay quiet because that’s part of a criminal’s honor. You’re gonna have to show courage when you’re on the switching table or else your fellow criminals aren’t gonna respect you. That’s the reality you’re facing. But it’s the same for everyone who gets convicted. Everyone who wears a Ministry of Justice collar goes through the same experience. You’ll go through it and you’ll survive, just like everyone else.”
Maria Elena stood in horrified silence as Cecilia continued:
“In one way you’re a lot luckier than most of the foreigners that come through this office. Most people go on trial the day after they’re arrested and really don’t have a clue what’s going on…and you can imagine how scary that would be. You’re lucky because the Ministry had to wait to put you on trial. You’ve had a chance to get used to things here. You know what it’s like to be a criminal, you know what to expect, and there won’t be any surprises. Most prisoners don’t have that opportunity.”
The two women passed into the back office, where Kim was organizing a folder with her client’s information. As usual, Cecilia stood at attention while Maria Elena knelt and put her head to the floor. Kim told her client in Danubian:
“Please rise, Prisoner # 101025, and take a seat so we can fulfill our Paths in Life.”
“Thank you, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna.”
Tiffany, now in the final week of her pregnancy, struggled to move about the office as she served glasses of blackberry punch and buttered dinner rolls. Maria Elena and Cecilia were grateful for the snack, because the trip downtown would force them to miss lunch. As the prisoner and her translator ate, Kim laid out what was going to happen the following week:
“I think you’re gonna be in luck next Monday. The Inspector seemed concerned that he and his crew roughed you up too badly. He doesn’t want the details of what they did to you coming out in the trial, for obvious reasons. So, your corporal punishments are going to be cut way back. At most they’re gonna ask for only two switchings per year, and I’m gonna argue it should be less than that, at least later on in your sentence. So, getting whipped is not something that you’re gonna have to worry about all that often.”
Kim waited for Cecilia to translate and continued:
“Anyhow I’ve got another piece of good news. Because of the information you gave us, the Germans arrested ‘El Flaco’. That’s the first time they were able to act on anything we gave them that we got from someone working at your level. For once we actually managed to mess up the bad guys’ day.”
Maria Elena was less than elated, because her old fear of retaliation came back to her full-force. There was no question that “El Flaco” would want to come after her. Kim picked up on her nervous reaction.
“El Flaco’s not going anywhere. He’s got major problems right now. You know that he’s not really a cocaine trafficker; he just did that on the side. His group was focused on running a white slavery operation. What they’ve been doing is to get women to come into Europe as cocaine couriers, then they take their documents away and sell them.”
“Sell the documents, Spokeswoman Lee Dolkivna?”
“No, not the documents; the women. They sell the women, you know…to brothels, strip joints, pimps, that sort of thing. From what the Germans told us, El Flaco’s specialty was moving Ecuadorians, Colombians, and Peruvians into and out of Germany. Their investigators traced a couple of your fellow couriers to a brothel in Bucharest and some others to a place in Istanbul. Those are the only ones they found so far. They don’t know where the others are, but the Frankfurt police recovered 42 passports from his apartment. That’s at least 42 women that have gone missing, because the records show them entering Germany but not leaving. Now they know who’s responsible.”
“…and they all flew out of Panama City…to Frankfurt…”
“Yes, for some reason Alex and ‘El Flaco’ liked moving their women out of Panama…the Germans will have to figure out why that was. From what I know about these groups, I’m gonna guess ‘El Flaco’ had customs officials paid off in both airports to let you guys through. I suppose that’s why it was always Panama City-Frankfurt.”
As Cecilia translated, her expression clearly read: “I told you so…” Maria Elena’s heart sank at hearing, for certain, what she already suspected. There was no way El Flaco would have simply paid her off and allowed her to depart for Spain. She now understood that it was not the kilo of cocaine that she was transporting, but herself. Had Maria Elena’s flight not been diverted to Danubia, she would have delivered herself right into the control of a white slavery ring.
Kim waited for her client to fully understand the significance of what she had just said. Judging by her sick expression, it was obvious that she did understand.
“Prisoner # 101025, I want to ask you something. Knowing what you know now, about what was waiting for you in Germany, do you still regret having landed here last week?”
“No, Spokeswoman, I don’t regret it. I’m sorry that I got on the plane in Panama. That I’m sorry about.”
“You getting on that plane was inevitable. You were obsessed with a dream, and nothing was going to stop you from chasing it. Alex promised you quick money and an escape, and you didn’t have the common sense to see that you were getting into a trap. You had no way of knowing because you were ignorant. You didn’t even bother to find out why they were giving you so much money or why you were flying alone. Nothing could have stopped you.”
“I suppose that’s true, Spokeswoman.”
“I want you to understand that is was not luck that saved you. The Creator chose to save you. The Path of your Life led you here to Danubia and the Path of your Life is to stay here and serve our country. You need to ask yourself, why you and not the others? Why were you spared? You cheated Death, but why?”
Maria Elena did not know how to respond to Kim’s deeper question. However, her narrow escape from horrific enslavement and a likely early death gave her the courage to comply with her duty to report her relationship with Victor. After a long silence she said:
“Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, last night I slept with Victor Dukov. I slept with him because I love him.”
Kim glanced at Cecilia:
“You were aware of this?”
“Yes, Spokeswoman, I was. But I thought it would be better for Criminal # 101025 tell you herself.”
Kim pondered how to proceed. She knew that both Cecilia and Maria Elena were expecting her to simply say that the relationship needed to end immediately. However, because of her suspicion that her client had come to Danubia for some special purpose, the Spokeswoman was reluctant to pass judgment on what was going on between her and the man she used to work for.
“You do understand that, by the standards of our society, what you two are doing is not proper at all?”
“Yes, Spokeswoman, I understand that.”
“Now for another question. Why did you do it? And why with him? Why Victor?”
“Because he needs me, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna.”
“And what about you? What are you getting out of it?”
Maria Elena thought for a moment. “I…I guess it’s because I’m tired of being with people I’m afraid of. I’m tired of living my life in fear. When I’m with him I don’t feel that way; I’m not scared. When I’m with him I feel different.”
“Well, given your circumstances, I guess that’s as good an answer as you can give me.”
Kim contemplated her client. Maria Elena’s expression was perfectly calm: she was not ashamed of what she was doing with Victor, nor was she proud or defiant. It was clear that she saw the relationship as part of her Path in Life, even if she didn’t understand it in those terms yet. As improper as Maria Elena’s behavior might have been, Kim did not feel that she was in a position to simply prohibit her from spending time with Victor.
“Right now I can’t tell you how I’m going to handle this, Prisoner # 101025. I’m going to have to go to Victor’s office this afternoon, talk to him, and see what he has to say about his feelings towards you. If he’s as sure about you as you seem to be about him, then I will have both of you submit written statements about your relationship and your intentions to the Ministry. Once I get them approved, they will go in your criminal file. Then I will have to grant you provisional permission to continue seeing him. But there is something that you’ll always need to remember.”
“What is that, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna?”
“As a criminal, the Path of Your Life is to serve the people of Danubia. If the Ministry of Justice decides that it needs to move you to better serve the Danubian public, then you will have to obey, and your feelings for Victor won’t matter. That’s the reality of being a criminal in this country. Your life belongs to the Ministry, not to Victor or anyone else. I’m sure he understands that, but I need to make sure you understand as well.”
“Yes, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna.”
A few minutes later Cecilia and Maria Elena returned to the university. Cecilia went to her office to make some phone calls to Chicago, while her prisoner barely had time to make it to Danubian language class. Meanwhile, Kim went to Victor’s office to deal with the uncomfortable situation of trying to determine if her former boss would receive permission to have a relationship with one of her clients.
Later that night, once Cecilia and her nephew were asleep, Maria Elena entered Victor’s room with a cup of tea and knelt. He took her hand, asked her to stand up, and kissed her. With that the couple spent their third night together.
Both Victor and Maria Elena knew that there was no way they could know how much time they would have. Most people either live in the future, thinking about their plans and what they are going to do, or they live in the past, pondering what was or what might have been. In life most people either look forward or backward, but neglect where they are at the moment. Victor and Maria Elena were different, because they had only the moment at hand. For each of them, the past was nothing but regret and missed opportunities, while the future seemed bleak and ominous. They knew that the only choice they had was to live in the present and enjoy whatever time the Creator would allow them to share.
End of Part 2