Content warning: this story contains some graphic and upsetting scenes including references to sexual violence and abuse within the context of pregnancy. If you have been affected by these, help and support is available at The Survivor’s Trust, CRASAC Cornwall, Safer Cornwall and Women’s Centre Cornwall (01208 77099).
He forced his fingers down her throat and squeezed her tongue promising he’d rip it out before sticking his cock in her gullet. She spat at him.
Her fractured cheekbone is swelling up. It’s made it difficult for her to see where he is now. There’s only one window in the cell and it’s behind her.
‘Where is it?’ He keeps repeating.
She tries. But there aren’t any right answers to give him. Her throat’s constricting. The dank cell sucks the air out of her, leaving her mute. It’s hard to swallow. She needs water.
He plays with a string of white marble beads. It’s the only way she can tell where he is in the cell, the subtle clacking of marble on marble. Her back aches from being tied to the chair. Her spine is ready to split in half. She tries to shift position. The ropes round her hands and ankles blister her skin. The smallest movement burns as the ropes cut deeper into her flesh. When she pees, the urine trickles down her legs and pools around her feet. The ammonia stings the open sores and blisters.
It’s been two days since she’d asked to use the bathroom. He’d untied her from the chair and dragged her by her hair towards the door. When they first stepped outside the sun was so intense, she’d fallen on her knees. He dragged her in the dirt. She’d tried to take in her surroundings, but there were only a few paces between the cell door and the outhouse. She’d seen a mud track leading east through the jungle. To the north she’d seen rubber trees. They could have been part of the plantation near the research tent. Or, it could have been a different plantation. There’s no way of knowing. She’d been knocked out when they took her. There were five of them in total, that’s all she can remember. How far had they driven? The pain in the back of her head still throbbed from the blow. She saw one of them, just before they reached the outhouse. He was sitting under a makeshift tin-roof, eating something from a bowl, with his fingers. He was wearing a cap. There was an Alsatian lying by his feet. It didn’t look dangerous. Its ears pricked up, curious, but it didn’t move.
He’d shoved her through a bamboo door half hanging from it hinges. The toilet was foul. There was a hole in the ground with a blue plastic bucket filled with rancid water. A filthy jug bobbed on the surface and a drowned cockroach floated on its back. He’d made her pull down her shorts and knickers.
She didn’t think it would happen. She thought, because she was pregnant.
He pushed her up against the wall. She grabbed her belly. He stuck his fingers into her first. His teeth clenching as he undid himself. She scratched, bit, kicked, punched, and screamed. But, one hand over her mouth and he’d been the stronger of them. He threw her shorts away after that.
This time she’s ready. It’s a calculated risk, but the devil’s already been. Bits of him are still embedded under her nails.
He wants it again. She knows that.
‘I need to use the bathroom,’ she says.
He approaches her clacking his beads. He stops in front. Puts them in his pocket. He kneels down to untie the ropes. She winces. He's not delicate. There’s a sheath tide to his belt. He slides the knife out of it.
‘You think maybe this time I cut it out?’ He says with a menacing smirk.
He circles the blade round her stomach. He stands and pulls her up. He leads her by her elbow. They step outside. There’s a mild drizzle. Hawk-eagles circling above the plantation catch his attention for a few seconds. He’s still holding the knife. She checks with her hand for her flint-pendant. She feels it. It’s still there, under her shirt, round her neck, concealed between her breasts.
She met her husband James because of this pendant. He had used it as an excuse to chat her up, the first time they met. ‘What kind of woman has a stone blade for a necklace?’ He’d asked her. She remembered how her heart fluttered when she first saw James face. How his eye’s smiled at her from the first moment and how they’ve never stopped smiling since.
She's in the foul toilet again. This time he doesn’t push her. He slides the knife back in its sheath.
‘Do your business’ he says.
She pulls her knickers down and squats over the hole. Holding her pregnant belly with one hand, and balancing herself against the wall with the other. Tiny black ants march on the floor. Some crawl over her toes and feet. She shits. It’s runny. She hasn’t eaten for days. She looks up at him. He scoops a jug of water from the blue bucket and hands it to her.
‘Pour’ he says.
She pours it down the hole.
‘Take you knickers off’ he says.
She pushes herself and steps out of them. He bends down and picks them up. He sniffs them and grimaces in disgust. He dunks them in the blue bucket. The cockroach is now on its front. He rinses them out with one hand shaking them off.
He gestures for her to take them.
‘Now wipe’ he says.
She wipes herself.
‘Turn around and keep your hands on the wall.’
She hears him unzipping. He pushes her shirt up her back and kicks her legs to widen them. He’s squeezes her buttocks. He pulls her apart. He’s in. Building a rhythm. Her heart is pounding. It fills her ears. Sweat pours from the line of her bra down her heavy stomach. He’s escalating. She takes one hand off the wall pretending she’s coughing. She feels for her flint pendant, up her shirt. Hidden between her breasts. She snaps it free. He bursts inside her, letting out a grotesque moan. She turns. Slash… Slash… He lurches forward - the full weight of him on her belly. He’s using her shirt to hang onto. The blood is pumping out his neck. She pushes him down. A crimson stream begins running into the hole. She wants to scream. She bends over, heaving. The acrid smell of blood and the taste of bile. She needs to leave. Now. She looks through the slats of the bamboo door. The Alsatian is lying under the tin-roof. There’s no sign of the man in the cap. She pulls her shirt over her stomach. She looks at the floor. He’s lying face down. She rolls him over. Ants are crawling everywhere, even in his mouth. His trousers are still undone. His flaccid, lifeless cock has shriveled to nothing. She unties his bootlaces, pulls them off. They’re too big for her. She throws them in the corner. She lifts his legs up to take his trousers off. She pulls them up her legs still looking through the slats, to see if the man in the cap is back. He’s not. The trousers only just make it over her belly. She removes the belt and throws it with the boots. She pulls the white marble beads from the trouser pocket. They’re smooth and cold. She drops them into the hole. She keeps the knife. She leaves the outhouse and runs straight for the plantation.
The dog starts barking. She hears a man’s voice yelling and another responds.
Tula runs as fast as she can through the plantation. I am breathing extra fast so that she has two sets of lungs to run with. She trips on a fallen branch. Her belly hits the ground first. She’s down. I jolt. My eyes open. She wails in pain. She’s twisted her ankle. She looks up at the sky. It’s raining heavy now. A strong smell of burning rubber, and paraffin hits her senses. Tula looks back, they’ve set the plantation on fire. She’s back on her feet. She can hear the flames cracking and splitting the timber. The sky is raining ash and flocks of birds are squawking in panic as they fly to escape. I’m squirming in burning waters and kicking her hard. She needs to run faster.
She’s can see the clearing now, she’s nearly there, out of the plantation.
She’s on the open plane.
They won’t be far behind. They’ll be in their trucks. They’ll take the dirt track and they might get to the research tent quicker than her. She can’t let that happen.
‘Calm down’ I tell her. ‘Be still while you run.’
Tula is using our hearts to full capacity, mine beating once to two of her beats. She can see the tent. She’s nearly there. She’s half running half limping, the sprain too painful for weight. She can see James. She screams his name, waving her arms. Her voice is so weak she barely hears herself. She wants to crawl. She hears the whirring of aircraft propellers start-up and then, James! He sees us. He runs. She collapses.
The aircraft is being loaded up. Four years of research fill six big crates. James lifts us into the aircraft and lays us down. I break the waters. The sun is setting now. Dark reds and oranges blast through the storm clouds. I exhale. She has her first contraction. James holds her hand and wipes her face with a warm clean-cloth. She cries out. The pain in her ankle crippling, the hunger, the dehydration, the cramping… her eyes are streaming, she buckles in two, she is inflamed, in transition. I engulf her. Expand her. Every nerve ending mine, I need all of her to do this.
In the morning, Java will wake.
by Geraldine Hamblin-Deere