The Immigrant’s Handbook (excerpt from new novel)

Chapter 1

 

 

Sena could not speak the language.

Occasionally, in transit, she might recognize the meaning of a word linked to gesture, yet her calculations felt tentative.

When she arrived, she was bustled with the others into a grey building, and directed to the proper corridor by pointing.

The area was crowded with people seeking direction.

The men in uniform were rough to the point of hostility. As though waging war against time, they spoke in clipped directives.

Sena held her bundle close to her chest.

An official seized her document out of her hand, glanced at it with a steady eye, then checked her face. Seemingly dissatisfied, he took her by the arm and led her away from the others.

Faces watched her as they passed by and stopped at a door, where the official rapped on the frosted glass and impatiently waited, his eyes on the floor.

A voice inside made a sound, prompting the official to open the door and gesture to a plain wooden chair, while giving a directive.

Sena stood behind the chair, her eyes skimming the room. Rows of gilt-edged books secured in glass cabinets. Framed certificates impressed with seals. A small window with a view of thick metal pipes contained in a compound.

The official tossed her document on the heavy wooden desk behind which sat a stout, balding man who did not stand in greeting. He plainly opened his palm toward the chair, tilted his wrist to incline his fingertips at the seat. Doing so, a golden ring glinted on his finger.

The man was not interested in her face, but kept his eyes on the papers, as though bits of crucial information might escape him should his gaze linger elsewhere. He clipped her document to another paper, and surveyed his desktop for additional material.

Sena sat.

At once, the man began talking, his lips moving briskly in recitation. When he had run out of words, he paused to watch her with a look of hasty curiosity.

She suspected she was meant to say something, for the man raised his voice and spoke again, a shorter series of more deliberate words punctuated by the sound of him clearing his throat.

Her lips parted and she spoke, hoping that her bundle would not be roused by the sound of her voice.

The man regarded her with a blank expression. He frowned. He waited, while his lips conveyed signs of distaste. Studying her body, he scratched an eyebrow. Then he called toward the opened door.

A woman came in and stood with her hands behind her back, her posture erect, her manner formal. Her hair was secured in some taut manner at the top of her head by two spiked, black-jewelled hair combs. The woman leaned to say something nearer her ear.

Sena did not understand, despite the proximity.

The man snorted and shook his head at the woman, who said nothing more and left to resume other duties.

The woman was replaced by an elderly man in an ill-fitted, brown suit, who spoke to her in slower, more severe tones.

His manner was tight and calculated. Pausing, he awaited reply.

His words made no sense either.

The elderly man seemed perturbed and intent on making some point of protest known to the balding man behind the desk.

Again, the man shook his head, this time with deep disappointment and philosophical bitterness. He waved off the man, and moved the papers he had been studying to a pile that was taller than the others.

His eyes went from the pile to her, as though a string were stretched diagonally, connecting the two points.

The man said nothing more.

Sena held her bundle tighter, for something inside had begun to awaken.

 

 

Outside the grey building, a bus was waiting. The people formed a line and were shepherded aboard. No one spoke a word, as though to open one’s mouth might be enough to reveal a vanished world best left unattended.

Each person selected a seat, until the bus was filled, and the man, who had been standing beside the driver diligently overseeing the loading, nodded at the driver, called out, and trod down the steps.

At that time, the door hissed shut, and the driver leaned his arms on the wheel.

They lurched ahead as the gears grinded out a series of thrusting movements.

Smoothing its pace, the bus drove across an expanse of land that was barren save for sparse clumps of grass.

Sena suspected that she was meant to disembark some time later, for the bus stopped here and there, the driver calling out names.

Hesitantly, each rider rose from his or her seat, blankly wandered off and stood outside in wait.

She watched the newly deposited through her window, their expressions suspended to the point of bewilderment, for what they now faced was like nothing they had had in mind.

A number of men and women on the bus stared through the windows, too, curious about each outcome.

Others tapped the glass and watched her with worried eyes.

A man in front of her turned his head around to study her face. He licked his lips while thinking. Finally, he said something to her, and tilted his head.

The driver called out a name that did not resemble hers.

A building was barely evident through the dusty window.

She stood from the seat because all the eyes were now expectantly watching her.

She made her way to the bus door, down the steps and onto the concrete in front of the building. When she checked back through the bus door, the driver raised his chin to indicate the building, then pulled a rod to shut the door.

The bus made a lot of noise as it drove away and the smoke was left in the air.

A thin woman was waiting in the doorway. The woman’s face was slivered in the shadows and her eyes were black glimmers. She nodded and kept pushing her hands behind her back, as though hiding something.

Speaking in low tones, she sustained a murmur that occasionally revealed flashes of perfectly white teeth.

She turned and removed a key from her pocket, held it up in plain sight, then fit it into the lock with inaccurate aim.

The lock clicked.

The woman set her palm against the door to ease it open.

The hinges creaked with rust, and the earthy smell of bodies cloistered together came out to meet her.

Inside, Sena saw that there were dark stairs leading down. She followed after the woman, who held one hand against the rough wall, lazily slipping her palm across it as she descended.

There in the basement, a number of female faces turned in the dim light to watch the woman. They were working over small machines that had a single, short steel arm. Each woman toiled in a contained splotch of light that made the surrounding darkness appear inkier.

The smell in the room was damp and oppressive.

The thin woman who had met her in the doorway indicated the only empty seat.

Sena stepped into her place and sat there with her legs in the narrow aisle, wondering what to do with her bundle, until the woman reached down, took it, and walked away through a door in the shadows far at the back.

Worrying about her bundle, she looked around to learn what others might think of it, but the faces remained bent in concentration with only the occasional set of eyes furtively peeking up, then casting down again to manage their work.

She turned in her seat and fingered the workings on her bench. Bits of metal and powder. Small, wooden boxes containing blunt, hollow shells.

There were questions in her mind.

She watched the studied movements of the others until she understood the technique. Then she went to work, doing what was expected of her.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

After an incalculable number of hours, Sena’s bundle was returned to her.

The other women attentively watched the bundle being returned to her. Their expressions varied from soft recollection to teary despair and loathing.

She noticed replacements filing in to the large room.

A woman came up to her and stared, as though Sena had no right to be there.

She was led outside where the bus was waiting.

The other women entered ahead of her, for they seemed accustomed to the specifics of transport.

Seated near a window at the back, Sena gazed down into her bundle and fussed around with it to make certain it was intact.

The bus rolled for an hour or more until it stopped outside a number of low buildings grouped around a toppled statue broken into bits.

Many of the people on the bus disembarked.

The young woman ahead of Sena turned and nodded for her to follow.

They went into the nearest building.

Sena joined the others, treading up the cracked, tiled steps to the third floor.

The younger woman kept glancing back to make certain she was still in tow.

Through a steel doorway, there were men in the corridors, watching out through their opened doors.

One by one, each woman entered a doorway.

The men stepped back and asked questions while the doors were shut.

Toward the end of the corridor, the young woman pointed to the only doorway left unentered.

The man standing there stepped in reverse, clearing the way so that Sena might join him.

Inside the apartment, the man held a hand loosely cupped to his mouth, while his eyes watched her face, and took brief glances at her waist and legs.

Behind him, there was a mattress on the floor and a pot covered by a chipped plate off in the corner.

Something was cooking on an old stove in a nook. The odour was indefinable, as it was nearly translucent.

The man tapped his fingertips against his balding forehead. Then he rubbed there and grazed his fingers against each other. His attention was caught by the bundle, which had become active.

Sena spoke a few uncertain words.

The man raised a hand to dissuade her, as though her words were unsanctioned. He shut his eyes, and gave his head one firm shake.

She regarded the man, wondering who he might be.

She found that she was hungry and went to the burner to lift the pot cover. Peering in, she saw two chunks of grey flesh bobbing in the boil. With one arm cradling the bundle, she found a wooden spoon and stirred it around.

The man stepped closer and watched her in profile.

Sena tried her best to ignore him.

The man said something to her, but what he had intended to convey remained a mystery.

 

 

Sena slept on a mattress on the floor with the man beside her. He kept away from her as the bundle was set between them.

Throughout the night, she occasionally awoke, suspecting the feel of a single touch against her shoulder or face, yet in the limited light the man appeared to be still, his arms tucked in.

In the morning, a knock on the door startled her awake.

The man was already leaned up on an elbow staring at her. He rose further and stood, waving his fingers at her to indicate there was a hurry.

Sena sat up and straightened her clothes around her.

She lifted the bundle onto her lap, and peered down at it with a hopeful expression.

When she regarded the man again, she saw that he had already opened the door.

No one was there to declare anything, yet there was movement flowing out beyond the door as bodies hastened past.

 

 

They were bussed to a large market where stalls were set up.

On the tables, bundles were offered for sale.

When Sena caught wind of what this implied, her heart sank, and tears sprouted from her eyes.

This was what she had feared most.

When she protested, the man made a menacing expression and raised his hand in warning.

He pointed at the table.

She was obligated to set her bundle there, for that had been the rumoured price of this new life.

She did so, standing stiffly, trembling with empty arms heavy at her sides, her lips twisted by suppressed sobs.

Her eyes on the bundle.

Her face, misery.

The man shook his head at her in a chastising manner, and hustled her back further away from the table.

People wandered around diligently regarding the offerings.

They passed comments and pointed here and there.

As the day wore on, the chattering increased.

The man from the apartment tried his best to gain the attention of passers-by, and beamed with delight when a lovely woman stopped at his table to check the bundle.

What the woman saw brought on a smile that changed her face. She opened her embroidered purse and fished around. Nodding to the man by her side, she then held up one finger and her lips said one word.

The man from the apartment nodded, anxiously took what was given him, closed his palm tightly around it, and shoved it away in his pocket.

The lovely woman took up the bundle and left.

Sena watched the bundle go. It was harrowing to feel the pull of each step moving away that stretched taut the knife-stabbing stammer inside.

The man made gestures at her, for she was shrieking deep in her throat, deeper down still, deeper, in her heart.

Yet she was meant to do nothing.

She could not help but reach out her arms and raise her shoulders, her head tilted in mourning.

But the man took hold of her arms and forced them down by her sides. All the while, he was searching around, as though hoping no one had noticed her ungrateful behaviour.

 

 

This place was a mystery to her.

She had thought it would be different. She had heard as much from others.

This famous place where unadulterated freedoms were its trademark.

Now, she wondered how people might be so cruel.

With her body leaden, she stayed on her side on the mattress and stared at the wall.

Bugs were crawling there, so small they were barely discernible.

The man entered and left the room, bringing people with him who passed comment and watched her before leaving.

Sena suspected they were speaking of remedies.

At night, with the bundle now gone, the man worked his way into her flesh.

This went on for ages, until she came to hate herself.

In the morning, she was left behind, again and again.

Too worthless to even work.

As time wore on, the man talked louder, and then louder, until he was barking at her every single moment of every single day that they were together.

 

 

When the man returned shortly after dark, a candle was lit.

He sat beside her, with his legs drawn up, and spoke to her in low tones, as though he were relaying a long tale that might have changed him years ago.

He sat in silence, watching his hands.

Again, he spoke, in even lower utterances and seemingly to himself.

He blew out the candle, and he did not touch her.

His eyes open in the dark.

The next day, the man stood in the door before work, talking to one person after another.

Finally, a woman entered and crouched down by the side of the bed.

Sena looked up and saw that the woman was scarred across her lips.

There was a secret in the woman’s eyes when she glanced toward the doorway to see that the man was no longer present.

The scarred woman regarded her again. She tilted her head toward the door, while drawing a finger across her own throat.

Done with the severing action, the woman nodded as though seeking her approval.

Sena stared at the woman’s scar.

The woman made a sweeping motion with her arm, as though gathering everything outside the walls into that circle.

She made the slicing motion across her throat once more.

Again, the woman nodded.

Sena found herself unable to stop staring at the woman’s scar. The lips that did not speak.

The woman nodded again and again in encouragement.

Insistently, she drew her finger across her own throat.

And, soon, tempted by the ruthlessness of that gesture, Sena nodded too.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Outside, in the darkness, the scarred woman pointed off into the distance where a low line of lights throbbed in a vast stretch along the horizon.

The woman shaped her arms near to her waist as though cradling a bundle, and nodded in explanation. She made low, sweet, rhythmic sounds.

Raising her hand, she stretched up on her tiptoes and pointed at the far-off lights.

Again, she shaped her hands to cradle a bundle.

Sena nodded in hopeful understanding.

The scarred woman pointed at her own throat. She made a distorted groan while she dragged her finger along an imagined line. Her eyes turned darker, more serious, before shifting to watch something moving.

Sena checked over her shoulder to see a shadow approaching, then another. Both of them growing larger.

Two women quietly making their way through the darkness to join them. Arriving, they silently touched one another in recognition.

The scarred woman smiled at the others, exposing the hollow of her mouth where the nub of her tongue stirred like a blunt, stymied thing.

Sena turned her head to look around, for it was the first time she had been out at night in this new place.

Dotted here and there, across great spans of distance, were flickering lights from clusters of buildings much like the one she now lived in.

More and more, lights went off in each area, until there were only a few lights remaining.

Yet the low throb of radiance along the distant horizon continued to shimmer and stretch for miles and miles, as though expanding by the moment.

It was dazzling to behold.

Sena felt a tug on her sleeve and regarded the scarred woman’s face. It leaned toward the throb of light until her entire body inclined that way.

The two other women followed after the scarred woman, until their shadows merged ahead of her.

Hesitantly, Sena followed in their wake, stepping across the great plain of blackness that separated them from the golden shimmer.

 

 

Some time later, they came across an old, one-storey concrete building.

The scarred woman paused and searched in through the black doorway.

The others heard her steps cautiously shifting over dust.

When she reappeared, the scarred woman nodded in approval and the others joined her.

Inside, the woman crouched near the far wall and removed a piece of concrete that had been fitted into place. She leaned, reaching her arm into the hole until her shoulder touched the wall. Her eyes searched the air around her, as though they were fingers exploring the contours of the opening.

Then she paused, and smiled convincingly at the others.

Pulling out her arm, she held up a small bundle in her palm, her eyes brightening at the sight, her attention directed exclusively toward it.

She carefully unwrapped the black cloth, lifting it over a fold at a time, until a dagger lay exposed there, its sharpened tip mutely glinting in the light through the wrecked windows.

 

 

With the scarred woman leading the way, they quietly advanced across the blackness.

Sena followed faithfully, while thinking of her bundle that had been taken into the golden shimmer.

As they drew nearer to the possibility of retrieval, optimism began to blossom in her breast.

The night was moonless and the sky luminous grey.

Enough masked light was cast down to glimpse where their steps might be placed on the ground.

The scarred woman stopped abruptly and held her hand outstretched back at the others who paused, taking heed of the warning.

Two black figures were seen wandering together, their outlines evident against the expansive line of distant light.

From their outline, it appeared that they both had one hand raised, perhaps holding the strap of their rifles against their chests.

The scarred woman put a finger to her lips. She opened her palms, butted them side by side then slowly drew them away from each another.

A moment later, the two men parted company, the first going one way, the second in the opposite direction.

When the second was at a comfortable distance away, the scarred woman crept toward the first.

They watched as she approached, her shadow undetected by the first soldier, for no light was cast from their direction.

The shadows neared while the three women held perfectly still in anticipation, until the shadow came up behind the shadow of the soldier and raised up its arms, raised up high on its legs, its arms expanding, one hand holding a black point that thrust around front of the soldier, who leaned back and then forward and dropped to the ground.

A shadow disappearing into the shadow of the ground, while the shadow of the scarred woman swung around, returning in leaps and bounds until it reached the others.

 

 

Sena was frightened as they neared the glimmer.

Step by step, as she drew upon it, the throb of light grew in intensity, until she feared she might be lost in it or blinded by its majesty.

It rose and glistened before them as they gradually shrank, becoming smaller and insignificant in its towering midst.

 

***

Entering the shimmer, they found that it was not so bright along its edges. The lower structures on the outskirts were dimmer than those at its centre.

Sena realized that there were clusters of tall, modern buildings with multitudes of lit windows looming in the distance. They rose to intrude upon the dark sky.

The streets they entered were barely lighted, and comprised of dark row houses with shouting or crying issuing from an occasional opened window.

The scarred woman led them down an alleyway with overhead metal stairways and the foul odour of garbage.

Alongside the buildings, there were movements in the garbage bags that had been ripped apart by large, indifferent vermin.

Placing her palm to a steel door, the scarred woman scratched it with her fingernails in a rhythmic pattern, until a lock was released inside.

The door was opened by a young girl who turned to permit them entry.

They followed after the scarred woman, trailing down a dark cluttered hallway, until the space opened up to a dimly light room.

An elderly woman was seated on a stuffed chair, half of her face and body made distinguishable by the low yellow radiance of a lamp.

A radio was playing by the old lady’s side.

With her hand resting on it, she listened intently to the voice speaking there.

She gave little notice to the four women, merely intuiting their presence as though she might be blind.

She waved her hand at the young girl, giving loud directions in a croaking voice.

The young girl led them down a corridor to a room at the back.

She opened the door and checked them over, then smiled at them before stepping in, showing off the silver braces on her teeth.

Inside, there were mounds of brightly coloured clothes piled everywhere on the floor.

The women stepped into the room, while the young girl concentrated on quietly shutting the door.

She watched them with excitement, her palms pressed together, as the scarred woman began to undress.

The others slowly followed her example, removing their garments, until they were naked.

The young girl shifted her eyes to the mounds of clothes, pointing here and there, until the women had replaced their clothes with the shades of pink and orange and red.

The women laughed brightly at their new clothes, but the scarred woman remained stern.

The young girl checked them over with approval and led them out of that room and into a small bathroom with a cracked sink, where she motioned for the scarred woman to be seated on the toilet.

When the woman was seated, the young girl opened a wicker basket and removed a small tray of powdered colours which she applied to the woman’s face.

She then lifted a tube of red to the scarred lips. The red smear left a luscious trail.

Satisfied with the job done, the young girl dismissed the scarred woman and patted the toilet seat, gesturing for the next woman to take her place.

 

 

They emerged from the back rooms surprised by the difference in their appearances.

Even though they tried not to think it, they pictured themselves as more beautiful. It was a startling secret to them, one which they held dearly despite themselves.

The young girl motioned them toward a table outside a kitchen nook where she ran her palm over a number of silver tokens spread across the tabletop.

With nimble fingers, she picked up five tokens, and gave them to the scarred woman who plainly accepted them.

The young girl then gave five tokens to each of the others.

Receiving hers, Sena found the tokens remarkably light in her palm.

Done with the exchange, the girl bent by the side of the table and raised a large multi-coloured purse from the shadows.

She held the handles with both hands, her arms straining with the weight, and offered it to the scarred woman with a serious nod.

The scarred woman took hold of it and held still for a moment.

The old woman made a sound from her chair.

They all looked to see that she had raised her fist into the air, and was smiling toothlessly.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

Outside, Sena and the other women were led by the scarred woman across the weakly lit street.

Some of the low buildings were boarded across their windows or doorways.

Between one building and another, an alleyway appeared like a black chasm. Beseeching whispers emanated from within.

The streets were made of such a creeping, dark pitch that they alerted Sena’s senses to the threat of eminent danger.

The people who lingered and lurked were drawn inward, seeming focussed entirely on themselves and the spirals of their desolate convictions.

Occasionally, a car slowed to pay attention. A window was rolled down by a driver who quietly or bluntly proposed a question.

The scarred woman ignored the cars, so Sena did the same.

They took a corner and the facings of the buildings grew less derelict; the goods in the windows were of a newer quality, although an intermittent shop continued to offer second hand articles.

They continued walking the nearly deserted streets, passing before buildings with metal grates drawn protectively across their shop windows.

A bus approached and stopped beneath a flickering streetlight.

The driver watched them without interest, while the scarred woman climbed on and the others trailed after her, each following the scarred woman’s lead and dropping a token into the glass receptacle.

They rode the bus, rolling alongside buildings that grew wider and taller until the once deserted streets became peopled with men and women passing in and out of doorways lit by brightly-coloured flashing lights.

At the stops along this route, more people entered the bus, small groups of young men and women openly talking or laughing.

They stood near Sena, who caught glimpses of their carefree expressions.

They spoke with raised voices, not caring who heard what they said.

They gestured freely with their hands, sending wafts of perfume into Sena’s face. The fragrances were unbelievably enticing, flowery, spicy, soft and textured.

She stared at the faces and wondered what they must be saying, what they might have in their purses, what lives they might hold in their minds.

She looked out the window to see a woman chasing after two men. The woman was having trouble, as the heels on her shoes were too high.

She reached down and pulled off her shoes, one at a time.

Others were eating while walking.

Some were kissing or holding hands.

A man threw a ball of paper at a woman and then ducked, laughing at the threat of retaliation.

It was interesting to watch their unencumbered ways of moving.

There were oversized pictures of food in many of the windows, and displays of clothes and electronic products stacked in plentiful numbers.

On the sides of the skyscrapers, huge signs glowed with advertisements for automobiles or sunnier destinations involving water and sand.

Sena’s attention was drawn back to the young men and women beside her, who were talking very loud now, arguing and playfully slapping each other in mock battle.

They passed beyond the buildings and entered residential areas. Brick houses joined side by side with cars parked on the street. An occasional person out strolling with a dog.

The bus stopped and the group of young men and women got off.

Sena watched them go.

They stood on the sidewalk and glanced around, sweeping hair out of their eyes, as though to get their bearings.

When the bus took a turn, the houses grew larger and became spaced further apart.

Along the ride, the scarred woman ducked her head to search out the window, as though aiming to determine a point of recognition. Locking her eyes on something, she soon pulled a string.

They gathered by the rear door and waited for the bus to stop before silently disembarking.

They walked unhurriedly, watching the houses in dismay, astonished by the amount of space that one family might be permitted to occupy, until they stopped by a house with a deep lawn that was nicely kept.

The scarred woman took one of the women by the hand and led her closer on the sidewalk, while the two others timidly followed behind, then waited at a distance, as the purpose of the visit to this place appeared to be the sole concern of the woman with the scarred woman.

The scarred woman tilted her chin at the house.

She checked around, searching up and down the street, before removing a paper bag from her large multi-coloured purse and transferring it to the woman.

The object in the bag appeared weighty.

The scarred woman explained, as though holding something in her hand.

She aimed her straight arm at the ground, said a few words in instruction, then cocked back her thumb, and squeezed her index finger.

The woman nodded like a student.

Satisfied, the scarred woman left, turning back the way she had come.

The remaining two walked with her until they found another bus, dropped in more tokens, and settled in seats towards the back.

 

 

Sena was the last one to be led to a house.

A large house with many windows behind a locked gate.

 

In the centre of the front lawn, illuminated by a hidden source of light, a black fountain trickled water.

Mounted atop one of the brick posts, on which the gate was hung, a video camera made small mechanical noises as it scanned the area arcing the entrance.

They remained across the street and off to the side.

The scarred woman shifted her eyes in the direction of the house in secretive gesture.

By this time, it was very late in the night.

The scarred woman rummaged around in the purse and removed a tissue. She folded it and wiped it across her scarred lips, cancelling the colour. She swabbed it around her cheeks, nose and forehead, smearing the vibrant features into a swirling stretch that was eventually erased, and her face became a blank.

She pulled off her wig and her black hair melded with the night. Her fingers unbuttoned her blouse. She slipped it from one shoulder, then the other, her skin reflecting the starless sky. She removed her short skirt and bright leggings, pulled her feet from her glowing boots, until, bit by bit, the scarred woman was nothing, she was gone.

 

***

Sena stood off by a large tree, out of the sweeping arc of the video camera’s eye.

She was tired, yet newly invigorated by the thought of regaining what was hers.

She watched the mansion, sensing the delicate light begin to uncover more of the world.

Gradually, everything was given greater depth.

Birds were chirping from the trees that lined the street, their leafy branches obscuring a view of the mansions in either direction.

Occasionally, a car drove past, the driver too busy with his or her own thoughts to pay her any mind.

Sena wondered how she would be missed back at the apartment. No doubt, the man there would have another woman by now.

A woman who existed as an unknown nothing.

A middle-aged woman approached with a tiny white dog on a leash.

The woman was wearing interesting white shoes with pointed heels. Her hair was white, as were her slacks and gauzy blouse.

Sena clutched the paper bag in her hand.

The woman’s eyes flicked to the rustling noise.

What did the woman think of her: A servant with her lunch, on her way to work?

The woman offered no greeting, not even a nod.

She tightened the slack on the dog’s leash and kept her eyes on the dog’s quick step while she passed by.

In time, while Sena was growing hungry and particularly thirsty, and wondering how she might gain a drink of water from the fountain, the black gate smoothly opened, clearing the way for a silver car that rolled down the long curved, driveway.

The pretty woman from the market was at the wheel, smiling behind sunglasses, her lips moving as though in imitation of a singsong.

As the car turned out into the road, Sena caught a glimpse of the bundle in the back seat, and, as though charged with electrifying life, she was spurred into action.

She paced out into the street, and stood in front of the car, fearlessly blocking its advance.

The vehicle stopped abruptly.

The pretty woman’s body jerked forward, but she did not grow impatient.

With both hands on the steering wheel, she merely watched through the tinted glass, wondering on what might possibly be the matter.

She slipped her sunglasses up on her head for a better look.

Sena checked toward the mansion and saw a man in a black suit and dark sunglasses running toward the gate.

He had a phone to his ear and was calling out.

Despite the fact that the man’s eyes were covered, Sena knew he was staring straight at her, coming for her, trying to prevent her from taking what was hers, now his, already knowing that it might be too late.

Sena reached into the paper bag, clutched the coarse handle of the weapon, quickly raised it, and fired three shots toward him.

He slid until he was horizontal.

Trembling, Sena aimed the barrel at the tinted glass.

The woman had her head turned toward the house, her expression alert, panicky. Her hands went to her window, pressing against the glass.

Sena fired everything else that remained in the chambers.

On the release of the final bullet, the weapon exploded in her hand, a blinding hail of debris that made pulp of her fingers, bits of steel clanging the hood of the car and burning into her arm, face and neck.

The pretty woman fell back, then forward, and the car rolled ahead.

Screaming in agony, Sena caught sight of her bleeding, burned-black hand, the tattered flesh of her fingers at the end of her stick-straight arm.

The car almost hit her before she regained enough of her senses to trip out of its path.

The vehicle rolled in a diagonal line across the street, until it pounded another car, making an explosion of sound that stopped it entirely.

The two vehicles remained where they were, one lodged in the other.

 

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