Nor the driver or the police man answered any of my questions. As I looked at the people we drove past on our way to what no one would tell me about I toyed with the idea of screaming for help, banging on the window to make someone realize I was being held captive. But my hands were cuffed and it would only look as if I was an insane woman in a police car. Also, it was not my style to get hysterical, I prided myself at being level headed in pretty much every situation. Still I could not ignore the growing fear in the pit of my stomach, telling me this was something else entirely. Having spent almost a week in jail, stripped of all possessions but the clothes I wore when they came to pick me up at my home, I had settled into the waiting game, seeing as none of the staff at the station was answering any questions either. The other people in the cells with me, all women, had helped me raise more questions, but also helped raise suspicion as to what was happening. None of us were married. None of us had fathers or brothers. And when men starting showing up to collect us, one after the other, those suspicions were all but confirmed. We were being distributed. And now I was on my way to whoever had claimed me. I wondered how the decision had been made. Women without male governance had belonged to the state up until now, leaving us limited in certain ways, but free in other. I hadn’t minded enough to secure a marriage with someone I could tolerate, figuring the politics would change to more favorable tones soon enough, and so instead I had settled with the idea of being monitored a little extra. I liked my job, and I had gotten to keep it, so other than the principle of not owning my flat, and my money being put in a state governed account rather than the one I had before, the changes were not affecting me that much. Until now.
The car was driving past parts of town I hadn’t before set foot in. I tried to remember if I knew someone who lived around here, hoping that whoever had agreed to take responsibility for this particular woman was an old friend. The women I had seen being picked up from prison had not always looked happy upon seeing who their collector was. I already knew that whoever it was, they had not renamed me, which apparently was within their right to do, so I was prepared to put that down to a good sign. Yet, I knew several men from my past whom I would not appreciate the chance of seeing again, and especially not under these circumstances. I tried to relax as much as I could, watching unfamiliar streets guide me further into unknown territory.
As we reached our end destination I wasn’t any wiser in regards as to whom I belonged. Theirs was an enormous house, with guarded gates that opened for us only after several questions had been answered by the driver. At the door we were met by a house keeper who without looking at me confirmed that they were waiting for me. He then led the police man and me through the house, through beautifully furnished rooms which I didn’t get much chance to look at as the harsh grip around my arm had me keep the high pace the two men had settled into. Reaching a door on the fourth floor a key was produced, which for some reason scared me more than being in prison, being handcuffed or not having any of my questions acknowledged had done. The door was unlocked, revealing a small corridor and yet another door, unlocked, through which we stepped. A room, sparsely decorated, but nicer than my own home, was before me. I looked around as the police man started removing my handcuffs, noticing a big bed, a desk with a chair and a bench by a window overlooking quite pretty grounds. If the situation surrounding it hadn’t troubled me so, I would’ve looked at this room with an appreciative smile. Instead I turned to the house keeper, rubbing my wrists.
“Who lives here?”
The police man chuckled as he made his way to the door.
“She’s quite an inquisitive one.”
The house keeper nodded a response to him, but ignored me completely, and the two men left the room, closing the door after themselves. Hesitantly I followed, but as I opened the door, they were already through the second one, and I heard the sound of it locking behind them. Rushing to it I jerked the handle a few times, banging the door to make them come back, but already knew that they would continue to pretend I wasn’t worthy of attention. Returning to the other room, in lack of better options, I sat down on the bed trying to keep calm. The room still looked comfortable, and the bed was probably the nicest bed I’d ever seen, but the fear at the bottom of my stomach was growing. For a moment I had an idea to climb out the window, but opening it I realized I was too far up for that escape to be anything but final. In connection to the room was a small bathroom, strangely mirrorless, but with a shower and a chest of drawers with toiletries and sanitary products telling me that it had been stocked with a woman in mind. In the main room was another set of drawers containing several sets of clothes, seemingly picked out for a woman my size, but a little too reminiscent of prison attire for me to appreciate it – black or white shirts, black or gray sweatpants and underwear. For some reason the plainness of the underwear calmed me a little, as I realized that finding lace would had signaled something else. Still I refused to accept any of it as mine, and decided that I must just have been placed here momentarily. That whoever was coming would send for my clothes and belongings from my flat, if I for some reason would not be able to return to it. I went and sat down by the window, looking at the view, intent on awaiting more information before worrying further.
After what felt like a few hours, and after I’d realized that the watch I’d been stripped of upon being arrested had not been returned to me, the door opened and had me jump. A woman, dressed in a maid’s uniform, stepped through it, carrying a tray with food. I stood up to greet her, but instead of acknowledging me she merely placed the tray on the desk and went to leave.
“Hey”, I tried, which had her jump a little, but at least she paused. “What’s going on? Who lives here?”
“I’m sure your questions will be answered soon”, she responded. “Please excuse me.”
She started walking again, and I got up to follow her. Noticing this she hurried on her steps as she stepped out of my room, and in order to catch up with her I had to run. Reaching the door, she knocked on it and I heard it being unlocked.
“Wait!” I pleaded, but the fear with which she looked at me made me realize she was as afraid of me as of what would happen if she talked, so when the door opened and the man standing guard outside let her out with a glare at me, I raised my hands and took a few steps back to show that I was no threat to her.
The door locked again and I swallowed down an impulse to kick it, and returned to the delivered dinner instead.
Even later, after having eaten a tastier meal than I had had in months, I succumbed to the possibility of a proper shower. I didn’t need a mirror to know that my time in the prison cell had left me looking a little worse for wear, not to say smelling accordingly. After showering it felt impossible to get back into my dirty clothes, and so reluctantly I tried out what was on offer. Which fitted quite well, and I pushed the discomfort of wearing someone else’s clothes far from my mind. Evening was setting outside, and although I had decided to stay awake until whoever owned this house turned up, I was fast realizing that I would not be able to fend of sleep much longer. Having succumbed to both a shower and clean clothes I decided that lying down on the bed would not be that much worse, and within moments I was unconscious.
The bed was indeed the most comfortable I’d ever slept in, and undoubtedly the poor sleep I’d gotten in the prison bunk bed did its part, cause when I woke up it was already late morning, and a breakfast tray had replaced the one from the night before. The unease I felt at having slept through someone being in the room grew when I realized my own clothes had vanished, and I had to calm the panic when I realized that was the last of what I owned gone with the reassurance that it had most probably been taken away to be cleaned, and that it would be returned to me, together with the rest of my things. I managed to eat breakfast, which was generous and tasty, and then I returned to the bench by the window, already my favorite place in the room. I had not been there very long when the door opened, and I got up to see someone I recognized step through it.
“Hugo!” I exclaimed with a relieved smile, but couldn’t stop from frowning from surprise at the same time.
He was an old friend, in a way, though we had never really been very friendly towards each other. I’d known him since school, we’d gone to the same class at one point, and then worked in similar fields.
“Indeed”, he smiled, but there was victory rather than warmth in it. “Surprised?”
I chuckled, trying to remember when I’d last seen him, and trying to ignore that the fear wasn’t diminishing upon seeing him.
“Well yeah. I haven’t seen you since…”
“Since that job interview”, he filled in. “That you got.”
I grinned, shrugging, suddenly falling easily into the way we’d interacted in the past.
“Well obviously. I turned it down though, not enough money. I could’ve recommended you as a decent second choice.”
His smile stayed in place as he shook his head.
“No need. I got what I wanted in the end.”
I looked around, choosing not to interpret the implication to mean anything but this house and whatever position he now held.
“So I see”, I smiled. “Well done.”
He didn’t reply, and to keep the silence from growing I continued.
“How does this work then? I take it you’ve signed some sort of release form for me, thank you for that. Do I owe you any money? Can I get a taxi to my flat? Someone took my clothes, if they’re already in the wash maybe I can send for them?”
As I went silent he didn’t answer straight away, and for the first time since knowing him I reflected on how much taller than me he was. Still I kept my eyes on him, smile light, showing him nothing but an expectance for answers. He drew a deep breath, still smiling.
“I think you already know the answers to those questions. You’re not going anywhere.”
My light smile vanished and I frowned.
“What are you talking about?”
“You belong to me.”
At those words I laughed, with contempt.
“Are you kidding me?” I then snapped, managing to convey both insult, disbelief and mockery at the same time. “Who even talks like that?”
Hugo’s calm angered me further as he replied.
“There was a bidding war. I won it.”
“This is a joke”, I replied as I started pacing the room. “So what, I live here now? How will my stuff fit in here? How do I get to work? Will that guard outside the door escort me there?”
Hugo laughed, which had me freeze.
“You really don’t get it, do you?” he grinned, as he started walking towards me. “You have no ‘stuff’. You have no job. You have no rights.”
He stopped in front of me.
“You do what I want you to do.”
I glared at him, expecting him to admit the utter nonsense of what he was saying, to break out of character and confess to it all being a joke. When he didn’t I decided to play along, and straightened up.
“And if I don’t?”
A backhand hit me so hard across the face that it sent me to my knees.
“Try it and see.”
With those words he turned and left the room, and me on the floor, hand cradling my burning cheek and eyes stinging as I realized I’d lived my whole life up until then without ever having been struck.