HART Prize for Human Right 2019| Untouchable

March 27th, 2019

HART Prize for Human Right 2019| Untouchable

This year we received a record number of entries from a diverse range of countries, resulting in our toughest competition yet! We were truly impressed by the quality, creativity, and passion for Human Rights demonstrated by our participants, and toughly enjoyed all the submissions we received.

Rachel Deakin won the joint 2nd place in our HART Prize for Human Rights Junior Creative Competition 2019 with their entry titled:

Untouchable

The world was starkly different all those years ago, back when Kazima had boarded a rattling train, yearning for a better life outside of famine and poverty. Belongings clutched tightly against her thumping chest, a small ember of hope flickered inside of her. In that moment, failing her family- the ones that loved her, was no longer a conceivable option. Her Mother’s face obstructed her vision, wrinkled with kindness and trying to hold back the tears that would inevitably fall. She had hope for her young daughter.

Looking back upon her eight-year-old self, Kazima longs for that same innocence to return. Yet, seven years later, she knows it is purely foolish to dream of the prospect of returning home. No- she only ever returns to the barren farm in the midst of her purest daydreams. An empty, mocking laugh escapes her. Now, too far in debt to do anything but remain in the city, she knows with a sinking soul that her future is inexorable.

Every evening, Uncle Faraj offers the girls a meal in reward for their hard work. Gifts fall from his fingers as frequently as ripe apples from a tree. Kazima draws the makeup and clothes over her body like a mask; a mask to hide her true feelings from her clients. Although it feels wrong to lock up her emotions, she finds it easier to be numb. Impassive.

Blending their tongues together, she has managed to grow a mutual understanding with the girls she spends her life with. Sometimes she wonders why they all look so similar with their large doe eyes, dark skin, and tiny forms. But, on the rare occasions she glances at her reflection, she realises that she could be their matches. A doll, replicated over and over again. With food in her stomach every night and the emaciated wastes of the country far behind her, to voice her complaints seems like a mere waste of precious breath. Besides, the men never seemed to care…

Daggers of pain pierce her chest as a new girl is lead into the dark room. Excitement and exhaustion are always painted on their faces, with this one marking no change. Kazima wonders if the child can sense the sadness weighing down on the ambience like a second skin, and whether she will put up a fight. If she does, she will be mentored with the words Uncle Faraj repeats like a holy prayer. Don’t speak out. Don’t ever leave the bed until the man is satisfied. Those were the rules that left her sobbing nonchalantly into rancid pillows. Those were the rules that she never dared break. For Uncle Faraj loved her, as he did all the girls, and Uncle Faraj would never damage her.

The first time that she sold her body to a man, she had barely seen nine summers. At that tender age, she struggled to understand what the older girls spoke of when they said such a phrase. Turning their sorrowful eyes to her eager form, they would exchange silent messages with each other. She is so young still. She has hope. Hope. The word seems a cruel thing, intent on sardonically teasing her. She knows what the older girls said as they looked into each other’s broken eyes, for she is now the older girl and she silently prays for each youngster.

The man exchanged few words with her, on that damned night. His excitement buzzed in the air, filling her stomach with a bubbling disgust. She didn’t know that she had lost something so special, until after it had been taken. By then, it was far too late to snatch it back.

Having never attended school, it seemed so simple back on the farm. Leave for the city and return with money. She would never have to stretch her body to its limits, labouring out in the weathering sun until her legs felt as unstable as a new-born deer’s. Oh, how she was wrong. Oh, how she despised and clung to the woman with the sickly-sweet face, whose honey-coated words dripped soothingly from her bitter tongue. She said that Kazima was special, and that the man had bid a high price for her. So, she braved that bedroom with her head held high and the knowledge that she would survive the experience. Survive maybe- but at what cost?

As the night drew to a near, she cursed herself for feeling so violated and exposed. At the creak of a closing door, she could not even glance at the man’s unruly beard without her body lapsing back into tremulous lurches. She touched her thigh hesitantly, hating the pain the reverberated through her whole body. Salty and sticky, the dark of the night didn’t hide the blood that fell from her. The same way it would a wounded soldier. And the tears that continued to course from her eyes, seemed useless and weak. The tears didn’t help her.

Once they finish for the night, the girls shift their dull and aching bodies to bed. Amid the sweltering heat and noise of the city, it can sometimes take hours to fall into a sleep. A restless sleep ridden with plague and nightmares. She silences herself when the terrors grow so bad that she wants to scream and scream, as if the devil were gnawing at her spine. But she can’t make any sound. Even though the noise of men, which is the only waking proof that she remains in the city after all, shatters through the walls. She cannot risk losing any of the money she so dutifully earns- every, single, night- to a weakness.

Torn and previously opened, a letter arrives on the bed she shares with five other girls. Her name is written on it, in a handwriting so poor it is almost illegible. Her breath catches in her throat, and for a moment she pictures the hundreds of men she has slept with over the years. Their faces all blur into one leering presence, towering over her head. For surely if her parents knew the trade she worked in, they would scorn the sight of her face. She would never be accepted into the family again. Despite her mother’s words sticking with her this whole time. “Work hard Kazima,” She cooed stroking her hair, “It will all be worth it in the end.”

How ironic, Kazima considers, that the very cause of her leaving now curses her from returning back.

Scattered into the grit of the Juba, the letter leaves a solemn imprint on her soul. Famine struck her family as it did millions of other innocents. God killed both her parents, and the shell of her baby brother. Her baby brother that would no longer have been a baby. She shakes viciously at the memories of starved children that haunt her childhood. Her family had been succumbed to the curse of bent spines and skeletal legs. Guilt overwhelms her, strangling her with its prodding fingers. Guilt for the family she left behind, guilt for her poor judgement and guilt for the faces that she can hardly remember. Her parents are lost to her; she is alone to face the world.

Slipping out when the moon is at the highest point in the sky, Kazima runs. Her bare feet deftly dodge the metal that litters the floor of the poor area. Lights flicker in the police station, the only place that has power. Words spill from her mouth rapidly as they sit her down, exchanging weary glances across the table. She talks and talks, screaming as they force her into biting handcuffs and put her behind bars. When Uncle Faraj bails her out, adding more money to her debt, he does so with impatience. He slaps her harshly, screaming endless profanities at her quivering form. Morning rises with its shimmering rays, and the patient man she has grown to love returns. She doubts her memories run true. She must have hallucinated the terrifying, bitter anger. But she doesn’t hallucinate the money that adds years to her worktime.

As usual, when dawn turns to dusk, she gives herself to another customer. If she doesn’t, she’ll be on the streets, little more than a rat and left to fend for herself. So, in memory of her parents, she works harder than ever. Even when the policeman who arrested her walks into the brothel. Even when she begins to question. Small things at first, and then everything seems immoral.

But still, she manages to convince herself. She will escape the prison of this eternal cycle. Uncle Faraj loves her and will not damage her. She will not let herself be damaged.

She is already damaged.

 


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