This is a work of fiction; the State portrayed here does not exist, fortunately, though there are still places as bad or nearly so. Some of the dialogue is in the local dialect or Patois, but for simplicity it's just in English here.
I can't think of words bad enough to describe the place I was living. Oh, not the apartment; that was almost luxurious. No. The state wasn't good enough to rate the term 'third world shithole.'
So why, I hear you ask, was I living there? Well, in short, I was running away. What from? There was nothing left for me, I thought, in England where I was born. None of those I considered 'friends' had thought to tell me of my wife's (now 'ex') extra-marital behaviour. Being, like many cuckolds, entirely oblivious, I might never have known what was going on had she not brought home a present in the form of a particularly unpleasant and resistant gonorrhoea. The resultant divorce was acrimonious, but I had a very good lawyer and ended up with a settlement that would keep me adequately, if not comfortably, for the rest of my life.
What to do? I looked around for somewhere to live. It had to be cheap, and preferably somewhere it would be hard to find me. The place I found ... and, no, I'm not going to tell you where: do your own research ... had everything I wanted and more. At least, as long as I wasn't too worried about minor details like human rights. The regime brought corruption to remarkable heights. The hereditary 'President' was the great-grandson of the man who'd assassinated the Grand Duke (not Ferdinand, the local one) some hundred years earlier. Justice was for sale and the police were a sort of paramilitary Stasi. Any hint of protest was crushed and woe betide anyone who said anything 'in vino veritas'. I would not wish their penal system on anyone, particularly a woman; there is a story 'New World Order' that might give you a hint of the fate of any woman caught up in the system. Oh, one exception; I could live with my ex-wife enjoying the hospitality of the state.
You might wonder why I was there. Fair enough. As a foreigner, an apparently wealthy foreigner, as long as I toed the line and paid the requisite bribes – and let me tell you, that is an art – I was relatively safe. The food was uniformly excellent and sex readily and cheaply available ... don't forget the condoms, though, and try to forget the feelings of the girl.
It was a ground-floor apartment, two bedrooms, quite well appointed. The only problem with it was the occasional power outages. What the hell, though, I had a laptop with a decent battery and a spare, a truck battery and AC converter for emergencies. I had a large TV though I mainly watched DVDs ... I could understand, even speak, the local patois but the available subject matter broadcast by the regime did not appeal.
For the rest, I had privacy and time to write; I even made a little money doing it. The nice part was I didn't need to see my editor, an irascible old sod, but eagle-eyed for typos and grammatical errors, I could do everything online.
And that is where the story begins, with me typing away in my little study, with just a small table-lamp to lighten the gloom. I'd been working non-stop for several hours and it had got dark without my realising. I have to do that, actually; to work and keep working as long as the words flow. If I take a break, I tend to find it hard to get back in the groove and I never was one for working hard.
My concentration was broken by the sound of breaking glass. It wasn't the first time a kid had expressed his or her resentment at my apparent wealth and status by heaving a brick through my kitchen window; perhaps I ought to have had an upstairs apartment ... but if I had, well, my life would have been the poorer.
I went to investigate, trying to remember where I'd stashed the pieces of plywood I kept for just this eventuality. I didn't turn lights on, which might have invited another brick or worse.
As I say, I'd had the odd brick through my window before, but never an intruder. She was – obviously – young and very grubby. In fact I caught a whiff of her as I entered the room. Carefully picking her way over the broken glass, she was just lowering her feet to the floor when she noticed me – I walk very quietly – and turned to climb out again with a squeak. She had no chance though, as I caught her wrist. It was very thin, and she was trembling. I stepped back and lifted the phone.
"Please don't ... please don't call the police. Please don't hand me over..." she begged in Patois.
I looked at her, put the phone down and turned the kitchen light on; we both blinked in the sudden blaze of light after the little that had filtered in from outside.
"Please ... I'll cook for you, clean for you, wash your clothes ... I'll be good, honest..."
Knowing what I knew about the society we both lived in, I could understand her terror, but even so it took some time to get my head round what I was hearing; I just stared at her.
She unzipped the very dirty jacket she was wearing with her free hand and started unbuttoning her equally grubby blouse. "I'll do anything. I'm a virgin, but I'll do anything. Just don't hand me over, pleeeaase."
"Stand there," I said in English, pointing to the spot; she nodded frantically and I released her wrist, crossed the room and drew the curtains. The room was getting cold quickly; it was winter and the draught from the broken window was fierce.
"Come with me," I told her, moving toward the door. She didn't move. I opened the door and stepped through, "Come," I said in Patois. She followed then, and I took her to my lounge, shutting the kitchen door to limit the heat loss. In the lounge, I drew the curtains before turning on the standard-lamp next to my favourite chair. She stood, shivering, in the middle of the room. "Undress," I said, and when she didn't move, "Take off those clothes," in Patois. As she obeyed me, I watched, though I felt guilty for the erection I could feel developing rapidly. She was slim; in fact she was very thin and her bones showed very clearly, but she was clearly a young woman, not a child, with swelling hips and pretty, perfectly proportioned breasts. Dark, matted hair of indeterminate colour straggled over her shoulders. She sank to her knees and gazed up at me with wide, dark eyes, which flicked between my face and the bulge in my trousers.
"I don't think I want to touch you just now," I said, "come with me." I led her to the bathroom and handed her a large towel. I waved at my limited selection of toilette articles, "Have a bath," I said, "wash your hair. Then come to the kitchen," I pointed to my dressing-gown hanging behind the door, "Use my dressing-gown. It will be much too big, so be careful not to trip over it."
She looked at me, eyes wide, as I left.
I cleared up the broken glass; I might have made her do it, but I needed it out of the way, and taped plywood over the broken window, then fetched a tub of soup out of the fridge. I like to cook and apart from writing, don't have much else to do; the soup was my own, thick and spicy, and I set it to heat on the stove thinking I was hungry too. It would have made three meals for me, normally, but I dumped the lot in the saucepan.
I suppose that took me about half an hour; I'd just tossed her clothes in the machine for a pre-wash and boiled the kettle for tea when she returned to the kitchen. She was holding the skirts of the dressing-gown up and the front together, just her fingers showing from the sleeves, just her head visible above. Dark red, tangled hair tumbled to her shoulders. The soup was not ready, but the scent of it was beginning to fill the room. Her nose twitched and I could see the look in her face; fear, hunger and, maybe, hope.
I pulled out a chair and pointed to it. "Sit at the table." I checked the soup and gave it stir, zapped bread rolls in the microwave and put them in a basket on the table. She looked at them longingly. "Help yourself," I said. She looked disbelievingly at me. I took her hand – she flinched when I touched her – and placed it on a roll. "Take it. Eat it now, or wait for the soup, I don't mind." Her little hand closed over the roll and lifted it to her lips. I swear, it just disappeared. I gasped and she flinched again, trembling. "I guess you're hungry," I remarked redundantly. "There will be soup in a minute. Don't take any more bread for a minute or so." She snatched back the hand that had tentatively reached the basket again, "it's okay, you haven't done anything wrong. I just don't want you eating too quickly and making yourself sick." I checked the soup again; almost ready. "What is your name?"
"Tiarna." Then after a pause, "You are not going to report me?"
"No, I'm going to make you earn your keep and the cost of the window."
"Oh." She looked a little frightened again, but then smiled at me. "How will you make me earn my keep?"
"You said you would cook for me, clean, wash my clothes."
"Is that all?"
"I said I would do anything. Don't you want to sleep with me? I will ... I would..." she trailed off.
"Would you have sex with other men for money?"
"If you told me to. But I'd rather it was you."
I shook my head. "I will not make you have sex with anyone. How well do you cook?"
"I don't know how to cook much, but I can read a recipe book. My mother did most of the cooking."
"How old are you, Tiarna?"
"I am sixteen," she paused, "seventeen in February," another pause, "Master."
"Call me Art," I said.
"Yes, Mast ... er ... Art."
.... There is more of this story ...