Essom's Wrath: Part One
They say a lot of things.
Let me say something.
I say the poor have neither hope nor comfort. Nor do they have joy, nor love, nor faith.
But they are not completely destitute.
They have one thing, and that they have in abundance.
She knew it was over before it began.
The baby woke her up three times that night. When the sun finally rose, she could barely rouse herself out of bed to make breakfast. Morning wasn't her favorite time of day. Not only did she have to wash, cook the flatcakes, and prepare for work, she had to do all this while nursing their son. Ramam was a good husband, but he had his own chores to do and his own work to prepare for.
They were both slaves. Of course, back then most people were. Neither thought much of it; they were born slaves, they would die slaves, such was the way of the world. Like any other day, Ramam would come in from cleaning the stable, kiss his wife and his son, and give thanks for the humble meal she prepared. After breakfast, he would take the horses out to graze. Despite his station, he was held in some esteem, enough to be entrusted with the Emperor's steeds.
As for her, she cleaned up the dishes and left to wait on the Emperor's soldiers. There were worse jobs, certainly, but part of her labor was to put up with the taunts and jibes of the men. Being married, they were forbidden to touch her; slaves were accorded some rights. Instead, they stung her with words. There was one soldier, Eshmech, who taunted her more than any other. He was young and highly regarded for his battle skill.
For all his prowess in war, he knew nothing of love. While fate had made him strong of limb and keen of eye, it cursed him with a visage both coarse and mean. Even the temple prostitutes refused him. The other men would joke that he had a face not even a sheep could love - though never within Eshmech's hearing. In essence, he was a man of hate. This quality served him well when doing hateful things, and the employment of soldiers is hateful indeed.
She knew all this about him, so she was not at all surprised by his response when one of the other soldiers thought it would be funny to trip her while she carried a pitcher of beer to their table, when she fell forward and spilled the entire pitcher into Eshmech's lap. She was surprised by the deep shade of purple that passed over his face as the other soldiers suggested the widening stain on his crotch was the result of premature ejaculation; she always thought that was just an expression.
Those soldiers and their jokes.
It is said the oppressed are free from responsibility. That their only concern is for themselves. That slavery is careless.
I might agree.
But let me retort.
Freedom is responsibility. Instead of being responsible to our masters, we are responsible to ourselves.
We should punish ourselves for our misdeeds.
And we should punish others for theirs.
It wasn't her fault, but she apologized anyway.
She was getting to her knees as he bent over to pick up the pitcher. She was trying to wipe off his pants when he smashed it against the side of her face. The pain was stunning, but not enough to knock her unconscious. She fell on her face and prayed he thought otherwise. Eshmech did not. He picked her up by the hair and dragged her over to the bread oven. He shoved her head inside.
The wounds opened by the clay pitcher pressed against the hot brick, instantly cauterizing. She put her palms against the side of the oven, which burned also, and pushed with all her strength. The skin of her cheek tore away as her head slid out. She could smell her own flesh cooking, her hair burning. She screamed, the soldiers laughed, and Eshmech said nothing.
He casually filled another pitcher from the keg while she vainly tried to pat away the flames. A small smile played across his lips as he poured its contents over her head, dousing the fire. The smell was sickening, all the more so knowing its source. She was coughing and retching on all fours when his smile disappeared. His boot connected with her stomach, sending the morning's flatbread across the floor. Eshmech snorted and stomped on her back, pushing her into her own sick. This time his face resolved in a sneer.
Nodding to his compatriots, he walked over to her feet, picked her up by the legs, and began mopping the floor with her. The soldiers howled. One fell over clutching his sides while the other two pounded the table, trying to breathe. She was choking on vomit, unable to scream, only gurgle. Almost blinded by tears, pain, and panic, her eyes frantically searched the room.
She knew she was dead, but that didn’t matter anymore. The pain had moved on to shock and all that was left was the pure animal instinct to fight or flee, of which she could do neither. All she could do now was cry for help, for mercy, for anything to anyone who would listen. The soldiers, whose duty it was to protect her, were too busy laughing at her misery. The whole of her world against her, she turned to the only other creature there.
Hiding underneath a table, a small child watched in horror as she reached out, beyond prayer or reason, to him. Eshmech saw her struggling towards the child. He let go of her legs and went to drag her by the hair again, only to have it and the attached scalp peel off. For a moment he regarded the scrap of burnt flesh, only to throw it aside in disgust. He then grabbed her arm and pulled her to the child.
Eshmech propped her up next to the little boy, waving her blistered hand at him as one does with a doll. She raised her head to look at him and tried to speak, but retched instead. All he wanted was for someone to explain why this was happening, but all he could hear was her gurgling cough and the laughter of strangers. The child stared at her ruined face, half of it burned off, the rest of it blackened and smeared, blood and bile dribbling down her chin.
It was his only memory of his mother.