Once upon a time in a land far, far away (but, not so far as we would like it to be) lived a young girl named Bella.
When I say that she was named Bella, I of course don’t mean that was her given name, that would be for her to tell you. What I mean is that she was particularly beautiful. Bella had soft, brown eyes that you could lose yourself in, beautiful curly black hair, and skin so dark that if she stood very still you might think she was a statue carved of the most priceless ebony.
Bella was born beautiful, but she was also born very poor. When she was a small child, her mother and her aunts would smear her face with dirt, cover her hair with a kerchief, and insist that she only look at the ground. She couldn’t understand why they would do such things but once she was properly attired and chastised, she could play with the other children, so she didn’t mind.
As Bella grew, she learned that there were times she should not be outside. When the young boys on the edge of town would whistle a warning, the young girls would run and hide. Men would come to town and look through the homes and talk to the fathers. They would offer them money, food, or the herbs that caused them to forget their poverty. If the girls held very still and very quiet, sometimes they would still be there when the men left. But always, one or two would be gone. And, for a time, the family they had belonged to would have more food than everyone else, and the fathers in the family would use the herbs that helped them forget.
One day, Bella’s mother became very ill. Her aunts and her cousins sang and prayed, but nothing they did made any difference. Bella knew her mother needed medicine, and she knew that she and her brothers and sisters needed their mother. That day, Bella’s father noticed her.
It’s not to say that he had never noticed her before. Just that there were ever so many children in the town and sometimes the fathers would be hard pressed to say which were theirs and which were someone else’s. So many small children died due to illness and accident so, until they were half grown, there was little sense in growing attached.
Bella’s father drew her close to him and studied her. He rubbed the dirt from her face and tugged at her curly hair. He stared into her deep brown eyes. Bella held very still. She had never been this close to him and wasn’t sure what to do.
That day the men came. At the end of the day, Bella was gone.
Bella never thought much about what happened to the girls who left, and the terror of the unknown gripped her. She left her town on the back of a horse, holding tight to a man she had never met, and for the first time she saw the world beyond her small town.
She didn’t like it.
The men took her to a large, noisy city and left her in a large, noisy room full of many other girls. They were all very young and they were all very beautiful.
Some of the girls were frightened and crying. That scared Bella, but what scared her more were the ones who were hard and angry. She shrank away from them as they passed and fixed her gaze on the floor like her mother had taught her.
Bella made herself as small as she could, but it didn’t matter. As night drew near Bella was pulled to her feet, scrubbed, and dressed in a gown that was impossibly beautiful and impossibly small. Her lips were colored, her eyelids were covered in sparkles, and her curls were cleaned and untangled.
For the first time Bella saw her reflection in a full length mirror. She was beautiful, and she was frightened.
One of the angry girls took Bella with her that night and showed her what to do. It hurt, but if she took her mind to another place, she thought she could stand it. Whenever the men would come to her, she would imagine she was back in the small town she grew up in, playing and singing with her cousins. She imagined that the medicine her life had bought made her mother well and strong and allowed her to protect Bella’s brothers and sisters from a similar fate.
Sometimes it worked, but sometimes the pain came through.
One day, when one of the men left, he accidentally left a gift behind. Bella didn’t notice it right away, but after a few weeks she realized what had happened. As the days went by the gift became brighter and harder to ignore. So hard to ignore that the other girls noticed. They told her she needed to tell the men in charge that she had the gift. Soon even they would notice that she had it, and they would take it away. The sooner she told them the less it would hurt.
Bella wasn’t sure how she felt about the gift. It came from one of the men that hurt her, but when she saw the gift she didn’t think of him. The gift was hers and hers alone. She wasn’t going to give it up.
That night, Bella took her gift and escaped.
I thought it would be fun to do some fiction pieces throughout the end of the year! Part two will be released in two weeks. Stay tuned!