“You’re not a dog, Kéleb,” RezA kissed his forehead. "You’re a stupid boy.”
“And you’re a lap dog,” Kéleb countered with a half-hearted laugh.
RezA laughed too and put the cap on the ointment. He stood quietly and tip-toed toward his own bed on the floor.
“RezA!” Kéleb whispered.
“I’m going to kill him one day.”
After a long pause, “I know. Goodnight stupid boy.”
Caleb had done exactly as he promised. He’d killed Narweh in cold, efficient blood. But he hadn’t bothered to look for RezA, nor had he told everyone they were free. He never told them to run. He would like to say it was because the thought had not occurred to him, but that wasn’t true. He’d been afraid. He’d been afraid they’d turn on him, because without Narweh, many of them would have to choose between poverty and a new and unknown master, perhaps even the drudgery of bonded slavery. He had also been afraid Rafiq would decide all of it, including Caleb, was too much of a burden and he would have to face the fate of the others. So he’d simply let Rafiq lead him away. He’d let himself be shocked and traumatized over what he’d done. He’d let himself be the victim. He deserved to be abandoned in return.
A noise startled him from his self-deprecating thoughts.
He was stone-like in his stillness, listening for any sounds to indicate whether or not he was alone in the house and furthermore, if a presence equated to danger. He heard the door shut somewhat gently and then heard the familiar shuffling sounds of someone removing their shoes and placing them near the door. Casual noises were a good sign, Caleb supposed, since someone intending harm would likely not care enough to remove their shoes.
Caleb wanted to leave his room, he wanted to investigate, but the fear he felt still lingered strongly. Rafiq was a stranger and his moods could be erratic. He remembered with perfect clarity the way he had been tossed into the bathtub and held down by Rafiq’s strong arms. He shuddered.
Footsteps neared his door and Caleb tensed even more, his muscles quivering from being held so tight. The door opened slowly and he shut his eyes tightly. If Rafiq tried to rape him, he would fight back. Somewhere in his mind a voice whispered he should just do whatever was expected of him. He’d survive. He’d want to die, but he could survive it again.
“Caleb?” Rafiq’s voice whispered into the darkness.
Caleb held his breath and didn’t answer.
“Boy? Are you sleeping?” Rafiq whispered again and he seemed in control, not angry or predisposed to violence.
Caleb refused to answer though, he kept his eyes shut and tried to breathe as quietly, shallowly and as evenly as he could until finally, his door shut and Rafiq was gone. Caleb instantly felt relief, but also loss. He was alone again. Alone and frightened in a strange, dark room.
What was his life now? He’d killed someone. He’d murdered. He didn’t feel bad about doing it, he would do it again given the chance, but what was he to do with his life, who could he be? Who was Caleb? He had always told himself one day he would be free, but he didn’t realize freedom could feel…too vast, too open and uncertain. Now he was free, he felt devoid of purpose and without a purpose what did his life amount to? He owed a debt to Rafiq and he would honor it, but once his task was complete he would find himself in exactly the same place.
Caleb swallowed his fear and tossed back the blankets, determined to seek answers from the one person in his life who might have them: Rafiq. He slowly opened the door and tiptoed toward Rafiq’s room. He hesitated at the door, but then tentatively knocked.
“I’m not in there,” Rafiq said from behind him.
Caleb whirled around and stared into Rafiq’s intense gaze, “I-I-I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I was awake when you came in, but I….” he looked at his bare feet, “I wasn’t sure what you came looking for.” Caleb swallowed.
Rafiq smirked, “And what did you decide?”
Caleb shrugged, “I don’t know. I thought…I’d get it over with and simply ask you.”
Rafiq’s loud sigh caused Caleb’s shoulders to tense, but he didn’t move to walk away from the older man. “That is very brave of you chab, but you have no need to be wary of me; I intend you no harm.”
“What do you intend?” Caleb bristled at being called a boy.
“I would hope I’ve earned your loyalty by now. I only meant to see if you are well? I’ve been gone since very early and I feared my absence was…stressful for you.”
Caleb shrugged half-heartedly, but in reality, he wanted to weep with gratitude. No one in a position of power had ever concerned himself with his well-being. No one had ever just come to check on him. He took a deep breath and pressed his emotions down into his stomach. He did not wish to appear weak in front of the one man offering to make him strong. “It was strange to be alone. Before, with Narweh, there was always someone, but…it was…I don’t know what to say. I ate all of the gulab jamun,” he confessed sheepishly. “I was also in your library. I’ve never seen so many books! You must know a lot of things. But don’t worry!” he was suddenly nervous. “I can’t read. I wasn’t trying to invade your privacy. I only looked at the pictures. I’m sorry.”
Rafiq laughed and the sound put Caleb at ease somewhat. He relaxed further when Rafiq’s hand landed on his head and ruffled his long, blond hair. “It’s fine, Caleb. This is your home now. The food was left for you and you are welcome to the books. I will teach you how to read them.”
Caleb shut his eyes tight to keep his tears from surfacing. Without warning, he lunged toward Rafiq and wrapped his skinny arms around him. He wanted to express his gratitude. He wanted Rafiq to know how much Caleb felt indebted to him.
Slowly and with shaking hands, Caleb reached up and pulled the older man’s head toward his and pressed his lips to Rafiq’s. The older man stilled, but didn’t stop him when his tongue slid across the opening of Rafiq’s mouth. Caleb had done this many times, with men he hated; surely he could do it once with someone whom he respected.
Caleb’s youthful body responded to the kiss and he pressed forward, chasing Rafiq’s mouth, his taste. Rafiq pulled away.
Caleb panicked. If Rafiq rejected him, he would die. He would die of shame because he was a whore and knew no other way.
“I won’t fight you. I’ll do as you ask,” Caleb whispered. His words were shaky and full of fear.
“Do as I tell you, now, and stop this.” Rafiq’s tone held the slightest bit of contempt.
Caleb pulled away and tried to run past Rafiq, but his path was blocked and soon Rafiq’s firm grip held his arm. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to. I won’t do it again.” This time the tears were present in his voice. He couldn’t hide his shame.
Rafiq pulled him to his chest and held him tight, “You are, Kéleb, no longer. You are not a dog, and no one’s whore. You don’t owe me that. You owe it to no one.”
Caleb cried and held tighter to Rafiq. He couldn’t speak.
“Have you ever been with a woman, Caleb?” Rafiq whispered above him.
Caleb shook his head. He had seen them of course, there were female whores Narweh kept, but they were separated from the boys and never shared with them. He’d caught glimpses of their bodies and wondered what it would be like to touch them, but it was a pleasure he’d never experienced.
Rafiq led Caleb toward his own room and opened the door. Slowly, he released Caleb and urged him inside. Reluctantly, Caleb loosened his arms and meekly stepped toward the bed he’d made for himself on the floor. “Tomorrow, then” Rafiq said casually, “Tomorrow you’ll begin to learn how to take your place at my side. You’ll have your choice of them.” He smiled as Caleb stared at him in shock and then he shut the door.
Caleb still couldn’t sleep, but now the reasons were different. For the first time since he could remember, Caleb was excited about what the morning would bring.
Caleb’s eyes opened in the dark. The dream, the memory, lingered. He suddenly felt like a boy again, scared of the dark, scared of the unknown, and lonely. It was strange how a dream could make itself real. It could take control of one’s mind and invoke sentiment, so much so, it affected the body. Caleb felt a lump in his throat; it shouldn’t be there, he was far removed from the scared boy he had been and yet there it was. His heart hammered strongly in his chest and his palms were sweaty.
He told himself over and over it had been a dream, but the emotions clung to him like thick molasses. No matter how he tried to wipe them from his thoughts, they remained, shifting from one side of his psyche to the other, vacillating between the joys he had felt in experiencing his first moment of acceptance and the grief of knowing the future.
RezA had died. Rafiq had burned Narweh’s body where Caleb had left it, inside the house. He had not looked for survivors, he had not warned anyone in the house. Rafiq had imparted the information to Caleb one morning after breakfast, when he’d finally found the courage to ask about what had happened.
He had wept for RezA and the other boys in private after scalding himself with a hot spoon he’d been using to stir beans. As his flesh burned, he tried to envision what RezA had felt in the last horrifying moments of his life. Caleb had killed his only friend and in the end the only scar he had to show for it was on the inside after his burned skin was cut away and new skin took its place.
Caleb wanted another shower, one so hot he wouldn’t be able to think about anything else, but he knew the behavior was stupid and would likely cause more damage than could heal in time for him to continue with his mission. It had been some time since Caleb had had this many compulsive episodes. Yes, he sometimes needed the pain, but such needs were usually spread out over long periods of time. In the last few weeks, he’d struggled not to give in to his impulses many times. It couldn’t continue.
Rafiq had done what he needed to do. For Caleb to become the man Rafiq needed him to be; to become the man he wanted to be, there could be no witnesses that knew him as Narweh’s dog. It was a harsh and debilitating truth at the time, but Caleb understood it as a man in a way he never could as a boy. RezA would have done the same.
Caleb rolled over on the floor and sat up to stare at the shape of Kitten’s body sleeping on the bed above him. She moved around a lot, her legs jumping beneath the blankets occasionally. It appeared to Caleb she wanted to roll onto her side, or her stomach, but even in sleep, the pain kept her in a slightly upright position.
Her words from earlier drifted toward him:
“You could not sell me… I could stay with you… be with you?”
He sighed, wishing things could be so simple. What would Rafiq say to such a request? Did it even have to be a request? Caleb was a man after all, and a dangerous one at that. Perhaps Caleb need only inform Rafiq of the way it was to be and move on from there. The girl was beaten and bruised, her virginity in question as far as Rafiq would be concerned. How difficult would it be to simply call it a lost cause with Kitten? But honestly, it wouldn’t repair anything. He would forever be her captor and she would forever be his prisoner. He had to stop going back and forth. He’d made a decision, he would stick to it. End of story.
Kitten shifted some more on the bed and whimpered for a few seconds before her eyes finally opened. Her lungs rose and fell deeply and harshly. Apparently, Caleb wasn’t the only one suffering from nightmares. To her credit, she hadn’t cried out or asked for him. She looked around the room and caught sight of him, then looked away and sat up slowly.
“Morning,” he said wryly.
She nodded, but otherwise didn’t respond. She tossed her blanket off of her legs in a slow, taxing motion and stiffly stood before walking into the bathroom and shutting the door. Within seconds he could hear the water from the sink running. Caleb wondered how she was planning to use the facilities because the toilet was set into the ground and required the user to squat above it to do their business. It would be difficult for her to maintain her balance given her injuries, but he decided her need for privacy was perhaps greater than her need for help at the moment.