Not even when I started banging my fists furiously against his chest. Not even when I started to scream in his face that I wanted to know where Betje was. Not even when he pulled his arm back and punched me as hard as he could in my face, knocking me out cold.
No. Not even then.
I can’t say it wasn’t unwarranted, but I can say that it was a cowardice act. I can also say that because Betje was gone, I was sick of being here, and he had laid his hands on me, that I had set forward an act of retaliation in motion that would echo throughout this house for years to come.
“That looks a lot better today,” Margit said softly, sitting next to me on the bed.
It had been three days since I had taken the sucker punch heard round the world, and the only thing that was wounded was my pride. The swelling had almost gone completely down and my eye was starting to turn that weird sickly purple and green color. Since I didn’t look the part, I couldn’t “work” so he let Margit stay with me.
I knew better than to be fooled though. He didn’t leave her here with me out of a random act of kindness. He left her here because she was on her period which meant she couldn’t work either.
“Does it hurt?” she asked quietly.
I shook my head, “Not anymore.”
Margit nodded pushed my hair back so she could get a better look at my eye. “Does not look like he damaged anything,” she said peering closely.
“Optometrist, are you?” I asked with a grin.
She laughed and stood up. Moving next to me, sh
e scooted me forward onto the bed so she would have space to sit behind me. A few seconds later, she grabbed two handfuls of hair and began to weave it into a loose braid. I smiled sadly and sighed. There was no such thing as kindness in this place, but Margit knew Betje was my best friend and I could only assume that she didn’t want me to feel alone.
“Don’t let him catch you being nice to me,” I said quietly.
“What is the worst he can do to me? You and I are his most prized girls. To get rid of either of us would mean that he loses a lot of money. Besides, I’m not afraid of Kerstan,” she replied as her fingers continued to weave my hair together.
“Margit? What, um... what’s your story?” I asked nervously. We weren’t allowed to talk about our pasts, and even though she was being kind to me at the moment, I didn’t trust her still. If she went off and told Kerstan that I had asked her such a forbidden thing, chances were I’d wind up wherever the hell it was that he took Betje.
“My story?” she asked curiously.
“You know, about how you wound up here,” I said.
Margit’s hands hesitated. I could feel her sudden apprehension. I understood though. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust me (at least I don’t think) it was that she didn’t trust this entire situation.
I reached my hands back and undid the braid. I got off of the bed and dropped to my knees, feeling underneath the box spring. When my hand closed around the small rectangular box, I grinned and pulled it out from underneath. I opened the box of cigarettes and pulled one out. I offered one to Margit, but she shook her head. With a shrug, I lit the cigarette and sat on Betje’s old bed, one leg up, eyeing Margit.
“Listen, if you’re going to tell Kerstan that I asked you that, you might as well tell him about the cigarettes too. Hell, you should probably go tell him now so he can catch me in the act,” I said with a smirk.
“I wasn’t going to tell him. I just don’t want to get talking about things that are forbidden,” she replied uncomfortably.
“This entire fucking life is forbidden,” I replied with a dry laugh. I placed the cigarette between my lips and lit it, inhaling deeply.
We sat there silently for a moment as I flicked ashes onto the floor. I glanced out the window that sat behind Betje’s bed and wondered if she was out there somewhere in the busy city of Amsterdam.
“Did you love her?” Margit asked softly.
I inhaled deeply again and flicked more ashes onto the floor.
“Then why did you do all that? Purposely degrade the others with words?” she asked.
“Because she’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a best friend.”
I blew out a small succession of smoke rings and watched the last one drift into the window. I chuckled slightly and turned my attention back to Margit.