“Name?” The words slither through the red lips like a serpent launching itself at its enemies.
“Your real name.” She insisted.
I bite my lips for a second, “Mayra Blackwood.”
“Now, Mayra, tell me what happened.”
“It started two years ago more or less, at the Martinez Hotel. There was a French school from the countryside visiting. I don’t remember the exact name, but the school had a golden emblem with two snakes and an eagle. I remember because as we passed them, one of them smiled at Tyrone and he said, ‘she looks divine.’ And I replied, ‘I’ve heard French girls are feisty, like those snakes. It’s like they’re trying to eat each other up. You probably shouldn’t.’ But he still winked at her and she giggled. It was so childish but I don’t think I appreciated the simplicity of that moment at the time. He didn’t speak much French at the time. She did say something along the lines of, ‘sweet American boy’ but he didn’t understand. And I couldn’t fully hear it either, because Andrew was throwing a fit in the middle of the hallway. Mom was trying to stop him, but he kept on yelling and yelling, ‘I want to go to Disneyland.’ Not even Maisie was prone to throwing tantrums and she was two years younger. I never really understood Andrew so the reason for his fits is to the day a mystery. But he wanted to go to Disneyland so badly and he wouldn’t shut up so my mom said, ‘Fine, we’ll go to Disneyland.’ We were leaving in two days. None of us wanted to spend our last day in a crowded amusement park only to wake up too tired to catch our early flight.
“Later that night I could hear mom and dad arguing in the bathroom. It was odd, not that they were arguing, but that they were arguing in the bathroom. They normally slept in another room, a separate room just for them where they could argue and make up as many times as they wanted. But this time it was just one small room with two beds. The boys had to sleep on the couch. But I didn’t think much of our unusual accommodations. I ignored it just like everyone else. The next day mom kept her promise and took us all to EuroDisney. I must admit, it was incredibly fun. We took pictures and went on rides and watched the light show and we stayed until late night. We hadn’t even packed yet, but mom and dad didn’t seem to be awfully worried about it. When we got back to the hotel, we were so tired that we went right to sleep and didn’t pack. And the next morning, they didn’t wake us up. We slept until midday. It was Maisie that woke us up. She was jumping around and yelling, ‘it’s late, it’s late. We get to stay here another day.’ It wasn’t the first time we had missed our flight. We had missed it during several other vacations. We seemed to be bad keeping time, keeping anything in general.
“We ate at the hotel some poached eggs. It was raining, and I couldn’t help think someone was crying for us. After the rain ended, Maisie and Andrew went swimming and I remember dad scolded them for splashing a waiter. But it seemed odd that mom wasn’t there, and it was even odder that dad did not hand compensation to the poor wet man. I didn’t swim. I lied in the slip of sunlight in between the clouds. Tyrone was of course searching for that French school, wanting to see that blonde girl again. I turned around and dad was gone. So I watched Maisie and Andrew, making sure they didn’t drown. Later it started to rain again. We went up to the room. I found mom and dad were huddled around the computer, and mom was yelling into the phone in Dutch. I remember thinking, ‘when did mom learn Dutch’. I asked her when we were going to fly back. She didn’t answer. I asked my dad, and he didn’t answer. He just stared at me with grey eyes and then looked back at the computer.
“A day went by, then another, and another, a week, a month and not once did my parents mentioned leaving France. Maisie and Andrew didn’t mind. They spent the day running around the hotel, splashing in the pool, playing games; it was just a prolonged vacation to them. But I did mind. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to Boston and see my friends. Then one day, the international roaming was cut from my phone and I couldn’t call home anymore. I went up to my mom and yelled at her, and she yelled back. I don’t remember what I said. She started to yell in Dutch, but I could understand how scared she was. I ran out of air. She handed me a phone and said, ‘Call this number and tell him we know, and tell him we need a favor.’ I was tired of fighting, so I did as she told me. The man I talked to, the moment I said those two words, ‘we know’, his voice wavered. After that, mom made me do it every day, someone different each day. Then they got Tyrone to do it too. He yelled at dad one time. Dad made him work from that day on. I guess that’s what happened. If they saw you had the guts to yell at them, then you have the guts to yell at strangers too.
“At the time, we didn’t know what we were doing. It seems obvious now that I look back, but I guess I didn’t want to know. I ignored it and just did as I was told. It got more aggressive too. The louder mom and dad yelled at us, the louder we had to yell at these people. And the louder they yelled back. Sometimes they cried. Mom made me yell louder if they cried. Then one night, dad was yelling louder than ever before but between his screams, I could hear him crying. Mom told Tyrone and I to take Maisie and Andrew out for a walk. It was around one or two in the morning so of course we refused. But she insisted and forced us into day clothes and out the door. Naturally, Maisie and Andrew were very confused, and we didn’t want them to be scared so Tyrone said, ‘Mom and dad need to alone for a bit.’ He took us to the store around the corner and bought us all chocolates. We stayed there for a bit and then we went back to the hotel. But when we came back, there were police cars all around, and we saw mom and dad being taken away. I heard people talk about my parents extorted their contacts for money, how they had gone broke long ago and were trying to pay their debts, how anyone that helped them would go to jail too. I looked at Tyrone and we knew we were thinking exactly the same thing. I didn’t want to go to jail. Who knew what would happen to Maisie and Andrew if we did.
“We ran. We didn’t even go back to the hotel room to get clothes or money. We simply ran away. And that’s when it really started. We didn’t have a home anymore. We didn’t know anyone in the city. I was the only one that spoke the language. We didn’t even have money. We were a group of underage siblings lost in a strange place. We didn’t know what to do. Tyrone found us a place to stay, an alley between two broken down buildings. The broken metal slid to the side of the construction and acted as a makeshift tin ceiling. It rained a lot that night. Tyrone and I broke some black plastic trash bags and wrapped Andrew and Maisie with them as if they were blankets. I don’t think any of us slept that night. It was cold and we were terrified. When it was day again, not much changed. You know that saying, ‘every day is a new beginning’? Not for us. We were stuck in the same loop day after day for months. I begged; sold roses that I picked from the park. I didn’t make much money but enough for a piece of bread and maybe a bottle of water. Tyrone went looking for jobs but he never got one. Perhaps it was the stench or the stains on his clothes that drove employers away, and perhaps that was the same reason I got less and less money each day. I told Maisie and Andrew to stay out of trouble. They obeyed. They never caused any trouble. I doubt people knew they even lived in the city.
“I was desperate. I didn’t want to break the routine that we had grown so accustomed to, the closest thing to a normal life that we’ve come to ever since the incident. But we were starving. I was tired. I was so tired of having death as our next door neighbor. I took Andrew with me. I don’t know why but I did. I thought maybe if they saw that I had to take care of a child, they’d take pity and hire me. It was either that or it was that I could speak French and Tyrone couldn’t, but I got hired. I got hired in this little pharmacy, cleaning up after hours because they didn’t want me dealing with the customers. When I went back Andrew couldn’t wait. He told Maisie and Tyrone the news. Maisie was happy but Tyrone, he just shot this dreadful glance at Andrew and then at me. He went away and didn’t come back until late that night. He was mad at me, but I didn’t know what for. I shouldn’t have ignored it. I don’t know why I did. There was so much fear; maybe I didn’t want a new one.
“Our routine changed from then on. The first day I went to work, I knew he was following me, watching me. Tyrone was always there. He used to ask me at night, ‘Did you talk to anyone today?’ He knew the answer already. So I said, ‘No.’ He then said, ‘Good. Don’t talk to anyone. They’re like snakes.’ It didn’t feel like a warning when he said it though, it felt like a threat. It didn’t help that Maisie liked to sleep on his lap and he’d stroke her hair whenever he said it. It was the first time I was afraid of my brother. About two months after I had started to work, my shoes gave in. My feet were filled with blisters and I didn’t want to walk. I had a few spare euros in my pocket so instead I decided to take the bus. But I didn’t know which one to take. I asked an old woman, and she was very kind and told me exactly which bus to take and where to get off. He was there, hidden. All through, he was watching. When I returned, Tyrone was waiting for me. The moment he saw me, he asked, ‘Did you talk to anyone today?’ His voice was rough, angry like the time I told him about getting hired. Of course, I replied, ‘No.’ He turned his head and a shadow covered his entire face. ‘Liar,’ he whispered. He grabbed Andrew by the hair and threw a punch into his face. Then he threw his little brother into the ground. It was as if he knew hurting him was more painful for me than hurting me. I begged him to stop but he kept going. Only when I got quiet, he stopped. Tyrone left and returned late that night, but stayed at the edge of the alley, just watching us.
“He still followed me to work no matter what. Sometimes I talked to people, just to ask the time or the street. I wanted to see if his threat was still valid. Every time I did it, I regretted it watching how he beat up Andrew each night. But sometimes I found the pain to be pleasant. In a twisted way I liked it, it reminded me I was alive. Tyrone became more distant. He didn’t seem like a brother anymore but instead our controller. I was in that job for about a year. Then, I quit before I could get fired. It was my fault, I admit it. They reduced my pay so I stole, after hours, from the cash register, just enough to feed my siblings. When they started getting suspicious, I got scared and quit so that the police wouldn’t find me. Tyrone and I pickpocketed from then on. Sometimes we were able to get cellphones or jewelry, but we mostly went for spare change. We sold whatever we stole. It’s funny, but we made more money that way than I did by going to work.
“One day, he left and came back two days later. Maisie was worried, but Andrew was afraid of him. He was glad Tyrone was gone. The day he came back, Tyrone cursed like I’ve never heard before. For an hour or two every word that escaped his lips was a curse. Maisie covered her ears. She was just nine and still afraid of bad words. But I didn’t ask him to stop. Andrew was afraid and any word that came out of my mouth could make him that much more afraid. So I waited for him to stop. Then he grabbed Maisie and just hugged her. His face was completely emotionless. That night two men came. Andrew, Maisie, and I hid in between boxes and plastic, but Tyrone didn’t. He walked right up to them and pointed at us. “It’s her.” he said. But he wasn’t pointing at me. He was pointing at Maisie. The two men pulled her up and took her. They shoved her into a car and drove away. As they did, Andrew and I fought back. But Tyrone grabbed Andrew’s arm and twisted it until he screamed. Then he threw him into the ground. I threw myself over Andrew and screamed, ‘You fucking asshole, where are they taking Maisie?’ It was the one time I raised my voice at him. ‘I lost a bet,’ he replied, ‘she’s paying it off.’ My heart dropped. I didn’t know if it was forced labor or something worse. I hoped it wasn’t something worse.
“I ran so fast that night I could barely feel my feet. It was as if I was floating. I looked everywhere for her and for that car. Just as the sun was rising, I found it, that same black car parked in front of a brown building. I don’t remember the address but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I could see her through a window, just her brown hair, but that was enough. I broke the window and ran to her but it was too late. She was completely naked, covered only in a gray blanket, and sobbing so quietly. A single drop of blood stained the blanket. She was… her purity, it had been taken away. Do you know what that does to a nine year old girl? I took her back. The four of us moved that night. Tyrone didn’t want those men to find him again. I didn’t want them to take Maisie. I threatened to call the police, to tell them everything about what he did to Maisie, but he just said ‘You’ll get thrown into jail too, for stealing, for helping our parents. You’re as dead as I am.’ I was afraid. I didn’t say a word.
“We got by on the things we stole. But it was far from living. Maisie wouldn’t talk, she would barely eat. Andrew would hide whenever Tyrone was close by. They were alive but dead. I wanted so badly to go to the police and have someone, anyone, protect them, but I was so afraid. Then, maybe a week ago, I saw her. She had the same blonde hair and the same uniform with two snakes trying to eat each other. And she even smiled the same way. She was at an art fair, buying herself a small painting. Tyrone recognized her too. In a heartbeat, he was by her side, trying desperately to court her with his bad French but she just laughed in his face. She shouldn’t have done that. Last night, I bought some bread and water for Maisie and Andrew to eat. When Tyrone arrived, he didn’t say a word. He had a scratch mark on his cheek, sweat all over his skin, and holes in his shirt. His pants were undone and just a few strands of golden hair fell over his shoulder. I knew what he had done. He took that French girl for his own and treated her as a toy. That was it for me. I couldn’t keep quiet.
“I took my two siblings, and the moment Tyrone fell asleep, we ran. I took them somewhere safe, where he wouldn’t find them and then, I came here. I came here to confess what I had done, and to confess what he has done. He has destroyed my family. Please, you have to lock him up. Lock me up, but don’t let him go free.” My cheeks are stained with black tears.
“Mayra Blackwood,” the woman opened the beige file and read, “your brother, Tyrone Blackwood, eighteen years old, brown hair, blood type O positive, is that correct?” I nod. She continues, but the words seem to get stuck inside her mouth, “Mayra, I need you to tell me now, who are Andrew and Maisie.”
I raise my eyebrow, “They’re my brother and sister.”
“Biological,” I correct.
“Mayra, I need you to listen very closely to what I’m about to say,” she states, “Your parents, James and Lydia Blackwood, only had two children: Tyrone and you. There are no other reported children for that family.”
The words blend in my mind, “What?”
“Andrew and Maisie aren’t real.” She insisted.
“Yes they are.” I yell. It couldn’t have been.
“Where are they now?”
I try to think back to the place I took them to, but my mind is blank. It can’t be. Because if it wasn’t Andrew who he hit, and Maisie who he sold, and the French girl who he attacked, then it must have been only one person. And if one person had to endure that, she would be dead inside. “I need you to tell me the same story,” the woman requests, “but without mentioning them. Do you think you can do that?” I nod. The bruises on my arm, the sting in between my legs, the way my hand shivered. It was clear.
The words come out of my mouth without a second thought, “My name is Mayra Blackwood. I ran away with my brother, and he killed every part of me.”