“Mmm….I say 500 Yuan for the lass.” The woman gripped her daughter tightly. The soldier waited for her response. Fighting back her tears, she stammered,
“But…but that’s not enough to feed my family. We’ve so many debts to pay an’ my husband’s just died. We’ve travelled so far. Spare us some more, please officer.” There was a sadness in her eyes that he could not resist. But under the King’s orders there was nothing he could do.
“I think 500 is a pretty good price ma’am. Remember, she is a girl. So is that a deal or what?” He was getting quite impatient now. Looking at the queue, he decided he’d be so busy today. The King had appointed him to do the job and he could not waste a single second.
The woman nodded reluctantly and held out her hand.
“Oh no, I’ll pay once the child is given.” The commoners, he thought, you can’t trust them with money, “And the name of the child?”
Chun Li watched as the soldier filled in her details. He was tall and young, with jet black hair and broad shoulders. He was dressed completely in armour, with a dagger in his belt and on his head, lay a newly-polished, metal helmet. He looked superior standing next to them.
Her mother shivered as she signed the document. Before she knew it, Chun-Li was taken onto a boat. There were several other girls waiting there too. Their faces were red and blotchy, their eyes watery. Chun-Li turned to wave her mother goodbye, but she was already walking away. Chun-Li stared at her mother. She looked so frail and tiny in the distance. She stared as her mother got smaller and smaller, until she disappeared completely.
They had been waiting on the boat for almost 6 hours. Chun-Li watched as the golden coin disappeared into the chest of sapphires. The sky slowly began to darken. Her heart ached; she wanted to go home. The image of her mother turning away, the thought of being abandoned, made her cry so much that she was afraid she would never stop.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed two, grand men gliding gracefully through the crowds. Through her tears, she noticed that they were dressed like the soldier, but their clothes were more elaborate. Their golden, leather shoes looked too posh to walk on the ground. One of them took a golden badge out of his pocket and showed it to the soldier. They were let onto the boat immediately and showed to the best seats available. After one last call, the anchor was untied and the boat set sail.
Chun-Li glanced back. The farms and countryside that had once been her home, was now disappearing. She fidgeted with her necklace as she watched the remaining, tiny spot of light fading into the distance. She was leaving Wu-Nam. Maybe forever…
The sound of waves crashing against the boat woke her. She couldn’t remember falling asleep and a sudden rush of panic overcame her. She had heard of so many stories in China, about unwanted girls left to die. Turning round to check that the others were still there, she noticed that they were all snoring softly, all except the two grand men and a soldier. They were in deep conversation and didn’t even notice that she was awake. One of them was talking, but she couldn’t make out who it was, because the girl sleeping next to her had just rolled over and blocked her view.
“ Unwanted at birth, because she was a girl. I just can‘t believe the Queen would do such a thing.”
A different voice spoke,“ There are all kinds in the world. Don’t trust anyone, that’s my advice.”
The first voice spoke again, “People wonder whether she‘s still alive. It‘s been eighteen years since the swap.”
Someone yawned,“ The Prince is guilty I presume, knowing that he has absolutely no royal blood in him. Let’s talk again when we get to the palace. Right now, I think we should all have a good night’s sleep.” The boat was filled with an unpleasant silence.
It was getting lighter and Chun-Li could see the sun slowly beginning to rise in the horizon. She was still very tired, but she couldn’t sleep. Being curious, she wondered about what she had just heard.
“We’ve found the princess….the princess…” Chun-Li gasped, frightened at the sudden voice. She sat up, only to find that it was the soldier. Lying back down again, she thought over what she had just heard. Her eyelids were getting heavier and before she knew it, she was fast asleep.
The sudden sound of a horn woke her. She squeezed her eyelids shut. It was very bright, probably around midday. She sat up to yawn and stretch out her arms.
Loud noises filled the air. Hundreds of people were running about, carrying products to sell and advertising. Every shop was open; customers walked in and out of them every second. Bowls rattled as beggars pleaded for money. Children were playing, their chatters deafening. Chun-Li had heard many of the villagers talking about Beijing, they had all tried to find jobs here. But looking at all the rich businessmen, she could see why they hadn’t stayed.
A soldier at the port stopped to question them. The man that was sleep-talking yesterday, took the golden badge from his pocket again and showed it to the soldier. Without further questions, he obediently let them through.
The girls were led single file through the city. Citizens nudged each other and rolled their eyes as they walked past. The men would eye them up and down, sick grins creeping across their faces.
Their walk was a long and tiring one. To make it even gloomier, the sky began to darken and it began to rain, lightly at first, but then it got heavier and fiercer. They stopped outside a grand building with lion statues situated on either side. The soldier knocked at the door. For what seemed like forever, the doors slowly began to open and a middle-aged woman, dressed completely in silk and jewels, emerged. She looked at the soldier quizzically, waiting for an explanation. After a long conversation, the woman beckoned them inside.
By now, they were all completely soaked to the skin. They shivered as the cold air attacked them, rubbing their hands and arms to get warm.
Inside the building, Chun-Li could hear the giggling of females and laughing of men as they were led up the stairs. Someone demanded more wine to be served and the sound of chasing could be heard. Chinese harps were being played as women began to dance. Just then, underwear came flying out of no-where and landed in front of them. They screamed and ran down the steps, only to be stopped by the soldier. Chun-Li realised that the other two men did not come into the building with them, knowing too well why they hadn’t. They were forced up the stairs and into a huge room.
They looked nervously at the woman, terrified of the fact that they were trapped here forever. There were beautiful, silk dresses laid out on the tables, along with pink leather shoes like the ones the two young men were wearing. They watched as the woman sat on one of the mahogany chairs and started to speak,
“From now on, you will listen and obey my orders. I am your mistress now. Anyone…ANYONE, WHO IS CAUGHT RUNNING AWAY, WILL BE HANGED!”
The girls flinched, taken by surprise at her sudden change in volume and haunted by her words of death. They were all questioned afterwards, one by one, before they were given their new clothes. Chun-Li was last, she’d hoped that they’d forget about her and that she would be able to escape, but that was very unlikely as there were only ten of them. She jumped with fright as the woman spoke to her,
“And what is your name young lady?”
“Wong-Chun-Li,” she answered shakily.
“And how old are you?”
“Eighteen.” The woman eyed her up and down. There was an obvious look of jealously in her eyes. She looked at Chun-Li again. There, stood a tall and fine young woman, with a beautiful face and long, silky hair. Her skin was a wonderful peach and her feet, small and delicate. She was a goddess dressed in rags. With one last look, she spoke again,
“Well what are you waiting for then? Put on your dress and shoes.” Chun-Li frantically did as she was told, hiding her necklace, afraid the mistress might take her favourite possession away from her. Only, there was no necklace. Where had it gone? It was there with her on the boat. The mistress noticed that she was searching for something,
“Is there something wrong?”
“No, no,” she answered a bit too quickly,“ I was just making sure I didn’t crease the dress.”
“And did you?”
“No, no… of course not,” she was slightly embarrassed.
“Well good. Now, your job,” the woman paused and looked at them, “I want you to make the men happy and give them what they’ve paid for. I have bought you all and you will make me the money I want. Do you understand? I hope I’m correct that you all know the punishment that follows if you don’t.” The girls shivered at the thought.
An old, frail man come into the room, “Yes, ma’am?”
“Take the young ladies to their new rooms.”
“I want them awake by sunrise tomorrow morning.”
Chun-Li was showed into her room at last. As soon as Chou left her alone, she frantically began to change back into her clothes. The sound of giggles in the next room made her sick. She has to get out of here, no matter what would happen to her. She would rather die that get forced in prostitution.
She scratched her wrist as she thought of how to escape. The familiar scar on her left arm throbbed with pain. She had grown into the habit of doing that since she was young. She couldn’t remember how she had got the scar, it seemed to be there ever since she was born.
Deciding that she would wait until middle of the night until she would try anything, she pretended to sleep.
Chun-Li looked out her window at the starry sky. The world was silent around her; only the sound of owls hooting and foxes howling could be heard through the streets. Being as quiet as a mouse, she crept out of the room and carefully made her way through the corridor.
“Chou, get me some tea. I need to stay awake tonight.” Suddenly, one of the doors swung open and Chou came out. Chun-Li ran as fast as her legs would carry her, not daring to look back.
She raced down the stairs, her heart throbbing in her chest as she ran. Gasping for air, she bounded off the last step and sprinted towards the door. There was no time to waste. She had to escape.
Guards rushed out from all directions, and before she knew it, she was surrounded completely. The mistress walked slowly down the stairs towards her. An angry expression on her face.
“HOW DARE YOU!” Chun-Li felt a sharp blow across her face, the mistress had slapped her, “GET RID OF HER! I AM ASHAMED, TO TAKE SUCH AN UNTRUSTWORTHY SLAVE INTO MY HOUSE!”
The guards cowered as she talked. Obeying her orders, they tied Chun-Li to a chair. Chou had a black jar in his hands. With a spoon, he scooped out a black and slimy substance. Forcing her head up, the guards prised open her mouth. Chou immediately yanked the spoon down her throat.
They threw her onto the ground and watched her die painfully. Cough overcame her like a monstrous demon. She spluttered and choked on the stinging poison. She clutched her stomach, her face straining in agony.
Suddenly, the doors burst open and a servant appeared with a group of soldiers.
“Sorry to disturb you madam, but I have been sent to find the young woman to whom this necklace belongs,” he held something up, “One of my officers found it on a boat from Wu-Nam. I believe that 10 women were brought here, all of which travelled on that very same boat…”
Though she was suffering, Chun-Li could just make out the familiar, blue-green jewel at the end of the golden chain. The bite marks from when she was little stood out in the light. Gasping for air, she croaked,
“It’s…it’s mine…” She was feeling faint now. Everything went blurry. The soldier ran towards her. Seizing her left arm, he pulled up the sleeve and examined her wrist. There, to his horror, was the scar he had been looking for all year. The girl with the scar on her left wrist…
Chun-Li took one, last breath from the world. She collapsed to the ground, unconscious. The soldier fell on his knees.
Back in Wu-Nam, a woman sat by her fire-place. She was staring at an empty basket. Memories rushed into her head. The baby in the street, all helpless and without a mother. The letter from its mother. The wonderful times they had spent together and how the little baby grew into a beautiful woman. And now, she was gone. How the woman wanted her back. I wonder where she is right now she thought.