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“Aroha, huh? This is not what we named you. You were named Raven Sirena Merchant. We hoped you would stay at the brothel and train once you turned sixteen. Figured it would be a lot easier for you.”

I didn’t respond. Who was he? Someone who worked there? A family friend, a scorned neighbour, a distant relative, or, maybe, family?

He persisted. “You have the appearance and the physique”, his eyes assessed my body, like one would merchandise. “Last year on your eighteenth, we asked for you to be sent out on the field. Two years were enough training. Samaritan fooled us, told us you wanted more time to reel in a better bidder, had us all fooled. It took us six months, six bloody months to realize…”

“Who are you? Who is Samaritan?” I asked, bravely squaring my shoulders. I was mad. Who did this guy think he was? Coming into my life and implying that I was worth nothing.

“An uncle, darling, your beloved mother’s brother. Samaritan is the woman who runs the “educational school”. She is kind enough to take you and others like yourself under her wing. And she is also your legal guardian, which was Janine’s idea. We had to cook up a scheme to escape the legal authorities, of course. Ingenious, right?” He broke off, grinning wide. “Don’t you know who Janine is? Your mother, of course. Surprised? Devastated? Unbelievable?”

“You’re lying! You aren’t my uncle! My mother would never, she won’t, she just…” I was outrage at this man’s audacity to lie. I didn’t know my birth mother. But I am positive even she wouldn’t stop so low. “You’re disgusting!”

“Janine didn’t care. I don’t too. She was drowning in a drug-infused stupor. And she needed the money to continue with the addiction. This is my business Raven.” He waited, patiently, gauging my reaction.

“You file….interview?” I stuttered, having trouble calming my chaotic thoughts.

He snickered. “I did go for an interview. But I was the interviewer. It’s tough screening out potential, umm, traders.” He moved a step closer, leaning forward. “It’s not too late, darling. We could be a family and live together, once you go back and train. You can stay in touch with your old family. We could have so much fun. You could be the leader and train other newcomers once you are a couple of years old in the trade. Think of it, a family business! Your mom will be proud. You will live more than just a comfortable life.” I paled and took a step back, kicking my mind into motion. I looked for an escape route, mentally calculating his reaction time.

“I am not sure the bidders would be interested in necrophilia, darling. We are family. I don’t want hurt you. I won’t. You should think about it.” His eyes acknowledged my step back. He waited for my next move.

I would rather die. I won’t degrade myself, the Dalloways have taught me better. I had to distract him. “What about Aleena? Will I be able to talk to her? She is family, too. And what about college and my dreams? What if I need more time? I asked.

“Of course, you can. Maybe convince her to join the dark side too,” he smirked. “You are my niece so I could grant you this special privilege. Mind you, none of the other ladies get to go to college,”

“And time?” I urged.

“You will get time to learn the art of seduction, but that shouldn’t take more than two weeks. No more than that. I won’t be duped again,” he leaned forward, gradually. “You aren’t fooling around, are you?”

“I don’t know. I need to sit and think. This is an important decision. I need time to think,” I stammered, looking worried, and hoping to sound convincing.

He folded his arms across his chest, rhythmically tapping the pebble-filled ground, continuously. I stared at his feet. I recalled the mechanical duck I had seen on a trip to the zoo. It dipped its beak in the water. Beautifully harmonious! A little girl pulled at her dad’s finger, stubbornly demanding for him to buy the duck for her. She wanted it in her room so she could look at it “every time before sleeping and after waking up”. It was a life-sized display piece for the park. Even after consolation and promises of vanilla ice-cream – her favourite – she began to cry and stomp her foot. Her dad bent down and carried her off, while making silly faces and tickling her. I had looked on, feeling like an outsider, an undeserving stranger. I didn’t know what it was to be tickled or to stomp your foot or get vanilla ice-cream or to call a man dad.

What would it be like to have family? Could I make up for those missed years? Maybe, once I meet Janine, she would feel guilty and just take me in, no pre-conditions set.

“Okay.” I stared at him, impassively. He looked surprised. He expected a fight, a denial. He stepped closer to hug me.