voices in the bedroom. They were women’s voices, and they said words he didn’t understand; but he knew they were dreadful words. Then suddenly, crash! something was upset; he heard people moving about quickly, and there was another crash and then a noise like hitting a mule, only not so bony; then Linda screamed. ‘Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t!’ she said. He ran in. There were three women in dark blankets. Linda was on the bed. One of the women was holding her wrists. Another was lying across her legs, so that she couldn’t kick. The third was hitting her with a whip. Once, twice, three times; and each time Linda screamed. Crying, he tugged at the fringe of the woman’s blanket. ‘Please, please.’ With her free hand she held him away. The whip came down again, and again Linda screamed. He caught hold of the woman’s enormous brown hand between his own and bit it with all his might. She cried out, wrenched her hand free, and gave him such a push that he fell down. While he was lying on the ground she hit him three times with the whip. It hurt more than anything he had ever felt—like fire. The whip whistled again, fell. But this time it was Linda who screamed.

‘But why did they want to hurt you, Linda?’ he asked that night. He was crying, because the red marks of the whip on his back still hurt so terribly. But he was also crying because people were so beastly and unfair, and because he was only a little boy and couldn’t do anything against them. Linda was crying too. She was grown up, but she wasn’t big enough to fight against three of them. It wasn’t fair for her either. ‘Why did they want to hurt you, Linda?’

‘I don’t know. How should I know?’ It was difficult to hear what she said, because she was lying on her stomach and her face was in the pillow. ‘They say those men are their men,’ she went on; and she did not seem to be talking to him at all; she seemed to be talking with some one inside herself. A long talk which he didn’t understand; and in the end she started crying louder than ever.

‘Oh, don’t cry, Linda. Don’t cry.’

He pressed himself against her. He put his arm round her neck. Linda cried out. ‘Oh, be careful. My shoulder! Oh!’ and she pushed him away, hard. His head banged against the wall. ‘Little idiot!’ she shouted; and then, suddenly, she began to slap him. Slap, slap …

‘Linda,’ he cried out. ‘Oh, mother, don’t!’

‘I’m not your mother. I won’t be your mother.’

‘But, Linda … Oh!’ She slapped him on the cheek.

‘Turned into a savage,’ she shouted. ‘Having young ones like an animal. … If it hadn’t been for you, I might have gone to the Inspector, I might have got away. But not with a baby. That would have been too shameful.’

He saw that she was going to hit him again, and lifted his arm to guard his face. ‘Oh don’t, Linda, please don’t.’

‘Little beast!’ She pulled down his arm; his face was uncovered.

‘Don’t, Linda.’ He shut his eyes, expecting the blow.

But she didn’t hit him. After a little time, he opened his eyes again and saw that she was looking at him. He tried to smile at her. Suddenly she put her arms round him and kissed him again and again.

Sometimes, for several days, Linda didn’t get up at all. She lay in bed and was sad. Or else she drank the stuff that Popé brought and laughed a great deal and went to sleep. Sometimes she was sick. Often she forgot to wash him, and there was nothing to eat except cold tortillas. He remembered the first time she found those little animals in his hair, how she screamed and screamed.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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