…AND THEN I SMILE
“Happy birthday?” was the first question she asked.
The security guards were not keen on answering.
“Give her the badge” said one guard to the other. He did as he was told, and provided her with one, she meekly pinned it on her shirt. They then proceeded to shove her through the door into an ice-cold room.
The lights, dim as they were, lit up, and she took a look at her surroundings. She looked over at the row of women who lined the room with uneasy curiosity.
Surely they were capable of conversation she thought.
She approached the slender, cranky woman on her right, she was reading a newspaper. One of the few that hadn’t been fed to the dogs outside the compound yet.
She wondered what she would say to her.
“I’m 17” she said, without thinking too hard about which words were appropriate to say.
This probably sounded better off in her head.
“24” the woman said, rasining her head to meet the naive girl face to face.
“Happy Birthday?” she asked.
“Try asking someone else” said the woman.
“Who else is there?” asked the girl, leaning over and waving at the row of ladies in front of her. Some had the courtesy, or naivety, to wave back.
“Is this your first day?” the woman replied.
“It’ll be my only day” the girl responded.
“That optimistic are you?” the woman spoke again, trying to hold back a smirk.
She walked over to a vending machine pearched in the center of the room, she fiddled for some loose change, found some, inserted the change into the slot, and made her selection.
A can was slowly pushed out of it’s slot and deposited down a cool grey shaf, coming out the other side into the grip of the woman. She downed the contents of the can almost in one gulp, then offered the remainder of the contents to the new girl.
She politely declined.
It was now the woman’s turn to ask.
“I’d rather ask that question thanks. It’s important that I ask it. That’s what they said upstairs anyway. Helps me be more of a people person they say”
“Suit yourself” the woman replied.
Curiosity soon got the better of even her though.
“Suppose somebody answers…then what?”
“…And then I smile” the girl replied.
Most of the women had all been staring at something to the upper right of them, a computerized lock nearest to where the door was situated.
The red lights came on
The woman looked at the labelling.
“Grand Day Out…pfft, who comes up with these labels? Imagine someone asking you if you had a grand day out, and you’d have to reply that you took a swing of this muck…you sure you don’t want it? Grand Day Out?”
“What would happen if I said yes?” the girl responded. What then?” the girl replied.
“Same as you I imagine. I’d smile”
“Quiet, the pair of you, someone’s coming” another woman uttered, trying to simmer the pair’s jaunty behaviour.
The door opened and the security guards poured in, they were accompanied by a short, plump black man wearing a blue shirt and a slightly crooked tie.
“21” he said.
A hand was raised. The guards walked along the row of women and pinpointed the source of the outstretched hand, bringing one female towards the man.
“Manic Monday?” she asked.
“It’s a Thursday, but every day for someone up there feels like the start of a working week, I could do with a refreshing reminder of the days I’ve already put behind”
Without hesitation, he groped her, then pulled back.
“Flat” he said, menace in his voice.
Without saying another word, he gestured to the guards to dispose of the damaged goods. They obeyed and took out the female with a heavy round of firepower from their weapons.
The row of women shook with fear, some crying and finding comfort in one another’s arms. The guards looked upon this and began barking orders at them.
“Don’t mingle, this is’nt a pick’n’mix, stay in your rows. All of you” they instructed, before slowly backing slowly towards the door.
The man was determined not to leave, he took out another number
The girl visibly shook. The woman stared at her with sollemn pity. In the breifest of moments exchanged between them, she had taken quite a shine to her.
“Oh you poor thing..you’re speechless aren’t you? Can’t imagine you’ll find your voice now…grand day out?”
The girl wept, but found the strength to answerr
“I won a ticket to get in this place…solid gold price, I played in the parks ’till I was 14, then spent the next two years conducting tours for the other kids. Made extra cash, lived in luxery. I was labelled a breath of fresh air. A refreshment. All that was left was the branding”
The man stared hard at her, his eyes charged with ill intent.
“Speak to me” he said.
The girl looked at the woman, her lips quivering, unsure of what to say.
“Go on, do what you came here to do” the woman said, “We understand branding, make the most of your day if you wish it to be your only one”
The guards raised their weapons.
The girl asked the question
“Ha-Happy Birthday?” she said.
The man grinned.
“I’ve always liked that song…Happy Birthday…to you, Happy Birthday…to you, Happy Birthday…Mr. President”
His fingers nimbly touched the base of the girl’s chin, he looked at her badge, it was facing the wrong way on her shirt, he turned it around.
It read “happy birthday”
“I’ll take it” he said, taking out a coin and inserting it into her pockets. The women beside the girl threw her out of the line and into his arms.
The woman seized her oppertunity and asked her own question again
“Grand Day Out?” she asked.
“Those days in the park were pretty grand, maybe I can see them again” she said, grabbing the can from the woman and drinking the remiander of it’s contents before looking over to the man in her arms and giving him a warm smile as they both departed the room.
The woman watched them both go, she looked at the discarded can as it was released from the grip of the girl and crashed to the floor.
And then she smiled.