Ilya was startled from her dozing by a metallic bang. She looked up to see a new woman drunkenly stumbling away from the steel door, pulling a matted fur coat tightly around her. Ilya sat up from the narrow bench she had been curled up on, and looked around.
There were only a handful of others in the large cell. Everyone kept to their own metal bench, either napping or lost in thought or, as Ilya watched the new woman drop to a bench, no thought at all. Ilya had made the mistake when she came to earlier of trying to talk to a few of the women; but she had been so scared and confused. Lukas had not explained anything when he escorted her from the ship. The last thing she remembered was coughing uncontrollably and struggling against a drowning feeling as he pulled her along.
She woke up here alone, with no answers. No one spoke her language. Even those who weren’t slurring or muttering to themselves, their words were too fluid, the sounds too mushed together for her ear to piece apart. Ilya had tried calling for help through the door, but that was only answered by screaming from the others in the room.
Ilya realized the new woman was staring back at her, so she quickly looked away and studied the scratchy graffiti on the wall beside her. Childish scribbles were intermingled with crude diagrams of genitalia and sex acts. Ilya had wrinkled her nose at a particular pair of stick figures.
“Oy!” The drunk barked. “Kssssskl fandbei drrrrp.” The woman let out a long belch at the end.
Ilya pretended not to hear, but that didn’t seem to help.
“Kissskilfand abeidrrughh PA!”
Ilya turned away as a couple of the others drowsily responded.
“OY!” The drunken woman could be heard lurching from her bench with a metallic scrape. “Mn… mwen ichrdandrrughh! Huh? Ki sa ki…”
A deeper voice rang out from the opposite corner, the words flowing in a slow rhythm like someone reciting a child’s rhyme.
“Daismattoi und aswattoi, schlampute dumbaka.”
The tone commanded without shouting, but the drunken woman fell heavily back to her bench and let out what Ilya was sure were a few more expletives before turning inward.
Ilya looked to the corner where the new voice came from, hoping for a friendly face. Instead she saw a bored young man, pale skinned with a shaved head. What was a man doing in here?? She had assumed she was in some kind of women’s holding cell. Ilya stared in disbelief until the man looked back at her, and she quickly averted her eyes to her lap.
There was something off about this person, but… also familiar. After a few minutes she hazarded another glance. The young man looked ragged as he sat collapse in the corner. His long, black coat with its padded segments crumpled shapelessly around him; Ilya knew it hid a long, wiry frame. Her eyes followed the somewhat delicate line of his jaw. He may have been too young to grow a generous beard, but the bare cheeks were too smooth.
He caught her staring again and she blinked hard, averting her gaze. What was it? There was something about him she just couldn’t place. Her next peak showed that he was watching her this time. Startled, she turned and sat facing away. That can’t be good. She heard a rustling as the man stirred from his corner. She kept her eyes averted as it approached and pulled closer one of the free standing benches.
He eased down to the bench and stared for a moment. She could see him in her peripheral vision as he cocked his head sideways. When she didn’t move, he whistled softly to get her attention. She shut her eyes tightly as he snapped near her face and whistled again.
Ilya couldn’t understand what he said, but his question had a playful tone to it. He continued to talk quietly to himself as she remained frozen in place. After a moment of silence he sighed and whistled again. She finally opened her eyes, and when she looked over, he sat back to give her space.
She realized what was off. He had left his coat in the corner, and sitting so closely Ilya could see that this man was in fact a woman. The dirty jumpsuit worn as pants opened at her waist to reveal a form fitting and equally grimy t-shirt. The woman stared hard at her, yet not in a way that Ilya found threatening. It felt more like an intense curiosity.
“Nazegh wharanata wha starrtegh michanegh?”
Ilya shrugged and shook her head.
The woman frowned and rubbed her hands up and down her face. It reminded Ilya of Cael when he was frustrated. The thought must have changed her expression, because the woman cocked an eyebrow and looked encouraged.
“Queist vodresuka nom? Ah?” The woman tilted her head again. She rested a hand on her own chest. “Marghi. Undomaegh? Ah? Margh-i.”
Ilya nodded to the woman. “Mari?”
The woman’s face lit up. Ilya had rolled the r against the front of her teeth instead of breathing through it at the back of her throat, but it was close enough. She had understood. “Ah… Und omaegh?”
“Mm… my name?”
“Marghi… ah?” She gestured to Ilya again.
“My name is Ilya.” She tapped her own chest. “Ilya.”
“Igh-le-hya. Ihl… hya?”
Ilya nodded but the woman gestured for more, her hands beckoning.
“Halnazhi rheddenegh,” the woman raised her hands and had them do the talky motion by flapping the fingers to the thumb, “da-da-da-dagh.”
Ilya was confused. She wanted her to talk? But they couldn’t speak each other’s language.
The woman’s voice rose in pitch, like she was coaching a baby, “Da-da-da-dagh.”
“Um,” she looked around at the others in the cell. No one seemed to take notice of them. Not even the drunken woman with the matted fur coat. “My name is Ilya. I…” The woman’s gaze was intensely focused on her face. “I don’t know why I am here. I want to go home. I should never have come here.”
The woman rolled her hands over each other nodding for her to continue.
“I… um. I miss my family. My husbands, my baby girl. Bhaga, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye… can’t remember how long it’s been since I saw little Nessa. The last time I was really home… I’m such a horrible mo-”
“Shhpt!” The woman Mari flapped her fingers in Ilya’s face as she turned away. They sat in silence, Ilya watching her think. Think of what? She couldn’t imagine, but the woman started nodding to herself and turned back.
“Jhour… nahmeh… ease… Eeilhya.”
The woman scrunched up her face. “Jhour…. nameh… ease… Eeilhya.”
“Uh… yes. My name is Ilya.”
“Mah… nahme… ise… Marhi.”
Mari waved her question away.
“Jhou…” She thought for another moment. “Why argh jhou… stargheen… ateh… meh?”
“I… I’m sorry. I thought I recognized you.”
The woman took this in.
“I’m sorry, how are you doing this?”
“Hmm?” The Mari sat with her hands over her mouth as she thought.
“How are you learning my language so quickly?”
“Ah… Ieeghave a fhiende.” She tapped her head.
The woman suppressed a chuckle. “Jhess.” She shook her head. “Gharde to explaineh.”
“I can imagine.”
“Jhou argh fromeh Bharha?”
“Baht Bharhenne do not aleave Bharha?”
“Not usually, no.”
“Jhou have beenegh to atherr worldse?”
Ilya shook her head.
“Walle, Iye ghave not beenegh to Bharha. So et was not meh jhou recohnize.”
“No, it was a mistake.”
Mari nodded and sat back. Their conversation apparently over, she twisted on the bench and lay down on her back. The chill of the room didn’t seem to affect her as she casually tucked her hands behind her shaved head.
Ilya had begun to doze again, hunched over with her riding jacket pulled tightly, when Mari spoke up.
“Why did jhou leaveh Bharha?”
Ilya snorted and straightened her back.
“Bharhenne do not leave Bharha, so why did jhou leave?”
Ilya sighed. “It’s sort of a long story. I guess… I should say I left to help one of my husbands.”
Mari raised an eyebrow.
“I thought he was in trouble, but he was just running away… and now I think I’m stuck.”
Mari raised both brows.
“One of jyour husbandse?”
“Yes. Or, not anymore, I guess.”
“Why ded ghe leave jyou here?”
“It’s not his fault.” Mari eyed her skeptically and Ilya shook her head. “No, no, you have it all wrong. A bad man is chasing him, and I thought… I thought I could protect him if I came along.” She rolled her eyes in embarrassment.
“Where are jyour ather husbandse to help?”
“Yes, well, I sort of left them behind. I know it sounds odd, but, the entire situation was odd. You see, Cael, he-“
“Cael!” Mari sat up as the women around them protested the shouting. She leaned over to Ilya and whispered. “Ded jhou saygh Cael?”
Ilya sat back and nodded.
“Cael Dimini? Skinny? Paleh?”
“You know him?”
Mari suppressed another chuckle.
“Ghe es my brothar.”