She was being watched. The tiny goose bumps that covered her arms, and
the prickly hair that stood up on the back of her neck told her it was
true. She stopped walking, turned and looked over her shoulder. Behind
her was a long winding path with thick grass growing beside it. The sun
shone warmly over the earth and the cool fingers of the wind brushed
against her cheeks. Sounds of sunbirds chirping, and the sight of a
colorful butterfly fluttering by, spoke of a normal calm. But an
instinctual feeling inside her insisted something was wrong. She didn’t
move from her stance for a moment. With a squint, she inspected the
dirt pathway as far as she could see.
There was no one there.
Laila took a deep breath. Why did she feel so uneasy?
She stepped off the dusty trail onto the lush green grass and continued
to walk toward her destination. The Nile River came into view, its
massive expanse displayed like a silvery blue silk spread across the
earth. The sun’s rays reflected off the water like shimmering diamonds
bobbing upon the river. Laila picked up her pace. Her hideout was near.
At the water’s edge, Laila looked over her shoulder again. There was
nothing but fields of grass and open sky. She told herself to relax.
She had been to the river many times over the years. Nothing bad had
ever happened. Why should today be any different? She needed to cleanse
herself of the eerie feeling that captivated her imagination.
She knelt beside the water and looked into it. Her reflection shown
back at her. Placing her hand in the water she splashed the cold liquid
on her face causing her image to distort into ripples. Refreshed, she
walked to her hiding place, a large rock formation that jutted out over
the river. Its smooth sides made it impossible for animals to climb,
and the rock formation curved at the top providing much desired shade.
Laila hoisted herself onto the rock. Before she sat down on the stone,
she looked out over the river. There was a Red-Billed Ibis balanced on
one leg. In the distance, there were men on boats fishing for their
catch of the day. Downstream, women busily washed clothes along the
bank. Upstream, rows and rows of wheat grew in fields. Beyond the
fields of grain was a thicket of trees. Everything appeared as it
should be. Laila eased down on the cool stone and relaxed. The sound of
the river and the hum of insects helped to create a peaceful oasis.
Gradually, Laila’s thoughts began to drift to the issue that weighed
heavily on her mind. Her betrothal. She had been promised to a boy in
the village when she was very young. Now, however, she did not want to
marry him. A witness to her parents’ loveless arranged marriage, Laila
did not want to endure the same fate. It had been devastating when her
father eventually left her mother for another woman. As a result, Laila
decided she would only give herself to a man who committed himself to
love her and no one else…forever.
“Your marriage shan’t be postponed any longer,” her mother had
announced that morning. “I can’t continue to give in to your excuses.
The villagers are starting to talk. They say you too old to be
unmarried. Since you will not protect yourself and your reputation, I
Laila remembered shouting, “You’re not listening to me! I already told
you! I’m not going to marry a man I don’t love! You can’t force me to
“Don’t speak to me with such disrespect!” her mother scolded. “And, don’t go to the river today!” she ordered.
But a few hours after her mother left for a day of shopping in the city
Laila made her way to the river. She headed to the river because she
needed to think and being alone near the serene waters of the Nile
helped her relax. Besides, Laila had told herself, she would be back
home long before dark, before anyone returned and missed her.
Now, as she stared up at the blue sky, a tinge of remorse nestled in her heart.
She regretted shouting at her mother. She should not have lost her
temper. But how else could she make her mother understand the way she
As her thoughts wandered, Laila’s eyelids became heavy. Her eyes closed
a couple of times. Each time she managed to pry them back open.
Eventually, however, her eyelids became so heavy it was impossible to
fight it any longer and she fell asleep.
She had to be dreaming. Why else was there a black man with dark eyes and an unkempt beard looming over her?
Laila sat up, instantly awake.
The man stepped toward her and she noticed he had a small jagged scar
running from the side of his nose to the middle of his cheek.
Her heartbeat quickened.
Anxiously, she glanced over the water, which now reflected dim splashes of pink, purple and yellow light from the evening sky.
She looked upstream.
The fishermen were gone.
She looked downstream.
The women were nowhere to be seen and the sun was quickly slipping behind the horizon, soon to be replaced by dark gray night.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Laila demanded, trying to hide the panic she felt.
The stranger did not answer.
Laila sprung to her feet but was shoved down onto the rock. “Yer not going anywhere!” the man growled.
Sprawled across the rock, Laila stared up in bewilderment at the
intruder. She managed to gather her wits and attempted to rise again.
The man thrust her down once more and straddled her as he untied the rope that was around his waist.
Laila let out a deafening scream. “Let me go! Let me go!” she
screeched, punching wildly at the assailant. Her arms flailed about,
weaving up and down, in and out, to evade capture and inflict pain on
the intruder. Her captor, undaunted by her jabs, grabbed for her arms.
Laila tried to kick her feet, but the man’s weight stifled her efforts.
With a churlish grunt, she clawed at the man’s face. She sank her nails
into the assailant’s cheek. He roared from the pain then knocked her
“Ye shouldn’t have done that!” he hissed and leaned forward.
His hot stale breath stung her nose as he caught her left arm, pinned
it down and quickly tied one end of the rope around her wrist.
Laila screamed in tortured protest as the rope tightened around her
wrist and bit into her skin. The man released her left arm and tried to
seize her right arm. Lifting her left arm, the coarse rope dangling
from it, Laila brought her hand to her opponent’s face. She clasped her
fingers tightly over the attacker’s left eye and savagely burrowed her
nails into the muscle. Her adversary yelped in anguish. He released his
grip and both of his hands went to his injured eye.
Without hesitating, Laila shoved the brute off her and rolled away from
him. She attempted to scramble to her feet but lost her footing. She
tried to stand once more. Still, she could not find her footing. Ripped
by fear, she whimpered and tried again. This time, she made it to her
feet. In a flash, she jumped down from the rock, stumbled, then ran to
the fields toward the thicket of trees. Her heart pounded rapidly in
her chest. Her breathing was so loud it echoed in her ears. She heard
an angry shout behind her. But she did not look back. Instead, she
quickened her pace as she sprinted through the stalks of wheat. The
forest of trees was not far ahead, she had to make it! Legs please
don’t give out! She prayed as she ran. She was so close! Almost there…
She entered the thicket of trees just as the sun’s remaining light
disappeared from the sky and an ominous darkness took its place.
It was dark. Too dark. Only a minute amount of moon light shimmered
through the leaves of the towering trees to reach the forest floor. The
moon’s rays caused dim streaks that cast gloomy shadows on the trees
and turned them into frightening-looking monsters. Laila could barely
see a few steps in front of her as she raced further into the darkness.
She had been in these woods before. But now, as her heart pounded and
her blood pulsed through her veins, she lost her sense of direction.
Still she ran.
Wind whipped against her face. A pain grew in her side. It was hard to
breathe. She darted to a large wide tree and stood behind it panting.
That man had tried to tie her up! Who was he? Why had he assaulted her?
Had she lost him? Or had she been running in circles? She looked into
the darkness but saw nothing. Somewhere in the distance, a wild cat’s
eerie cry sounded. An owl hooted. Laila shivered as uncertainty flexed
She was alone in the dark and she was being hunted.
Leaves crackled and the sound of heavy footsteps floated to Laila’s ear
on the wings of the wind. Instantly, she flattened her back against the
enormous tree she had been leaning on and wished she could melt into
the hard bark. The snap of branches under heavy footsteps revealed her
assailant approached behind her. The clearing was up ahead. She had to
keep moving. She lifted her foot. Too late she realized a twig was on
the ground in front of her. Her face contorted in horror as her foot
landed on the twig loudly snapping it into two pieces. Terror exploded
inside her when she heard, “Ye there! Stop! Ye can’t get away slave!”
She was moving again. She wasn’t about to look back. One foot in front
of the other and she was flying like the wind. When she entered the
clearing, she became aware of a whirling noise behind her. As she ran,
the sound barreled upon her in a race to overtake to her. Suddenly, a
coarse binding snaked around her ankles slamming them together moments
before her feet wrenched upward. Laila felt herself falling forward.
She hit the ground with an agonizing thud. Air smashed out of her
chest. Laila whimpered in immobilizing pain when she regained her
breath. Desperate, she tried to spread her legs but found her feet
bound by a long cord with weights on the end. Terror snaked from her
toes and lodged in her throat as she watched the stranger approach her.
“’Tis no use! Ye can’t get away!” the man bellowed down at her.
His menacing words were the impetus Laila needed to try her escape
again. She clutched at her restraints then tried to crawl away.
The man lunged forward, grabbed her feet and slid her back to him. A
sharp rock scraped her legs and belly. She spat dirt and leaves from
“No! Noo!” she screamed. “Let me go!”
The assailant flipped her over and sank his weight on her chest cutting
off any chance of escape. Laila found it harder and harder to breathe.
She squirmed, gasping for air. In response, her foe pressed his girth
more firmly upon her. Frantically, she slapped at him but her head was
“Ye will bring me a good price!” she heard the man jeer.
Then, with one crude punch, he hit her across the face and everything went black.
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