Monstrous Femme

We Sacrifice Ourselves to the Sea

We Sacrifice Ourselves to the Sea

She was rocked out of sleep by the boat’s motion. After the rattling sound of the engine, she noticed two things. First, the air was fresher than the country she had left behind, not laced with the cloying smell of burning rubbish. It was probably her overactive imagination taking control, her subconscious desperately trying to find a reason to justify the dangerous journey to the United Kingdom. Despite this, it was easier to breathe, with no dust or burning smells. The second thing she noticed was that her wrists were bound, and so were her ankles.

She tested and realised that it was not just her clothing caught on something, she could feel the tight, hard loops of cable ties around her wrist and ankles. Panic flared in a surging rush, hitting her like a tidal wave. She couldn’t move, prone on the deck of a boat she didn’t recognise.

She had heard stories about women being hand-picked for the sex trade when attempting to flee Syria. Being lined up like cattle and inspected in the same way before being taken to wherever their captors could make the most money out of their bodies. That was her future now. She would suffer the humiliation of beatings and rapes by multiple men.

She looked around and noticed the boat she was on was bigger than the little dingy they had crowded her into when she left Syria. She had spent that part of the trip sitting on someone’s foot. She didn’t look around to see whose. She just sat there staring at the back of the head of the woman in front. She stared at the brown stain on the woman’s headscarf and wondered what it was. She could remember giddy excitement at the prospect of washing her own clothes in clean water.

That, she thought, was the most dangerous part of the journey. The smuggler boat was small to avoid detection by the coast guards. It was open on all sides and travelled at a fast pace. She felt the surf hitting her right side and drenching her clothes as they sped along. If anyone stood up, no matter where they were sitting, they would most likely fall overboard into the dark sea and disappear for good. The chain-smoking sailor steering the small dingy had made it clear from the outset that if anyone fell in, they were on their own. He would not be turning around the help them. He looked at some of the children desperately clutching at their mother’s hands and repeated the word, anyone.

Now, she knew that had been the easy part.

She started to cry, unable to control herself. She was at the bottom of a pit of despair with no hope of salvation. The tears rolled down her face and itched as they lingered on her cheeks. With her hands bound behind her back, she was unable to wipe them away and had to suffer their annoyance without being able to stop them. Then the voice in her mind spoke.

It is not over yet. Do not underestimate yourself like the others did. You are strong. You can fight.

As the constant rattle of the boat’s engine blended with the waves, she twisted her wrist to try and feel what was binding her. A hard plastic band. She strained with all of her strength to break free. The ties bit into her wrists, tightening and digging into her flesh. She gave up and let the tears flow.

Please, God, see me through this nightmare. I don’t want to be raped again. I’d rather die.

The idea of a man crawling on top of her and using her to satisfy himself was too much. Her bladder let go, warming her thighs as the urine was absorbed by her clothes. The boat rocked sharply, and a wave splashed over the left side. A voice came from further in the boat, “Whoa.”

A male voice. Its tenor unmistakable for someone used to the subservience of men. Foreign-sounding, probably English. Not the husky-voiced Syrian sailor who had pushed her onto his dingy and warned her not to stand. This one was softer, more human.

Maybe we were all arrested?

She clung to the hope that she had been picked up by the English coast guard. The bastard smuggler, who had smacked an old woman across the face when she failed to give him the correct amount and pushed her to the ground, was now in handcuffs. Could the binds be a temporary step while all migrants were sorted out? Could this actually be her salvation? An easy life where she was given money and somewhere to live with electricity and running water where women were respected instead of abused?

She thought back to her last memory before waking up on this boat. The small dingy had docked at a small beach. She had no idea if it was England or France or somewhere else entirely. She was ordered to get off the boat, pushed violently by the chain-smoking sailor into the waist-high sea and herded onto land. The water was freezing cold, and some children were crying and shouting that it was too cold. After the arid heat of Syria, everything was going to be cold from now on.

A small group of people with white faces were waiting on the beach with blankets. She waited until the children were wrapped up before taking her own blanket. Back in Syria, you could face having your clothes ripped from you by a man if he felt cold. Stolen off your back and then draped over himself.

She remembered looking at the faces on the beach and thinking they had all made it. A young white woman had offered her a bottle of water, which she took. After checking enough for the children, she opened it and drank. Taking half of the bottle in the first draft. She had not drunk anything for a whole day and desperately needed fresh water. The cool liquid meeting the desert of her mouth was the last memory she could recall before waking up on this boat.

The young cute woman must have drugged her.

A moan came from her right. She looked for the source and saw a pile of rags moving. The female moan continued as the pile of clothes writhed. Someone else had been tied up and brought aboard this boat for some unknown reason.

She spoke in Arabic, “Are you OK? Were you on the smuggler’s boat that left Morrocco?”

The moan became a scream. A terrified, fear-filled scream. She saw the form twist and buck as reality dawned. She was trapped and at the mercy of the unknown. She tried to quiet the woman with shushing sounds. The last thing they needed was the attention of whoever was piloting this boat. And even if the sailor was sat in a chair watching, she didn’t want to give him any satisfaction and allow him t think he was in control.

The woman screamed, ignoring her advice. Screamed the desperate, throat-rasping scream of fear. She must have heard the same stories she had about women going missing when making the trip to a new life. Stories of women being tortured, raped, and murdered by men for no reason other than they could.

Under the screaming, she heard a man’s voice. It sounded like cursing in English. The rattling engine cut out, and the pitiful cries of her fellow captive became the loudest sound. She was praying. The Arabic words were easy to hear in this new silence.

Heavy footsteps approached. She saw the black silhouette of a man duck underneath a door frame to exit the boat’s body and stand on the deck. “Hey, it’s OK. You’ll be OK.” He reached out and flicked a switch which illuminated two spotlights. The world disappeared as the blinding light sent stabbing pains through her eyes. She squinted and tried to get her vision back quickly.

The silhouette stayed under the lights, watching them. As her eyes adjusted to the new light, she saw him. He was wearing a large stained yellow fisherman’s slicker with a detached look on his face. He was looking at her but with no emotion. Anyone capable of looking at another bound human being in distress with no emotion was dangerous.

The woman on her right was moaning loudly, begging for help in Arabic.

“Do you speak English?” The stranger asked.

She nodded and quickly asked her fellow captor if she understood English. The woman was broken, unable to process anything other than her own desperate fear.

“She can’t,” she said in broken English, not knowing if the words were said correctly.

“I’m not surprised. So few of you make an effort to learn the language of the country you want to live in. What was it? War, famine? Or were just fed up with being dirt poor and wanted England to give you some free money?”

She understood. Her mother had taught her how to speak English, telling her it was the language of the civilized world. Every book her mother had given her had to be treated like a dark secret. If a single man from their village had found one on her, she would have been beaten or worse. Any form of education was prohibited for women, and for some unknown reason, any European language, especially English, was despised with a passion so extreme it scared her.

His words were aggressive, but he said them with no malice at all. He sounded hostile to immigrants, but the words were said with such indifference that she found it confusing. The juxtaposition of hostility and calmness unnerved her in way the aggression back home never did.

“Please, help me,” she begged. Hating the desperation in her voice, but knowing there was no other option but to plead for this man’s humanity.

Upon hearing those words, he moved closer, his heavy footsteps quickly closing the gap between them. His form blocked out the spotlight, making everything dark again before he grabbed her. She felt herself being roughly pulled up and violently forced to sit upright. Her back was pushed against the side of the boat.

“You speak English?” He asked urgently. “You understand me?”

She nodded. He frowned, not believing her.

“Which country have you come from?”

She looked him in the eyes, hoping for mercy. “I am from Syria. Is bad in Syria.”

He stood up nodding, satisfied. “Is she also from Syria?” He motioned to the older woman crying on the other side of the boat.

“I don’t know. She was on boat with me.” She had pictured the first time she spoke English in England a few times. Thanking someone for some small kindness and receiving a smile for her trouble. An appreciation of her effort to learn the language of her new home. She had never dreamed she would be in a situation where she was desperately using her English to appease a captor.

“Does she speak English?”

She quickly used Arabic again to ask the other woman if she spoke English. The man laughed to himself as she spoke. The woman ignored her and continued pleading for help for the sake of her daughter. She needed her to concentrate and at least make the effort to appear like she was cooperating. She told her that their lives were at risk and she needed to answer her. This only caused the wailing to start again.

“She no English.”

He looked at her and shook his head. He went over to her and roughly righted her so she was also leaning against the side of the boat. Now that her face could be seen, it was obvious to Aisha that she was older than herself. Wrinkles lined her face. She screamed as she was touched, crying out in Arabic, saying the word help again and again.

“Shut up, you immigrant whore,” the man shouted. Sensing his anger rising at the woman’s constant screams, she also tried to calm her. Pleading in Arabic for her to stay quiet, that he was angry and wanted to help. It made no difference. Her words were falling on deaf ears. In her despair, she had lost part of her sanity.

“Tell this dumb bitch that no one can hear her. We are miles out at sea.”

The old woman was now wailing. Looking to the stars and howling her despair. Stopping to breathe in lungfuls of air to continue the cycle. The stranger grabbed the woman’s head scarf and pulled it, jolting the poor woman’s head left and right as he unwound it from her. She screamed as he got it free and balled it. There was a sick look of satisfaction on his face as he disrobed.

When the woman opened her mouth to start wailing again, he jammed the balled-up head scarf into her mouth. Forcing it in with his thumbs as the woman’s screams became muffled. Once gagged, he punched her, planting his fist in the centre of her face. Racking her head backwards to bounce off the side of the boat with such force it knocked her out. The screaming had stopped there was now nothing but the sound of the waves and the creaking boat.

“Thank God for that,” he looked from the unconscious woman back to Aisha. “I don’t mean your camel-fucker prophet. I was thanking the real God.” She looked from his self-satisfied look of smugness back to the woman. Ignoring the insult, he looked a little too happy to deliver. Thinking his scathing words would hurt or offend her when in reality, the blood pouring out of her fellow immigrant’s nose was more unnerving.

She nodded, agreeing with him. She understood his words and wished she could make him understand she didn’t care. That Islam had left an irreversible scar on her, and she had been trying to escape from under its oppressive shadow and its insane enforcers for years. The violence she had just witnessed was common back home and all in the name of Islam.

He turned and faced her, and with her eyes adjusting to the light, she could see his face. He was younger than she originally thought. His face was not yet furrowed with the lines that spending days out at sea would bring. He had thick, black stubble, which looked like he was trying to grow a beard. In another time, she could have found him attractive and been happy to have him as the first face she saw in her new country. But his face was a blank canvas, displaying nothing.

“What is your name?” He asked, scratching his stubbly neck. The sound it made was like sandpaper being rubbed against wood.

“Aisha,” she said as clearly as she could. Enunciating the word so it sounded as English as possible. Not wanting any foreign sounds in her name to enrage this man further.

“Aisha. Ai-isha,” he said, testing the name as it came out his mouth like a connoisseur sampling food. “Aisha is a good name. Pretty in its own way.” She thought she knew where this was going. He was going to tell her that the name suited the owner. That she was also pretty and build up a fantasy in his head that she enjoyed his compliment and wanted him. She would be powerless to refuse, just like back in Syria, at the mercy of men. “My name is William Shin, but everyone calls me Billy.”

Aisha didn’t know how to respond. She nodded and repeated his nickname. “Billy,” which received an appreciative nod. His eyebrows arched, looking like he was impressed with her grasp of language.

“Aisha. I am a fisherman. I have fished the Celtic Sea off the coast of Cornwall all my life. You know where Cornwall is?”

She shook her head, thinking it was better to be honest than risk an interrogation and be found out to be lying. There was a passive-aggressive rage to her captor, and she sensed the consequences of invoking that rage would be dire.

“Of course you don’t. You are all ignorant. If it was me, I’d know everything about the country I was heading to.”

She didn’t want to argue with him. To point out that she didn’t have access to books or the internet. That she was basically living as a slave. She was forced into a life of servitude, constantly living with the threat of violence if she didn’t live up to the standards of men. Asking how he would learn the geography of a foreign country in her position was not going to get her anywhere.

“My country is bad,” was all she said, hoping to find some common ground.

“Yeah. I’d want to leave Syria as well. A hot, chaotic shit hole, so I’ve heard.”

He grabbed a huge crab basket made from worn rope and wire and placed it in front of her. As he put it down, a shower of seawater was shaken free. He sat on it, crushing it slightly with a squeaking sound. Facing her, he scratched absently at his neck stubble again.

“Want to know how I know you are from Syria?” She was silent, not sure what answer to give. “I know you are from Syria because we work with Mo, among others. The man you paid to get you here.” He shook his head and stared out at the dark, undulating sea. “People like Mo are getting paid by you to be brought across, then again by us to get you. They are making money hand over fist.”

The hope she had been delicately holding onto was now gone, leaving an empty hole in her chest. She had been sold like a commodity. Sold into the hands of a fisherman to do with what he liked.

“I can tell by your face how much I’ve just worried you. I can see the fear beneath the surface. I can’t tell you everything will be OK. But I can tell you that you won’t be sexually abused. Something I know terrifies women.” He looked her in the eyes. “I give you my word on that. You’ll remain untouched on my boat. Unlike the women that Gregg brings out here. He puts those women through hell.”

His words, as terrifying as they were, did make it through. She didn’t know what her fate would be in this boat, but she felt this man was being sincere. His expression had honesty in it, which she believed. Both she and her companion would keep their dignity, at least.

“You know, Aisha, I’ve been waiting for someone who speaks English since I started doing this. I’ve been wanting to explain why. I’ve not been able to make peace with the other women.” Sitting on the soaking basket, staring at her but also through her, he looked sad.

“Do you want to hear what I have to say?” She thought of the woman lying unconscious on the deck, with her own blood pooling under her head. She nodded, knowing that if there would be any escape from this, she needed time.

“Very good of you. Through no fault of your own, or indeed my own, our paths have crossed, and I am now going to be the last man you ever see. Aisha, I am going to throw you overboard and leave you.” He was studying her face and must have seen some hope there as he added, “And before you think that is your chance to swim off and live happily ever after in my country, I’ll tell you this. There is no chance you will survive past this night.” He looked up to the night sky, showing off the scraggly, black stubble growing out of his neck. “The moon is full tonight. When the moon is full, it demands sacrifice.”

He looked back down at her, his face open and sincere. “It started years ago, before even you or I were born. The story goes that a fisherman’s wife got pregnant by another man. This fisherman was sterile. You know what that means? Sterile?” She shook her head. “Means he was firing blanks, Aisha. Impossible for him to impregnate a woman.”

His face remained a blank canvas as he continued. “When she started to show, he wanted an explanation. She told him it was his, which, of course, it couldn’t have been. He took his wife out to sea,” he stood up and stretched his arms out, “to this very area. No one to disturb you out here. He tied her up, like you two are right now, and tried to fish the baby out of her by ramming a fishing line into her covered in sharpened hooks.”

He made hooks with his forefingers and mimed shoving them inside a woman.

“He pulled out the fetus and most of his wife’s insides. He made her watch as he threw it overboard. He then tied a weight around her throat and sent her to join her love child.”

Although some of the words didn’t make sense, Aisha understood. She couldn’t help but picture this woman, her insides torn to pieces, lying bleeding on the deck of a similar boat, crying as her husband looked for something suitable to act as an anchor to pull her down to the depths. William relayed this information like he was talking about the weather.

“She drowned. Another soul claimed by the sea. Or so he thought. Something unnatural kept that woman alive. Hell hath no fury and all that. She lives still, down there,” he nodded downwards.

“She used to terrorise my village. She was seen crawling onto land at the docks, heading into Liskeard, and leaving a trail of seawater. The next day the news was that a child had been found dead in its bed. Torn to pieces by fishing hooks. It was lying in blood-soaked sheets smelling of salt water.”

“There was nothing we could do as a village except watch it happen. Watch our children fall victim to this monstrosity that one of our own had helped create. A hate-filled woman from the sea intent on revenge every full moon. We tried to hunt this thing. But it is as elusive as a ghost.”

Aisha could see the faraway look in his eyes as he relived the memory.

“We came to the conclusion that it was all-consuming revenge that this woman wanted. So, we gave her the revenge she so sorely needed.”

He looked up to the sky and closed his eyes. Staying that way for seconds, giving her the chance to scan the boat for anything that might help her. Her started talking again with his eyes closed. “We used our own for a while. A man who sexually abused his own daughter. A hopeless drunk that hit and killed someone with his car. People who had it coming. Justice really. But, with moon cycles, we get twelve full moons every year. That is too many for our little village to sustain without questions.”

Aisha understood most of what he was saying, but she didn’t believe any of it. She thought him insane. She had fled her own country and left her family behind in order to escape from men held in the grip of a fantastical belief. The world, it seemed, was the same all over.

She needed to be part of this conversation. Just remaining mute while he confessed was not going to endear her to him. “So, you took immigrants? Like us.”

He looked up, his brow raised in surprise. Maybe he wasn’t expecting her to understand him at this level. “About forty years ago, when I was born, my father and a few others would head into large cities. They would either entice, seduce, or plain abduct young women and men, bring them back and throw them to the sea. There are a lot of missing person cases in cities. The streets seem to open up and swallow the unwary runaway.”

“London has more homeless than any other city. But it also has more CCTV cameras than any other city. Cities are tough hunting grounds these days.” He laughed, “Even the homeless have social media accounts.”

The woman laid out was starting to come around, stirring her body like she was surfacing from a deep sleep. Aisha knew the moans would start soon, followed by the dawning realisation that she was still on the boat in a hopeless situation. Not long after that, the screams would start again.

“Five years ago, my uncle made contact with someone that makes a living smuggling people like you across the channel. He said there was never any shortage of desperate people willing to risk not only their lives but the lives of their children in order to get into a country that will give them free money.”

He stood up, towering over her. “I’ll be honest with you, Aisha, you immigrants make me sick. I can understand fleeing a dangerous country for safety. But you are not fleeing danger, are you? You are chasing an easy life. Wanting to abuse my country’s hospitality. Drain us for all we are worth.”

His face had curled up like he had smelt spoiled milk. The disgust he felt for her and her plight was evident on his face. She could explain what her country was like for women like her, that she was escaping inhumane slavery. She was forced into servitude because she was born female.

There was something in his face that offended her. It was disturbing to remain blank while watching her and her fellow traveller struggle against their bindings. She only saw the emotion on this man’s face when he said how disgusted he was with her and her type. She was more than this. More than a generalisation of a selfish foreigner looking for an easy life. She was in a hopeless situation anyway; she may as well tell him the truth and try to change his view, whether he threw her into the sea or not. At least she would feel better for saying something.

“We have to sacrifice ourselves to this sea for Europe,” she said and watched his face change back to the expressionless canvas it was before. “In search of a better life. I am from Syria, where there is constant fighting. Even if there is no recognised war, we are at the mercy of men who use us. My husband beat me if I didn’t cook and clean for him. Hold me down, bite me, choke me. Force me onto all fours like a dog and rape me. Then make me clean up the mess.”

He sat back down again, his face still relatively blank, but there was a flicker of something. Maybe intrigue?

“I couldn’t stand it. I stood on the beach in Syria, watching the cruel gray sea bring wave after wave of sun-bleached garbage to shore. I got on the boat, which smelt of misery. Human sweat, urine, vomit. But I thought it smelt of something else; hope.”

“We didn’t care if it was England. I stole money from my husband to get here. If he found me now, he would kill me.”

The fisherman was getting bored with her. Looking out to sea as she talked. Finding the dark undulating waves more interesting. She turned it up a notch by making up some more horrific details.

“This woman’s husband used to invite friends over. Other men. He would bend her over a table and let them take turns with her. What would you expect her to do? They would use her in unnatural ways.”

She let that sink in. Hoping the violence would elicit some empathy from this sociopathic captor. The woman she was lying about was coming back to consciousness. She no doubt heard what she had just said. But, even if this woman understood English, she wouldn’t call her on the lie.

“What if it was your daughter?”

“If it were my daughter, there would be deaths.” He said this with no anger or hatred on his face. Simply stating a fact. He stood up and looked down at her. She felt so vulnerable being in this position.

“I sympathise, Aisha, I really do. But there are forces at work in this world worse than any man. Even the women on Gregg’s boat, I’m sure, wish they were still with him after he throws them overboard into the arms of old Nessa.”

The other woman had now come round and was crying again. She had managed to spit out her gag. She was begging in Arabic to be spared in between the hitching moans. The fisherman stood and walked over to her. Roughly grabbing her and pulling her up like she was nothing but an empty net. He pushed her up against the side of the boat and bent her over it. While holding her in place, he took out a knife from a brown leather sheath on his belt. It reflected in the light in a dazzling gleam, drawing attention to its deadly purpose.

“No, please, no,” Aisha screamed when she saw the blade. Ignoring her, he drew the blade across the binding around the woman’s wrists. The ropes made a small pfft! sound as the woman’s arms were released and fell to her sides. She gripped the side of the boat, sobbing for Allah to save her. The fisherman knelt down and ran the blade between her ankles and similarly freed her legs.

Was he changing his mind? Was this madness about to end? Had this man seen sense and come back to the light of reality after spending so long in the darkness of insanity?

He took a step back and looked at the women huddled form clinging to the side of the boat. He re-sheathed his knife without taking his eyes from her back. The glinting silver blade and the danger it posed disappeared.

“I’m sorry, but it is down to either you or one of mine. I took an oath never to let it be one of us.”

“Please,” Aisha said quietly. She understood what was about to happen and rolled onto her front, tucking her knees under herself to try and lift herself up.

The fisherman crouched down, grabbed the moaning woman’s ankles, and stood up, trying to tip her over the side of the boat. The woman screamed and thrashed, becoming a twisting, scared animal intent on staying in the boat. His grip slipped, and she was able to get both feet lowered back onto the deck.

“Please, leave her.”

He breathed in, held his breath and tried again. Going in low and gripping her ankles to tip her balance over the side. She twisted around and started hammering his head. Screaming like a banshee. He lifted her feet off the deck and lost his grip again as she struck him. Allowing her to stand on the deck of the boat once more.

“Nuqatiluh,” Aisha shouted, hoping she was heard.

Ignoring the blows, he lowered and wrapped his arms around her waist. She twisted to face him and clawed at his face. Aisha, now on her knees, watched as the woman’s nails dug deeply into the flesh of the fisherman’s face and carved deep scratches. He let her go, pulled back, and, with hate turning his face into an ugly animalistic snarl, rammed his forehead into her nose. Aisha heard the cartilage snap over the rolling waves.

The woman’s head snapped backwards, the survival instinct knocked out of her. Her arms fell to her sides as she swooned, trying to stay conscious. With no fight left in her, he bent down and easily lifted her up and over the side of the boat. A splash confirmed she had fallen into the sea.

“Please, help her,” Aisha begged. “Save her.”

He looked at the moon and then back to Aisha. There are rivulets of blood running down his face and dripping from his chin. “I’m sorry, Aisha.”

He quickly moved across the deck. She fell back to the floor and tried to twist and worm away from him, but he was too quick. She was lifted over his shoulder and carried to the same side of the boat where the other woman had been thrown.

“Please, no,” she shouted. “Please,” she said as she felt his hands shove her hard, then a cold rush of air on her face, followed by the icy kiss of the sea sucking the warmth from her body. The cold water shocked her into a sharp intake of breath, filled with salty water. She struggled, bucking her body in a motion she hoped would keep her afloat as she choked.

A hand grabbed her hair and pulled her to the surface. Her lungs were gasping for breath as an arm wrapped around her, keeping her head above water. She looked to see who had saved her and saw the fellow immigrant, her face a grotesque parody of her former self. Her nose was scrunched up and flattened, pouring blood.

A spotlight illuminated them from the boat. He was watching them struggle. He wanted to watch them.

Aisha looked at her savior and could see in her tiny dark eyes the acceptance of their death. They shared it. They were going to drown in a foreign sea, their lungs filling with cold water. Victims of another demented man who needed to believe in something surreal. She realised she didn’t even know this woman’s name.

She opened her mouth to speak, but before a word could come out, they were both pulled underwater. She heard a gargling scream from her fellow victim recede into the depths and fade. Now without her support, she was struggling to stay afloat. She tried desperately to swim with her hands and ankles bound together.

Her frantic struggles stopped when a sharp pain pierced her stomach. She buckled up and brought her knees to herself in a natural attempt to protect herself from further attack. Floated in the darkness, curled up like an unborn baby. She didn’t know which was led to the surface. She felt another dull impact as something penetrated her, tearing through her clothing and skin.

He tried to fish the baby out of her.

She felt an intense pain as the hook pulled her downwards. As she descended, she saw the watery glow of the boat’s spotlight shrink and quickly fade away. She breathed out, pushing the oxygen from her lungs with all of her willpower. Hoping to become another sacrifice to the sea before she caught sight of what was on the other end of the line.