Nala sighed. Not again, she lamented.
She cleared her throat and looked up at her sister, bound by metal as she was. Watery brown eyes stared back. Streaks of tears formed lines in the dirt caked to her face. Hazina’s face was contorted in sadness and and a healthy dose of disappointment.
Nala tried mustering her brightest smile. “Hazina, I am all right…”
“He would have sold you, just to be done with your defiance,” she spoke between sobs, face streaking with each new deluge. Each word a sadness emblazoned across her placid features. “What would I have done if he had killed you?”
“We are too valuable for the knife, Hazina.”
Hazina wiped her face with her grimy hands. “That would not have stopped him from beating you,” she hissed.
Nala stood and looked at her older sister. Her voluptuous chest and otherwise emaciated body in the flimsy Han dress. The hem muddied from constant standing and walking during inclement weather. It hung loose on her malnourished frame, and billowed at the slightest breeze. She quaked like the ground did when a new ship was launched, as each sob wracked her body. Unlike Nala’s long flowing tresses, Hazina wore hers atop her head in the Han fashion. Although Hazina was a shade darker than Nala, the dirt and bruises that marred what used to be skin enviably smooth. Nala stepped towards her sister and took her hands gently into her own.
Such a waste of beauty, she thought, before condemning it.
Nala looked down at her own clothing. She missed her Nubian straight dress. The fabric was so sheen, it left little to the imagination. The taskmaster has cut it off immediately. To gauge my property’s worth, he sneered, before forcing her to wear the traditional ruqun, worn by Han women. Nala had refused, but the taskmaster chided her. Wear nothing; it will drive up your value, he had said, turning to Hazina. Nala relented, as she always did, protecting her older sister.
Is not that her job, Nala thought, to protect me?
Nala shifted her weight from one foot to the other, attempting to relieve her blistered feet. Her hands and wrists were bruised before she were manacled, and her long straight hair was filthy. She paled in comparison to her sister’s beauty. Hazina radiated warmth. She was the constantly happy and full of optimism. It was hard to tell that she was always hungry. She rarely hid her smile. A smile that fed the desert of their home.
Nala frowned at her envy. The snarling pessimistic envy of a cold woman who saw the worst in everyone and whose default facial expression was a glare.
Like an unfriendly moon that basked on the effervescence of the sun. Other than blood, the only thing that connected them was misery. They were the same – young girls abducted from poor villages along the river Nile. They were both for sale on the market, but chose to cope with their new lives in different ways.
Nala thought of how their lives would have been so different, had they not been born into a land teeming with dishonor, corruption and poverty. Hazina would undoubtedly have been the beauty of story, a princess of our village with countless suitors at her call. It would have been a prince who would have courted her. It would have been Nala who gave her to her intended at her glorious wedding. In that life, Nala would have worn a smile instead of a scowl. Baubles cast aside by her sister instead of chains.
Hazina lived in optimism, but Nala lived in reality. Her sister was not princess, and there were no princes – only corrupt men, greedy merchants and frivolous rulers.