Maragana Girl Ch. 04bycaligula97236©
Chapter 4 -- The Socrates Club
By the end of Kim's first week in Danube City she was partially settled into her strange new life as a convicted criminal and bicycle courier. Within a week her welts were fading and no longer hurt. She had come to terms with what had happened and even managed to pass by the Temple of the Ancients where all her trouble had started. Kim vaguely wondered if that sadistic cop and her partner were still patrolling the grounds behind the Temple, but had no desire to go there and find out. She would see the woman in six months in the Police Station for her second punishment, and that was soon enough.
Kim's new boss, Victor Dukov, forced her to quickly learn the skills needed to move about as a courier in Danube City. Victor Dukov was very different from his brother Vladim. He was gruff and impatient and pushed her very hard. He quickly forced her to learn how to ask for and understand directions in Danubian. He ordered her to memorize a map of the city and yelled at her when she made mistakes. He expected her to find and use the shortest route and to ride from one assignment to another with no breaks. His favorite line for admonishing the American was:
"Kimberly, you smart girl. You pretty girl. But you lazy girl, and you do dumb thing. Why you lazy? Why you do dumb thing?"
Kim knew that line always led into an unpleasant lecture, but over time she got used to it. She learned it was easiest to go along with Victor's nagging, and if she agreed with him and apologized that tended to shorten his lectures. Whether Victor was right or wrong, Kim simply answered "Sir, I guess I wasn't paying attention. I'm sorry for not listening. I'll try harder in the future."
Kim did not like Victor, but she had no specific grievances against him. He did not treat her any worse than he treated his other employees. Victor never disrespected Kim for being a convicted criminal or for being a foreigner. For example, he never required her to kneel when she spoke to him, which was something that in theory he had the right to do, being her superior. To Victor, Criminal # 98945 simply was his employee, the same as four other individuals, and thus she was subject to his temper and demands no more and no less than were the others.
Because Kim's command of Danubian language and society were so limited at the beginning, Victor Dukov sent her on the deliveries that were furthest from his office, the ones that would take time away from his other employees. That meant fewer deliveries and thus fewer chances of making mistakes, but also longer trips and constant riding. Kim rode hard all over Danube City, often to within just a block or so of the dreaded yellow signs. She made her delivery, or picked up the needed signatures and receipts, and then was riding again, desperate to make the next delivery before Victor Dukov's cell phone went off to check on her whereabouts. She was always exhausted after each day's work from her hours of hard riding through the city summer heat. However, the courier job was extremely beneficial, because within a month she knew the entire city very well and understood some details about Danubian business protocol.
A delivery to a private individual or business owner was no different than a delivery would be in the US. Kim walked in with her package and her signature pad, announced herself with her terrible Danubian, completed the delivery, and quickly was out the door on her bicycle. If the delivery was made to a public official, she had to go to her knees and hold the delivery items out in front of her. Once the client took them Kim put her forehead to the floor, and stayed in that position until she felt the signature pad placed back in her hands. If she wasn't sure if the client was a public official, she asked, and dropped to her knees if the answer was affirmative.
Over the first few days following her sentence Kim was mortified at the thought of having her body on display for a full two years. However, a person can get used to many things in life. Within a week Kim's mind had accepted her constant nudity; by the end of the second week she no longer even thought about it. It seemed that the intense stares from bystanders had started to diminish and Criminal # 98945 simply received the same casual glances any other naked criminal would receive. The unwelcome attention towards her body had receded, and with it much of her self-consciousness.
What helped reduce the constant curious stares, ironically, was the broadcast of Kim's punishment on Danubian television. The case of Criminal # 98945 generated a sensational amount of interest. However, the broadcast also satisfied much of the curiosity surrounding Kim and answered a lot of questions. The naked Asian girl with welts on her backside and a collar on her neck had been sentenced under Danubia's marijuana laws and was serving a two-year sentence as a criminal. It was that mundane, and that simple.
No one in Danube City felt that Kim should have been exonerated, since there was no doubt she had possessed and smoked marijuana. However, most of the people interested in her case felt the reduced sentence was fair and that she did deserve some leniency. Kimberly Lee projected a sympathetic and likeable image on TV and there was general agreement that she had been treated shamefully by her two friends. People also agreed with Dukov that the prosecutor had behaved irresponsibly in trying to get a maximum sentence for Kim while releasing the other two Americans. But that was why a Spokesman-for-the-Criminal was needed, to argue on behalf of the suspect and work out a fair sentence. Spokesman Dukov had done his job admirably and as a result the American had received fair treatment in court.
The hot summer weather continued unabated as July became August. Kim continued her sweaty bicycle trips around Danube City. She was in great physical shape from the constant exercising. She ate well and slept soundly at Vladim Dukov's house. She spoke by phone to her parents at least once a week and tried to assure them she was fine. Kim was too busy to have much time to feel sorry for herself. She was too busy even to think about how much she hated Tiffany. While she was not exactly happy, she had achieved a daily equilibrium in her life. Kim's tranquil existence in Danube City had been one of the goals of the judge who had sentenced her.
Towards the end of July, Vladim Dukov announced that he had decided to extend his client's stay at his house until she had enough money saved up to get a decent room. He insisted that she open a Danubian bank account and deposit most of her paycheck from her job. Dukov also laid out a series of chores he wanted the American to perform at his house in exchange for her free boarding. He sent his client out to buy groceries, pay household bills, and other errands with the intent of forcing her to learn how to perform the basic tasks needed to live from day to day. Often Anyia went with Kim and helped her carry the groceries.
By the end of her first month in Danube City, Kim had become a de facto member of Vladim Dukov's family. Her professional relationship with Dukov, her dependency on him, and her lack of any other friends in Upper Danubia resulted in her becoming almost a second daughter of the elder Dukovs. Having been convicted criminals themselves, both Vladim and Maritza understood much of what she had to face. Furthermore, the Spokesman had traveled to the US several times in his life on official functions. While US society and its values were unfathomable to Dukov, at least he had a glimpse of the world that had produced Kimberly Lee and was able to understand some of the cross-cultural difficulties she faced in her new life as a Danubian criminal. Kim needed to be educated and brought up to function in Danubian society. She needed to learn what that society expected of her and how she needed to behave in many different situations, large and small. The restrictions and rules Kim had to live under as a convicted criminal only complicated her adaptation to Danubian society.
After just a few days Kim knew how to speak some phases of Danubian, the most important and most frequently used being "Ya negat rozumigut," which meant "I don't understand". Danubian was a difficult language, very archaic and with grammar and pronunciation rules that would make the average Westerner cringe. Not many average people in the isolated country spoke anything other than their native tongue, thus the task of learning Danubian was a top priority.
Oddly enough, Anyia was willing to help Kim with learning Danubian, at least during the times she wasn't sunbathing. She learned to leave Anyia alone if she was in the yard on her towel or with one of her friends, but if she was in the house alone the girl was perfectly approachable. After a short time Kim's vocabulary expanded way beyond "Ya negat rozumigut", largely with the help of Dukov's moody teenager.
August 15 was a significant day for the members of Victor Dukov's courier service. On that day there were to be no deliveries during the morning, no bicycle runs whatsoever. On that day Kim briefly saw a different side of Victor Dukov, even if it was only for a single day. It was the day Kim's co-worker Vita completed his sentence for fighting in school. It was a significant day for Vita and one that Victor and his staff fully appreciated. Vita would enter the courtroom still a criminal, but would exit as a free man.
Unlike trials, the only day of the week that end-of-sentence ceremonies were held was on Mondays. Normally around 20 criminals ended their sentences on any given week. It was a significant event in their lives and one marked by a formal celebration of the transition from criminals to free citizens.
Monday morning Victor and his couriers went to the courthouse. Vita separated from the group to hug his parents, and then joined the group of naked soon-to-be ex-criminals waiting at the entrance of the main hall of the court. The departure of Vita left Kim feeling a bit uneasy, given that she now was the only naked member of the courier group and as of today would be the only naked member of Victor's staff. She pushed that thought aside and tried to concentrate on Vita, not herself.
The courtroom was filled with relatives, co-workers, and friends of the 19 criminals whose sentences would end that day. There was a lot of happy chatter among the audience. The atmosphere was similar to the over-all feel of a graduation ceremony.
A trumpeter in a traditional Danubian tunic blew a very old horn, signaling the criminals to enter the chamber. They filed in, 12 men and 7 women. They knelt and put their heads to the carpet, for the last time of their lives. The trumpeter blew again.
The entire room put their right hands to their left shoulders, except for the hand-full of criminals in the audience such as Kim. The criminals in the audience dropped to their knees and put their foreheads to the carpet. The judge who had sentenced Kim six weeks before entered the room, and everyone in the audience sat down. The 19 criminals in the front of the room stayed kneeling, although they knelt upright to be able to watch the proceedings.
Vladim Dukov and three other Spokespersons for the Criminals came forward. They saluted the judge, who saluted back.
The judge asked each Spokesperson if each of the criminals under his or her authority had completed their sentences and whether or not they were ready to assume the rights and responsibilities of a free citizen. He asked the same question 19 times. Kim heard a loud "Doc!" 19 times. The judge then gave a brief speech about the transition from criminal to free citizen and the significance of reform and a new start in life.
The next part of the ceremony was the de-collaring of the criminals. One by one they came forward and knelt facing a sturdy metal post. The collar technician then hooked a scary-looking device to the post and closed it around the criminal's collar. The device looked like a huge pair of pliers. It had several clamps that latched into the collar and firing pin to snap the collar's latch. The technician fired the pin into the collar's locking mechanism and pulled it apart by opening the extractor's handles. Once the collar was off, the technician quickly removed the small transmitter and then handed the open collar back to the ex-criminal.
Still naked, but now free citizens, the ex-criminals lined up for the next part of the ceremony; the passing out of their clothes. There were 19 sets of traditional Danubian clothing waiting, tunics for the men and dresses for the women. The Spokespersons placed the respective outfits at the feet of each of their clients. Once everyone was ready, the judge ordered the ex-criminals to get dressed. They did so, quickly. The Spokespersons then stepped in front of the group and saluted them. Their ex-clients saluted back, then turned around and faced their audience, smiling and holding their collars over their heads. The room exploded into cheering and camera flashes. The long suffering of these 19 persons had come to an end.
Later that afternoon Victor Dukov held a small party for Vita in the office. The party was short, because Vita later had to go home and celebrate with his family. Vita's co-workers teased him about the tan-line around his neck from where the collar had been. There was laughter and good cheer in the office. Tomorrow Victor would return to his usual dour over-bearing self, but for one day, at least, he proved himself able to celebrate a joyful moment in another person's life.
Kim's bike routes frequently took her past the plaza where the Temple of the Ancients was located. The first couple of times she passed the Temple she experienced both fear and regret over what that building meant for the loss of her old life. However, towards the end of August the location also began to symbolize a new beginning for Kim and new hope for her future.
On a blazing hot day Kim finished her morning deliveries early. However, she was dehydrated and did not want to wait to go all the way back to Victor's office just to have some water. She decided to stop at the outdoor cafe across from the Temple, the one where she had gone with Tiffany and Susan just before they were arrested. The naked waiter was there, the same shy young man that Tiffany had tormented just before Kim's arrest. She sat down and ordered a large glass of fruit punch, and...oh please, with lots of ice.
The café was nearly empty, leaving the young waiter with some spare time to converse with Kim. She could tell he was fascinated with her. Suddenly she found herself somewhat attracted to him as well. He was not the type of guy she would have been attracted to in the US, but she had changed as a result of her two months in Upper Danubia. Kim realized that she desperately needed someone to talk to who was not connected to Dukov or his family. In a flash she realized this waiter was her first chance to make a friend of her own, one who she had chosen herself.
The waiter's name was Sergekt. Kim found the name hard to pronounce correctly, but he in turn called her "Geemberglek". The two laughed at the mangled pronunciation of each other's names. With that they briefly exchanged a few details about their lives. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
Some new customers came into the café and Kim's cell phone went off, pulling her and Sergekt away from their brief conversation. With that Kim was back on her bicycle, but she shyly smiled and waved to Sergekt as she pulled away. She badly wanted to see him again.
Over the next few days Kim never missed a chance to stop at the café, even if she could only stay a few minutes. Finally at the end of her fifth visit, Sergekt asked her when she got off work. It turned out that Kim would be off work just after Sergekt got off, giving him time to meet her outside Victor Dukov's office. The result was a pleasant uninterrupted conversation at a nearby café. Kim had to force Sergekt to repeat himself many times to understand him, but gradually she found out more about him.
Sergekt had completed the first year of a three-year sentence for participating in a student riot at his high school. Kim was not able to understand much of Sergekt's explanation of why the riot took place, but apparently a total of 28 students had been convicted of the crimes of insurrection and vandalism resulting from the incident.
Kim did understand enough of Sergekt's explanation to get a perspective on how Danubians saw "honor". When the 28 students were brought before the judge, each refused to say anything about what any of the others had done. Apparently both the judge and the police chief had expected the students would not say anything against each other, and thus the group had to be punished collectively. They were sentenced to three and a half years, collared, and returned to their school. They were switched one-by-one in the school courtyard in front of their classmates, something that took up an entire school day. Because they were under-aged, their punishments were not televised. The offenders then returned to their classes as criminals, naked except for their collars. As far as everyone was concerned the matter was closed and no one ever mentioned it again. All 28 students graduated at the end of the previous May, some of them with honors. Most were now in college. However, the sentences remained, the expected price of loyalty and friendship among the group. Every four months they had to show up at the local police station near their old school to be switched, a burden they would endure until their collars came off two years in the future.
Sergekt was all too-aware of Kim's case. More than anything else he was shocked and appalled by the behavior of her friends Tiffany and Susan, as were many other Danubians. No Danubian in his right mind would ever dishonor himself by betraying a friend out of self-interest. The American tourists had violated one of the most fundamental values of Danubian society, the belief that friendship is sacred and friends never betray each other. Sergekt believed that having to endure the betrayal of her friends must have been far worse for his guest to endure than her actual punishment. Kim sighed and thought to herself, you don't know my country, Sergekt. Where I'm from it's everyone looking out for Number One.
It was only natural that two criminals would start out by talking about their sentences and convictions, since that was the one thing all criminals had in common. However, both Kim and Sergekt realized that to become friends they had to move beyond that topic and see each other as individuals, not as fellow criminals. They probed each other's interests, but quickly realized that Kim's Danubian vocabulary was not advanced enough to have such a conversation. Sergekt finally decided to invite Kim out on Sunday, for a walk in the park, for dinner, and for a movie. That sounded great, yes, just hanging out. She agreed, but later decided it would be a good idea to clear her plans with Spokesman Dukov first.
That night Kim found out that she was quite right in taking the precaution of clearing the planned afternoon of "hanging out" with her custodian.
"Kimberly, as long as you are in my house, there will be no 'hanging out', as you say it, with a young man who has not sat at my table. I will not tolerate such improper behavior in my household. That young man will sit at my table before you spend any time alone with him."
Kim was a bit taken aback, not only by Dukov's response, but also by the harsh tone he used when he responded. She did not feel that the Spokesman was treating her like an adult. However, the following day Kim briefly saw Sergekt and brought up her guardian's objection. Sergekt seemed very embarrassed and apologetic. He immediately agreed to go to Dukov's office and ask for permission to visit his house.