Maragana Girl Ch. 08bycaligula97236©
Chapter 8 – Eloisa
The weather quickly changed a couple of days after Kim's birthday. Cold rain and sleet constantly bombarded the dreary streets of Danube City, with the promise that there would be no let-up until next spring. The pavement was covered with cold water and the last of the bicyclists were driven off the streets and into the city's trolleys. The entire fleet of trolleys and trolleybuses was working non-stop, but all public transportation was packed with commuters at all times.
In spite of the cold weather, Kim learned from Sergekt that she really did not need to wear her criminal's cape during the day. The criminal's cape was a truly humiliating piece of clothing, to be used only during the most inclement weather. Sergekt and most other criminals took pride in wearing it as little as possible. At the beginning Kim had thought about wearing her cape, but over time peer-pressure forced the American to leave hers at home as well.
Kim's orange boots kept her feet warm, and she quickly learned how to keep the rest of her body warm enough to move about in the city. Of course, the packed trolleys were so hot that the criminals actually were more comfortable than the average citizens who stood sweating in their coats. As a courtesy, average citizens usually allowed criminals to get on the trolleys first to let them get out of the cold as quickly as possible.
As for outdoors, the survival tactic adopted by Kim and the other criminals was to duck into stores as much as possible, warm up, and then dash to the next store, warm up, and keep moving. In Kim's case there really was no problem, since the music store was right next to a trolley stop. The store employees waited at the front door for the trolley to come by, then quickly dashed across the sidewalk to get in once it had stopped. The Socrates Club presented even less of a problem during the winter. The club had built an enclosed heated trolley stop right outside its main entrance to accommodate the patrons who did not want to wear their capes.
Kim settled into a stable, peaceful relationship with Sergekt during November. They got to know each other better as Kim's ability to speak Danubian improved, they hung out at the Socrates Club, went to an occasional movie, ate at each other's houses, and just enjoyed being together. They made love every so often in one of the Socrates Club's "intimacy rooms", enough that Kim considered taking birth control pills to free Sergekt from the responsibility of always wearing a condom. Kim had established her routine with her boyfriend and felt very satisfied with that part of her life. Sergekt was the most serious relationship Kim ever had experienced, very different from the casual encounters and partying she had done the previous year.
During November another relationship opened up for Kim, her growing friendship with the singer Eloisa. Eloisa was by far the most unusual woman in the group. She was deeply philosophical and serious, but she could talk about anything and made a good conversation partner. There was something very sad and haunting about her, a pain in her soul that came out in both her conversation and in her music.
Eloisa was dating one of the guys in the group, a very serious young man called Dima Chernákt. It was obvious they were very serious about each other and they planned to get married. Dima was with her constantly and she seemed to rely on him to give her protection. And yet, not once did Kim notice the couple ever touching each other. No hugs, no kissing, no physical contact whatsoever. The relationship was not platonic nor a simple friendship, but it was by no means a normal relationship either.
Kim asked Sergekt about Eloisa's strange behavior. He responded:
"Eloisa has been through a lot. She has suffered much more than anyone else I have ever known. That's why she sings the way she sings. She has been to the dark places of life, places I hope I never have to see."
"But what happened to her?"
"I can't tell you. If you get to know her better, maybe she might...but that's up to her. I can tell you that what happened to her is something that shouldn't ever happen to anyone...but it does, sometimes even here in this country."
Sergekt had given up very little information, but it was enough, together with Eloisa's obvious dislike of any physical contact, for Kim to figure out what happened. She guessed that Eloisa must have been raped. That was true, but when she later found out the full story Kim would much better understand, not only Eloisa, but also Dima, Sergekt, the group of classmates, and the social values of Upper Danubia.
Kim's friendship with Eloisa began when one of the band's back-up singers completed her sentence at the end of October. The young woman was a fellow employee at the music store, and as a result the store shut down for a couple of hours to allow the employees to attend the de-collaring ceremony. The young woman left the courthouse wearing a traditional Danubian dress and a raincoat. She returned to work for a brief party, bade everyone a tearful goodbye, and disappeared from their lives.
Kim's co-worker had been accepted to study at Upper Danubia's most prestigious medical university, which was located at the other end of the country in the distant capitol of Rika Chorna Province. She needed to board a train immediately to attend an orientation and was out of Danube City by nightfall. The woman's departure left Eloisa with only three back-up singers, and for much of her music she needed four.
The next day Eloisa heard Kim humming a song that she had heard several times and liked. She listened attentively to Kim's voice, realizing its pitch was identical to the pitch of the voice of the friend who had just left. During lunch break Eloisa asked Kim to sing some notes...Excellent...Now deeper...From deep in your throat...Not bad...Try it again...Good...Now try this... By the end of lunch Kim had a new obligation in life, as a back-up singer for Eloisa.
It was obvious that Kim would not be able to sing songs with words because of her accent. However, Danubian music often relied on a group of women singing different notes, in the same way a band uses different instruments. Each female voice was part of the background music, unique and indispensable for the entire song to work. It was the pitch of Kim's voice that Eloisa needed, not her ability to sing actual words. It was as though Eloisa had lost a musical instrument and needed to replace it with another.
That night Kim found herself rehearsing with the other three back-up singers, closely following Eloisa's lead. The following Saturday night Kim was on stage at the Socrates club during the group's musical presentation. She now was more committed than ever to her new life in Danube City.
Kim spent increasing amounts of time with Eloisa when she was not at work or with Sergekt. As much as she participated in the Socrates Club, her group, and in her personal relationship with her boyfriend, the internal torments in Eloisa's soul set her apart from everyone else. She was part of the group, but at the same time different and somewhat apart. Kim was in a similar situation, being Asian, being an American, and being a convicted drug-user. She was part of the group, but at the same time she was "different". As a result Eloisa and Kim gravitated towards each other.
Eloisa seemed to understand Kim better than anyone else, including Sergekt. Sergekt understood Kim from a male perspective, but there were certain things about her he could not understand due to the barrier of sex. Eloisa did understand Kim and could even understand why Kim had done so many stupid things in her life prior to getting arrested. Even Kim couldn't understand everything about herself, but it seemed that Eloisa had her figured out.
At the beginning of December the morale of Sergekt and his friends began to decline. They were more moody, more quiet, and increasingly apprehensive. The reason was simple enough, on December 15 they faced returning to their old school to receive the next scheduled installment of their punishment. The school authorities wanted to switch the group at their old high school to set an example for the younger students who had not yet graduated. Since vacation started on the 20th, the punishment needed to be moved up to the middle of the month, to make sure the younger students were on-hand to see what happens to criminals.
Kim sympathized, since the next installment of her own punishment would be January 2, six months to the date she had been punished in July, Kim was scared herself, and she was lucky. She only faced punishment every six months. Sergekt, Eloisa, and 26 others faced punishment every four months.
Just a couple of days before the 15th, Kim and Eloisa decided to have some Danubian fruit punch after a musical practice. They sat alone in the break-room of the store on a sofa, quietly sipping at their glasses. Eloisa sighed, thinking about the group's upcoming punishment.
"It never gets any easier," she noted sadly. "You think it will, that somehow you'll get used to it. But you never do. It hurts just as bad every time. And each time, before, I mean, you just get more and more scared, because you know, you know how bad they'll hurt you."
Kim nodded. Eloisa stared straight ahead. In a very distant voice she continued.
"You know, it's because of me the others have to do this. I'm the reason they're serving these sentences. It's because of me that 27 other lives got ruined. I should have just killed myself, and that would have saved them. Now I can't. Now I can't die. I owe it to the others to stay alive, even though that's not what I want."
Kim had no idea how to respond. She felt horrible about the consequences of her own decisions, but Kim had no desire to die. Quite the contrary, she realized how important it was to be alive. Kim treasured her life and the chance to remain on the planet. To hear Eloisa talk like this...
"You can't talk like that. Your life is a gift, and you can lose it real easily. I almost did. I mean...we all love you."
"I know. But to know what I did...and what happened...I mean it wasn't really my fault, but in a way it was...I mean...it wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for me."
"What happened? You didn't do anything..."
"Kim, did Sergekt ever tell you why we all got these three-year sentences?"
"He tried to explain it to me when we first started going out, but I didn't understand Danubian enough to follow all of what he told me. I did get that it was all out of a sense of honor that you guys all stuck together and you all got punished. He made a big deal out of that, because he was real upset about what my friends did to me...you know, when they told the police they didn't know about the marijuana in my backpack. But anyhow, I didn't understand much...he said something about a riot at your school."
"Yes, there was riot. I guess you could call it that. It was because of me it happened."
"You? What did you do?"
Eloisa sat quietly for a few minutes. Finally she forced herself to speak.
"I didn't do anything except just be a stupid kid. I thought he loved me...that's what he always said...but he made me...I mean, for three years he made me..."
Eloisa struggled to catch her breath and push back the awful memories that suddenly had surfaced. Finally she was able to tell Kim her story.
It turned out when Eloisa was just 14, she was seduced by a male teacher at the school. The relationship quickly became very abusive, especially after the teacher took a series of pornographic photos and threatened to show them to Eloisa's parents if she ever said anything or tried to break off the relationship. What the teacher forced Eloisa to do apparently went way beyond ordinary sex, it left her feeling completely degraded and nauseated by the thought of any physical contact with anyone. On that point Eloisa did not elaborate and Kim really did not want to know the details. The abuse went on for three years and got worse over time.
Eloisa's life changed the summer before her final year in school. The teacher molesting her was on vacation in Germany, and she began seeing one of her classmates, Dima, the guy she was currently engaged to. Eloisa was completely traumatized by what was happening to her and felt too degraded to have any friends from the school. Dima spent time with her, and slowly got her to realize she did have value as a person. He fell in love with her, perhaps in part because she was so distant and he hoped to bring her back.
The possibility that Eloisa could have a normal relationship with someone her own age gave her courage to start confronting her situation with the teacher. She quit seeing him after school. When he threatened her with the photos Eloisa responded. "Go ahead and show those photos. Then you get to explain why you have them."
Eloisa thought she had escaped her tormenter because she did not have any classes with him during her final year. However, he proctored a series of tests for the end of the autumn semester that Eloisa had to take. He saw the finals as a chance to get revenge against Eloisa for leaving him. He accused her of cheating and began a series of reports to get her expelled from the school and charged with insurrection. As a result of the accusations Eloisa was suspended from school, pending the resolution of the cheating charges.
The male students in Eloisa's class knew the accusations were false. They talked among themselves, trying to figure out how to save Eloisa from being expelled from school and possibly from facing a formal sentence. Finally youthful tempers started to flair, and 27 students, male and female, decided to directly confront the teacher and force him to recant his accusations. They filed into his classroom and surrounded him. When he tried to get away several students punched him in the stomach and pinned him against the wall. Dima struck him hard across the face, breaking his nose. Suddenly the teacher realized he was trapped in a room with 27 angry students who were perfectly willing to kill him.
The students extracted confession after confession from the teacher, including forcing him to reveal where he was keeping the photos he had taken of Eloisa. They were in a locked filing cabinet in the classroom with the tests, but the key was not in the school. That was not good enough for the students. The rage among the group was mounting. While Dima landed several more hard punches, several of his friends, including Sergekt, picked up the filing cabinet and heaved it through the window. Then several male students ran downstairs to retrieve the packages of photos. Sure enough, among the wreckage of the filing cabinet were several packets of very sick pictures. They ran back upstairs and waved a couple at the teacher.
"THIS IS WHAT YOU MADE HER DO?!...THIS IS WHAT YOU MADE HER DO?!"
The police arrived at that moment, screaming and pointing automatic weapons at the students. It was a terrible scene; a smashed window, desks and chairs kicked everywhere, 27 irate teenagers, and one bloodied teacher. The next few seconds were horrible chaos, as the police shot into the ceiling to get the teenagers to lie down. The teacher, hugely relieved at being rescued, headed towards the door, but the head police officer pointed his weapon at the supposed victim and snarled, "You're not going anywhere! Not 'till we get this straightened out!"
There was a lot to straighten out. The police were smart enough to understand that no group of students could have behaved in such a manner without being severely provoked. The answer was clear enough as soon as the police officers started picking up Eloisa's pictures, which had been strewn all over the room. The teacher ended up on the floor in handcuffs along with the 27 students. Vans arrived and everyone was taken to the Central Police Station.
Because Eloisa had been suspended from school pending resolution of the cheating charges, she did not learn about the riot until that evening. She took a trolley to the police station, identified herself, and quickly was dragged into the case. It was obvious she was the girl in the photos. She had to sign several statements discussing what had happened with her teacher, which were introduced later that night at his trial and helped condemn him.
What happened next was a very Danubian resolution to the case. Partly because what was in the pictures was so offensive, the teacher faced the death penalty for child molestation. His trial took place at midnight, as was the tradition for all death penalty cases. The teacher was dressed in a black robe and ordered to stand during his trial, even as he nursed his broken nose and bruised stomach. There was not much argument over guilt or innocence, the pictures and Eloisa's statements assured the verdict. The police also had searched the teacher's home and found yet more photos of Eloisa and three other high school girls.
The execution took place at sunrise. Still dressed in his black robe, the teacher was taken back to the central police station and ordered to stand at the end of the courtyard in front of a thick wooden wall. He stood with his hands untied, since any Danubian who faces death by execution is expected to greet it with dignity, no matter how heinous his crime might have been. The 27 students, still dressed in their school uniforms, were brought out in handcuffs to witness the execution. Very quickly five police officers pointed their rifles at the teacher, there was a whistle, and a second later he was reduced to a crumpled corpse.
The students then were led to the cement circle in the courtyard and one by one ordered to strip. They too, faced trial and punishment. However, they faced corporal, not capital, charges.
Their cases were assigned to Spokesman Alexi Havlakt, who was the oldest member of Danube City's criminal defense team and on the verge of retiring. Now Spokesman Havlakt suddenly had 27 new cases thrust upon him and his retirement postponed indefinitely. Still, the path of his life was to help persons facing the Danubian court system and the fate of 27 high school students weighed on him more that his foregone years of rest. The old Spokesman prepared to mount as best a defense as he could, given the group's bleak circumstances.
The students faced multiple violations, including assault, attempted murder, disrespect for authority, vandalism, and insurrection. The police brought each frightened student in for questioning individually, but in the holding cell they all had previously agreed that whatever charges they faced they would face together. 27 seven times the police asked the same questions and got the same responses:
"...Who punched your teacher?"
"All of us, sir. We all punched the teacher."
"Who threw the filing cabinet out the window?"
"All of us sir. We all are responsible..."
The police did not push the issue once they figured out all the students would give them the same responses. In the US the police would have tried to get some of the students to testify against the others. In Upper Danubia the police understood that attempting to get some of the students to turn on the others would have violated the society's social norms, something no one in the police department wanted to do. The questioning became a mere formality. The group would have to be judged by the facts, not by what any of the students had to say.
While the 27 students were being questioned, Eloisa demanded that she be arrested and charged with her classmates. She was innocent of any wrong-doing, but the riot had taken place because of her. Eloisa's friends had sacrificed their own lives for her, and her Danubian perception of honor demanded that whatever consequences they suffered she would have to suffer as well.