Maragana Girl Ch. 10bycaligula97236©
Chapter 10 -- A letter from Criminal # 98945
Kim returned to her normal life the next day. She went to work at the normal time in her normal manner, taking the crowded trolley downtown to the music store wearing nothing but her collar and orange boots. Her co-workers, of course, were curious to see the results of Kim's latest punishment. As was customary, Kim turned around and placed her hands on the cashiers' countertop to show off her welts and bruises to her co-workers. Some of them commented that the welts seemed particularly severe. Kim recounted her punishment, going into some detail about how the female cop had so cruelly tricked her. Some of her co-workers sympathized, having experienced the same abuse themselves.
There still was a half an hour before the store had to open, so there was time for Kim to talk in depth about her experience. She discovered that being able to casually discuss what had happened to her with others who had endured similar experiences helped her considerably in coming to terms with the trauma of the previous day. Her co-workers were sympathetic in exactly the right manner to help her recover. They weren't patronizing, nor did they express the phony sympathy of someone who had not endured the same experience. At the same time, they helped put Kim's punishment into perspective. It simply was something she had to face as part of her sentence; she endured it, recovered, and now had to move on with her life. Eloisa noted:
"Remember what Sergekt told you. Nothing lasts forever, not even suffering. It's over. Anyhow, tonight I need you for rehearsal, because we've got to get ready for our concert on the 6th."
"But...but I wanted to see Sergekt tonight."
"Yes, and you will. You'll see him at rehearsal. I already told him to bring his instrument. We don't have any choice. Either we practice, or we look like a bunch of fools on national television."
Suddenly another thought hit Kim.
"Eloisa, there's something else. I can't go on national television in three days. I'll still be all marked up."
"Will that affect your voice?"
"Then what's the problem?"
"The problem is I'd like to think I still have some pride in myself. I don't want to show up on television with a bunch of welts on my butt."
Eloisa sighed. "Kim, the reality is that you are a convicted criminal. In this country criminals are beaten. When we are beaten we still have to show ourselves in public. It's part of our punishment. It's the way things are and everyone understands that. You just accept it and you move on with your life. Now, as for you and your 'pride', if you really want to take pride in yourself, then you need to show that cop who switched you that she didn't break you. The only way you can do that is to sing with us on the 6th."
Kim remained silent. Eloisa continued.
"Look, the rest of us did the exact same thing the days leading up to Christmas. We were all marked up, but we still sang and we did it where everyone could see us. And why? Two reasons. First, the music we create is more important than is any one of us individually. It is our gift to the nation. Without us there is no music. So, no matter what each of us must suffer, we cannot let that interfere with our purpose in life. I sing, no matter what, and that's what I expect from all of you; to sing, no matter what. The second reason is to show everyone that, maybe we're nothing but a bunch of naked criminals, but they can't defeat us. They beat us, they humiliate us, and we suffer, but we move ahead in our lives, and we can take pride in that. Now...think about that cop who switched you. If she sees you singing your heart out on TV just four days after she punished you; it will show her she didn't win after all. You're still here, in spite of what she did to you. If you try to hide, then she really will have defeated you."
For a long time Kim was quiet, while her friend waited for an answer. Eloisa then added, "Didn't that cop tell you that you were nothing but a pathetic cry-baby druggie and that's all you'll ever be? Don't you want to get up on stage and prove her wrong?"
Finally Kim agreed. "OK, I'll stay for rehearsal tonight. Any new music?"
"Yes, we have two new winter solstice hymns we practiced last night that you need to learn. I'll go over them with you during lunch break. I think if you and I practice a bit this afternoon you should be ready for the rehearsal tonight. There's something else I want to try with you, an experiment. I'll explain at lunch."
With that Kim took up her position at the store's information counter as another co-worker unlatched the front door. Customers were crowded outside, because in Upper Danubia January 6th was an important gift-giving holiday, almost as important as December 25th. Kim was still quite stiff from her ordeal 24 hours before, but life moves on and does not wait for any single person. She spent the morning answering questions about the store's music and trying to ignore the customers' stares at her marked backside. She wondered what Eloisa had in mind for her.
In the lunchroom the American was shocked when Eloisa told her that she wanted Kim to help her sing lead in one the hymns. The hymn required two lead singers, one who would sing immediately ahead of the other. Eloisa would sing and Kim would echo her, while the other three women would provide the back-up voices.
Kim wondered why none of the others objected to Eloisa's arrangement, given that the others were Danubian and thus one of them rightfully should have been the lead singer's companion at the main microphone. However, in reality she knew the answer; it was because Eloisa's instinct for music was so powerful that everyone else had long since stopped questioning her judgment when it came to choosing the group's songs and deciding how they were to be presented. The group's lead singer liked to take risks, but in every case the success of her decisions proved her right. Now she was gambling that the American had a better voice for the hymn than any of the others. It was not because of any favoritism for Kim that Eloisa wanted her to help sing lead, it was because Eloisa genuinely thought Kim's voice was the best for that role.
Eloisa led Kim through the hymn with ease during the short time they had for lunch. Kim was amazed herself at how effortlessly she was able to follow Eloisa's voice through the immensely sad notes of the ancient hymn. The song was a true Danubian lament of suffering, written hundreds of years before, probably in the dead of winter during a famine. It was a dark, morose piece of music, infinitely sad and moving, perfectly suited for Kim's mood at the time.
Kim spent the next three nights rehearsing with her friends, which turned out to be the best way for her to get over her punishment. Under Eloisa's leadership, her mind fell in line with the rest of the group in pursuit of a single purpose in life, the January 6th presentation.
As much as she needed to spend time with him, during the first week of January Kim's time alone with Sergekt was limited to quick trips home on the trolley, very late at night after practice. Like everyone else, his mind was on the presentation. His voice was not good for singing, but his ability to play was a true asset to the group. Thus Kim and Sergekt gave up their personal lives for something far greater, the presentation to be led by Eloisa.
Very late at night, in the bitter cold, Sergekt always took Kim back to Dukov's house. They hugged each other closely in the trolley connecting their bodies as much as possible for warmth. She felt guilty about him having to go home alone in the cold after leaving her, but he was stubborn. However, in the brief moments they were together, Kim and Sergekt realized how much their souls truly were connected.
On January 5, the day before the concert, Criminal # 98945 changed her outward appearance to better match the changes taking place inside her soul. She remembered she had not cut her hair since her arrest and she decided to try to get it styled. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she realized that her hair was long enough to braid in the traditional Danubian style. That night Kim approached Dukov's daughter about helping her with her hair. Anyia, who fortunately happened to be in one of her rare good moods, spent the next hour braiding Kim's hair and explaining how to do it. When the American went to work the following day, her co-workers greeted her new hairstyle with complements and enthusiasm. Eloisa was especially happy to see Kim's hair done up in traditional braids, since it made her fit into her group of singers even more.
The January 6th concert was a turning point in the lives of Kim, Eloisa, and the other members of the music group. Eloisa and fourteen of her friends were performing on stage at the National Theater, 5 female vocalists and 10 males playing various instruments. As required by their sentences, they performed completely naked except for their collars, in front of 3,500 people and the cameras of the National Danubian Television Network. The fading switch-marks on the American's bottom and back showed up vividly, a message to the world that Criminal #98945 was condemned to suffer but had learned to overcome it. Kim took Eloisa's message to heart and concentrated on one thing that night, singing as best she could. She owed that not just to Eloisa and her friends, but also to the audience who had taken the time out of their lives to listen to the music.
Eloisa and her four friends sang for nearly two hours, all of it televised. The performance was flawless, a very public demonstration of Eloisa's incredible talent for singing and conducting the other voices in her group. Upper Danubia was amazed to see the American "Maragana Girl" in traditional Danubian braids and taking the lead microphone alongside her Danubian friend. The public was even more amazed to hear the American perform an ancient song in flawless Danubian. Kim even surprised herself, realizing that she could sing Danubian much better than she could speak it.
As the criminals knelt on stage to thunderous applause at the end of the performance, they were able to appreciate just how popular they had become. They had come from nothing, a group of convicted high school rioters and an American marijuana smoker. However, under the leadership of their talented lead singer, the 15 individuals on stage stood on the threshold of something truly great. The coming year would be filled with recording sessions and public performances, hard work and endless time at rehearsals. Their music eventually would be heard beyond the borders of Upper Danubia. The music had been the purpose of Eloisa's life, but now it would become the purpose of all 15 members of the group. They would face the future together, putting whatever personal plans aside for their greater purpose. At that time Kim was only vaguely aware of that fact, but her own plans for the future would be completely set-aside for Eloisa and her music.
The hairstyle change symbolized a significant turning point of how everyone around Kim saw her and how she saw herself. Increasingly Kim's American identity was fading away, replaced by a new perception of herself as Danubian. To a bystander on the street Criminal # 98945 might still have had a somewhat foreign appearance, but to the people she knew, Kim was one of them. She was a full and trusted member of Vladim Dukov's family, a full and trusted member of Eloisa's musical group, and just another employee at the music store. Her romantic heart belonged to Sergekt, to the point that she no longer could imagine her life without him. She no longer judged people's behavior through the eyes of a person from the US. Her definition of proper behavior and values now were forged by the society in which she lived, not the one from which she came.
Kim's changing identity did not mean she loved or idealized Upper Danubia. Her integration into her surroundings was complete enough for her to have balanced view of Danubian society. The society that had so forcefully adopted her was unjust and close-minded, superstitious and obsessed with its own past. Upper Danubia would never be a powerful or influential nation, largely because its people lacked much imagination for anything other than music. Still, Kim realized that the society had many positive points. The Duchy's lack of imagination and ambition meant that its people lived quietly and courteously, not competing against each other. The noise and aggressiveness of other major cities was totally absent on the silent streets of Danube City. Upper Danubia was a very peaceful country, not eager to impose itself on the rest of the world, but also determined that the rest of the world should not impose itself on Upper Danubia.
The duet Kim sung with Eloisa on January 6 was the first out of several songs the two women sang jointly. The group's lead singer had taken a real liking to Kim's voice and her ability to sing and the fact that her partner's voice was slightly different from any of the other voices in her group. As a result, Kim found herself not only echoing Eloisa, but later actually singing side-by-side with her. The American "Maragana Girl" became a feature of the stage at the Socrates Club, as many song-writers were curious to test their music with the Eloisa-Kim duo.
Kim's life continued uneventfully throughout the rest of January and February. The marks from her switching were gone within two weeks. She continued to eat with Dukov and his family, or at with Sergekt's friends, or with Sergekt's mother. She continued to dance with him at the Socrates Club and spend time with him in the club's intimacy rooms. She spent endless hours with Eloisa, not just at rehearsals, but also talking alone with her and relaxing with her in general. There were recording sessions and performances, praises and parties.
The beginning of the year sped by. Kim's prior existence became only a distant memory, which only intruded upon her when she talked to her parents in the US. Her life had become quite pleasant, in spite of the limitations placed on her by her sentence. She had everything any reasonable person could want, a great romantic relationship, a wonderful host family, close friends, a reasonably fun job, and the challenge of her music. All of that far outweighed the restrictions of her sentence. In fact, it was precisely because of her restrictions that Kim was able to fully appreciate the positive aspects of her life.
As much as she was forgetting about her American life, Kim's situation was a constant torment for her family back in the US. The thought of their poor daughter stuck in that awful back-water country, naked and with a collar around her neck, filled the Lees with horror. They easily could have traveled to Upper Danubia to visit Kim, but they could not bear the thought of seeing her in her current status as a convicted criminal. The very thought of seeing their daughter naked in public made them physically sick.
However, Kim's father spent a considerable amount of time and money researching ways he could extricate his daughter from Upper Danubia. He thought of everything, ranging from litigation to a human-rights campaign. He even briefly considered hiring mercenaries to grab Kim and get her out of Upper Danubia by force. Finally he settled on a lawyer who claimed he could obtain her release through the European Union. Upper Danubia was not yet part of the EU, but its government wanted to join and could ill-afford to do anything major that would upset Brussels. The lawyer proposed including Kim's release as a condition for some upcoming trade negotiations between Upper Danubia and the EU. It would be expensive, but the lawyer seemed reasonably sure that he could get her released before her next switching in July.
The elder Lees decided to send Kim's older sister Cindy to Upper Danubia to explain the situation and let her know that her family in the US was trying everything they could to get her out of Upper Danubia. Cindy flew to Europe on March 2, first to Frankfurt, and then on to Danube City in a connecting flight. Vladim Dukov rode a trolley out to the airport to pick up Cindy. He went alone because the airport was 15 kilometers outside Danube City, well outside the Danube City collar-zone and inaccessible to any convicted criminal.
As they rode back to the Danube City's Central Police Station, Cindy Lee quickly laid out her father's strategy for getting her sister out of Upper Danubia. Dukov took Cindy to his office to discuss the matter in greater detail. Dukov was somewhat dubious about the whole idea. To him it seemed to include a criminal's release as part of a trade deal was a bit far-fetched and to be honest, an insult to Upper Danubia's justice system.
"Well, the other option we got is to litigate this through the courts, either here or over at the EU."
Dukov admitted that was possible and told Cindy he was willing to help argue the case in Kim's favor, should it get to that level. However, privately, he did not believe releasing Kim from her sentence at that point in her life was a good idea. She was doing extremely well with her job, with her friends, and with her participation in Eloisa's musical group. She had a fulfilling life in Upper Danubia, and probably did not have much of a life waiting for her back in the US. If she were released, would she go back to using drugs? Would she track down Tiffany and do something stupid to get even with her? How long would it be before she could get into college? And what about Sergekt and Eloisa? It wasn't just Kim's life at stake anymore, but theirs as well.
Dukov ultimately knew that his client would have to make her own decision about appealing her conviction. He suspected she would go along with the appeal, even though he felt that would be a mistake. It was only logical that a convicted criminal would want out of having to serve her complete sentence and most certainly Kim would want her freedom back. What concerned Dukov was what she would do with her freedom, especially if she were expelled from Upper Danubia and not allowed to return.
Dukov and Cindy met Kim at the music store when she got off work. To avoid totally shocking her sister, Kim had taken her criminal's cape to her job and wore it as she left the building. As soon as they entered another building she would have to take her cape off again, but she would deal with that problem and her sister's reaction when the moment came. The two sisters tearfully hugged each other. They had talked enough on the phone to be caught up on each other's lives, so the conversation focused on Kim's job. "It's actually a lot of fun," she concluded, "and I'd like you to come over tomorrow and meet everyone."
"Yeah...sure. I guess it'd be good for me to see what you're doing."
Cindy still was not checked into a hotel, so Dukov made a few phone calls and booked her a room. The hotel was within walking distance of the Central Courthouse and the Central Police Station, the two places Cindy would have to visit frequently if she decided to pursue her project of obtaining an early release for Kim. They had to go back to the main police station to pick up Cindy's suitcase. Upon entering the building Kim would have to take off her cape and boots, and thus confront her sister with the most disturbing reality of her sentence.
Kim knew that Cindy would be deeply troubled and probably offended the moment she stripped off her cape. Kim and her sister had not seen each other naked since they had been very small children. Cindy knew what was coming, which, in fact, was why she had come instead of her father. Still, when the moment came to actually be confronted with the sight of Kim's naked body, Cindy would have to overcome a terrible shock to the values she had grown up with. As they climbed up the steps outside the Central Police Station Kim warned Cindy: