Their parents were mad at them for not returning home the night before. Korra’s father would have beaten her, as was his usual response to any act of defiance from his children, but she needed to be able to practice her dance and be bruise free for the upcoming auction. Damaged goods were worthless and she already had the scar.
Korra and Sugar biked to school, followed by Kamar and Atef, their younger brothers. A few blocks in the boys pulled away, walking their bikes into the elementary school’s courtyard. None of the schools were co-ed; some city schools were which Korra supposed was a testament to the life of city kids given more choices at the expense of village kids. The only good thing was that she did not know what she was missing.
Girls filled the Academy courtyard dressed in the uniform that she loved. It consisted of a white blouse with gray buttons and a navy blue pleated skirt cut an inch above the knees, a uniform that shaped and defined her. Putting it on always filled her with glee because she knew it was something that was entirely hers, made for her, like the Academy. Yes, the Academy’s purpose was to train girls to be performers, wives, and teachers but it was solely for them in a world that did not have much for girls. The Academy went above and beyond for them, teaching more than what they were allowed to do as members of society, teaching them how society functioned and would continue to function even if their roles were not what they were.
Korra looked forward to classes, to the constant learning that would let her forget the upcoming auction. However, as soon as she stepped in the building her counselor gave her a new schedule, one that devoted half the school day to practicing her routine. This left her with only three classes: Mathematics, History, and Medicine. Well those subjects were all well and good but she would have preferred to go to all her classes. She and Sugar were supposed to be painting each other’s portrait that day. There was no arguing with the Tias though, so she apologized for having to leave her friend without a partner. Sugar pouted and complained that she’d end up with a poor depiction of her and would have complained longer if the first block of the day was not starting in three minutes. School was eight hours long in the summer.
The dance required easy movement of the legs, so she changed into her gym clothes consisting of a white top and a pair of red basketball shorts. She stood in the dance hall, barefoot, windows flung open wide for insulation. Tia Fauve and the drummer who was also a woman but not a teacher watched her. Korra stood as straight as she could, feet together, arms at her sides. She stared placidly at her reflection; skin the color of molasses, a face her mother had once called a canvas; and the gash on her left cheek from when her father threw a plate at her in one of his rages. And her eyes, hooded eyes like pools of darkness stared hard back at her. She smirked at her reflection, took a deep breath, and nodded to the drummer who hit the base of the Djembe with dry hands.
Slowly, she slid her left leg back, and lowered herself, bending her right leg so the knee faced forward while crossing her arms over her chest. With her right hand she slapped the ground and with her left she slapped her knee and sprang up. Extending her right arm, palm down, she put her left over it and turned her head right and then left, stomped her right leg and threw her left arm out as she walked in place. She did the same with her left and motioned as if she was twirling a bayonet. She stopped with the drum beat. When the drummer began again, lower now, she swiped her right arm over her head twisted her torso, pulling the right leg over the left. Dipping to the ground she swept her finger tips across the floor and swayed before pushing herself up. The beat got faster as she moved back, brought down her right elbow, turned her head left and then right, slapped her chess with her left arm and stomped her left leg. She raised her right knee and slapped in with her left hand doing it vice versa followed by more stomping and the slapping of her knees, elbows, and shoulders before marching in place, turning her head left and right and spinning around. Now here was the part where she was supposed to have mimed being shot but she tripped over her own feet and had to start the dance again.
“Remember Korra,” said Tia Fauve, “the beat of the drum is the beat of your heart, move with it in this dance.”
“Yes Tia,” she said diligently, rubbing her knee where she caught herself.
She kept practicing and practicing, matching her movement with the beat of the drum and trying desperately not to trip. Before the gong rang for lunch Tia Fauve let her go shower and afterwards she found Sugar waiting in the quad. They shared fried plantain, brown rice, and Cochinita Pibil Yucatan style. They couldn’t really talk because there was barely enough time to eat. Before the gong was rung Korra traded Sugar a handful of cherries for a handful of almonds, those being the other’s dessert. She ate the almonds on her way back to the second dance hall, hands sticky from the honey. Tia Fauve scolded her for not finding the time to wash her hands before letting her wash her hands and get back to practicing for another hour until her Pre-Calculus class.
School let out at four which gave her a brief moment of happiness until she remembered her auction was still two weeks away and she would have to practice every day at school. Close to regretting her choice she hopped on her bike and rode with Sugar to pick up their brothers. The boys were arguing about who was the strongest superhero without super powers, Mr. Avenger or the Dark King. They argued the entire ride home. Sugar lived a few houses down and so broke off early. Korra’s mother was in her sewing room making the dress for her performance while Kharam played at her feet.
Korra popped her head in the room and smiled at the toddler, “Mommy I’m home.”
Her mother did not look away from her task and just mumbled “Mhm.”
“Korra, Korra,” Kharam squealed, running up to her. She opened the door and lifted him into a hug. “Market, les go to the market.”
“Oh, before you go the Shack I need you to get a few things from the market. The list is on the table, money in the jar. Take Kharam, he hasn’t gotten to go outside today.”
“Yes Mommy,” she said before shutting the door and calling to Kamar.
After changing out of her school uniform she took her two brothers to the market with her, carrying a basket on her left wrist and holding the hand of the hyperactive four-year old in her right hand. Kamar walked two feet behind them, glowering. He hated going shopping especially with Korra because she never got him anything yet made him carry everything all because he refused to hold Kharam. As soon as they entered the market she handed him the basket and quickly grabbed Kharam when he pulled away.
“What’s first on the list, Akhi?”
Sighing, he looked at the list, “Cornmeal 2lbs.”
Because there were a large number of stalls and no order to the market Korra knew she wasn’t finding it right away and had Kamar read the whole list to her. Cornmeal 2lbs, Brown Sugar 2lbs, six cloves of garlic, bushel of carrots, green bell peppers 1lb, flour 1lb, vegetable oil, olive oil, a wheel of goat cheese, and chili peppers. Korra had a budget of 100 Almar notes thought the normal grocery budget was 200, and wanted to do this as quickly as possible. Except they had to walk around the market a bit, haggle down prices, and keep Kharam from running off and grabbing things that he wanted or looked nice to him. And it did not help that Kamar grumbled and intentionally walked slower to bother her. To make it worse, each step she took hurt from all the dancing she had to do earlier.
“Can we get candy,” Kharam asked, trying to pull himself out of her arms so he could reach for whatever was in the stall behind her.
They had just gotten the last thing on their list with 62 notes to spare.
“Sorry, saghirti, but we have to go.”
“But I want,” he cried. Kamar rolled his eyes.
Ignoring the outburst she led them out of the market. The toddler cried and squirmed, kicking at her. She pinched him to make him stop and then set him down for him to walk. A few steps later he got distracted by a butterfly and Kamar, after spotting a vendor, said they should get shaved ice. She relented, if only because she wanted some herself. Their mother wouldn’t mind, she was the one who counted the money and did all the sums for their way of living.
“So,” Korra started as they walked. “My auction is in two weeks and since every girl is bought no matter what I’ll be leaving very soon.”
“Yeah I know, Mommy told me,” Kamar said unable to decide if he was angry at her bringing this up or sad.
“So you’ll be in charge of taking care of yourself and Kharam from now on. This also means you’ll have to help Mommy with the house and the chores so you probably won’t have as much time to play any—,”
He cut her off, “Why are you being sold exactly,” he asked shyly.
She gave a small, grateful smile at his concern and he scowled.
“Not that it matters, you’re still being sold,” he spat and then added a little less harshly, “But why?”
She chuckled, “Dad wants to send you to Bagda in September, so you can mingle with the rich.”
“But I’m not smart enough for Bagda!”
“You think Dad wants to hear that. Mommy said he’s stubbornly sticking to it. I think he either wants you to make rich friends who’ll help you get a great job, or, he wants you to marry into money.”
“I have one friend here and that’s because he’s your best friend’s younger brother. I’m definitely gonna disappoint him.”
She glanced down at him and shrugged, “Probably. But look at it this way, you’ll still be going to a great school and someone is bound to take some positive interest in you.”
He gave her a shocked, slightly scarred look as he tried not to take offense at her agreement. “I don’t wanna go.”
“Well neither do I but I don’t have a fucking choice. Anyhow, you’ll have to get used to shopping by yourself, and with Mommy, and Kharam.”
“Yes,” said the four-year-old, his face a mess of cherry syrup.
“Nothing, little one, I was just telling Kamar something.”
“About me!” he gave them hopeful, ecstatic looks.
“No,” Kamar said flatly so Kharam kicked him.
Because he wasn’t allowed to hit his younger brother and Korra would definitely be mad at him for doing so, Kamar settled for smacking the remains of the snow cone out of Kharam’s hand. They were on their block now so Korra let his hand go while he cried and chased Kamar back to their house. Telling Kamar to give their little brother a bath she put away the food and the money before she heard her father yell.
“Fuck,” she muttered.
Her intentions had been to be out of the house and at the Shack before he returned. It was better for her psyche and physical state that she spent as much time away from him as possible. For whatever reason that she and her family had yet to figure out Korra seemed to make her father angry the most. The best place to hide from him in the kitchen was the pantry so she quickly went in that direction until she realized he wasn’t walking into the kitchen to yell at her. No, instead he was arguing with her mother upstairs and the walls were just too thin to block out the noise.
“What is this-this-this mess!? She’s ugly enough without you dressing her like a whore.”
Korra could only assume that her mother rolled her eyes, something she did often with her husband. “Why are you so upset about it, you’re selling her to be a whore anyways.”
“I wouldn’t be if you’d dress her in a way that might make her look flattering!”
Korra could not hear the next bit because it was drowned out by Kharam crying. Again she swore and went to go see what the problem was, unfortunately the children’s bathroom was upstairs and two doors away from the sewing room.
“Kamar what happened,” she asked when she got there. Hearing her, her parents stepped out of the sewing room.
“He’s crying over a toy again, it’s nothing,” Kamar said quickly, glaring at the toddler beside his bubble bath.
“Where’s my boat, I want my boat.”
“Korra,” he father snapped, making her jump, “what are you doing here, you should be practicing.”
“S-s-sorry,” she stammered, trembling. “I was j-just checking on them.”
“They’re fine go practice.” He pushed past her, into the bathroom, and walked up to Kharam. He held his hand like his was about to strike him and said very seriously, “Stop crying before I give you something to cry for.”
Problem was that didn’t work on Kharam yet and just made him cry more so his father did slap him.
Her mother pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed while the toddler screamed. “Korra go practice, Kamar, go do your homework, Dear you are making it worse,” she snapped. “Get out, I’ll give him a bath, go-” she threw her hands out in exasperation, “-oh just go do something away from here.”
She picked up Kharam as her husband glared at her. They all obeyed though, so Korra was forced to practice without music, having to remember the beat in her head.
This was how she ended up being forced to practice even while she was at home. Eight hours in school followed by whatever time she spent at home if she was unlucky enough to be there while her father was and not at the Shack. She was expecting to have bleeding, blistered feet by the time the auction rolled around but she regularly did what she could to keep them healed and bandaged when she needed to. On the day of the auction her feet were bandaged.