Faith Measured in Razors

He hands her a razor. "Here," he says, "For your legs. So the white men will want you."

Latika turns the razor in her hands and wets her lips. Jamal is just out the door, two hours back, and he will not return for her this time. He will not.

"I don't know how," she says, quite honestly. Salim frowns at her impatiently.

"Learn how," he tells her, and folds his arms. She waits for him to leave the room. He doesn't.

And in the end, she admits, it doesn't really make a difference.

She braces one foot against the bathtub, bends over and sweeps the blade up her leg slowly, like she has seen on television. It catches at her ankle, drawing blood so dark and red, it is almost as though she can peer up her vein. She keeps at it.

When she looks up, Salim has his arms crossed, leaning heavily against the wall. He keeps taking his gun out and looking at it.

"I'm done," she says, and adds with due consideration, "Maybe—in a couple hours. So the scabs can form."

His gaze dips down her legs, pooling with her blood around her ankles. The corners of his mouth tighten. He looks away.

"A few days," he says harshly, "You'll practice. Get better. I can't hand you over like this. No one wants a girl with scabs."

She doesn't know if he's being selfish, or kind.

Salim pushes off the wall with the backs of his hands, stalking towards her, his jaw line tense. She glances at his gun, cradled loosely in his left hand, and then looks back up. She swallows.

"You see this?" he gestures out the window with his gun, one hand on her upper arm, turning her to the view, his head dropping down to speak low and fast in her ear, "This is what you would have been left with. I won't let that happen, yeah?"

She looks at the streets below them, the girls and women hanging out of window, their hands brown and shining with the sweaty heat, grabbing at clothes. Men, young or old, thin or fat, disgusting, using, recycling, and she says nothing, moves docile and silent when he turns her back to face him.

"You and me," he points the gun, at himself, at her, "We're getting out of here. My boss has a wife, you know. I'll kill her. And you? This is your job. You're going to learn how to make him happy. You're going to marry him. You're going to marry that fat bastard and we will suck his veins of money dry."

She feels dizzy. "What about Jamal?" she asks softly, her lips numb. Salim tenses.

"My brother," his grip on her shoulder tightens, "We don't need my brother to be happy, Latika."

She looks at him disbelievingly for a moment, and he shakes his head abruptly, "Sorry. You're right. But I don't need to be happy. No one's happy. People don't want to be happy, people want to be miserable and starving because if they aren't, they learn to be fat and complacent, and the money they eat tastes like paper and filth."

"Salim," she says finally, "You don't need me for this."

"I don't need anyone," he tells her harshly, fingertips sharp. Carefully, she picks the gun from his grip and sets in on the counter behind her with a soft click. He watches her with burning, dark eyes. "We're better than this," he says finally, coldly, jerking his chin at the window again, "I don't want to leave you here, Latika. I don't want to find another girl."

She thinks of Jamal. Somewhere is a country of a billion people, is her boy. Somewhere.

But now, just before her, stands another one. She touches one wrist with hand, feels his muscles loosen, and feels some degree of faith.

She picks up the razor. "I understand," she says. His grip slackens. The blade scrapes. He takes it from her.

"You can practice tomorrow," he says, and will not meet her eyes.