Cindy of 419 West 129th Street, apartment 5A
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Cindy. Cindy lived with her mama in a small apartment on the fifth floor of a five-floor walkup. It was clean and mostly safe, and the best her mama could do as a single, working mom. Cindy’s daddy died when Cindy was one, in some godforsaken country fighting a war no one was ever gonna win, according to Cindy’s mama. On the table next to her bed was a picture of her daddy in his uniform, holding mama’s hand in front of the church around the corner.
Cindy was a big help to her mama. She could get her own breakfast with the pink step stool she and her mama had made and painted together. She could even make her mama’s morning coffee, with a side of toast and butter. If Mama was home, she would walk her to school - but sometimes she had to be at work before Cindy woke up.
Cindy was a latch-key kid. Most of the kids at school were. She wasn’t allowed to go to anyone’s home or let anyone in when Mama wasn’t home. She would let herself in the apartment after school, lock the door, have a snack, do her homework and watch cartoons on the little tv in the living room until Mama came home. If Mama was working a late shift, she would leave something on the counter for Cindy to eat. Afterwards, Cindy would leave the tv on while she washed her face and brushed her teeth. Before she got into bed, she would kneel and say her prayers.
“God, bless Daddy in Heaven and please keep Mama safe. Amen.”
Sometimes she fell asleep immediately. Sometimes she waited until she heard her mama’s key in the door. Her mama would come into her room and kiss her on the forehead, whispering, “I will love you forever.”
“I will like you for always,” Cindy would whisper back.
“As long as I’m living…”
“Your baby I will be,” Cindy would finish, reaching up to hug her mama.
“Did you say your prayers, baby?”
“Good girl. God is always with you even when I’m not.”
“I know, Mama.”
“Sweet dreams, baby.”
One day, Cindy’s mama left for work for a pre-dawn shift. She hated to wake Cindy, but she didn’t like to leave without saying goodbye.
“There’s some chicken and biscuits on the stove, baby. I’ll see you tonight. Don’t be late for school,” her mama whispered, kissing her on the nose. “Be a good girl.”
“Okay, Mama. Have a stupendous day! I love you!” Cindy replied, rubbing her eyes.
“Stupendous? Well, that’s a mouth full.”
“I learned another one. Spectacular! Have a spectacular day, Mama!”
Her mama laughed and said, “You, too, baby,” before giving her a hug and preparing to leave.
Later, Cindy got ready and went to school. What Cindy didn’t know was that the building where her mama worked as a cleaning woman crumbled to the ground that day after an airplane crashed into it. It never crossed anyone’s mind to find out if any of the students at PS 125 would be affected by the disaster about which no one could stop talking in the faculty room. Cindy went home after school and spent the afternoon as if her world had not just crumbled with the skyline.
She didn’t worry until a full 24 hours had passed since she’d seen her mama. Despite her concern, she got herself ready and went to school.
“You’re so quiet today, Cynthia. Are you okay?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cindy was afraid her mama would get in trouble if she said anything, so she kept her worries to herself.
“If you need to talk, don’t hesitate. Everyone’s a little shaken up after what happened yesterday.”
Cindy smiled and nodded like she understood and then bent over the book she was reading.
The next day she didn’t go to school. She sat watching the door, waiting for her mama to come home.
Two weeks passed before the school called child services regarding Cindy’s absence. Some quick research had Mrs. Myrtle Fields flying out of her office and catching two trains to 419 West 129th Street, apartment 5A.
Mr. Randolph was the super at 419 West 129th Street. He knew everyone’s business. Especially the female tenants. He knew where Mrs. Jones worked. And, more importantly, he knew when Mrs. Jones stopped coming home. Three days after the towers fell, he made a call.
“You still looking for a girl?”
“I don’t check out 10-year-old girls.”
“Yeah, I know. Just little boys. Whatever. Same price as usual.”
“Fine. You want me to bring her to you?”
“Nah, I’ll send Hazel from family services. The kid’s more likely to feel safe with her. No offense, but you don’t inspire a child’s trust, Randolph.”
Mr. Randolph used his keys to let Hazel in the apartment.
“Mama!” Cindy cried running to the door. She stopped short when she saw weasel-faced Mr. Randolph, as her mama used to call him.
“Hey, Cindy, this is Miss Hazel. She’s here to help you.”
“Where’s my mama?”
“Your mama is gone, baby girl,” said Miss Hazel.
“Mama wouldn’t leave me!”
“She sure didn’t want to, baby, but it was her time. Along with all those other poor souls in the towers, God rest their souls. She’s with God now, Cindy. I’m going to take you to a new family,” said Miss Hazel.
Cindy backed away, “My mama will be home soon. You better go. No one’s supposed to be here when she’s not home.”
“She’s not coming home, sweet thing,” she said, moving closer. “Like I said, she’s dead. But don’t worry, Miss Hazel will make it all better.” She knelt down and hugged the little girl. “I know a good family that has been wanting another little girl for a long time. I’ll take you to them. Good food, a warm bed, two sisters, a new Mama.”
“I have to wait here till Mama gets home. She won’t know where to find me if I leave.”
“Tell you what. We’ll leave a note with my phone number, just in case we’re wrong. That way, I can tell her where to find you.”
Cindy sniffled and said, “Okay.”
“Good girl. Now show me your room so we can pack some clothes to take with you.”
“Yes, baby girl?”
“You like McDonalds?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay. We’ll pick up a hamburger on our way to your new home.”
Mr. Randolph emptied the apartment and had it ready to rent before Mrs. Fields ever heard of Cindy Jones.
Maxine Morris lived in a small single-family home with her two daughters, Val and Vicky, and sometimes her man, Kenny.
“Welcome to our home, Cindy. We’re so happy to have you with us,” said Maxine with a smile like a shark’s, Cindy’s mama would say.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Cindy said, holding out her hand like her mama taught her.
“Don’t ma’am me, child,” Maxine snapped, Cindy jumped. In a softer voice, “You can call me Miss Maxine.”
“Yes, ma’a…Miss Maxine.”
“These are my daughters, Val and Vicky. They’ll show you where you can put your things.”
“You go on in Cindy,” said Miss Hazel. “You’re in good hands now.”
“You’ll tell my mama where I am if she calls you, right, Miss Hazel?”
“Of course, baby.”
Val and Vicky grabbed her bag and took her inside.
“Here’s your cut, Hazel,” Maxine said, handing her an envelope.
“Thanks, Max,” Hazel said, pulling out a cigarette.
“Here’s your cot, Cindy.”
Cindy looked at the bare mattress against the basement wall, a bald light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The floor was cement. The wall appeared wet. The air smelled of mold. It was nothing like her room at home.
“Let’s see what’s in the bag,” Vicky said.
“Oooh, look at these dresses!”
“You won’t need these.”
“You’ll have a uniform. Servants always have a uniform. You’re our new maid. You’re to do exactly what we tell you, whatever we tell you. You work for us now. Right, mother?” Vicky said, looking up to the open door.
From the top of the basement stairs, Miss Maxine said, “Yes, dear.”
“What a baby! Look at this, Vicky,” Val said, holding a well-loved teddy bear.
“Mr. Bear is mine!” Cindy said, grabbing him and holding him to her chest.
“Cindy! Come. Now. Girls, bring the dresses.”
Cindy ran up the stairs, into the kitchen. “Yes, ma’am,”--
Cindy’s head whipped around from the slap she never saw coming. She slid down the kitchen wall. “I said don’t ma’am me, girl. You will call me Miss Maxine. You better be smarter than you seem right now, or you won’t last long. You don’t want to be alone on the street, do you, Cindy?”
“I want my mama,” Cindy whispered, the tears flowing, as she held Mr. Bear to her throbbing cheek.
“No, ma’a…Miss Maxine.”
“You better get it through that little head of yours right now: I am the closest thing you have to a mama now. Your mama is dead. You’re mine now. Someone paid good money for you, and you are going to earn every bit of it. You hear me?”
“Yes, Miss Maxine.”
“Give me the stuffed animal.”
“But my mama said my daddy gave Mr. Bear to me when I was a baby.”
Cindy held out the bear with a trembling hand. Miss Maxine took it.
“Girls, come. Val, grab the newspaper off the counter. Get up, Cindy. You are about to have your first lesson.”
Miss Maxine went out the back door. In the small yard, there was an outdoor oven. She threw the bear in. She took the paper from Val and put it in the oven as well. Then, she lit a match and held it till the paper caught fire.
“Give me the dresses, Vicky.”
“Can I throw them in, Mother!”
“I don’t want you to hurt yourself, baby.”
“Okay, my darlings. But be careful. Don’t touch the fire. If you get burned, you’ll scar your beautiful skin.”
“What will I wear?” Cindy interrupted.
Miss Maxine backhanded her into the dirt. “One. Never interrupt me when I am speaking. Two. It is not your place to ask questions. You will not question me. Three. You will do what I ask without hesitation. Four. You will be silent unless spoken to. Do. You. Understand?"
“Yes, Miss Maxine,” Cindy said, trying to hold back her tears, staring into the fire.
They watched until nothing remained.
Cindy had a schedule. Every morning she made her cot with the sheets Miss Maxine gave her. She washed her face and hands and brushed her teeth in the laundry room sink and put on the gray dress and black shoes Miss Maxine insisted she wear. Every night she washed the one pair of underwear and tights she had worn that first day.
Once she was dressed, she went to the kitchen and started the coffee pot. Miss Maxine liked her coffee hot and black, like my men, she would say. Miss Maxine had taught her to make scrambled eggs and bacon so she would make eggs, bacon and toast for the girls. She could even make a passable pot of grits or oatmeal. On weekends she made pancakes or French toast.
After breakfast, she would find the girls’ books or whatever they had misplaced. Once they left for school, she would wash the dishes, sweep, mop the floors, make the beds, clean the toilet and the tub, dust, and vacuum. Miss Maxine would have her make her sandwiches for lunch or heat up a can of soup. Then she would give her a “cooking lesson.” She would tell her how to make a meal and expect her to do it without error. She “taught” her how to make fried chicken, pork chops, beef stew, barbecued ribs, biscuits, corn bread, collard greens, black eyed peas, okra, potato salad... Mistakes were not tolerated.
“We can’t eat burned meat, Cindy,” Miss Maxine growled through the cigarette in her mouth. “Come here.”
Cindy stood in front of her. Before she could react, Miss Maxine grabbed her arm and pressed the cigarette against her arm. Cindy cried out and tried to pull her arm away. Miss Maxine held tighter and screamed, “Quiet before I really give you something to cry for.”
Cindy whimpered but didn’t say a word as her flesh burned.
“Now, put those burned chops to the side. You can eat them for your dinner. You’ll have to do better.”
“Yes, Miss Maxine.”
Cindy was locked in the basement each night. Before she lay down, she always knelt beside the cot, oblivious to the cold, stone on her knees, and prayed. “God bless my mama and my daddy in Heaven. And please don’t forget me. Amen.”
And so it went, day after day, month after month, year after year. Miss Maxine only left the house for two reasons. Once a week she would do the food shopping. On those days, she would lock Cindy in the basement. Cindy always managed to grab one or two of the girls’ “misplaced” books and would read as much as she could before Miss Maxine returned. Studying was her only rebellion. Her only joy.
Miss Maxine was also a devout Christian and went to worship every Sunday. Cindy was given a pretty blue dress to wear to church where they all sat in the front row. Everyone thought Miss Maxine was a saint to take in a child orphaned by what was quickly being called, simply, 9/11.
That first Sunday, someone asked Cindy how she was liking her new school. Cindy made the mistake of replying truthfully.
“Oh, she means she didn’t go to school this week. She hasn’t been feeling well. Isn’t that right, Cindy?” This said as she pinched the fleshy, still healing part of Cindy’s arm.
Cindy knew better than to react. “Yes, Miss Maxine.”
When they got home, Miss Maxine whipped Cindy with one of Kenny’s belts. “You had better never embarrass me in front of my friends, missy. I will put you out on the street before you can blink. You hear me?” she screamed as the belt cut into Cindy’s back.
“Yes, Miss Maxine. I’m sorry Miss Maxine.”
Cindy kept her head bowed and her mouth shut every Sunday after that.
Cindy was a good girl and a quick learner. She did as she was told, didn’t talk back, and became indispensable to the family. By the time she was sixteen, she was not only a stellar housekeeper, but she was also a better cook than Miss Maxine, and, if she had gone to school, she could have aced all of Vicky and Val’s exams. But as smart as she was, it never dawned on her that Miss Maxine was just a training ground.
“Cindy, you’ll be leaving us tomorrow.”
“What? But, where? Why? I didn’t do anything wrong. Please don’t put me out on the street, Miss Maxine.”
Miss Maxine laughed a mirthless sort of laugh and said, “Be careful what you wish for.”
“Where will I go?”
“You won’t be on the street.” She paused. “You were a good one. I have to say I’m sorry to see you go. I’ll miss your collard greens.”
“Go to bed, Cindy. You’ll need your rest.”
“Yes, of course she’s still a virgin. She was ten when she came to me, and she’s only been out of the house to go to church.”
“I’ll pick her up at 9, after the girls leave for school.”
“Make sure you have my money. She’s a good one. She’ll do whatever you tell her to do.”
“She’d better.” He hung up the phone.
“Cindy, this is Marvin. He’s going to take care of you.”
“You don’t need to take anything with you. He’ll provide for you now.”
“Girl, what have I taught you?”
Cindy bowed her head. “Yes, Miss Maxine. Thank you for giving me a home these past six years. I don’t know what I would have done without you. God bless,” she turned and walked to stand beside Marvin. “I’m ready, sir.”
“Call me Marvin.”
“What will my duties be, sir?”
“I don’t feel comfortable calling you that, sir. The only men I know are at the church and Miss Maxine’s husband, Mr. Kenny.”
“Well, you make me feel old when you call me sir, so call me Marvin.”
“Yes, si…Marvin. What will my duties be? Will I be cooking and cleaning for you as I did for Miss Maxine?”
Marvin laughed loud and long.
“No. You’ll spend most of your time on your back. Or your knees. Or upside down if that’s what Mr. Viktor wants. He bought you for a small fortune. I should thank you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s partial to young girls, to ensure their virginity, but ten was too young. He’s been waiting for you. Watching you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Here we are.”
Cindy looked out of the car window. They hadn’t passed a house in a while. Now they were parked in front of the biggest house she’d ever seen.
“This is your stop. Let’s go.”
“Please don’t make me…”
Marvin leaned across and opened her door. “Don’t make me tell you twice, Cindy. You’re a beautiful girl. I wouldn’t want to ruin that face.”
Cindy leapt from the car. Marvin followed from his side.
“Welcome to my home,” a man said from the porch.
Marvin took Cindy by the arm, and they walked toward the house.
To Marvin, “She is lovely, isn’t she? Take her to my suite.” To Cindy, “You can bathe and change. There is a closet of clothing from which to choose. Pick whatever you want.”
“Th-thank you?” Cindy stuttered.
“Oh, my name is Viktor. But you can call me Daddy.”
“I don’t think…”
“Don’t think,” he whispered, steel in his voice. “Do.”
Cindy had never seen such ostentatious luxury in her life. Ever. Not even on television since the last time she’d watched tv she was watching the Rugrats in her mother’s living room.
“Well, my only advice is do as you’re told, and you’ll be fine. Viktor is a teddy bear when he’s happy. He’ll cut you up and feed you to the fish if you piss him off though. Don’t piss him off.”
“Yeah, hopefully I won’t see you again.”
Cindy started to close the door.
“I’m the one he calls to feed the fish. Be good, Cindy.”
Cindy shuddered and closed the door.
The bathtub was like a small pool. There were bath salts, bubble bath foam, flowery smelling soaps, and candles. There was also a separate shower stall. Cindy stripped and took the first long, hot shower she’d taken in years. Then she filled the tub and took a bubble bath. She was still in it when the door opened, and Viktor walked in.
Half his face was covered in scars that just missed his eye and lips. The other side was
perfect and beautiful, if a man who bought people could be considered beautiful. He was quite tall, especially from the vantage point of the tub, and Cindy sank a little lower under the bubbles.
“Da..Daddy, I’m not finished yet.”
“That’s okay. I’ll watch.”
Mortified, Cindy grabbed a sponge and the soap.
“I’ll help.” Viktor took the sponge. “Stand up.” He began to bathe her. She wanted to die of embarrassment. No one had washed her since she was a little girl. No man had ever seen her naked. She wanted to stay his hand, but she couldn’t. His touch was gentle and almost reverent as he smoothed the sponge over every curve of her body.
“My turn,” he said, as he quickly removed his clothes and joined her in the tub.
“Bathe me,” he said, handing her the sponge.”
“Whe-where should I start?”
“My ugly face.”
“It’s just a scar. The other side is still quite beautiful.”
The fingers of one hand wrapped around her neck. “Never lie to me, Cindy.”
“I don’t lie, Daddy,” Cindy managed to say though her throat was being crushed.
He let go as quickly as he’d grabbed her. “Begin.”
She was a tall girl and easily reached his face and neck. His chest and back were broad, matted with soft, brown hair. She hesitated as she moved down and saw how different he was from her. She’d seen the human body in Vicky’s biology textbook. She knew how babies were made. But warm, hard flesh was not anything like drawings in a book.
She touched him and her eyes grew big along with him.
“This is your first lesson, Cindy. I’m going to teach you to please a man. Today won’t be very pleasant for you. But today is for me. You are my birthday gift to me. Kneel.”
Cindy didn’t dare show her disgust or fear. She did as she was told.
Lesson complete, he picked her up out of the water and carried her to the bedroom.
“But we’re wet,” she said.
He ignored her as he lay her on the bed and then lay on top of her. When he was finished, he checked the sheets for blood. Finding it, he said, “Happy birthday to me.”
Once he’d taken her virginity, Viktor didn’t have much use for Cindy. Even so, he kept her abed about a week. She was a quick learner and obedient. The perfect woman for his highest paying client. Everyone’s least favorite guest would be her most avid patron he was certain.
“Tomorrow, I’m having a party, Cindy. Some of my best clients will be flying in from around the world. The rest of the girls will have to entertain multiple guests, sometimes at the same time.”
Cindy, head bowed, said nothing.
“You, however,” he continued, “will only have one man to service.”
She looked up. “You, Daddy?”
“Oh, no. It’s time for you to earn your keep.”
“I can cook and clean like I did for Miss Maxine, Daddy. Please, Daddy.”
He grabbed her chin. “Cindy. You will do as you’re told. Otherwise, I have no need of you. And you know what happens to people who’ve lost their usefulness to me. Don’t you?”
He let her go. “Good. As I was saying, I will introduce you to Marcel. He’s far more beautiful than I am. You’ll like looking at him. Just do as he asks and all will be well. He never does permanent damage to my girls.” He paused. “At least, not often. And he’ll never touch your face. House rules.”
He pressed a button on the night table. Immediately there was a knock before the door opened.
“Ah, Elaine. Please take Cindy to her new room. Give her the toy room. Marcel will be hers throughout his stay with us.”
“Yes, Daddy. Thank you, Daddy.”
“Thank you for what?”
“For bringing us Cindy, of course.”
He smiled, knowing what she wanted to say was thank you for not giving me to Marcel. Again.
“My pleasure, my dear. Come to me after you deliver Cindy. It’s been a while,” he said, caressing her cheek.
Cindy was not prepared for the toy room.
“Good luck, Cindy. The bathroom is to the left. The bedroom door locks as soon as it closes and only Marcel or Daddy can let you out. There’s a fridge in the alcove stocked with snacks and beverages. Mostly fruit and raw veggies. Marcel’s a bit of a health freak. Well, just a freak really. I shouldn’t say that. Don’t tell Daddy, please. Please. Anyway, don’t fight and you’ll be fine.” Maybe. “Bye. Daddy’s waiting for me.” And she was gone.
Cindy stood in the middle of the room, turning in a slow circle, wondering what kind of games people played with the toys in this room.
Marcel arrived early the next day.
“I have a new girl for you, Marcel.”
“Well seasoned or fresh?”
“You spoil me, Viktor.”
“I aim to please.”
“Is she in my room?”
“Since yesterday. Are you hungry? Dinner is at 7 but your fridge is well stocked."
Walking towards the stairs, pulling off his tie Marcel said, "I'm ravenous. I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast."
When the door opened, Cindy was seated by the window watching birds flying to and fro amongst the trees. The gardens seemed vast and quite lovely. There were manicured flower beds and walking paths. Through the trees she could see a small lake.
Arms wrapped around her legs, she was whispering fervently, "God, please don't forget about me."
The door shut and she jumped up.
Marcel left his bag by the door and threw his jacket on the bed. Then, he walked slowly towards Cindy. She stood unmoving, eyes bowed, hands behind her back. Trembling. He stepped so close their legs touched. With one long finger he lifted her chin so that she had to look at him.
"I am Marcel, but you can call me Master. You will do what I say without question, complaint or hesitation at all times. Is that understood?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"Good girl.” Gazing at her through hooded eyes he said, “You are quite lovely. I think we will be very happy together."
As he bent to kiss Cindy, she swung her right hand from behind her back towards his neck. Marcel fell backwards, blood gurgling from his mouth, a peeling knife jutting from his neck. His jugular if her aim was true.
It is possible that she got the key from his jacket, escaped from the house, ran to the nearest town, got help, called the police, was put in witness protection for helping take down a human trafficking ring with tentacles in the social services system…and managed to live happily ever after.
I mean, this is a fairy tale…