The single stop sign stretched above us saying The Village with the number 1 circled underneath it as the late afternoon turned into the cool evening. Raven, Princess, and I were the only ones at the bus stop when Raven and I sat on the bench together with our arms linked in solidarity. Princess kept off to herself, still upset at the turn of events.
Just further down were the paths to the homes but for the most part, everyone here kept to themselves and their children. I could count on one hand how many times I left the Village, and it was usually to see my mother at her home where high elders and council members lived. It was how Erin, Raven and I became friends with our mothers living by each other as neighbors.
“I just want to find her,” Raven whispered. “I don’t want anything happening to her and all I can think is…what if they just tossed her out like trash into the streets. She’s not going to know how to defend herself. I don’t care how big and bad she thinks she is…”
“We’ll find her,” I nodded, smoothing her bright copper orange hair back into the french braids. “We have her picture we can show, and hopefully someone will have seen her.”
“The bus is here,” Princess interrupted. Raven cut her eyes at me before sucking her teeth with an attitude, already not too fond of Princess’s sudden change in mood. We stood up, smoothing down our dresses and skirts, tucked the pictures of Erin in our bras before standing with Princess. The bright headlights shined against our faces, coming down the long street as the white old school bus came to a screeching stop. The door swung open as mothers in their white dresses slowly walked down with their daughters in hand, greeting us on the way out before we were allowed to step on.
“This is the last bus of the night. Ain’t no going back until Sunday evening. Where yall headed?” the Elder asked as she closed the door and looked back at us in the brown seats.
“Francis Wilde,” Princess responded, sitting across from us. I watched her tiredly take off her shoes as she rubbed her feet in the seat. Raven leaned her head against mine, looking out the window as we began to move forward in the dark bus. It was nothing but trees as we moved further away from our home, watching the gates close in on us for the last time tonight.
It felt like forever, just passing trees amongst trees along the private dirt road until we turned down a well hidden road, coming up on hidden lamp posts within the forests until we slowed to a complete stop. Waiting, we sat up watching the gates slowly open before coming up to the bus stop sign that said The Wilde with the number 3 circled underneath it.
“Yall have a good weekend, young sisters,” the Elder said, closing the door behind us. The bus turned back out as the iron gates closed with the letters THE WILDE curving above us.
“Not a word to anyone about your missing friend,” Princess warned as we followed her through her faction. We walked further down the quiet road, cutting through the thick trees until we came up on the open massive fields of farm land and agriculture. Small houses were pinched together in rows and columns and you could see sisters walking around barefoot with long braids swinging down their back sides like ropes. Half the women here barely wore dresses. They looked so comfortable in black slacks and matching shirts, something that would be frowned upon in the Village. You could see sisters riding bikes along the private pathways while others were in the fields in their matching hats picking at the ground. We followed Princess through her faction as everyone and anyone waved and said hello to her.
“Is Opal home?!” Princess yelled out as we came up on a small neighborhood of homes hidden within the trees. The brick homes were older, like they’d been here for years, long before anything was established.
“Just knock on the back door, she’s probably in the basement!” a sister neighbor responded with a wave of her hand.
The house we walked up to was at the very end of the street with a bike tossed in the middle of her yard. Princess stepped onto the grass before cutting to the side of the house that became a steep drop in the ground as we quietly followed, careful not to draw too much attention. There was a single door on the back as she moved toys and dolls aside and began to knock twice.
“Is this the one that can help us?” I whispered. Princess kept her back facing me, refusing to answer. Raven suddenly grabbed at my arm and nudged for me to look to my left, seeing a woman laying naked on the grass in the backyard of her house. Her knees were bent to the sky while she kept her eyes closed, slowly swaying her body from side to side. Only to be joined by three other women who sat down beside her just as naked as the day they were born and shared drinks with one another.
Princess suddenly knocked again before the door cracked open with a light skinned young sister poking her head out. She anxiously chewed her gum, looking the three of us over.
“Who are they?” she immediately questioned.
“They’re with me, Opal.”
“I can see that Prin, but who are they?” she questioned again, keeping the door closed against her face. Neither of the two spoke, but it had to be some hidden conversation because the door suddenly opened wider as the girl stepped aside.
“It’s a mess in here. I was just trying to clean up,” she said. She quickly tried to clear away the couch filled with boxes and bags while walking down the hallway, motioning for us to follow.
“I have books…video tapes…cassette tapes and CDs…you can listen to just about anything,” Opal went on as she dug through boxes and bags, showing us different items, “as always…I would like a nice trade off.”
“I even have these,” Opal boasted, turning around to show us magazines. “These are fresh off the truck…Most just want radios which I’m out of. Those are the fastest selling things, the radios.”
“We’re not here for that,” Prin informed her, “they’re looking for a friend they think went missing.”
Jo snorted with a laugh.
“No one ever goes missing here,” she let out.
Raven and I tried to find a chair that wasn’t covered in junk until we sat down in the dim lit basement. Opal stood shorter than most wearing a black dress with her long braid that came to her hips becoming undone by the second. Her flat pale feet had bright green nail polish, something I hadn’t seen before and a unique drawing of a flower inked against her left foot.
“I think our friend,” Raven said, speaking up, “I think she was put out…she threatened to leave last night for good. She wanted to leave altogether and I think that’s what happened. There’s another woman living in her house now.”
“Now you want to find her?” Opal said, turning to stare at us, wearing clumps of jewelry against her neck like she was trying it out. Where did she get all of these things from?
“We were wondering if you knew someone that could find her and bring her back,” I suggested. “Or at least point us in the direction of what can happen to her…”
“My advice, once she’s out there?” she asked, digging through more boxes, “if she isn’t already dead, you would have to go to the cops out there to help find her. I can get you out there and get you back in but what you do, and how you find your friend is on you.”
I stood up, watching her get distracted as she showed Princess a large clear heel that had to be at least 4 inches or higher with rhinestones all over it.
“What do you mean you can get us out and back? I–––”
“I have sisters sneak out for me and bring me things back to trade,” she said, waving to all of the things in her basement. “You would have the weekend to find her. Once out there? Ask around for your friend. She can’t be too far if she left last night. The way we have police here, they have police out there that are meant to protect and serve. It really is just like our world, hardly any difference,” she wavered off.
I looked at Raven who immediately shook her head.
“When do we leave?” I asked.
Opal looked at her watch with pursed lips.
“You have 15 minutes to decide–––”
“Wait a minute!” Raven shouted, standing up as she glared at me, “you can’t be serious. We can’t leave–––”
“Hold on…” Princess cut in, standing up. “That wasn’t what you said earlier. You wanted to find your friend. Not actually step outside the walls––”
“Unless there’s another way to find her, I’m all ears?” I snapped. “All of this just happened last night. She can’t be too far––”
“If you go missing, they are going to look at me!” Princess argued.
“Oh you don’t even have to worry about that!” Raven laughed erratically, “because we’re not going anywhere! I’m not letting her make the biggest mistake of her life–––”
“We don’t even know if the girl left!” Princess let out as Opal patiently scratched at her eyebrow, watching the three of us squabble.
“Prin, you would have to go to avoid any suspicion,” she said with a sheepish smile.
“What? What?!” Princess panicked. “I did not sign up for this! This was supposed to be a simple fucking job of getting a baby to the doorstep!”
“Don’t you curse at us!” Raven hollered angrily. “Remember, none of us asked for this!”
“I’m not like your little perfect sisters back in the Village,” Princess threatened. “I will straight kick your ass if yall get me in trouble! I never asked for this! I–––”
“Try it!” Raven barked back. “You should look at it as an honor to be in front of someone like Pandora, you low life piece of–––”
“You’re so far up her ass, I can barely see you bitch!” Princess snapped.
“Why are we screaming in my basement?” Opal sighed as she slipped on a pair of red heels from the box, modeling her feet. “The only way you can find your friend is if you all go…you were last seen here with Prin. The Wilde does good on protecting our own, especially Prin but she has to go with you in order for this to be pulled off.”
“I can’t believe this,” Princess said, throwing her hands in the air.
“Can you guarantee us coming back home safely?” I asked, looking for reassurance. Opal slid on a pair of white sunglasses against her face and smiled.
“I haven’t lost a sister yet.”