Prologue (drafty AF)
The small fan in the corner swayed from one side to the other as it blew cool air. It was a Tuesday evening in the Cascade shopping plaza. The busy nail shop was next to the grocery store where the Vietnamese women sat at their stations, and chatted amongst themselves while filing nails. The only other voice was the small TV propped in the corner of the wall with the news on repeat.
Reporter -The protest continues as the mayor plans to speak out tomorrow about the latest police brutality surging through the city. In other news, a total of six girls have been missing within the past two weeks...
It was an unspoken beauty ritual amongst black women. Some sat down with bonnets, waiting to get their hair done next by a home girl or the salon next door. Others were full face, hair laid, and wanting to get their nails right. Amaya Simmons was here to celebrate getting accepted into Georgia State. It was a last minute decision since she had to meet her sister for dinner, but she was hoping they would be able to squeeze her in for an appointment.
Nail lady - You have boyfriend?
Amaya looked up from her phone, taken back by the sudden intrusion of her thoughts. Youthful eyes bright against her deep brown complexion, she smiled at the nosey asian woman staring at her before she shook her head.
Nail lady - (greedily smiles) Very pretty girl. You have pretty face, no boyfriend?
Amaya - (softly laughs) no boyfriend.
Nail lady - How old are you?
Amaya - I just turned 18.
Nail lady - ohhhhh (nods her head slowly) pretty girl. Very pretty girl and so young. (playfully winks at her) You have boyfriend.
Amaya - (laughs it off with a wave of her hand) I’m not even thinking about boys right now. No boyfriend. (tucks hair behind early in a shy manner) Just me, myself, and I.
Customer - I know that’s right, girl.
Amaya turned her attention to the black woman across from her, getting her toes filed as she tapped the air with her pointer finger and rolled her neck. The woman had a FENDI bag beside her, thick waves of hair down her backside with a small wrap around her edges to keep it in place, and dark lips that chewed at her gum. She couldn’t quite make out if it was a distorted tattoo on the side of her thigh or a bruise, but she was sure the woman had stories for days about her life.
Customer - These niggas out here ain’t about nothing anyway. You going to school?
Amaya - Yes ma’am. I just got accepted into Georgia State.
Customer - Oooo congrats girl...look at you... (smiling as she chewed on the thin gum) you look like you got a good head on your shoulders. Keep it up. Don’t let no nigga distract you. Always go for the bag. Bag over the bum, or you’ll end up like me.
Amaya didn’t know whether to smile or not at the advice as the woman focused back on her phone that was strangely pointed in Amaya’s direction. She stared for a moment until the woman pulled it up close to her face to see better through her shades before going back to texting.
The rest of the ladies talked amongst themselves in their language as Amaya continued to look through her phone, scrolling through Instagram at the different models and outfits. She didn’t notice the side glances the nail ladies shared amongst themselves or the strange man walking out of the back room with a flip of the hanging curtain. He pinched his nose twice with a hard sniff as he looked around at the customers before settling on Amaya with hidden uncertainty in his eyes.
Man - (gruff heavy accent) You make ’pointment?
Amaya stood up, grabbing her purse and keys as she walked towards the counter. She didn’t think it would be such a long wait, especially with hardly anybody in here but since they weren’t able to see her until later, she decided to make an appointment. Maybe she would just find another salon closer to home.
Nail lady - You come back tuh-morrow, okay?! I do your nails real nice, real nice for pretty girl! Make boyfriend pay!
Amaya - (grabbing the door to push open) Thank you!
The animated bells chimed as Amaya stepped out into the shopping plaza with the thick evening heat wrapping around her. She stood for a moment in the middle of the street, distracted by her ringing phone as two boys walked by her hollered out to their friends across the way. Both were carrying large carts of water bottles on their shoulders. One struggled as he yanked his pants up while the other already pierced a hole in the plastic to grab a bottle for himself.
Boy - Miss lady? Scuze’ me miss lady? We got that water for a dollar?
Amaya felt the tap on her arm as she turned back to see one of them holding out a bottle to her. Amaya shook her head while placing the phone up against her ear.
Boy - (sucks teeth) It’s just a dollar, you can’t spare a dollar?
Amaya - I’m sorry–––
Sydney - Hello?
Amaya turned her attention to the phone at the sound of her big sister’s voice as she quickly tried to walk off from the boy who looked no older than her. He sucked his teeth again with irritation as he grabbed the rest of the box of bottles to carry with him towards the intersection.
Amaya - Hey sissy. (keys jingling in hand) I’m on my way now but I may be late for dinner tonight. I tried to get my nails done at the last minute.
Sydney - Well we’re all here now waiting to be seated so you have time. The line is crazy outside.
Jada - Heeeey Mayuhhhhh! (Screaming from the background) Hurry up and bring yo ass!
Nicole - (cuts into the phone conversation) Congrats girly on finishing high school! Such a huge accomplishment!
Jada - Be even more proud if we can sit down and eat! (yells away from the phone) The fuck is taking so long?!
Amaya smiled. These girls have been here since the beginning and although they were Sydney’s closest friends, Amaya felt like she could call on Jada and Nicole for anything and everything.
Sydney - Ok! (heavily sighs) Now that I got my phone back, we’re here at Romanos Lounge. Traffic is probably going to be a nightmare for you to get out here. I told you to get an Uber so you don’t have to worry about parking, and I don’t even know why you went all the way out there in the first place for nails.
Amaya - (helpless shrug) It was on Instagram as the best one to go to.
Sydney - (mocking tone turns dry) 'It was on Instagram.’ Of course, it was on Instagram.
Amaya laughed at her big sister as she walked towards her red Ford Focus. She was in such a good mood tonight that the inconvenience of the salon didn’t matter as much. She was going to celebrate her milestone into adulthood. With her mother passing and her father nowhere to be found since birth, it had always been her, and her sister Sydney who put up with her. Sacrificed everything for Amaya to be where she is now and she couldn’t be more grateful. Yeah, tonight was the night where Queens all around were going to celebrate.
Amaya - I feel like this is the start of a brand new me...a new era in my life...I’m finally grown and if Mom were here to see this, (glancing at the charm bracelet on her wrist) she would be ready to party.
Sydney - She would be proud of you, as am I and yes. You are grown now, but you will always be my little sister. Even when you get a husband, have kids that have kids...you will always be little to me. Do you remember...
Her sister’s voice trailed off as Amaya’s attention turned towards a woman cutting through the cars in the parking lot wearing shorts and a sports bra. Her lips looked swollen and her hair scattered into a blended ponytail. She kept looking around before ducking between cars like she was hiding. Amaya stopped just in front of her car and watched with concern.
Sydney - Are you listening to me Maya? We’re about to be seated now. We just walked inside. Do you want me to order for you?
Amaya - (distracted tone) There’s a girl walking around...I think something is wrong with her, like she needs help.
Sydney - (Confused) Huh? What are you talking about? I can barely hear you.
Amaya - A girl...she’s…
The woman suddenly crossed over the parking lot with pure fear in her eyes as she walked directly over to a bewildered Amaya.
Amaya - Do you need help?
Sydney - (Demanding tone) What’s going on? Amaya?
The woman wiped around her sunken eyes before rubbing her hands together.
Woman - (raspy nervous tone) C-can I use your phone real quick? I just need to call my home girl to come get me before this man finds me…
Amaya - (Unable to speak) I’m sorry, I–––
Woman - I just need to borrow it real quick. I promise I won’t–––
Sydney - (Commanding) Amaya you need to get in the car, now. Get in your car and go.
Amaya unintentionally tunes out her sister’s voice after becoming so distracted by this distraught woman in front of her.
Woman - I just need to get a way. I don’t want to keep doing this shit anymore...Can I use your phone and call my home girl? She’ll meet me––
Sydney - (yells) Amaya?! Are you listening to me?! You... (quiets down to a hushed whisper) Amaya, what is going on? Don’t give anybody your phone.
Before Amaya could respond, the woman reaches to take her phone just as a thick oily hand clasps around her mouth from behind, muffling her screams as her keys drop to the ground. She felt the sweat through the thin shirt against her back as the smell of motor oil and weed covered her nose. She tried gripping the fingers, picking and scratching away at the hand before they brought her body down to the ground. The woman who was crying and distraught suddenly turned cold as she popped open the keys to Amaya’s car.
The evening had turned into night. Hardly anyone else in the shopping plaza noticed what was happening. Mothers pushed their shopping carts along with their children by their side. A family cackled as they made their way into the grocery store. A cop was parked on the other side eating in his car. Cars continued on, desperately looking for a space to park after a long day of work. The infamous waterboys held their bottles in the air for quick and easy money. It would be their last run before the cops were called to move them along for the night.
Nobody noticed the two men shoved Amaya’s body in the back seat of her own car. They moved aside the graduation gifts, the deflated balloons and acceptance envelope with Georgia State printed on the front. None of those things mattered anymore. The tears and fear rushed through her body as she started to kick and wiggle her way out of their hold until a dirty white wash cloth was shoved against her face, suffocating her senses until she became still and her vision blurred into darkness.
The red Ford Focus started up with a rumble of the engine as the two men in the front cranked the AC on and backed out of the spot, undetected. The driver reached down to yank the seat back as he glanced at the two girls in the back. He smiled. She didn’t return it as she held onto the girl’s limp body with an attitude while going through her purse. Scratching at his neck, he let his decorated arm hang out the window as he gripped the side of the door with a casual knock of his rough knuckles.
The water boys were at the top of the intersection holding out bottles of water in the heat as one in particular walked with one foot crossing over the other in a sway like motion towards the car. The sweat beads coated his face as he leaned into the window with a wide grin.
Water boy - You got me on the water big bro? (holding the bottle in his hand with shifty nervous eyes)
The water boy glanced at the back seat before looking away, showing no guilt or remorse for his role in this. He was there for one thing, and one thing only. The driver smirked, understanding the hidden meaning behind the question as he handed the boy a few extra bills.
Water boy - 'Preciate that (tossing the bottle in the driver’s lap) Aye yo!? (stands up right with a yank of his jeans, yells across the way) toss me another one! (walks off with hands in the air, catching a stray bottle from his partner)
The driver reached to turn the radio on as he waited for the light to turn green, just in time for a new song to start.
“Welcome to Atlanta, jacking hammers and vogues. Back to the macking and jackin’ the clothes…adolescence packing a foh’….a knock on the doh’...”