"Ahhh!" Screams rang out through the entire house. Screams of immense pain and agony that led me to the decision that I never wanted to experience such prolonged suffering. Each one pierced my ears causing a constant ringing that brought me to dizziness. There was only one occasion that would cause such chaos and that occasion was called giving birth.
"Push, Katerina," Auntie yelled to my thrashing cousin. She was placed at the foot of the bed preparing to deliver her grandchild. Her daughter, Katerina, laid in the bed pushing as she latched onto my arms which were holding her down. Her sharp fingernails dug into my skin as another push occurred.
"Breathe," I commanded as her face began to turn a deep shade of red. Katerina obliged and took a long deserved breath. She inhaled quickly again and exhaled it as she gasped when another round of pain washed over the young girl. She threw her head back and clenched her jaw. Her dark brown curls hit the wall and another scream erupted.
Katerina was a sweet sixteen year old who had became pregnant out of wedlock. The gossip and shaming looks were ubiquitous and even though she said nothing, the cruel words impacted Katerina. She would sit in her room late at night crying as she held onto the thing that brought such controversy. Everyone, especially my uncle, looked down at her. Everyone besides me , a young, impulsive fourteen year old and the only one who knew how this bastard child was conceived, and for my undeniable support I was to be banished along side Katerina if I too was with child.
"Please, Mama, get this child out of me," Katerina cried in out native language, Bulgarian. I griped her hand and spoke words of encouragement into her ear.
I thought back as I held Katerina's hand of the day the child was conceived. It had only been two weeks since I had arrived to live with my uncle and aunt. My mother had recently died after fighting a losing battle with the flu, and my father, unfit to provide for his children, sent us away. Katerina and I had always been close growing up but during those two weeks we were inseparable, so when Auntie asked Katerina to fetch water I happily volunteered to accompany her. We were on our way back from the well on Old Hickory Hill when it happened. The man, covered in scratches and dirt, jumped out from behind a large bush and pushed Katerina to the ground. Her pails of water was slung through the air landing a few feet from where she laid. Her screams was what caught my attention. I was still at the well getting the water. Instantly, I dropped one of pails and ran down the hill towards my cousin, screaming and causing commotion with another empty pail in my hand . The older man must have thought I would cause no trouble to him because he continued to lift Katerina's dress. A knife was pressed to get throat to control her movements. I gasped and continued down the hills. The man placed a hand over Katerina's mouth before he began his sinful act. It was revolting and drove anger into my heart. When I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, I took the empty pail and struck his back with it. Katerina screamed as the force impacted her. The only true affect it had was cause anger. The corrupt man pulled the knife away from Katerina's neck and threatened my life but I was determined to protect my cousin, my best friend. I kicked his arm and the unexpected blow caused him to flick his knife upwards, leaving a wound in my cranium that would later turn into a scar. I fell backwards and hit my head on a large, sharp rock causing blood to trickle out from behind my ear. My strawberry blonde hair began to strain a crimson red. The man, feeling no remorse, continued his act and then stood, pulling up and fastening his trousers quickly as if now he was trying to be modest, but I had already seen to much. He then turned away, running back into the woods. Dizzy and barely conscious, I crawled to Katerina and placed my head on her chest, crying. She looked up at me with tears streaming down her face and she struggled to breathe. We held each other until I passed out. She then took me to her mother saying I had fell down the hill. Katerina said Auntie fixed my wounds without further question. When I woke up I was fine. We were all fine until Katerina discovered she was with child three months later. From there on out we were berated on a daily basis, her for becoming pregnant and me for supporting her and the child unconditionally.
"A little more, dearest," Auntie yelled. "Push. Just a little more." She lifted the sheet, tears spring to her eyes as she child began to crown.
"A little more, Kat, just a little more. One big push and its over." I squeezed her red hands then looked up at her disappointed father standing at the door with his hand on his beard. My attention was turned back to Katerina when she crushed my hand. She pushed with all she had and that was good enough because a squeal followed. I smiled down at her and pushed her sweaty hair back.
"Its a baby girl," Auntie said. Her smile was wide as she examined the healthy child. Katerina had told her mother the truth when she found out she was with child and Auntie supported her as much as her husband would allow. Just as we were, she was devastated when she learnt that her husband had already promised her grandchild to another family.
"A girl?" Katerina asked. Her mother nodded, a tear slipping down as she held the child up for us to see.
"She's beautiful," I said.
"Please, Mother," Katerina begged, having difficulty breathing with the tears racking her body," let me see her." Auntie, unaware of her on looking husband, paused as if debating it.
"Woman, don't!" Uncle exclaimed. Auntie turned away with a frown, cleaning the child and wrapping a white blanket around its small body. Katerina's heartbreak brought tears to my eyes. She was devastated as Auntie handed her beautiful creation off to her cruel father. Oh how I despised him and everything he stood for.
"Let me at least hold her once,"Katerina cried. "Just once. At least once." She propped her weary self on her elbows
"Forget it," he spat.
In my anger, I bravely stepped out challenging the man. "Please Uncle, just once." That must have struck a nerve. Holding the child in one arm, he used his other to slap my face. I fell backwards onto the bed beside Katerina and she wrapped her arms around me protectively. Auntie lowered her head in fear of her abusive husband but I kept eye contact with the man.
"I said forget it and what I say goes, Child. I thought you would be the one to know that especially after all the times I've had to remind you." With that being said he turned and escaped through the door.
"Father, please," Katerina screamed. "I was raped, Father. This is not my fault but she is my child." She tried to get up but her energy was drained. "Bring her back."
"No Katerina. It is better for her!" Auntie held her down. "You have to let her go."
I had had enough of this man's theory of his absolutism as if he was our king and we should kiss the ground he walks on. I was more than angry I was belligerent and I was going to stop at nothing to bring the child back to its mother. While Auntie was occupied with Katerina, I ran after Uncle. I ran down the hall and towards the back door in which he would have used but I was pulled back by my older brother, Alex.
He was six foot four and towered over my five foot three. His curly brown hair was cut short at his eyebrows, uncommon for a man his age. He had dark brown eyes like my own which ran in our family. We were related but I did not consider him as family. He was more like Uncle than our father. Ever since we were children he was mean and it only became worse with age.
"Where do you think you are going, Woman? Know your role in this world and fulfil it instead of defying the man of the house. After all the disgrace you have caused our family you are no better than that harlot you call a cousin." He yelled in my face, his spit hitting my chin. I wiped it off and flicked it to the ground which only angered him more. He grabbed my shoulders and shook me. "They were right to banish you. Now go back to her since that is where your loyalty lies.
"Rot in hell," I said jerking my shoulder loose, and I tried to pass him. Instead he took my arm and guided me back to Katerina's room in which he pushed me into.
"Andrea," Katerina cried out opening her arms. I sat next to her lending my shoulder as something to cry on. "I just want my baby girl back." She croaked and sobbed.
"I tried, Katerina. I tried to bring her back to you," I said, holding her tightly.
"I know. Thank you, Andrea." She hugged me and then released my neck. "We must pack now. Mother said that Father had the buggy ready to take us away." She tried to move from the bed but I stopped her.
"I will take care of that. You need to save all the energy you can," I said. I stood up and grabbed the sacks that had been placed by the door for our belongings. I made my way to the double doors by the large window and began to raid our shared closet. I pulled out nightgowns, dresses, and boots of all colors. Katerina's valued items were placed at the top of her bag including a picture drawn of her family. Placing the filled jewelry box my mother had given me on her deathbed in my bag, I pulled the strings to fasten the sacks. We were going to travel light until we found a permeate home then our possessions would be sent to us. It was the deal we had negotiated with Uncle in return for never traveling back to this country.
"Andrea, I'm sorry," Katerina said, unexpectedly. I turned to her and asked what she meant. "I'm sorry for getting you banished. It's all my fault your family turned on you."
Letting the sacks drop to the floor, I walked over to her bed and took her hands. "It was my choice to support you, and I if I have to be banished for my choice so be it because it was my choice. And my family did not turn on me because you are the only family I have and you've never turned on me, Katerina, and that is why I will never turn on you. Do you understand me?" She nodded and hugged my neck.
"I thank God everyday for such an amazing cousin," she smiled. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Now let's get your boots on." I bent down and picked up a pair of brown boots at her bedside table. Katerina shifted with a grunt and swung her legs over the edge. Her socks frilled out at the top and stuck out over the boots' tops. From the chair at our desks, I retrieved our fur jackets Auntie had made for us at the beginning of hunting season. Katerina wrapped snugly into hers but I stuffed mine into my sack. Just as I got Katerina to get feet, we heard his voice boom through the house.
"Katerina," Uncle yelled. His tone was hostile and aggressive and it struck fear in my heart. He had a tendency to let his rage control him, and he would lash out on anyone who didn't please his every need. I was terrified that he would raise a hand to me again or even worse, raise an unforgiving hand at his own daughter. Katerina must have felt the same fear because she began to walk down the hall. I rushed to her side and took hold of her waist, relieving some of the strain she was putting her body through. Katerina smiled up at me with tears in her eyes. Even she knew we would not leave this house without a reminder that we are disappointments to this family whether it is a hand that bruised or a berating that will leave us both emotional wrecked.
Hoping to receive less bruises, we made our way to the common room in a hasty pace, and by the time we did arrived, we knew we were not fast enough. Uncle stood beside the door with a permanent sneer and arms crossed while my timid,father stood next to him. Uncle had made the decision of my banishment and my father agreed, afraid of the consequences or the painful death he would receive otherwise. Knowing we had no other choice, Katerina and I, sacks in hand, made our way across the room to meet our fathers.
The room was extremely ostentatious. A large Persian rug laid over the hardwood floor. Leather furniture and mahogany dressers and chests were scattered around the room. Animals were mounted on the walls next to impressive custom windows with Auntie's hand made drapes cascading over the glass. A gargantuan fireplace was located in the center of the left wall and its flame illuminated the room. It was beautiful but to flamboyant for my taste. A simple fireplace in a simple room would suit me well but not Uncle. No, he was greedy man and needed to flaunted his possessions.
Once we were standing in front of our fathers, Katerina and I bowed out heads in shame. Uncle's eyes showed us what we hated to see. The disappointment. The hate telling us that we were a disgrace, an abomination to our family and our country. His eyes told us we deserved every single bit of the punishment we had received. He also told us that himself on a daily basis, because just the sight of either of us brought the monster inside him out. So we avoided eye contact at all costs
"Woman, look at me," Uncle said, grabbing Katrina's face. He yanked her chin upwards so she could look him in the face. Katerina tried to pull away from his grip but he pulled harder. "You are such a disgrace to this family's name and for your disgrace you are banished from Bulgaria, Katerina. You are no longer my child, you are a harlot."
"Do not speak to her like that," I yelled. "You have no right to say Katerina is a harlot when you know not of the events leading to her pregnancy. You are a pathetic excuse for a man let alone a father. I feel bad for the rest of your children." From my sack, I receive the dagger that I had stolen from Alec in his drunken state.
"Daughter, put the dagger away," Father pleaded. Instead, I pointed the dagger at him.
"I will not, Father. I am no longer afraid of the man that has beaten me since I arrived," I said. "And Alec, back away from me before I stab you in the heart." I could feel his lurking presence. "Now Uncle, hand Katerina over and we will leave peacefully never to return to your evil household," I negotiated.
The man's sneer turned into a smile which turned into a laugh. "Child, you do not hold any authority in this situation." His threw his head back at my attempt of power but that was when I stabbed him in the right shoulder. He shrieked and released his hold on Katerina so I lunged forward to retrieve her and my dagger.
"We will be on our way now," I said with a smile. We began our way through the door when Alec grabbed my hand. In that moment I turned and buried the dagger deep in his neck. "Goodbye, Brother," I said solemnly then I took Katerina's hand and the sack and we ran towards the awaiting buggy. Our servant boy who was assigned to protect us during our journey stood at the door.
"Hurry, Miss Andrea, Miss Katerina," he rushed us into the buggy. Once we were seated inside, Mattew jumped in and took a seat next to me. I watched from the window as Uncle staggered out of the door and Father fell to his knees beside Alec. I didn't want to think about the necessary crime I had just committed. He would have killed me if I wouldn't have ended his life.
From behind, we could hear Uncle hollering for our return as he chasing after us. Screaming for the need of vengeance and punishment but he was to late. Our saddle boy had already whipped the horses and instigated the journey down the driveway. We were on our way to freedom.
"Andrea," Katerina started.
"I don't want to talk about it, Kat," I harshly interrupted.
"Andrea, just list-," she began again.
"I said I don't want to talk about it, Katerina. I just murdered my brother," I sobbed," and I would like to sit here in silence. So please don't start." I turned away from her and pulled my legs onto the seat. Placing my arms around my knees, I watch the trees pass and cry. As I began to lose control of myself, I felt arms wrap around me.
"Thank you," Katerina said placing her head on my shoulder. "You and I both know they would have killed us with no thought to it. You saved me and I thanks to you will now see tomorrow and the day after that. You are my hero. My best friend." She took her hand and wiped away the tears pooling at my chin. My sobs were soothing and my heart was lifted. I did what was right and I could fully see that then. So I turned to her and put my arms around her neck.
"Thank you, Katerina." I said, then placed my head on her shoulder. She placed a hand on my hair. In that moment for the first time in a long time, I was happy because I knew that no matter the circumstances we were in this together.