Tourist

She wore a long wraparound top with loose trousers underneath, like so many of the other travellers. Designer glasses on her head and a long tacky glass bead necklace were all that stood between her and no accessories whatsoever. This truly was a place of adventure.

The market was bustling with friendly locals and eager tourists. She allowed the throngs to carry her this way and that. Not looking at anything in particular and no plans to buy anything at all, unless it was cute.

She could see other members of the tour group scattered around, haggling with stall holders, eating exotic fried insects or other things the locals found would sell. A troop of children ran by laughing and jostling each other and careless of anyone in their path. They bumped her and surrounded her and were away again. She laughed at their backs.

The sun was beaming down from its azure kingdom; everything was bathed in light and bright and beautiful. An old man smiled at her and proffered whatever he was selling. A polite smile and shake of the head was enough here. She wandered on with the crowd. Enjoying the smell of the pipe smoke that constantly clouded the men.

The phone buzzing by her side turned out to be a phantom vibration. Her hand went to her pocket and the panic at finding it empty was immediate. Her hands moved from one pocket to another desperately searching but she knew it was gone. She looked around the market place. As if it would offer an answer. The laughing kids, the friendly vendors, the smiling tourists, none admitted to taking it.

It would not ruin the day she persisted, but was unable to shake off the sense that something had spoiled this perfect place.  She arrived at a large covered arcade with brass lamps swaying by the entranceway and a scent of jasmine and lemongrass enticing her. Inside were far fewer tourists and her eyes struggled to adjust to the relative darkness. She walked on by mysterious shops selling god knows what and the stares from the shopkeepers were less smiling, more eager. She kept her eyes down and moved onwards. An old lady crouched by a wall and rocked back and forth chanting to herself in a mumbling mantric drone, a pipe smoking in her hand.

She increased her step, looking for a way out now, looking left and right for an exit from this depressing den. Each way she searched looked the same. Rows of crowded clustering stalls and dull hanging lamps. Staring eyes and ugly unwelcoming expressions. She glanced back over her shoulder looking to retrace her steps. The crowd blocked out any light or hope of egress and the unfriendly eyes of those behind her urged her onwards and away from them.

The old woman droned on, just audible above the stifling din. Panic began to claw at her, where was the way out of here? She strode on, trying not to hurry or look harried, desperate to stay calm, this was a holiday. She turned a corner into another endless avenue of shop fronts and foul faces. Here there were only men. Sitting or squatting at low tables drinking tea from tiny cups and smoking those godawful pipes. All eyes came up to meet hers, there were no smiles here, the teeth only showed to sneer.

She was wishing her head was covered, she was wishing she had stayed with the group. Her eyes found the floor and she took a sharp left down a narrower alley. She had to get away from those men. The smell was worse, mixed now with urine and poultry and the complete lack of fresh air. She passed a tiny girl cradling a baby who babbled at her incoherently as she tracked her with her red eyes. She dodged puddles of piss and empty upturned baskets on top of others full of chickens and other animals. On each dark curtains shielded god only knows what from her sight.

A dull light was just around the next corner. She was drawn to it like a desperate moth to its blissful death. The air was so dense here, she struggled to breathe. She rounded the corner, her hands clinging to the bare broken bricks and was immediately face to face with a large bearded man. He spat words of disapproval at her. Another man appeared at his side. They approached as she backed away stuttering apologies and longing to be as far away from this place as possible. She backed into another man, just like the others, plain robes and dark hair and eyes. He started shouting at her. Louder than the first had.

Surrounded now and delirious with heat and panic she took off her necklace. Offering it to them. Trying to buy freedom or a moment to think. Someone grabbed her arm. Another hand on the other side. Screaming now. The necklace ripped apart spilling beads across the dirty ground. She tried to pull away but they forced her forward. She stumbled and they pulled at her again half dragging her. Her legs kicking, her lungs bursting with the effort. The young girl with the baby watched her wordlessly as the men shoved passed towards one of the darker curtained areas. They pulled the black sheet to the side and dragged her through into the black. she kicked one of them in the crotch, he cursed and immediately slapped her hard across the face. She cried out again. The little girl started crying and received the same back handed slap, it reeled her onto the floor where she stayed, eyes down, the baby quiet too.

The biggest of the men grabbed her roughly by the neck and pushed her forwards against the wall. Pinning her against the grimy brick. Tears streamed as she gasped soundless sobs. She could feel him standing right behind her, his stinking breath invading her. His hand appeared above her head, the black hair on his hand contrasting the plain gold rings of his fingers as they wrapped around another black curtain and pulled it aside. He shoved her roughly out into the blinding light of the outdoor market. Barking at her, berating her loudly. She fell in a heap on the ground. The people of the market looked on and laughed at the scene. The tourists stared, not laughing, not sure. The little gang of children trooped past her again. The big man grabbed the smallest child, murmuring something at him. The tiny hand reached into a pocket and handed over her mobile phone. The man tossed it to her and re-entered the darkened arcade laughing. The curtain closing at his back.

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