A sneak peek at Sindisiwe, my novelette-length short story in the Xchyler Publishing Steampunk anthology Steel & Bone. “Shovel the coal and stoke the boilers as nine Steampunk authors explore islands of mystery and adventure across the seven seas.” Coming June 27, 2015.
“A slave girl in Zanzibar escapes a beating when a stranger in the marketplace proves her past is more than just a fairy tale.”
Sindi twisted this way and that through the colorful awnings and hangings and displays that choked the narrow lane between the looming homes and shops, and was quickly out of sight of the Trading Company. Vendors and beggars called to her and caught at her as she ran, but she paid no heed. She dodged blankets spread with mangos, bananas, and paupaus, skirted stalls with glistening skewers of charcoal-roasted seafood, brightly colored bolts of cloth, and a bewildering assortment of household goods.
Glancing frequently over her shoulder, she turned down the alley of coppersmiths, with its displays of pots and pans that hung like some strange, shining fruit. Her ears were battered by the din of clanging hammers, and she coughed at the hanging pall of smoke from the smithy fires. She hurried through the alley of leather smiths, the foul stench of the tanneries assaulting her senses.
Far behind, she heard her name shouted. Jabari had found her. How in the name of all that was holy? She turned again, abruptly, into a tiny alley, even narrower than the others. These shops displayed women’s clothing of a dozen cultures. Quickly she ducked into a shop that displayed proper Muslim garb, and hurtled directly into the arms of a large, matronly woman.
“Child, what is it? Slow down.”
“Please! Help me! He’ll kill me!”
The woman did not hesitate. Faster than Sindi would have believed possible, she whipped a full black burka from its hanger, unlike anything Mwamba’s family would ever wear, and flipped it deftly over the girl’s head. It fell cascading all the way to the floor. Sindi found herself hooded, looking out at the world through a black mesh screen.
“Slouch,” the woman hissed. “Don’t look so tall.”
“And here is a veil I’m sure your daughter would like . . .” she was saying when Jabari burst through the door. “May I help you, young man?”
“A girl. Tall,” he panted. “Came this way.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”
He turned and pointed at Sindi, completely covered head to foot in the black burka, trying her best to conceal her Zulu height. “Thin. Like her.” He stepped toward her, reaching to pull away the hood. She trembled, sick inside. She was about to be found out and hauled away to be beaten within an inch of her life.
With a whistling crack a bamboo cane lashed Jabari’s outstretched hand.
“Nasty boy,” the matron cried. “Assaulting a pious woman this way. Shame, shame!” With every invective she brought the cane whistling down on his head and shoulders. “Infidel! Beast! Help! Help!”
From the neighboring shops, people poured out, and quickly a small crowd laughed and clapped as they watched the woman cane the sturdy Swahili teenager. “Give it to him, Panya,” they shouted. “Teach him who is boss.”
With a most ungentlemanly, impious oath, Jabari beat a hasty retreat, followed by the jeers of the crowd, and vanished back the way he had come.
Panya whisked the burka off over Sindi’s head. “I would send you out the back door veiled from head to foot, but that is what that awful boy will be looking for.” She herded Sindi to the back of the shop. “And besides, from the look of you, you don’t have two coppers to rub together. Come back another time, with money in your hand, and I will see you dressed right. Pretty girl like you should not dress as a slave. Now go.” She patted Sindi on the shoulder, slammed the door, and left her standing in a tiny passage, barely wide enough that she could squeeze through into the next lane.