“Sixty!” yelled a voice from the crowd.
“Sixty from him!” Man In Charge shouted back, pointing to a bony man with a scar on his shaved head.
“Sixty! Going once! Going twice! Sixty it is to Man With Scar!” Man In Charge handed the leash to the buyer.
Samee felt a pull on his leash. His hands were bound behind him and his head was pounding from the heat and smell of the open square.
“Any marks, deformities, or imperfections?” Man In Charge asked.
“Huh?” asked One-Eyed Man.
“Marks. Deformities. Imperfections.” Man In Charge repeated, annoyed. “Must have spotted some when you were washing it.”
“Never washed it.” One-Eyed Man grunted proudly. “Why waste time washin’ insect?” His men laughed obediently.
“Where are papers?” Man In Charge snapped.
“Papers? What’s ‘papers’?” One-Eyed Man barked back.
“Papers. Need papers to prove it’s twelve.”
“No papers. No one gave me papers.”
Man-In Charge glanced at the number of men who had gathered around One-Eyed Man. “Okay. Okay. No papers. No problem.” He continued: “In good health? Strong?”
One-Eyed Man yanked the leash, choking Samee’s neck for an instant. “Insect fine.” One-Eyed Man’s tribe moved in closer.
Man In Charge stared down at Samee for a long moment, sighed, then pulled him onto the stage.
“Okay. We’ll start at twenty-five for this one. Twenty-five! Who’ll give me twenty-five?”
Twenty-five, thought Samee, that’s twenty and—
A man sneered. “You saved the best for last?” he yelled.
“It’s healthy and strong,” One-Eyed Man shouted back. “Might even make warrior one day!”
The crowd roared with laughter. Samee felt a pain in his stomach and almost keeled over. The crowd roared louder. Maybe they know I’m different, Samee thought.
“Warrior?” The sneering one continued. “Can’t even stand up!”
“Lucky to sell it for low servant!” yelled another.
Man In Charge raised his hand. “Twenty. Who’ll give me twenty? A bargain.”
“Forty! No less than forty!” boomed One-Eyed Man.
“You’ll be lucky if that insect dies and you eat its innards for supper,” a snake-eyed man hissed.
The crowd yelled in delight. One-Eyed Man’s eye bulged even further out of his head. Red and blue veins colored his forehead. Like the suns in the sky. Red sun setting, blue sun rising, meeting in the sky at noon once a year.
Samee could see his master’s eye was hurting him again, but this was no time for Samee’s special duties. Long ago, he had found a way to ease his master’s blinding headaches. He had made up soft sounds to sing in his master’s ear and stroked his master’s hot forehead with small, cool hands. In return, Samee had been left to himself, with only an occasional punch as the mood struck his master. Even Samee’s attempts to run away had been overlooked. But now Samee’s twelve had come and they were in the open square on the hottest day of the year.
“Alright! Twenty! Who will give me twenty?” Man In Charge cracked his whip. Samee coughed through the cloud of dust.
Twenty. What comes after twenty?
Samee closed his eyes. He could feel the open square—the stench of men, the clank of metal, the heads stuck on sticks. He felt trickles of sweat run down his forehead and down his leg. He felt like crying.
On the way to the open square, Samee had almost started to cry. One-Eyed Man had glared at him. “Don’t be a bloody Grrl!” Samee didn’t know what a bloody Grrl was, but he knew that wasn’t a good thing either.
“Order! I said twenty!” barked Man In Charge. “Who’ll give me twenty?”
“Five for its body parts!” leered Snake-Eye.
“Four for its hair!” jeered another man with a broken nose.
“Scum-face cowards.” One-Eyed Man rose to his full size, his warriors behind him. Knives appeared.
Samee kept his eyes closed and licked his lips. Wat-er-mel-on.
“Order! Order! Only a few minutes left in The Crossing Of Suns.” Man In Charge was starting to strain over the crowd. He looked down at Samee and placed a rough hand at his back, urging him to stay upright.
Twenty. . . what comes after. . . Samee’s eyes were stinging from his own sweat. He wasn’t sure if it was sweat, or if he was crying. He felt a warm liquid ooze between his legs. Why did he have to pee now?
“Twenty! Twenty! Twenty!” The crowd roared in Samee’s ears. Through his stinging eyes, he saw mouths moving, mouths shouting, mouths laughing, one eye bulging, hot red and blue heat, pushing, shoving, pointing, laughing—
The heat of the suns bore into Samee’s skull. One eyelid saw red. The other blue. He staggered and dropped to one knee.
Another roar of laughter from the crowd. “Can’t even stand up!”
Samee heaved forward and stood up. He felt another trickle down his leg. He swayed again. There was a slight hush in the crowd.
Samee blinked his eyes and shook off the sweat. Blood ran down his right leg.
“Its leg is bleeding!”
The crowd murmured, puzzled, straining for a better look.
Man In Charge frowned and looked to One-Eyed Man, who stood muttering, shaking his head, bewildered and furious.
Man In Charge grabbed Samee’s pants and pulled them down.
A roar went up in the crowd. A roar so great it knocked Samee off his feet. A roar so deep and loud that Samee was hit with the same force as a punch from One-Eyed Man.
As he passed out, he heard:
“A Grrl! It’s a bloody Grrl!