Asha never ever smiled. She didn’t know how to. She would just sit with her doll, Trudy, squeezed tightly in her hand. Her mother had given Trudy to her when she was about five years old, a month before she went away. That was two years ago, and Asha had not seen her mother since. She could still vaguely remember that night. Her mother and father were arguing about something. Her mother had gently pushed her into the back room of their two-roomed house and closed the door. The arguing continued and then there was the sound of things crashing and breaking. She remembered hearing her mother scream, a thud, and then her father sobbing. It was a neighbour that had let Asha out of the room. When she had asked for her mother all she was told was that she had gone away.
Asha never understood why her mother went away. All she knew was that her mother had given Trudy to her, and that she would take care of Trudy until her mother returned. Nothing was the same after that night. Asha could only remember always being hungry since then. There was never anything to eat. She was always doing bad things, and bad girls did not deserve to eat, her father would say. Then he would go to the cupboard and get her something to eat and drink. It was never enough to fill her. Maybe that’s why she was so thin.
Asha never knew what she had done wrong, though. She would try to be good, but she just couldn’t. When her father would stumble home every morning from the bar, and when he couldn’t walk straight, she would try to help him. Asha supposed that something at the bar made him walk that way. She never knew what it was she would do that would make him so mad. All she knew was that when he was mad he would make her go outside and sit on the brick. The brick a little concrete block in the middle of the yard and Asha hated it. She hated it because of Remo.
Remo was Asha’s father’s dog. He was twice her size and extremely vicious. Her father kept him tied in the corner of the backyard on a long chain that was just a foot short of reaching the brick. When Remo was just a puppy her father would go outside and beat him with a strap. She would hear him shouting things like, “Sit Remo”, or “Remo Attack”. Remo would yelp and howl. Her father never let her play with him or feed him. Now that Remo was grown, he growled and barked at everyone that was not her father. When Asha was bad, her father would grab her by the arm and drag her outside. He would say, “so you want to play with Remo.” As soon as they got outside, Remo would start barking and tugging at his chain to get at her, but no matter how she squirmed, her father would make her sit on the brick until she was good again.
Asha hated the brick. She hated it because of the children who, on their way to school, would poke fun at her. They would peek through the galvanized fence and shout things at her. They would tease Remo and make him bark even louder. She didn’t know why she never got to go to school. When she had asked her father he told her that only good little girls go to school. Asha supposed that some little girls were just born bad.
Lately, the brick didn’t seem so bad though. Remo had gotten used to her. He never barked anymore. Only when the children came by would he get riled up, but when she hummed like her mother used to, he would calm down. Sometimes when her father wasn’t looking, she would even dare to reach out and pet him. He liked it. This time Asha thought she must have done something really bad. She had been sitting on the brick all night. It was now morning and her father had not yet told her to come back inside. She just sat there as the sun rose and hugged her knees and rocked and hummed to herself. She was very hungry.
Just then, Asha heard the front gate creak open. She heard the heavy footsteps of her father on the wooden floor inside the house.
“Asha, where the hell are you?” he shouted in slurred speech, and as he opened the back door, “Who told you that you could go outside without permission?”
He stumbled down the steps toward her, loosening his belt as he advanced.
“I thought I told you never to go outside when I am not at home”, he continued, “you must be hard of hearing. Well who don’t hear does feel.” And he raised his arm to strike her.
Horrified, Asha stumbled back upon Remo and fell. Remo stood up and growled at her father. He noticed that Asha had untied the dog.
“What the hell is this?” he shouted, “both of you, turning on me? Who provides the food around here?” And swinging the belt at Remo, he missed and stumbled to the ground. At that Remo leapt at his throat.
Asha crouched on the ground covered her eyes. She could hear her father screaming and commanding Remo to sit, but Remo didn’t stop until the screaming stopped. Then all was silent. Asha peeped through her hands. Remo was sitting right next to her, panting and wagging his tail. There was blood all over him. She picked up a stick, walked over to her father and poked him with it. He didn’t move. Just then, Asha heard the sound of the children coming down the street, on their way to school. Remo stood up and snarled. She looked at Remo, dropped the stick, and unlatched the gate. As she listened to the children scream, Asha smiled.