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  • Writer's pictureFlorence Hu

They Sold Her Arms And Legs

Style: Short story.

Statement: This short story was originally written for a collection of vignettes, inspired by a common theme of muffled disappointment. As a kid, I stayed in China for a while and would listen to my mother tell of children who were stolen off the streets. It scared me into clinging by her side then, and to this day I still can't tell which of her tales were true.


The clouds kept secret the fury of the ocean. Anything beyond a few hundred feet offshore was hidden away, but for the glimmer of sunshine reflected on the ocean surface, meekly leaking through. Cold, stormy silence hung in the mist. Rounding a bend around the shores, Mama nodded her head sideways at an odd, broken down van. Fractals of rust sprouted from the edges of the windows and doors, absorbing themselves into the vehicle the way a parasite seizes their host. The faint turquoise coloring had made no effort to peek out through the overgrowth of their invaders, dark and ferocious in their shades of burnt clay.


Stay away from the cars that look like those, Mama said. I pulled down my hood, glanced over her head and eyed it carefully, remembering the stories she had told years ago.


I was only a few years old, then.


Beep, Beep, Shhh and the mesh security door opened noiselessly. Beyond the heavy oak doors, Mama sat her preschooler and toddler down and whispered, Qiān wàn qiān wàn –take care ten thousand times– to never let go of my hands. Each of our tiny hands held on to two of her fingers as she walked through the streets, I on her right and my little sister on her left. Young women in heels and makeup strolled past, bending over occasionally to glance through the windows of the beauty salons and jewelry stores. My sister and I watched the events unfolding around our eye level, the dirty, unshaven men that sat on the ground slumped against the trees, smoking cigarettes and growling at the skeptical buyers that looked at their walnuts for a second too long without buying. Xiǎo xīn, careful, she warned us. Here’s your money, thank you, and as she took the bag of walnuts she suddenly turned and said TanTan, huí lái, come back, where did you go? I watched her heart freeze.


Back inside the secure oak doors, Mama sat us down and exhaled out of frustration. She tried to breathe out the shock before she said, Do not let go of my hands. You have not seen it in the news, the lost child reunited with her parents after eleven years. Without any limbs. Do you know, it all seemed so innocent. Waiting for her mother, the child fell asleep and the mother left her behind by accident. And they just put a piece of duct tape over her lips –Mama clamped her cupped hand over my mouth tightly– and they took her away and sold her on the black market. Just like that. Listen to me, Baobao, this is for your safety. The girl passed through dozens of hands, she slept in the backs of dozens of trucks. And one day they just chopped off her arms and legs right here –Mama flattened her hand and made a cutting motion across her shoulder– and the bad guys sold the limbs on the black market and left her to die in the basement and if the police didn’t find her then she would have died. Are you listening? I’m not trying to scare you.


Stay away from those people, those people who look drunk in rags and pretend to be asleep. Do not ever let go of my hand.

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