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Reading Exercise 13

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Reading Exercise 13

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Reading Exercise 13

Updated on : 27 Feb 2023

2 min, 24 sec

Published on : 20 Feb 2023

It's early morning. The sky is black. Maritime pine and eucalyptus emerge, ghostlike, from swirling clouds of white smoke which precede the imminent arrival of the fire. A high wind drives the inferno towards a large white walled and red tiled villa. 
Inside the villa, in the master bedroom, Gergana's heart pounds as she tiptoes past the bed where her owners are asleep in a drunken stupor. She locks the windows, tiptoes out and locks the bedroom door from the outside. I've waited years for a chance like this, Gergana thinks. Terrified of discovery, her hand shakes as she locks the last of the exterior doors. Outside, she cowers as the air is filled with sounds like exploding firecrackers. All she has are the clothes she wears. Come on, she says, run! Her anger carries her forward. Yes, she thinks, Slavers make their slaves fear freedom and fear eats courage, but not anymore. She tosses the keys into smouldering undergrowth. 
At the top of the hill, fire trucks, ambulances and their crews wait. The firemen's instinct is to go down into the valley, but it's too late to halt the fire there; they will stop it at the summit. The noise of the fire is deafening. Gergana's hands wildly thrash at scorching sparks. Her mouth is agape in a scream made silent by the sound of pines and eucalyptus trees exploding as in a cannonade. 
At the summit she collapses. Paramedics take her to an ambulance. A fire officer asks if there are people in the villa from which she's fled. Not understanding Portuguese, she guesses what he's asking. She holds up two fingers. A huge explosion rocks the ambulance. Gergana pushes aside a paramedic and runs to see what's happened. The villa is a burning ruin. The fire officer shakes his head, crosses himself, and says, Todos Mortos. 
Gergana asks, Dead?
The fire officer nods.
Gergana kneels and, hands together, prays.
A paramedic takes her back to the ambulance where she weeps and thinks, I'm free.
The next day she's interviewed by an English speaking police officer, who discovers her name and nationality. Did you lose your papers in the fire? he asks.
I didn't have any. The people who took me from my home in Bulgaria said I didn't need any. They offered an escape from poverty. Instead, I was trafficked to Portugal eighteen years ago and sold to an English couple as a domestic slave.
The policeman is shocked. Slavery in Portugal?
Yes, she says.
Two bodies have been found.
I'm sorry.
A door that survived the fire was locked.
They were very security minded, Gergana says.
Did you ever try to escape?
Yes, but I was always caught. I gave up; with no passport I was trapped. This is my last chance. Am I in trouble?
You? No, you're a victim. If they were alive they would go to prison.
At her request Gergana is repatriated to the village from which she 'escaped'.

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