Amoni fingered the money in her hand. She had only five dollars from working Monday through Friday, hardly enough to send back to her sister in Sweden. With the rent due, and a new pair of shoes in desperate need, she would have to start working Saturdays. It would only add one dollar to her paycheck, but it was one more dollar to send to Hani.
Amoni missed Hani so much. It had always been the three of them, Jini, Amoni, and Hani. They had been living on their own, ever since their parents died when Amoni was 11. They were all exactly a year, month, and day apart, with Jini born March 1, 1896, Amoni born April 2, 1897, and Hani born May 3, 1898. With shoulder length, honey blonde hair, dancing, crystal blue eyes, and a slight tan complexion, their striking resemblance was impossible to miss. Each one seemed to be a smaller version than the last.
Despite Jini being the oldest, Amoni went over first. She was the brave explorer, excited to travel to the endless possibilities of America. Jini was the sympathetic, motherly older sister who never wanted to leave their beautiful country of Sweden, or her youngest sister. Hani was the fun-loving, caring little gem of the family. She was a ray of sunshine in a sea of storms. Life without either of them would swamp Amoni with hopelessness and she was grateful to have her wonderful sisters.
“Hey, Jini,” Amoni glanced up from her daydream. Swedish rolled easily from her lips, despite the exasperated look she got from her older sister. Jini insisted they become better at speaking English and the only way to do that was to practice the tongue tripping language. “Do you think Hani will be able to come over soon? If we start working Saturdays?” Amoni’s voice was strained with hope as she handed her sister her extra money. Her heart soared when Jini nodded happily.
“It will take awhile and a lot of hard work, but…” Jini inhaled excitedly. The two girls sat on their shared mattress, one of the only items in their closet-sized apartment. It was cramped, but the girls never seemed to notice their close quarters. Besides, it was the only thing they could afford. As they fell asleep that night, their dreams were filled with a merry reunion with their 13 year old sister.
Amoni awoke early on Saturday, March 25, sore from the lumpy mattress. She and her sister dressed swiftly, and stepped into the early morning light. Jini handed Amoni her lunch bag as they stepped onto the sidewalk. Amoni was always oblivious when Jini gave her the bigger sack and today was no different.
A comfortable silence settled between them as they strode the short distance to the factory. They joined the clamor of girls boarding the elevators to the work floors and the two girls hugged goodbye as Jini got off on the eighth floor.
“Amoni! Work Saturday?” Amoni was greeted by her best friend, Hilde, as she stepped off the elevator. Hilde spoke to her best friend in chopped English, not yet accustomed to the language. Hilde and Amoni had met at their English class and it was their only way of communication. Since Hilde was from Germany, and Amoni from Sweden, neither knew the other's native language.
Hilde had big, syrup brown eyes, silky, ash blonde hair, and creamy cocoa skin. She moved to America to follow her dream of becoming a famous chef, but it had been put on hold once she realized the streets of America weren’t made of gold. Hilde believed every rumor and tale she came across, and Amoni sometimes found it difficult to speak with one of her only friends. Hilde could be found screeching at black cats and burning scented candles to scare away ghosts.
“Hilde! Good to see you! Yes, now I work today. I am saving money for Hani!” Hilde grinned back happily at Amoni’s passion, knowing her friend's dream of bringing her sister to America. The friends chatted cheerfully as they hung up their coats and followed the flood of girls to the workroom. They sat down at their sewing machines, still chatting energetically.
Hilde and Amoni worked on the 9th floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. They sewed shirtwaists, a stylish women’s blouse, from 7am to 8pm and earned $6 a week. Working in a room cluttered with tables, sewing machines, and people, it was hard to get to your workspace without tripping.
The two friends chatted the day away, the buzz of the sewing machines ringing in their ears. Ada, the other girl in their threesome, joined them.
As the workday ended, Amoni thought of how much closer she was to bringing her sister home. Hani’s smile flashed through her head and a goofy smile scrawled across Amoni’s face. She retrieved her coat and got in line to have her purse checked.
Amoni had to get her belongings checked everyday, along with the other workers. She felt like a criminal, with the fire exit door locked and being thoroughly searched everyday. All the girls grumbled about it.
The girls continued to gossip as the line crept forward. A sudden scream pierced the air, emblazing itself in Amoni’s skull. The semi-organized line burst into a frenzy of panic as the word was understood. Fire! Amoni’s breath caught. No. NO! The fire was on the eighth floor. Jini worked on the eighth floor. NO! This couldn’t be happening. Shrieks rang in the air as people fought to get away from the smoke rising from the floor. Amoni couldn’t think. She had to get out of this crush of bodies, so she could think. Amoni was shoved into a stampede of girls and followed them from exit to exit, not wanting to get trampled. All the doors were locked.
Why? Why?! Amoni’s smoke tangled mind circled answers. The reason hit her like a brick after yet another locked door. Thievery. The bosses were so intent on keeping all their precious shirtwaist materials from being stolen, they locked the doors and the foreman ran away with the key.
Now, their workers were trapped, with a mere three exits. The elevator, the stairs, and the fire escape slide. The fire escape! The crowd of girls surged towards it as flames crept up the stairs, engulfing everything in smoke.
The fire escape was a metal slide necessary in factories like the Triangle. Law demanded safe escapes, but corners were cut to save money. They made the fire escape door instead of another fire escape slide, but what good was a locked door?
A quick jolt stopped Amoni short at the fire escape. Others had had the same idea, but the slide didn’t get the memo. Under the weight of so many bodies, there was only one option.
A screech split the air. Metal crunched against metal as their only hope crumbled. Amoni’s stomach churned as she watched innocent girls drop from the sky and plummet to the ground below. Nobody survived falling nine stories.
Shaking, Amoni fought against the crowd in a haze. She wandered through smoke and flames, not feeling the heat. Her numb body trembled like a leaf in an icy breeze. A tendril of smoke curled towards her, enveloping her in blackness and giving momentary relief from the horror.
Amoni gasped awake coughing, feeling like her lung was coming right out. Her body ached all over. All she could see was a thick plume of vapor amid crimson flames. Flames. Amoni bolted upright, choking at the sudden pain.
When she fainted, the panic stricken crowd had trampled her in their urge to leave the building. They didn't care about one another, only themselves, trampling another human being in their haste. Amoni happened to be that person.
Amoni staggered to her feet, fear fueling her aching body. The flames snaked closer, edging their way towards Amoni. The whole room was ablaze, smoke blocking the view of any escape. Blocking the view of any hope.
She gazed at the fire wide eyed. A putrid smell swirled the smoke in her mind away. It was like the bathroom on her trip to America, mixed with a tinge of smoke. It took her a moment to realize the smell was coming from her.
What in the world? Amoni’s mind raced. She squinted towards the smell with a gasp. Her shoes were burning. Her ragged, faithful shoes were aflame. They had delivered her to America, held her as she stepped onto foreign land, and carried her to the door of her first job and every day after. Now they were gone.
Amoni ripped off her burning shoes, her fingers and eyes stinging. She threw them into the fire that took them. Rubbing sore fingers, she backed away from the heat, only to run into another swell of vervor.
Hopelessness swelled in Amoni until she was sure she would burst. Questions stormed her mind. Why? Why her? Why now? They were so close to getting Hani, so close Amoni could reach out and touch her sister instead of flames. So close that Amoni woke up in the night to hear Hani’s joyful laugh, only to be crushed with reality.
Why? The wails around her snapped the trance of desperation away. The sharp howls were filled with grief and despondency. Amoni connected too well with their anguish.
She glanced towards the sound. Through the smoking flames, she saw a group huddled next to the elevator. They clawed at the doors, desperate to free themselves from the inferno. A wall of fire separated Amoni from them, but then again, there was a wall of fire in all directions.
Another cough tore its way from Amoni’s body. She fell to her right knee, overcome with coughing. Her eyes filled with tears. A life lived too short filled her tears. She cried shamelessly, tears streaming down her sootstained face. The flames didn’t even flinch at the pathetic droplets attacking them. Her vision tunneled and her mind stopped, frozen in flames.
“Hey! You! You’re not dead yet, so stop crying! Get up!” A foot prodded Amoni up, accompanied by an orotund voice. Amoni looked up into the face of a young girl. With hair the color of copper, and green eyes that seemed to see into your soul, Amoni knew this girl didn’t mess around. “I know there’s a fire and its bad, but don’t give up. The firemen's ladders don’t reach this high, but they have nets down there. People have been jumping out the windows.” Shaking, Amoni squinted at the closest window.
Through the stinging flames, she saw a figure huddled on the rim. The figure took a deep breath and jumped. A shriek escaped from Amoni’s mouth. Green eyed girl forgotten, Amoni sprinted to the window, dodging flames. She reached it, gasping with hope and alarm. A way out! She had never even considered the windows. Amoni clambered onto the sill, and watched the jumper descend. They plunged into the perfectly placed net. The firemen had it placed directly under the girl. Amoni’s heart soared with joy. A way out!
She inched closer to the edge, ready to jump. Tensing her legs, she prepared herself for the fall. A snag in the scenery caught her attention.
What was that? She peered closer at the girl. Through the rising smoke, she glimpsed the plummeting girl. Amoni gasped, fresh tears springing to her eyes. The girl had gone through the net. Through the net. Amoni choked back her horror, her body quivering so much that her foot slipped on the window sill. Her fear spiked and her body turned to a glacier, cold and unmoving. She balanced for a split second of terror on the precarious edge before rocking back into safety. The flames licking at her back did nothing to ease the ice. The smoke clawing in her mind did nothing to soothe the turmoil. The desperation bombarding her heart did nothing to crack the fear.
“Are you going to jump?” The quiet question shattered Amoni’s fear-trapped daze, her stone body once again able to move. Amoni looked toward the familiar voice. It was Ada. Her voice was peaceful, her black hair gleaming in the light of the flames. The copper haired girl had vanished, drowned in the sea of flames.
She knows, Amoni thought with a choke of horror. Ada knew she would shoot through the sky, through the net, and into the ground below. Quivering, Amoni stumbled off the ledge. Heat battered her sides, smoke stinging her eyes.
“Ada, you know?” Amoni’s choked voice came out in a hoarse whisper. Ada nodded silently, her eyes welling up with tears.
“Yes, Amoni. I know. It's a quicker death than...” Ada choked on the tears now streaming down her face. She took a deep breath to recompose herself. “It's a quicker death than this.” Ada’s hand swept through the air, indicating the smoke, the heat, the sorrowful cries. Indicating the flames.
Ada closed her eyes to give herself courage. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” She eased past Amoni and onto the window sill.
“Ada. No. No. No-no-no-no-no.” Amoni whispered desperately. There had to be another way out. Another way besides that. Amoni sobbed even as Ada jumped. Even as she watched the faded pink dress swirl around Ada’s body. Even as the flowing black hair disappeared from view. Amoni backed away from the window, tears sliding down her face. She continued to back up, one step behind the other, trying to drown her thoughts in smoke.
A sharp burn spiked its way up Amoni’s leg. A stinging unbearable pain wrapped itself around her bare foot. Amoni gasped for every breath as she felt the fire wind its way up her thigh and climb towards her waist. There was a small poof as her dress caught fire.
It was her favorite dress. It was the color of the sky as Amoni and Jini walked home from the Triangle. It brushed gently against her ankles as she skipped to her sister when the work bell rang. When she moved, it sounded like the rustling of leaves in a wafting summer breeze.
Screaming in a whirlwind of panic, Amoni ran. She ran through the flames, hot on her feet. She ran up the stairs to the tenth floor. She didn’t stop there. Pain wound its way up her back, stinging so much that the only thing Amoni could do was run. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t breath. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t even feel the pain, she only knew that it was there, eating her dreams and hopes. And her body.
She sprinted up the last flight of stairs, coughing herself inside out. She stood on the lonesome roof as a blaze of flame. The fire had almost reached her hair, and she succumbed to the all the pain and fear wrapped around her. Amoni could feel herself detaching from all the pains and worries of the world, drifting into the clouds and sunshine.
Amoni blinked as water rained from the sky. She reattached to the world before she could gasp from the shock. The water doused the flames and she sighed in relief as the pain subsided somewhat. The indescribable stinging didn’t retreat, however, and all Amoni’s thoughts came in painful blazes.
It took her a moment to realize she was on the roof, her dress no longer was on fire, and there was a person next to her holding an empty bucket. Wait, she knew who that was! Elation soared through Amoni. She was so happy she couldn’t breath.
“JINI!!” Amoni wrapped her arms around the figure, trembling with joy. The wet hug was not returned.
“I’m sorry honey, but I don’t know who Jini is. My name is Grace.” The muffled words shattered Amoni. Gentle arms unwrapped Amoni’s happy hug. She crumpled onto the roof, now trembling with hopelessness. She had been so happy.
Looking at the lady now, Amoni wondered how she had ever mistook her for Jini. Older by at least three years, her hair was more of a light brown than blonde. Her eyes crinkled at the corners and a green murk lived in the depths of her blue eyes. Jini’s eyes were true blue, clearer than a new wedding ring.
Amoni didn’t budge from the roof, slowly breathing in the fresh air. She didn’t even have any tears left to cry. Why? Her former question came back in a lighting bolt.
Grace looked at Amoni thoughtfully. “Honey, Jini probably got out a different way. There are elevators, the stairs… There are a number of ways she could have escaped.” Her soft voice tricked hope into Amoni’s mind, like a glittering steam in the midst of a fire. “Now come on. You don’t want to burn here on the roof after surviving all that. The building next door built a bridge to safety, but nobody in the fire knows...” Grace’s voiced trailed off with sorrow. Amoni staggered to her feet. Her whole back side burned with agony. Her mind was ablaze with a turmoil of feelings, but Grace was like an anchor in the storm.
Acutely aware of her surroundings, Amoni followed Grace. She felt the heat from the roof seeping into her blistering feet. She smelled the smoke, tinged with a sickening smell of human flesh. She saw the smoke wafting into the sky. She heard the crackle of fire and the screams of those on fire. She tasted the bitter bile in her mouth. Rocky pebbles from the rooftop pressed against her toes as if trying to distract her from her burns.
Amoni’s step faltered. She face planted onto the roof, quivering in pain. Even though her body no longer burned, unbearable pain clutched Amoni. Welts had appeared on her feet and side. Her shredded dress fluttered around her body with no less cover than a towel.
The last thing Amoni saw was Grace hovering over her body, before she faded into shadows.
Colors swam in Amoni’s vision, curling tendrils of red, orange, and yellow. She snapped awake, her pulse pounding in her ears. Bright sky floated above Amoni, wisps of smoke still visible. Grace’s head obscured half of her vision, worried creases on her forehead. Relief rippled across Grace’s face when Amoni’s eyes blinked open.
“Oh! You’re awake! I was worried about you! Some people came and helped get you off the roof, but you were out for awhile.” The pain had left Amoni’s sore limbs and she groggily sat up. “The fire’s about out. You should go home. Your sister is probably waiting. Your burns are severe but family is important. Go home.” Grace’s words were soothing and made sense to Amoni’s muddled brain.
As she struggled to her feet, Amoni thanked Grace. She trundled home, spotting many fretful families along the way. They gazed at her hopefully, desperate to see their son or daughter. Their faces always fell when they realized she wasn’t their beloved child coming home.
Amoni finally clattered into their apartment, the door banging against the old wooden frame. She listened hopefully for the excited squeal of her sister as she realized Amoni was safe. The deafening ring of silence was the only response. Amoni struggled into their bed and collapsed into the softest thing she had ever felt.
Despite being more tired than when she had stayed up for the New Year, Amoni stayed awake, waiting. The hours ticked by, blending into one long eternity. The only sound was the raspy breathing of Amoni. Her tears finally came, slowly at first but gaining rapidly.
Even though she didn't want to admit it, Amoni knew. She could feel it deep in her heart. It was in the threads of her soul. It was what wound the fibers of sisters together. Amoni’s tears fell harder, her mouth opening in a silent wail of grief.
Jini never came home.
This was something I wrote awhile ago, and this contest finally got me to put it on here. Hope it's not too long!