by Noelle Reyes
Ciley climbed the small tree house built especially for her and her friends. Although her friends had no trouble, Ciley intensely labored reaching the top, where the picnic was already set out for everyone. The pain from the scar on her tummy was severe today. The doctors had checked it and applied fresh dressing on it just this morning. That helped a little but the climb made it ooze again.
Upon reaching the top, her friends all gathered and patted her on the back.
“Good to see you up and about today, Ciley.”
“Glad you’re feeling better.”
“Quite a workout climbing this old tree house isn’t it?”
“Let’s eat. Ciley is here now.”
She appreciated the camaraderie especially since she was the newcomer of the lot. Everyone was very friendly, protective and caring of one another. They’d all been through what Ciley had been through so they all understood that recovery takes time and effort.
She was ushered to the small feast and she ravenously ate her share, which made her feel a lot better. It’s so nice here, she thought. So much different from where she came from, where food was scarce and pain and suffering was the normal routine.
It reminded her of a very long time ago when she was young and carefree, running through the glen with her brother and sister as their mom kept a close watch. Then they would go to the lake and catch a fish or two for dinner. Thinking about what was made her teary-eyed but as she looked around at the faces of her new friends, now her family, she had to smile and try to forget where she was rescued from.
If only she hadn’t gotten so far away from her mom trying desperately to catch a frisky fish, the monsters wouldn’t have had a chance to ambush and trap her. One minute she was trying to catch a fish, the next minute she blacked out. When she came to, she found herself in a very small metal dingy cage.
“She’s young and healthy. She’ll be productive for a long time…a long time!”, she overheard them say.
“She didn’t even give us a hard time at all. She was so silly trying to catch that fish, she didn’t notice us. After we shot her with the tranquilizer, she went down like a baby.”
She remembered being poked by gloved hands then the most excruciating pain from a needle was punctured in her tummy. Once the needle was in place, a latex catheter was surgically implanted into her abdominal wall and gall bladder. The initial pain was so severe, she had to lie down on that dirty uncomfortable steel cage that smelled of blood and decayed flesh, like someone had recently died there. The pain was so severe that she too wished herself dead.
As the days went by, she often thought her mom will come and rescue her any day now. She imagined her mom frantically searching and calling out for her while keeping her brother and sister in check.
She eventually got used to the pain but once in a while an infection would set in and she would feel a totally new pain. Days, months, years went by and her mom never found her. Her once lovely black silky hair was matted and covered in dried blood and pus which came from her tummy’s cut. The blood and pus would crystallize and crust off. Since bathing was never an option, she just laid on her own debris day and night.
She was so young and small when she was taken but she has since grown, she could no longer stand up in the cage as she was able to do at the beginning. She was never sure when her dreams of being rescued turned into nightmares. She saw the monsters working on others like her. When young ones were brought in, some much younger than she was when she first came, tears slowly rolled down her eyes. When she was able to stand, she used to scream and bang on the metal bars but that only got her negative attention. The monsters took to the whip and made her calm down again.
She could never lie on her stomach as the catheter would get in the way so she always slept on her back. The blaring fluorescent lights kept her from falling asleep. There were times she saw them as angels coming to rescue her or fire brought down to punish her. When she was able to sleep she would either dream of foraging the forests with her family or have a nightmare of beasts with very large fangs devouring her tummy while she was still conscious. When she was awake, the hallucinations would come. Those lights would grow arms and reach out and try to grab her. She tried to scream but quickly remembered how the monsters react to that so she squelched them.
She was never truly sure of when she was awake or asleep. The dreams, nightmares and hallucinations kept merging together. One moment she was sleeping tucked in her mom’s arms the next minute the monsters would poke at her tummy continuously while she begged them to stop. The monsters just laughed at her sometimes loudly like they were right in her head or from a distant. But always, always poking her in the tummy until she saw all her kidneys, liver, intestines, gall bladder all fall out of her body.
Not long ago, she remembered a very nice young lady coming to visit her. The lady came right to her cage and tried to stroke her hair. A monster quickly told the lady to take her hand away or she might get hurt because they said Ciley was crazy. The lady turned her back but not before Ciley touched her hand with just a finger. The lady turned towards her again and gave her the most angelic real smile she hasn’t seen in years.
The following day the lady came back with another cage and some men to carry the cage for her. She pointed to Ciley and the monsters came over and opened her cage with a key. The men she was with gently unhooked the catheter and put a cloth over her wound. Some blood and pus gushed out but they put a bandage over it. Then they put a sheet on her and gave her a shot.
“She’s so weak, she won’t need much tranquillizer.” The lady said.
Ciley was carried out of her cage and into the truck on a gurney. She was transported to the hospital where doctors quickly examined her wound and stitched it closed and applied dressing on it. She was hooked up to an IV as she was very dehydrated and malnourished. She was bone thin since she was barely fed while inside that cage.
So today was a celebration for Ciley’s Freedom Day. Although she remained in the hospital for a few days after her rescue, she was again savoring fresh air, fresh grass and climbing a real tree with a house on top that had a picnic set out in her honor.
At just under 6 feet, Ciley stood to her full height and scratched the yellow crescent on her chest and bellowed happily. Her silken black hair would return; her scar would heal and her spirit was already being awakened.
“You’re safe here now in Animals Asia Sanctuary. No one is ever going to milk your bile again,” said the nice lady, whose hand Ciley touched that fateful day. “I’m sorry that ignorant people think moon bear bile is medicine. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives. They don’t understand that they never need to milk you for your bile ever again. I know there are still so many cubs and mostly mama bears waiting to be rescued but they only allow us to rescue one of you at a time. They’ve captured so many of you that your milk bile is used in other products like shampoo because they don’t know what to do with all that extra milk.”
At last, Ciley understood what the monsters were doing to her for all her years of imprisonment. No one ever bothered to explain it before. She was so young when she was taken.
Ciley then heard a familiar cry from under the tree. It was Miley; her sister! Ciley climbed down the tree faster than her climb up and ran to hug her sister, who she hadn’t seen since they were cubs. Tears of joy and long moments of catching up awaited them near the pool of crystal clear water that summoned them for a swim.
Although their scars would always be a reminder of their hideous imprisonment, they were safe now and that’s all that mattered.