Seventy-two hours. That was how long it usually took for a family to gather enough funds to pay us. It was always the same routine. They’d cry over the phone while we threatened bodily harm to their parents, children, and lovers.
“Please, don’t hurt them. We’ll give you however much you want.”
But we never hurt them. Never laid a finger on their flesh. That was the rule we set for ourselves when we started: just enough to get by; just enough to feed our families; just enough so, one day, we could send our children to schools with the same white skins we preyed upon.
Their men were always the same. They acted brashly, stubbornly; eager to speak with their fists, only to spend hours writhing in their handcuffs. But they always withered by the second day—their shouts of anger transforming into silence, their sullen eyes wet with tears. The women were smarter than the men. They didn’t waste their energy with loud proclamations of retribution or revenge. They asked us what we wanted and told us how to get it—all the appropriate names and phone numbers neatly written on a yellowing paper pad.
When one’s ransom finally arrives, we sit them inside a black van and prepare to drop them off at an abandoned alleyway. They are blindfolded and told they are returning home. Some will shake our hands, some will try to hug us, and most will curse us. But we do not care. We take their money and go into the city to drink. We feast side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, with the white skins who visit us from faraway places. They ask about our culture and our secrets with the glint of gold in their eyes. We smile and try to appease them, our glasses clinking long into the night. When we say our goodbyes, we leave them with a warning.
“You’ll see us soon.”