By the time I was thirteen, I had killed two people: my father and myself.
Let me explain…
…Let’s start at the very beginning, with the life and death of Makayla Harrington.
Born into a humble family, I was the daughter of peacekeeper and a runaway from one. My mother never told me about where she was from or who she was before she came to four. I was never even aware that she ever led a life outside the seabreeze scented house on the coast. She was kind and loving, held my hand as she walked me to my first day at the career academy.
”You need to learn to fight for yourself Makayla, life is hard for women who do not know how to protect themselves”, she spoke with a pain in her voice that I could not quite yet understand. I can only imagine that she hoped I never would.
I was a shy little girl, almost never spoke unless I was spoken too. That was my father’s teaching, he commanded respect and treated my mother and myself as if we were soldiers under his authority. We stood tall but silent, always a few steps behind him to ensure everyone knew who had the last say. It was no different in the academy, I was praised for being a good soldier…I followed orders well and never questioned anything the trainers said. It was said that if I never went to the games, I would make a good peacekeeper like my father one day.
The praise of my father made me proud; I was from a lineage that served and protected our great nation. I was the perfect image of what a model citizen would be, a little caterpillar in the capitol cocoon ready to spread her wings when the day would come for me to serve and protect.
All was good, all was perfect.
It did not take long for the trainers to notice that I had inherited my fathers aim. I might have been the spitting image of my mother, but my father passed down his gift of perfect aim onto his offspring. The day I picked up my first set of throwing knives and hit the target right between the eyes, the academy fell silent and then approving nods and few words of praise confirmed what I assumed was a positive outcome.
I was five years old.
They tested me, adding wind conditions and moving targets. Increasing the difficulty, not every shot was perfect at the beginning but with time and practice, I was a certified killing machine. Only I was not aware of the damage I could do. It was all so hypothetical, and my prepubescent brain could not comprehend that I was being taught to take the lives of other breathing human beings. I did not understand the repercussions of my actions. I knew nothing of consequences.
I was oblivious to the pain and suffering of the world.
It was not until I took a set of knives home to proudly show my father my abilities that I knew that actions have consequences. When he saw the stolen weapons, his hand struck me across my face. My mother shrieked in shock that my own father laid hands on his precious little girl.
”Little girls need to learn their place”, my father growled as he poured himself a drink.
I was nine years old.
The next day I was dragged by the arm to the head of the academy and hung my head in shame with a swollen and bruised eye as I apologized for taking what was not mine to take. That was when I stopped loving my father and started to fear him. The gears in my head turned and put two and two together. I now wore the same mantel of fear and feebleness my mother did. Her colorful marks that appeared from time to time, and anxious demeanor all of a sudden made sense. My father was not the hero I made him out to be.
The next few years, I walked on tiptoes around my own house with my head hung low. Every mistake was met with a drunken fist. My father started to waste his life away on the drink and the nights he would come home from the bars a different man than the one I grew up knowing. When the morning sun rose, he would shift back into a respected figure of authority as if the demon he became at night never existed.
That is when my mother started telling me stories of a family where the women were in charge. Men respected their decisions, and it was a place of love and growth. A utopia where we did not have to fear the cold-hearted blows when we stepped out of line because we were the ones that called all the shots. She would lie in bed with me and run her hands through my hair as I dreamed that one day I would be free of all the trepidation of consequences.
The academy was the only place I felt truly safe, the only place I still felt valued. I continued to prove myself a worthy career, worthy of praise. I logged in more and more hours, staying later than the rest of my cohort. I would say it was because I wanted to be the best career to come out of four but in reality I was too afraid to push open the doors of my own house.
One day, when I stepped into our foyer I was met with the screaming agony in my mother’s voice. I wanted to run and hide in the little shoe closet next to the entrance but the sight of my father’s drunken fist repeatedly striking my mothers face tormented me.
I remembered her words from my first day at the academy and that is when I decided that enough was enough.
I was thirteen years old.
Quietly I tiptoed upstairs and grabbed the gun from my father’s closet and made my way back to the living room where my mothers body laid limp on the couch. My father was too much of a drunk mess to notice that I was hidden behind the door aiming his own gun at him. I saw a tear stream down my mothers, and she gave me a small nod as I fired the weapon at the back of his head. His body felt lifeless to floor and my mom mouthed the word run.
So, I ran, and I did not stop until the lights of district four were nothing but ghosts of the past.
That is the day Makayla Harrington died.
Zada Mahdavi was born when I ran into a women in the woods who looked like me, she looked like my mother. At first I was convinced it was her ghost who came to take me with her into death. I was sure that I must have died of starvation or thirst.
She spoke with such authority that I had never heard come out of the mouth of a woman before. She stood tall with confidence instead of fear of repercussion. Her voice was smooth and inviting, she hypnotized me as I dared to inch closer in the warm embrace of her familiarity. Her scent was that of home even though it was so foreign.
”Don’t worry, my dear. I am here to take you home”
I believed her. She was convincing with what little words she spoke. Something in the gears that made up my mind, clicked. Trusting a stranger was a risk, but she was not a stranger and not a threat. When I took her hand and followed her deeper into the woods she began to tell similar stories of the ones my mother once told me. Only they were no longer stories, she told me of the Mahdavi’s…my mother’s family, my family. She talked about her sister who ran away when she could not fulfill her duties, too afraid of what she was capable of or what she was not. However, none of that mattered because family is family, and we never truly abandon each other. Tabs were kept on us and once the abuse started my mother had reached out asking if they would save me from the life she could not protect me from. So, they tracked me into the woods and brought me back to one.
I was welcomed with open arms and tight hugs. I was given a room almost the size of our old home, clothes that costed more than our annual income. Enrolled in a career academy that had equipment that put our technology in four to shame. Ensured that I would not go into the games, I insisted on continuing my training. Despite the inviting and accepting demeanor of my family, I needed the academy to truly feel like myself. I did not belong no matter how much I wanted to but at the academy I was respected and able to establish who Zada Mahdavi would become.
One of my uncles caught wind of my talent and one night brought me to bar. The smell of alcohol terrified me, bringing back memories that I desperately wanted to bury. I shuttered and retreated scared that I would have to relive the same battles I fought back in four, but my uncle reassured me he would not let anyone lay a hand on me ever again. Instead, he began to teach me the game of darts, a game where my aim would win us some extra cash if we placed the right bets. We targeted men drunk enough to find the idea of playing against a little girl amusing and stupid enough to place a hefty bet thinking they would walk out with a nice wad of cash.
I was fourteen years old.
We ran our little scam for as long as we could until the word of my talents made their round and all of a sudden people would pay to have a chance at playing against me. I was advertised as a champion, almost a freak of nature that people would gather around to gawk at like a mutt in a zoo. My talents were put to good use.
For a second I thought that I would never have to remember that they were once used to spill blood. I was sure that I would never have to spill blood again, but that was nothing more than a silly little fantasy.
Slowly I gained the trust of the family and they let me in on secrets of how our cash was truly won. Not by the profits of the toy store that I worked at when I was not busy at school, the academy or playing darts. One day, my aunt approached me saying that she needed me to complete a job. My cousin Xaahira had gotten into trouble with a rival dealer. That was not a surprise, she always seemed to be in some sort of trouble, constantly pissing the wrong people off. She had no respect for her’s or anyone else’s life. She wasted herself away like my father believing she was above any sort of law. Playing God and make belief in a delusional reality that she was some sort of queen, but here I was, called to do her dirty work.
That was when I claimed my third life.
I was sixteen years old.
I just had to pull the trigger from a far away hideout, one of my cousins would clean up the mess and make sure it was if nothing had ever happened. It was proposed that I would sell my abilities on the black market. With forgeries from my cousin Tallie, I would travel to wherever and whoever could pay for my services and make other people’s problems disappear. All for a modest sum on money.
I never wanted to be a killer, but someone with my talents does not have many other options. It would have been wasted potential, so I set my own boundaries. My own conditions, if I were going to offer murder for hire then it would be for the greater good. For every kill that did not align with my morals, I would offer a pro bono case for women who were in similar situations like my mother and I. Word spread through the shadows of the deal. Women reached out asking for help, and if killing the abusers of the world was how I made peace with myself then so be it.
At seventeen I have claimed 9 lives. My father, my own, Xaahira’s problem case, three murder for hires and three men that did not deserve the women in their lives.