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Only faint traces of the innocent woman Speme used to be still lingered in the smile that greeted Lilia. Her sullen eyes spoke of a wounded soul still begging to be loved and nurtured. Lilia had never asked her cousin about what transpired in Germany, but it pained her to see Speme so withdrawn from the world. Once playful and joy-filled, Speme had spent the last six years hiding behind her sewing machine, behind the safety of her embroidery. She rarely left home, preferring her solitude to Musssons’ crowds and occasional festivities. Her voice and presence were buried in the trauma of her past—a past of insurmountable suffering that it pained Lilia to imagine.
     “My dear, you’re not a girl anymore.” Speme reached around Lilia with the tape measure, measuring her cousin’s bustline. “Your body is shaping into that of a woman.”
     “I know. All my friends have been wearing brassieres for two years now!”
     “Never worry about what other people are doing, Lilia, or feel anxious about whether or not you fit in. You are uniquely beautiful just as you are, but yes…” Speme gave Lilia a soft half-smile. “It’s time you step fully into this beautiful body and wear a brassiere!”
Lilia caught a flicker of contentment in Speme’s eyes as she fastened the brassiere on her; this filled Lilia’s heart with both sadness for her cousin’s difficult life, as well as hope that this this spark would grow bigger and never die.
     “There. How does that look?” Speme asked.
Lilia stood in front of the full-length mirror, admiring her cousin’s work. She turned side to side, sizing up her breasts and profile.
     “The fabric is so soft, and I love the colors. I feel sophisticated and respectable!”
Speme caught her own drawn, pale reflection in the mirror, which seemed to reveal her bruised and broken spirit.
     “Look at me. Where did I go? I’ve become a sad woman,” she sighed quietly.
Lilia couldn’t help fixating on the tattooed number on her cousin’s arm. Speme caught her cousin’s gaze in the mirror. “Yes, 60332—the number that erased my identity.” Speme’s hand instinctively covered the permanent marking on her skin. “They took everything from me, Lilia. My pride, my dignity…my soul.”

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