By Ann Lovell
Author’s Note: Originally published in the collection, Four, this story is a work of fiction. Although based loosely on my experiences working among exploited women in Southeast Asia, any similarities to actual events or persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.
“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make adifference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring
justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.”— A Franciscan Benediction
Nu opened her eyes and blinked. The heaviness behind her eyes made her head throb. She sat up too quickly and felt the dark room begin to spin. She lay down again on the thin straw mat and tried to regain her bearings. Slowly, as if a fog was lifting, images began to form in the 15-year-old’s mind.
Nu remembered saying goodbye to her mother, father and younger sisters in front of the small two-room hut her family called home. Each member of the family hugged her and wished her good fortune. She remembered the glimpse of sadness in her mother’s eyes and the hint of guilt in her father’s as the man she called “Uncle” exchanged a bow and a large amount of cash with her father.
She had not known, then, exactly what her new work would be across the border, but Uncle had promised her parents that he would send money every week — enough, he said, to not only feed Nu’s mother, father and sisters but her aging grandparents as well. So, with nothing more than the clothes she wore, Nu set off behind Uncle on his shiny motorcycle — down the dusty road to a new life.
The two rode through the familiar streets of Nu’s village, waving goodbye to her neighbors who stopped sweeping or cooking to watch Nu depart. They said she was beautiful. They had said it since she was a child. They all knew she would find good work one day. Now, the day was here, and Nu’s neighbors wished the same good fortune for their daughters — to earn a good income for the family was the responsibility of every daughter. The promises Uncle made were nearly too good to be true.
Now, three months since the day she’d set off with Uncle full of hope, Nu sat in the dark, cramped room and blinked again. The dreams she’d once had of becoming a teacher, an artist or a flight attendant were completely gone, scattered like the dust on her village road.
Slowly, this time, she raised herself to sit cross-legged on the straw mat and nestled her forehead in her hands. Her head still throbbed. How well she remembered the fear she’d felt during those first nights — her racing heartbeat and the cold sweat. After the first man, she’d vomited. It was her first real taste of man’s depravity.
Though the fear had lessened, the smell emanating from the thin sheet and the now familiar pain she felt reminded her of the price she must pay to provide for her family. How she wished there was another way.
Glancing toward the money left by the last customer — an Asian man — on the roughly hewn table across the small room, she knew there was no way out. She had learned early on that open resistance led to beatings. She had come to rely on the “medicines” Uncle gave her to relieve the pain. They helped her not to care.
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