Taahira’s Story

Scarification is used as a form of initiation into adulthood, beauty and a sign of a village, tribe, and clan.

People stare at me because of the tribal marks on my face.  I wish I never had them.  I wish I knew what I looked like without them.  Before I left Nigeria, I asked my mother about them.  She said that she and my father were merely upholding traditional practices. I wished that I was born in 2012 when a law against such markings was introduced.  I told my parents that I hated the marks.  They are ugly not beautiful.

My mother got angry and said to me, “Those marks you hate so much helped some tribes avoid becoming slaves, because the slave-traders viewed faces without scars as a sign of good health, and so did not seize tribesmen with facial scars.  People without facial scars are descendants of slaves, immigrants or refugees.  Those marks help people to know which region you come from.  You should be proud not ashamed of them.  They are part of your heritage–of who you are.”

Nothing she nor my father said could convince me to accept their warped area of beauty.  After I graduated from school, I was happy to leave Abuja for London to study at Queen Mary University there.  I had a room in a Queen Mary hall of residence and I had no trouble making friends but I got tired of people asking me about the marks.  I explained to them that they weren’t accidental scars and that I wasn’t proud of them.  My parents marked me when I was a baby.  I couldn’t believe that they did that to me.  For a very long time, I was bitter about it and resented them.

Then, my life and how I felt about my marks and my parents changed.  It was when at the last minute, I decided to enroll in the English and History course and I’m happy I did.  Professor Ashworth was not only very handsome and the youngest I have seen so far but he was really nice.  I enjoyed his class and looked forward to going every week.  After class, I stayed and chatted with him for a while before I rushed off to my next class.

We never talked about my marks and he never stared at them like other people did which made me feel good.  He was seeing me not my marks.  One day, he asked me if I would meet him after school at Queen Victoria Park in front of the Queen’s Gate at five-thirty.  I said yes, of course and was so excited.  I couldn’t wait and at five-fifteen, I was waiting for him.  He came at exactly five-thirty.  We went for a walk.  I had never been to that park before although it wasn’t far from the university.  As we walked and talked, I didn’t worry about running into a student or faculty member.  And even if we did, we had nothing to feel guilty about.  We were just two people strolling in the park on a beautiful afternoon.

We stopped for a while and I leaned against the tree, facing the lake.  I could feel him watching me and I turned my head.  My heart skipped a beat when our eyes met. “Do you have a boyfriend, Taahira?” he asked.

I shook my head at once.  “No.  What guy would want to date me anyway?” I asked. “He’d take one look at my face and run.” I was speaking from experience.  Most of the guys on campus avoided me.

37f6b6a8-ffa9-478a-b7d2-3a80bf67446a“In front of me I see a lovely young woman with whom I would really like to be in a relationship,” he said, quietly.  And as if unable to resist, he reached out and touched my face.  “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?”

I seemed to have trouble breathing and my heart was beating really fast.  “Yes,” I managed to say.

He smiled and his hand dropped to his side.  “I’ll pick you up where we met today.  Dinner will be at my country home.  Oxfordshire is beautiful at this time of the year.  Before dinner, I could show you around the grounds and then we could go for a walk to Winderton Village.”

“You live in Oxfordshire?”

“Yes.  It’s just less than a 90 minute drive to London.”

“Do you live there by yourself?”

“No, I have a live-in couple–a husband and wife.  He’s the head gardener and she’s the housekeeper.  Very nice people.  They have been with me for over ten years.  They are like family.”

My head was spinning.  I was going to have dinner with my English History professor.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was looking forward to visiting Oxfordshire because it was where Downton Abbey was filmed and George Clooney bought a house for his wife there.  “What time should I meet you at the gate?” I asked.

“At four.  Bring a pair of comfortable shoes with you for walking.  Do you have to go back to the university now or could we go somewhere and have something to eat?”

“No, I don’t have to go back to the university now.”

He straightened away from the tree.  “All right, I know this Italian place where they serve the best pasta.”  He reached for my hand and I let him hold it as I fell into step with him.  I was thrilled to be holding hands with him.  People looked at us but he didn’t seem to care and that made me feel good.

We went to the Italian place and enjoyed great food.  He took me back to the university campus.  I hardly slept a wink that night.  Saturday came and I was anxious for it to go quickly so that I could see him.  This time when I got to the park entrance he was waiting for me.  He smiled when he saw me.  “Good evening,” he said before he leaned over and kissed me on my right cheek where the big, ugly mark was.  When he drew back, our eyes met and what I saw in his, made my heart skip a beat. We held hands as we walked to his car.  Soon, we were on our way to Oxfordshire.  It was beautiful and very English.

My mouth dropped open when I saw the sprawling mansion and the immaculate grounds.  He obviously came from a wealthy family.  The front hall was enormous.  Everything was enormous.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Jenkins was a bit wary of me at first but she soon warmed up.  After he showed me around the mansion where a person could easily get lost, he took me around the grounds.  Thank goodness I was wearing a pair of runners.  There was so much to see.

As we headed over the rolling countryside towards Winderton Village, he told me more about his parents and his childhood here.  Like me, he was an only child.  His parents moved from London to here and when they died, the mansion, the land became his.  His father always expected him to follow in his footsteps become an MP but he opted to become an English and History professor at Queen Mary University instead.  I’m happy that he chose teaching over politics or we never would have met.  His mother used to be private secretary to a Duchess but left her position after she got married.  She was twenty years his father’s junior.

“Do you have a problem dating a man twice your age?” he asked me.

I shook my head.  “No.  Age isn’t important to me.”

He smiled and gently squeezed my hand which he had been holding since we left the grounds.  “I’m happy to hear that.”

Winderton was very picturesque.  It looked like a picture you would see on a postcard.  We passed by old farm buildings and visited the All Saints church which is at the center of the town.  It’s an Anglican Church although Roman Catholic services were also held there on Saturdays.  He must have arranged to have them open the doors for us because we were able to go inside.  The Nave and aisles faced north east.  It was a very modest looking church, not at all like the Catholic churches I have seen in photos or visited.  “Are you Anglican or Catholic?” I asked as we left and headed back to the mansion.  The sun was setting.  Winderton looked beautiful at sunset.

“I’m Anglican.  What about you?”

“I’m neither.  I’m still trying to find a church I could belong to, I guess.”

“They are having Carols ‘at the George’ in the Church at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, December 17th.  Would you be interested in coming?”

“Yes, I would be.”

“I’ll pick you up around 5 and we will have dinner at the mansion before coming over here.  Do you have any plans for Christmas?  Will you be spending it with your parents?”

I shook my head.  “No, I wouldn’t be spending Christmas with them.”

“Would you spend it and New Year’s with me?  I will take you home on New Year’s Day in the early evening.”

“Yes, Professor I would love to spend Christmas and New Year’s with you.”

“Taahira, now that we’re off the campus, I would like you to call me by my first name.  Do you know what it is?”

“Yes, I do.”

He stopped and turned to face me.  We were on the hill leading up to his estate.  “I’d like to hear you say it.”

“Piers.”

“Say it again…”

“Piers…”

His eyes darkened and he pulled me in his arms.  He kissed me and I felt a spark.  I put my arms around his neck and kissed him back.  I have never been kissed before and it was out of this world.  We stood there for several minutes exchanging passionate kisses and then, he raised his head, breathing heavily.  “We’d better stop,” he said breathlessly.

I was disappointed but I nodded in assent.  And lacing his fingers through mine, we headed for the mansion.

Dinner was amazing and afterwards, we went into the drawing-room where we spent the rest of the evening until it was time for him to take me home.  We officially started dating after that evening and by the end of January 2020, we were engaged.  I joined the Anglican Church.  In June, we had a small, intimate wedding.  Mrs. Jenkins was the matron of honor and Mr. Jenkins the best man.  We spent our honeymoon in romantic Tuscany.

My tribal marks don’t bother me anymore.  I have come to accept that they are and always will be a part of me.  I have forgiven my parents and am in touch with them.  I have informed them that their grandchildren will not be marked.  There comes a time in one’s life when they must break with some traditions.  I think that this tradition should be outlawed and I’m advocating for that through an organization other victims of tribal marks and I have found called, Scarred for Life.  The support has been tremendous and we are pushing for the Nigerian government to ban marking children in the name of culture.

This story is fiction but tribal markings are a reality in Nigeria.  There these tribal markings are given to young children  using hot knives laced with ash by a local tribal mark giver.  This is done for cultural reasons but Senator Dino Melaye feels this practice causes low self-esteem in the marked children and increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because the sharp instruments used by the locales to inscribe the tribal marks were not sterilized.  He is pushing for Senate to criminalize the practice.  “These tribal marks have become emblems of disfiguration and have hindered many situations of life. Some have developed low self-esteem, they are most times treated with scorn and ridicule.”  Melaye was himself a victim of these markings.  His grandmother took him to get them while his father, who never wanted his children to have them, was away.

Although the tradition of tribal markings or scarification is dying, it should be outlawed.  The Nigerian government needs to put the rights of the children above this barbaric practice of preserving family identity.

Sources:  How Africa; NGO Insider; Face2Face Africa; Queen Mary University of London; Sher She GoesAll Saints Church Winderton; Queen Mary University of London; US News; Daily Post; France24

Matt’s Story

large-1531167473-1c546e4b85f6c127d98bd3212423c485A couple of years ago, my world as I knew it was turned upside down.  I was 17 and at my cousin, Rose’s wedding.  At the reception, a relative who had way too much to drink, put his arm around me and said, “I don’t know about the rest of the family but I’m sure glad that your Mama didn’t abort you ’cause you turned out to be a fine lad.  Yes, a fine lad.  You’re not at all like your Daddy.”

I stared at him, shocked and shaken.  What was he talking about?  Why would my mother have considered aborting me and what about my father?  Did he know who my father was?  Was he for real or was it the liquor.

I politely removed his arm from around my shoulders and excused myself.  I went out on the terrace to get a breath of fresh air.  My mind was spinning and my heart was pounding.  A feeling of dread came over me.  My mother died a year ago from pneumonia.  She never told me who my father was and whenever I asked about him, she would say, “the only father you have is God Almighty.  He takes care of you better than any earthly father can.”  After a while, I stopped asking her.   On my birth certificate it said “unknown” where my father’s name should have been.  I hoped that one day I would find out who and where he was.

My mother never married.  She was a single, hardworking mother who raised me as best as she could.  I know she loved me and that she wanted me to have a good life.  At night after she read to me, she got down on her knees and prayed.  She was always praying for me.  I loved my mother very much and I was devastated when she died.  After she died, I moved in with my grandmother.

After what the relative told me I couldn’t enjoy the wedding.  I kept playing his words over and over in my mind.  I couldn’t wait for the morning to come when I would talk to my grandmother about it.  I know that if anyone could give me answers, it would be her.  So, when we were sitting around the table having breakfast, I asked her, “Grandma, did Mama want to abort me?”  I knew I should have broached this in a more delicate way but I was desperate for answers.

Her face went pale and she dropped her fork.  “Where did you hear that?” she asked.

“Some distant relative, I don’t remember his name, said that he was glad that Mama didn’t abort me.”

“Eat your breakfast.”

“Is it true, Grandma?  Was Mama going to abort me?”

“No!  Your Mama was a godly woman.  She would never have agreed to an abortion even though her father and other people were trying to talk her into it.”

“Grandpa wanted her to have an abortion?”  I couldn’t believe it.  I adored my grandfather.  He was like a father to me.  His death five years ago really hit me hard.

“Yes.  He thought it would have been thing for her.”

“But why?”

“Matt, what does it matter?  You’re here, aren’t you?  Why don’t we forget about the past and move on?”

“Grandma, I need to know.  Please!”

My grandmother buried her face in her hands which were trembling slightly.  “Oh, Matt, I wish you didn’t have to know the truth.”

I was getting scared now.  Part of me was afraid to hear the truth and the other part had to.  “Please tell me, Grandma.  Was it to do with my father?”

She dropped her hands and I saw the anger and rage on her face.  “Your father was a monster!” she cried.

“Who was he?  Is he still alive?”

“Yes, he’s still alive and still rotting in prison.”

“Prison!  Why is he in prison?”

“Matt…”

“Grandma, I need to know.”

“He’s serving 30 years in prison for…rape and incest.”

“I–I don’t understand

“Matt, your mother got pregnant when she was raped by her brother.”

The color drained from my face.  I felt sick.  I got up from the table and dashed into the washroom where I threw up.  When I was done, I flushed the toilet, rinsed my mouth and washed my face with cold water.  My hands were shaking.  My grandmother was standing behind me.  I turned to face her and she put her arms around me and hugged me tightly.  We were both crying.

“This is why I didn’t want to tell you,” she said after a while.  “It’s a shameful thing that this family has had to deal with and that is why some of us, excluding me, wanted your mother to have an abortion.  They were thinking about her well-being but once your mother insisted that she was going to have you, we all tried to protect you from the truth.  It was your grandfather’s idea that she put “unknown” for the father’s name.”

“Why did she keep me? Wasn’t I a painful reminder of what happened to her?”

“She kept you because she loved you and she didn’t see a painful reminder of what your father did to her.  She saw a beautiful and precious gift from God.”

The rest of that day was a blur.  I was so overcome with pain and guilt that I became withdrawn and depressed.  My grandmother was very concerned about me and she tried to get me counseling.  It helped–somewhat.  And after I graduated from high-school, she sent me away to South Africa to study and live at the university there.  She would take care of my tuition and anything else I needed.  “It would do you good to get far away from here,” she said.  “You’ll be in a new country and meet new people.  Forget about the ugly past.  Live your life the best you know how for your mother’s sake.  Write me.  Don’t come back here.  When I can, I will come and visit you.”

So, at her insistence, I left Virginia and moved to South Africa.  I asked my grandmother why she choice South Africa of all countries to send me and she told me it was where she met my grandfather.   When I arrived in Cape Town, I knew that I was going to love living there.  Life on campus was a great experience for me.  I met diverse students and forged several life-long friendships.  I enjoyed my studies and had a relatively active social life.  There were lots of pretty girls but I wasn’t interested in dating at that time.  I wanted to focus on my studies.

Then, in my third year at the university, I met Joycelin, a girl from Namibia and a 765full-sydney-nelsonfreshman.   I remember the first time she smiled at me, I felt as if my heart had stopped.  A mutual friend introduced us when a group of us went on a Saturday morning to visit the Penguins at Boulders Beach.  Joycelin and I immediately hit it off and we spent most of the time together, getting to know each other.  By the time we were on our way back to campus, I knew that I wanted to date this girl.  And I did.  Our friends, especially the one who introduced us, were thrilled.

I wrote my grandmother about Joycelin and sent her photos of us.  She was happy for me.  I was relieved that she didn’t have a problem with me dating an African girl.  I know that other members of my family would, however, including the relative who made that careless remark about my mother at my cousin’s wedding.

Things were going well for me and after I graduated from university, I moved into a waterfront apartment which wasn’t far from where I worked.  Joycelin was still living on campus but we phoned each other during the week and saw each other on the weekends.  I was getting pretty serious about her but always at the back of my mind I asked myself how she would feel about me if she were to find out about my father.  I found out one day.

Joycelin and I were in De Waal Park on a Saturday afternoon when the subject of abortion came up.  “How do you feel about abortion?” she asked me.

Her question startled me.  “I don’t know.”

“I’m against it,” she said.

“Even–even in cases of rape and incest?” I asked, my heart pounding.

She nodded.  “Yes.  The life of a child born of rape or incest is just as valuable as a child born under normal circumstances.  Ending the life of the child of a person who has committed rape or incest isn’t the solution. The law should punish the criminal, not kill his child.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.  And the Bible says that ‘a child won’t bear a parent’s guilt, and a parent won’t bear a child’s guilt.'”  She looked at me closely, frowning and there was concerned expression on her sweet face.  “Matt, are you okay?  You look pale.”

“Joycelin, I have something to tell you.”

She slipped her hand in mind.  “What is it?” she asked.  “You can tell me anything.”

I closed my eyes and told her the awful truth about my birth.  I didn’t realize that I was crying until I felt her fingers brush against my cheeks.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring into her tearful face.  “That’s why I said I didn’t know how I feel about abortion.  There were times when I felt it might have been better if my mother had aborted me because I was a reminder of what happened to her.”

“Matt, you’re not to blame for what happened.  Your mother chose to keep you because she loved you.  She saw you as a beautiful and precious gift not a horrible and painful reminder of what happened to her.  She chose to give you life and the best way to honor that choice, is to live your life to the fullest.”

I held her face between my hands and whispered brokenly, “I love you.”

She smiled.  “I love you too.”

“I wish my mother could have met you,”

“I wish I could have met her.  She sounds like a remarkable woman.  I believe you are the way you are because of her.  She was a godly woman.  God heard her prayers for you and He answered them.  She would be extremely proud of how you’ve turned out.”

“That’s what my grandmother said.  Her, you will get to meet when she visits me in December.  She’s coming for Christmas.”

“That’s great.  Speaking of Christmas, my family are flying over too.  I can’t wait for them to meet you.”

“Good.  It will give me a chance to ask your father permission to marry you.”

She stared at me, her eyes and mouth wide open.  “Are you serious?”

I nodded and replied,  “Yes, I’m very serious”  before I lowered my head and kissed her.

Ten years have passed since I learned the truth about my the circumstances of my birth.  The guilt and shame I felt all these years are gone now.  I have accepted that I have done nothing deserving of death and I will live the life I have been given to its fullest.    Joycelin and I are engaged.  The wedding is next year Spring.  She’s teaching me about God and like my mother, she prays for me regularly.   I’m thankful that God blessed me with three phenomenal women–my mother, Joycelin and my grandmother.  The life He has given me I will live worthily for Him and for them.

A child conceived in violence is himself innocent and created in the image of God. He has done nothing to deserve the death sentence, any more than a child conceived in a loving marriage – Human Life International

The solution to incest is not abortion, but prosecution of the criminal so he does not commit more crimes, and loving care for his victims so that they experience true physical and emotional healing – Human Life International

Matt is a fictional character, but there are real men and women out there who were conceived in rape.  Read their stories.

It takes courage for a woman who chooses to go through with an unplanned pregnancy but it takes far greater courage for the one whose child was conceived by rape or incest.

Sources:   University of Cape TownWikipediaStudent World Online;

Folani’s Story

photo-1553394951-efd4b4aadd2bMy name is Folani.  At the age of 16, I was forced to marry the man who raped me so that I wouldn’t bring shame on my family.  He wanted to marry me but after I rejected him, he raped me.  I told my my mother what he had done to me and she insisted that if he still wanted to marry me that I should consent.  “No other man is going to want you,” she told me.  “Be grateful if Mr. Adebayo still does.”

“But, Mama, he raped me.”

“And whose fault is that?”

I couldn’t believe how unfeeling and uncaring she was.  I wished my father were still alive.  He would have had Mr. Adebayo arrested and charged.  I wished I had older brothers who would make Mr. Adebayo pay for what he did to me.  I wouldn’t want them to kill him, of course.  There are other ways to make a person pay for what they have done without taking their life.

I got no sympathy from my mother or my step-father and when Mr. Adebayo asked their permission to marry me, they consented.  I know he wanted to marry me because he wanted to avoid punishment and prosecution.  He was a government official and he had his “reputation” to think about.  I had no choice but to go along with this.  I had brought my family into disrepute and the only way to preserve my family name and avoid a life of sexual shame was to marry the man who raped me.  This was the only way to prevent the social stigma of pre-marital sex.

The night before the wedding, I cried bitterly.  I didn’t want to marry this man.  I didn’t want to stop going to school.  I had dreams of becoming a doctor but now those dreams were squashed.  I lay in my bed curled up, wishing I could die.  Death would be better than the future.

I married Mr. Adebayo and we lived in his big house on the hill.  He was abusive to me, demanding his rights as my husband.  He struck me when he tried to touch me and I pulled away.  Night after night, I was raped.  I became pregnant but I miscarried because of repeated domestic violence.  Just when I didn’t think I could take any more of the physical and sexual abuse, my husband suddenly died.  I could have run away and left him there in the floor but I called the police.

It turned out that he died from cardiac arrest.  After the funeral, his sister and mother threw me out of the house.  I didn’t return home to my mother and step-father.  I went to my paternal grandmother who let me stay with her.  When I told her all that had happened to me, she cried and prayed over me.

While I stayed with her, she read the Bible to me and told me about God and Jesus.  I listened.  I missed going to school but my grandmother couldn’t afford to send me.  One night, I got down on my knees and asked God to help me.  I couldn’t give up my dream of becoming a doctor one day.  The next day, someone from Camfed came to my grandmother’s house.  They had heard about my situation through its network of former students who had been supported through their education program.  The charity offered to pay my school fees, and provides books, uniforms and sanitary protection.  As my grandmother and I listened, I knew that God had answered my prayers.  Thanks for Camfed has enabled more than two million girls like me to go to school has made my dream of becoming a doctor a reality.

After I graduated from school, I went on to university.  I chose to live on campus but visited my grandmother every weekend.  I thank her for telling me about God and I thank God for coming through for me.  I wish I had run away from home and gone to live with my grandmother instead of marrying Mr. Adebayo but I was afraid that I would bring shame on her.

When I told her this, she reached for my hand and gently squeezed it.  “You wouldn’t have brought any shame to me, Folani child.  What happened to you wasn’t your fault.  A wicked and evil man violated you and to avoid what was due him, he, your mother and step-father forced you to marry him.  You’re free of him now that he’s dead and you are free to live the life God has planned for you.  Now you can become a doctor–the first in your community and family.  Your father would be very proud of you.”

With tears in my eyes, I hugged her tightly.  “Kutenda, Ambuya.”

Folani’s story is fiction but there are true stories of girls who have been forced into marriages because of poverty, economic hardships, difficult circumstances and protection from sexual violence.  Advocates for rape-marriage laws argue that they shield the victim and her family from the shame of rape.  This isn’t true.  This law benefits the rapist and the girl’s family.  The girl has no say in the matter and is forced to marry the man who violated her.  She is forced to drop out of school and forsake her future which only education could make possible and be in a marriage which more often than not is abusive.

I urge you to help Camfed which is changing the lives of girls through education; Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 1300 civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential; Girl UP which believes that Girls are powerful. Girls have limitless potential. Girls can change the world. And yet in certain places around the world, girls continue to lack access to opportunities; CARE which is working towards gender equality, women’s empowerment, champions among men and boys, and an end to violence against women and Forward, the African women-led organisation working to end violence against women and girls.

Marriage is a choice not something to be coerced into.  Education not marriage should be a girl’s priority.  Marriage is between an adult man and woman not between an adult and a child.  And girls who are raped should be protected by the law and their families and not forced to marry their rapists to save him persecution and jail time or to safe the family face.  Rape is a crime and should be treated as such.

Take action to help girls like Gloria, who was forced into marriage at 12 and a widow twice by the time she was 17, to have an education and a future.  Help them to fulfill their dreams.

Sources:  Wikipedia; UN Women; BBC News; UNFPA

Mia’s Story

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Ours isn’t your typical love story.  I was a victim of human sex trafficking and he’s an FBI agent.  My name is Mia and I’m 28 years old.  I was 18 when I ran away from home.  I was having problems with my mother who always made me feel like I was no good and that she was sorry that she had me.  And my father who was hardly around and when he was, he fought with my mother and ignored me.

Life at home was hell and sometimes I just wished it was a nightmare and that I would wake up in a different house and with different parents–people who loved and cared about me.  It got to the point that I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would kill myself.  One night after my parents had gone to bed, I grabbed my knapsack and sneaked out of the house.  I had some money which I took from my mother’s purse and my father’s wallet.  I didn’t have time to count the amount but it looked like it would last me for a while.

It lasted for a couple of weeks and then I was broke.  I had no idea of what to do.  I had no where to go.  I refused to go back home.  I called other family members but they hung up when they knew that it was me.  I was too ashamed to call my friends.  So, I decided that may be I should find a job at McDonald’s or some other fast food place.  It was better than staying on the streets or going to a homeless shelter.

I stood there trying to figure out where the nearest MacDonald’s was when a really cute guy came up to me.  He had the most incredible blue eyes and an amazing smile.  “Hi,” he said.  “Are you lost?”

“I’m trying to find a McDonald’s,” I explained.  “I’m looking for a job.”

“I see.  It just so happens that I work at a restaurant just around the corner and the manager is looking to hire a cashier.  Are you interested?”

My expression brightened.  “Of course!  I’ve worked as a cashier before.”

“Good.  I’m heading there now so I can introduce you to the manager.”

“Okay.”

“What’s your name?”

“Mia.”

“I’m Joe.”  He held out his hand.

She smiled and shook it.  “Nice to meet you, Joe.”

We headed in the direction of the Space Needle.  I promised myself that one day I would visit it.  As we walked we talked.  He was so charming and easygoing.  I found myself hoping that he didn’t have a girlfriend.  About ten minutes later, we stopped in front of a restaurant.  It was packed.  He pushed the door open for me to enter.  The smell of fried food assailed me and reminded me that I was hungry.

As if he read my mind, he asked, “Are you hungry?”

I nodded.  “I haven’t eaten all day.”

He took me by the elbow and led me down a long corridor and into a room.  “Sit here while I go and get something for you to eat.”

I sat down, grateful for his kindness and to be able to sit down after being on my feet for so long.  Fading light streamed through the windows.  The sun would be setting soon.  I hoped that Joe was right about his manager and that he would hire me.  It would be so cool working there with Joe.  I was feeling a little hot so I removed my jacket.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail.  I was about to get up and walk over to the window and look out when Joe came in carrying a tray with a burger, fries and a soft drink.  He set them down on the table.  My mouth was watering.  “Thanks, Joe.”

He smiled.  “No problem.  When you’re finished just come to the front where the cashier is and I’ll be there.”

“Thanks.”  I waited until he left before I wolfed down the burger and fries.  They were sooo good.  I drank the Ginger-ale.  It was nice and cold.  I was half-way through it when I started to feel dizzy.  The room started to spin and I squeezed my eyes shut.  When I opened them again, I was in another room and there was a strange man standing over me.  Was this the manager?  Had I passed out or something?  Did I eat too fast?  All sorts of questions whirled around in my mind.  My head was pounding but at least the room wasn’t spinning and the dizziness was gone.  I tried to sit up but the man pushed me down.  Panicking, I cried out but he put something over my nose and mouth and everything went black.res

When I regained consciousness I was alone and I realized that I was lying on a bed.  I managed to sit up and I screamed when I saw that I was wearing red lingerie.  How did I end up here?  Who removed my clothes?  Where are my clothes?  I looked wildly about the room for my clothes.  I tried to get out of the bed but the door opened and Joe came in.  He grabbed me and tried to force me to lie back down.  I struggled wildly and he struck me.  I was so shocked that I fell back against the pillows.  Joe looked like a different person.  His eyes were cold and his expression impassive.  “You’re not going anywhere,” he muttered.  “You’re going to be here for a long time.”

“Where am I?” I asked, tears streaming down my face.  “Who are you and why are you doing this to me?”

“I don’t have time to answer your questions.”

“What is this place?  Why have you brought me here?”

“You wanted a job, remember?  Well, here you are.”

I struggled to get up.  “You told me that it was a cashier’s job at your restaurant.”

“You’re far too pretty to be a cashier.  You will make more money on your back.”

Then, it hit me.  He was forcing me into prostitution.  I felt sick.  I clawed at him until he clamped his hand over my nose and mouth.  Everything went black again.  I don’t know how long I was out but when I came to, I heard Joe say to someone, “She’s all yours.  I broke her in for you and she’s nicely cleaned up.  Remember to wear a rubber.  We practice safe sex here.  She’s no use to me if she gets pregnant and I’m not to spend my hard earned money on an abortion.”

I heard the door open and close.  Then silence.  I opened my eyes and I saw a man leaning over me.  I felt his hot breath on my face.  I struggled to get up but I couldn’t move.  Then, I realize that he was on top of me.  I pushed at him but it was no use.  I lay there helpless while he raped me.

When it was over, he got off me and I heard him moving about the room as he got dressed.  Then, I heard the door open and close.  I lay there for a long time, too terrified to move or make a sound.  Then, I pushed myself up and got up from the bed.  I put on the lingerie bottom which was lying on the floor and stumbled towards the closed door.  It was a washroom.  I felt for the switch and flicked it on.  I went over to the mirror and stared at my reflection.  I didn’t recognize myself.  My eyes were puffy, my jaw was bruised from where Joe struck me and my left shoulder had a bruise as well.  I turned on the tap and splashed water on my face.  I had to get out of there.  I went to the window and opened it.  I pushed my head out.  Outside was a fire escape.  I raised the window higher and climbed onto the ledge.  I reached out and pulled myself onto the fire escape.  I made my way down to the street below and ran as fast as I could.

When I was as far away from that place as possible, I flagged a cab down and when it stopped, I begged the driver to take me to the nearest hospital.  When I got there I went straight to Emergency and told the triage person what happened to me.  I was ushered into a room where I was told to wait.  Minutes later a nurse came in and asked me “Did anyone you worked for or lived with trick or force you into doing anything you did not want to do?” and other questions.  Then, she left and returned.  She asked me to get undressed so that I could be examined and left.  After the examination, I was given a gown.  I sat at the edge of the bed and waited.

The nurse who examined me came in and told me that I was a victim of sex trafficking.  There was evidence of forced penetration and bruising on my wrists as if I were restrained.  She asked if there was anyone I needed to call or somewhere to stay.  I shook my head.  I was in a daze.  I still couldn’t believe what had happened to me.  I had fallen for a pair of blue eyes and a charming smile.  The nurse told me that the hospital would help me with housing, transportation and any necessities I may need.  That was a real load off my shoulders.  I spent the night in the hospital.  I had trouble falling asleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw either Joe’s or that strange man’s face.  And I was afraid that I would wake up and find myself back in that room.

The next day, I was visited by two FBI agents who wanted to question me.  One was an older man with sandy colored hair, sharp eyes and a portly gait.  The other was tall, dark and very handsome.  The older one asked most of the questions and was very quick and direct.  Then, the other one said, “You were lucky to get out of there alive.  You did the right thing coming here.”

“I hope you catch Joe,” I said.  “I wish I knew the other man’s name.”

“It would be very helpful if you can give their descriptions to our artist,” he replied.

“I can,” I assured them tightly.  “I will never forget their faces.”

“Thank you, Miss Bautista,” the older one said.  “We will be in touch.  Good-day.”  He left the room.

The other one lingered for a moment.  “Good-day, Miss Bautista.”

“Good-day, Agent Fowler.”  I watched him leave.

I left the hospital that afternoon and was placed in Catalyst at Straley House where I can stay for 18 months while I work with my case manager to get connected to school and employment, and transition into permanent housing.   It turned out to be a really nice place.  I met a lot of great people.  My case manager, Rita was a tremendous help and support for me.  Before leaving home, I had graduated from high-school with honors but I hadn’t applied to any university.  After my ordeal in Seattle, I decided that I would move to another city in Washington.  I googled the best cities there and chose Spokane.  I applied to Gonzaga University and was accepted.

Before I left to go to live on campus, I received a visit from Agent Fowler who informed me that thanks to my descriptions Joe Cartwright and his cohorts were arrested.   The man who raped me was a prominent businessman who was a regular client.  Joe was a pimp and his victims included under-aged girls.  It turned out that Mr. Murphy had no clue about Joe’s nefarious business dealings.  Joe had used Mr. Murphy’s job posting to gain my trust.  I was very grateful to Agents Fowler and Benson for investigating and catching those monsters.  I hope that they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.  I told Agent Fowler that I was moving to Spokane.  He smiled and shook my hand.  “I wish you all the best, Miss Bautista.”

As I watched him leave, I found myself hoping that I would see him again.  Years later, I did.  I had graduated from Gonzaga University and was working as a Youth Program Assistant which I loved.  I was on my way to lunch when I saw someone walking in front of me.  From the back he looked very familiar and then I realized who it was.  I quickened my pace until I was right behind him and I called out, “Agent Fowler.”

He stopped and turned to face me.  I could see that he recognized me.  Smiling, he held out his hand.  “Miss Bautista.  It’s good to see you.”

“I didn’t think I would run into you.  What are you doing in Spokane?”

“I’m here for my nephew’s wedding which is tomorrow.”

“Did you fly or drive?”

“I flew.  I didn’t feel like spending over four hours behind the wheel. Are you heading somewhere?”

“I was on my way to lunch.”

“Do you mind if I tag along?”

“I could do with the company.  There’s a bistro right up the road.  They serve the best comfort food.”

“Sounds good.”

We walked to the bistro.  Over local beef and regional fresh fish, we talked.  When it was time for me to head back to the office, he came with me.  As we stood outside the building, he asked me to have dinner with him.  I gladly accepted.  After that first dinner, we made arrangements to see each other again.  He spent the week in Spokane before he flew back.  We had a long distance relationship and saw each other in the summer, at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.  Then, one day when we were Riverfront Park, he told me that he was moving to the FBI office in Spokane.

I stared up at him.  “Why?” I asked.  I was thrilled, of course but taken aback.

He reached for my hands, his expression serious as his eyes met mine.  “I want to be where you are, Mia,” he said quietly.

I swallowed hard, my heart was racing now.  “Why?”

“Simple, I love you.”

“I love you too, Nathan.  And I’m happy that you’re moving to Spokane.”

He leaned over and kissed me.  I felt my head explode.  We drew apart several minutes later and holding hands, we continued our walk.  The following spring, he moved to Spokane and following a very short engagement, we got married in September.  The attendees were Rita, my case manager, my friends from Catalyst, my co-workers and his FBI friends and family.  My parents weren’t there because I didn’t invite them.  They are a painful part of my past which I want to forget.

Ten years have passed since my ordeal and what thing that I have learned from it is that “Our pain can be turned into purpose”  This March, I started a support group for former sex and human trafficking victims.

While Mia’s story is fiction, it is real for many.  Trafficking of any kind is an evil that must be wiped out and those responsible for it must be brought to justice.  Check out this video for a grim glimpse into the world of child sex trafficking and what is being done to save victims.

Here is a list of non-profit organizations fighting against Human Trafficking:

Let’s work together to stop trafficking and exploitation.  Let’s fight for freedom.

Sources:  FBI Video; Nurse.com; Nurse.org; FBI; YouthCare; Yelp

It’s How You Respond

Transitions themselves are not the issue, but how well you respond to their challenges Jim George

butterfly in hand on grass
Image by Dreamstime

What transition are you going through today?  Getting old is a big one.  You’re not as agile and flexible as before.  You ache in parts of your body you didn’t even know existed.  It’s important to be active.  Exercise is key.  And you have to deal with those annoying things called eye floaters.  It’s bad enough that you have to wear two pairs of glasses—one for reading and one for distance or bifocals and then to have to deal with black things in your eye…It’s possible to grow old gracefully but it takes effort and patience.

For a lot of women, it’s hard to go from being married to being divorced.  My mother seemed to adjust fairly well but I remember that there were times when she expressed regret about the end of her marriage.  She never remarried.  My father remarried once.  It’s hard for the kids too because they lose one parent when the marriage is over.  They are raised by one and see the other at appointed times.  When your parents divorce, it’s like your entire world is falling apart.  For years I felt as if my father had abandoned me but when I was older and wiser, I was thankful that he didn’t stay with my mother for my sake.  I wouldn’t have wanted him to be unhappy on my account.

Transitioning from high-school to college or university can be a tough one.  For me, it was hard not being with my friends.  We all went to different colleges.  I was a bit of a loner on campus.  I didn’t join any clubs or socialize much.  I had one or two friends.  I was more immersed in my studies.  I worked hard and studied a lot.  I had great professors whose remarks on my papers were very encouraging.  I took my Major in Journalism and Minor in Art History.  And I graduated Cum Laude.  After leaving college, I had to find a job.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything in my field but I never let that discourage me.  Over the years, I have worked at different companies and have been fortunate to meet lots of wonderful people.

Going from being a single woman to being a family woman has been the biggest change of all.  Before I met the love of my life, my life comprised of home, work and church.  I loved going to church.  There I worshipped and fellow-shipped with terrific people who shared my faith.  They were like my second family.  I was involved in different ministries and was part of the choir.

I enjoyed doing community outreach such as visiting homeless shelters for women and youth and a senior’s home.  But in private, I prayed to God for a godly man.  And years later, I met him on a bus.  He spoke to me, I invited him to my church and the rest is history.  We have a son.  I regret not having two children but I’m thankful that God blessed with me one and my mother with her only grandchild.  Before she died, she enjoyed eleven years of his life.

Transition can be hard, challenging but it can also be rewarding.  It just depends on how we handle it.  In my case, it is God who has helped me through each life change.  This year when I lost both of my parents within months of each, it was God’s loving presence and Jesus’ promise, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” which held me together.  My two sisters and I aren’t alone.  We have the Lord and we have each other.

Like me, you don’t have to go through any transition alone.  Your families, friends or faith can be your anchor.

This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompts for today’s word, Transition.  If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.

Source:  Blue Letter Bible

The Girl Least Likely…

rockefeller-center-face-in-the-crowd
PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

When he came into the library, I panicked.  I was afraid that if he saw me, he would come over and say hi and I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to hide my feelings from him.  He was the most popular guy on campus and I was—well, the girl least likely to attract someone like him.

“Hi.”

“Hi,”

“May I join you?”

“Yes.”

He sat down and stared at me so hard that I wanted to cover my face.  “Are you busy Saturday night?”

“No.”

“How about dinner and a movie?”

Stunned, I nodded.

He grinned.

 

99 Words

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields For more details, visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Everything Has Beauty

mgm-pedro-pinto-2be77b7e-689e-4bb4-8cb1-84bca2c66dcb “What do you see in her, man?” Brad asked his friend, Sebastian “Granted, she had a great body but her face…

Sebastian glanced at him.  “What’s wrong with her face?”

Brad stared at him.  “Are you kidding me?  I’m sorry, man, but she’s ugly.”

Color suffused Sebastian’s cheeks and his eyes darkened in anger.  “That’s a terrible thing to say, Brad,” he retorted.

“Well, it’s the truth.  And I’m not the only one who thinks you’ve lost your mind.  There are so many hot girls on campus you could go out with and you settle for an unattractive one.”

“It’s obvious that your idea of beauty is different from mine.”

Beauty?  You would use the word beauty to describe her?  Seriously, you need your eyes checked.”

“She has a name and yes, I think she’s beautiful. Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

“Well, you’re the only one who can see hers.”

“She has lovely dark smooth and flawless skin.  Her eyes are an unusual shade of brown and they sparkle when she talks about the things she likes.  She’s smart, thoughtful and unpretentious.  You’re right, everywhere I turn, I see the faces of beautiful girls but hers is the one I look for.”

Brad studied him.  “You’re really hung up on her, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, why don’t you ask her out then?”

“I plan to.”

“Well, here’s your chance,” he said as he looked past his shoulder.

Sebastian turned and his heart skipped a beat when he saw her.

Brad smiled and patted him on the shoulder.  “Good luck, Man.  I mean that.”

Sebastian nodded.  “Thanks.”

Brad walked away.

Sebastian leaned against the wall and watched nervously as Dominique approached him.  She looked great in the red top and the denim skirt which reached just above her knees.  His eyes lingered on her bare calves before returning to her face.  He didn’t care what anyone said, to him, she was stunning and she had the most incredible smile.

“Hi,” she said when she reached him.  She stood looking up at him, her head cocked to one side.  “You look very nice.”

He blushed.  “Thank you.  So do you.”

She smiled.  “Thank you.  So, how have you been?”

“Busy helping my sister to move.  She moved out of our parents’ house last week Wednesday.”

“It must be nice having your own place.  After I graduate this year and get a job, I’m moving out.”

“Don’t you like living with your parents?”  20190410_093020838_m

“They’re great but I like the idea of being on my own.  You live on your own, don’t you?”

“Yes, but I have financial assistance from my employer as well as a family allowance which helps with my expenses and tuition.”

“Is it hard working and attending university at the same time?”

“It is but I manage.”

“Do you have time to socialize?”

“Yes.”

“What about a girlfriend?”

“I don’t have one,” he replied quietly, his expression guarded as he met her steady gaze.  His heart was pounding.  “What about you? Do you have a boyfriend?” He held his breath as he waited for her to answer.

She shook her head.  “No.

He exhaled in relief.  “Dominique, there is something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Yes?”

“Will you go out with me?”

For a moment she didn’t answer.  It was as if she was trying to make sense of what just transpired.  Finally, she said, “I never thought you would ask me out.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not like the other girls on campus whom I’ve seen you and your friends hanging out with.  They’re pretty and popular.”

“I’m not interested in any of them, Dominique but I’m interested in you.  I’ve wanted to ask you out for a long time but today I finally had the courage to do so.  You haven’t told me if you will go out with me.”

“Yes,” she replied, smiling.  “I will go out with you.  I can’t imagine what the other girls or your friends will say.”

“It doesn’t matter what they think.  All that matters is how you and I feel about each other.  I like you, Dominique.”

“And I like you, Sebastian.”

He reached for her hand.  It felt soft and small in his.  And he felt the heat flow through his body and settle in the pit of his stomach.  His eyes darkened on her upturned face.  He wanted to kiss her but decided that it would be nicer to have their first kiss in a more romantic setting.  “Come,” he murmured.  “I’ll walk you to class.”

She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for the sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile, even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful, deep down to her soul. She is beautiful – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wisdom Quotes

This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompt for today’s prompt, Flow.  If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.

Source:  Wisdom Quotes