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

We Are All Slaves

“We are all slaves,” Todd declared and Marsha stared at him.

black girl in white blouse“What do you mean by that?”  she wondered.

“It’s what my pastor said last week.”

“Where did he get that information from?”

“The Bible, of course.  It’s in chapter six of Romans, verses twenty to twenty-two.  We are either slaves of sin or slaves of God.  We serve one or other other.  We serve sin when we allow it to control our bodies, making us commit immoral acts.”

What sort of immoral acts?”

“Adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and fornication.”

“What’s fornication?”

“It’s sex outside of marriage.  It can be between two people who aren’t married to each other or between two unmarried people.”

“Oh.”  She turned away so that he wouldn’t see the expression on her face.

“But, sin isn’t just about sexual immorality.  There’s spiritual immorality as well.”

“What happens to a person who is a slave to sin?”

“Romans 6:16 says that obeying sin leads to death.  Doesn’t your church teach you these things?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t you leave that church and come to mine?”

She turned to face him.  “Leave the Catholic Church?” she exclaimed.  “How could I?  I was born and raised a Catholic.  Why should I leave the church just because Father Montgomery hasn’t taught us what’s in Romans 6?  He might one of these days, you know.”

“I used to be a Catholic but I left because I realized that they were teaching what wasn’t in the Bible and the sex scandals–”

Marsha glared at him.  “I’m sick and tired of people attacking the church.”

“Why are you getting so upset?” Todd asked.  “I’m not attacking the church.  All I’m saying is that it needs to address the and rid itself of the sex scandals.  I’m sure that if you or someone you knew were a victim, you would feel differently.  You would want justice.  The church is supposed to be a place where people should feel safe.”

“I have to go,” she muttered.  “I’ll see you tomorrow at school.”  She turned and walked away before he could say anything.

As he headed home, he felt impressed to pray for her.

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Father Montgomery finished saying his prayer in the chapel, blessed himself and rose to his feet.  Next he went to the confessional to listen to three people make confessions.  By the time he left the parish, it was almost six o’clock.  He let himself into the abandoned mansion.   When he first visited it, he ventured down into the secret room, called a “priest hole” where Catholic clergy hid from their Protestant hunters.  Anti-Catholicism was rampant when Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558.  He tried to imagine what it would have been like to spend any amount of time there.  It made him think of the Jews who were hidden by well meaning citizens so that they could escape the concentration camps and ultimately, death.

It was in the Master’s bedroom where Marsha waited for him.  It was still furnished.  The furniture was old but still in good condition, natural light streamed through the large windows and the bed was still functional.  She was sitting at the edge of the bed, hands on lap when he walked in.  He knew right away that something was wrong.  “What’s the matter?” he asked as he sat down beside her.

“I ran into Todd on my way home from church this morning.”

He frowned.  “Who’s Todd?”

“He’s a boy from school.”

“Tell me what happened when you ran into him this morning.”

“He told me that we are all slaves.  Slaves to sin or slaves to God.  His pastor read this in chapter six of Romans.  I don’t want to be a slave to sin because it leads to death.”

“Marsha, you aren’t a slave of sin.  Such talk is foolishness.”

“But what about us?  Aren’t we sinning against God?”

He put his arm around her shoulders.  “It isn’t sin when two people love each other.  I love you and you love me, don’t you?”

“Yes, but–”

“Then, we aren’t sinning.  We are in a monogamous relationship.  We aren’t unequally yoked.  We share the same faith and believe in the same God.”

“Todd said that the church teaches things that aren’t in the Bible.”

“Do you trust me, Marsha?”

“Yes.”

“I would never mislead you or the rest of the flock.  What I teach is sound doctrine approved by God Himself.  Now, let’s not worry any more about what Todd or anyone else who has misguided views about our Church and its teachings.”  He gently pushed her back on to the bed and began to kiss her passionately.

Even as she surrendered to him, at the back of her mind, a small still voice was telling her that this was wrong but, as usual, she let her heart rule her head.

It was love for Eve which made Adam sin against God.  Don’t let love blind you to God’s truth.  It is by the constant obeying of His Word that we are delivered from sin.  Don’t be a slave to sin which leads to death but a slave to God which leads to eternal life.

Sources:  Atlas Obscura; Flickr

Sherry’s Story

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I want to tell somebody but who will believe me?  Who will believe that the man who uses me for a punching bag is one of New York’s finest?  I’m just a former exotic dancer who had the misfortune of getting hooked up with the wrong man.  I guess I was flattered by the attentions of a veteran cop whose face has been plastered in the newspapers numerous times for his exemplary work, cleaning up crime and cracking down on drug dealers.  He has had the most arrest records and commendations than anyone else on the force.  He is a hero in the communities, feared by the criminal element and admired by his colleagues.

Yeah, who would believe that this man of the law was beating me up?  When we first met, I thought he was a real decent guy.  He used to come and watch me dance.  One night after I finished my number and was at the back of the club about to smoke a cigarette, he joined me.  He lit my cigarette and asked me my name.  I told him.  He didn’t introduce himself.  He didn’t need to.  I knew who he was.  To tell you the truth, I was surprised that he was talking to me.  There were other dancers that I thought were more up his alley.

“What are you doing here at a strip club?” I asked him.

He lit his cigarette, took a few drags before he answered.  “I’m off-duty,” he said.  “So, what’s fine looking woman like you doing in a joint like this?”

I shrugged.  “To make money.  Besides, I like to dance.”

“Do you have a man?”

I shook my head.

“How much money do you make?”

“There’s a man who comes in every night and he pays me $2000 to dance for him and then we would spend the  rest of the time talking.”

“Is that the man I saw dressed in the expensive suit and wearing a hat?  He reminded me of JR Ewing.”

“Yes, that’s him.”

“He’s married, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“I bet his wife doesn’t know what he’s been up to.”

I finished my cigarette.  “I’d better be getting back.”  I turned to leave when he caught hold of my arm.

“How about you dancing for me this time?”

“Sure.  Whatever you want.”

“And afterwards, we go back to my place.”

“Sure.”  We went back into the club.  I danced for him and then we drove to his place.

He lived in a nice neighborhood.  After his wife died and their kids moved out, he Tiriansold the house and moved into a penthouse apartment facing the Hudson River.  I stood at the window looking out.  He fixed the drinks and brought mine over to me.  In person, he was a very attractive man.  He looked younger than 55.  His hair was dark with touches of grey at the sides.  His brown eyes met mine.  For a long time, neither of us say anything.  In the background, soft jazz played.  And then, he suggested,  “Let’s go over to the sofa where it’s more comfortable.”

I followed him over to the sofa and we sat down.  We talked for a while and then he took my glass and set it on the coffee table next to his.  While he placed on hand on my thigh, he leaned over and began to kiss me.  I didn’t resist.  I was attracted to him.  The kisses became wild and passionate and we ended up having sex on the sofa.  After I got dressed, I was going to phone for a taxi but he insisted in giving me a lift home.

He dropped me home and there weren’t any plans to see each other again.  I was disappointed but then I asked myself, What did you expect?  He’s a cop and you’re a stripper.

I didn’t see him for a while and then one night, he showed up at the club.  He saw me with the rich married man.  I was sitting on his lap, talking to him.  After he left, my cop friend came over to me and told me to meet him outside for a smoke.  I got dressed and went outside.  He was waiting for me.  I walked up to him and was about to say something when he grabbed me roughly by the shoulders.  “You’re quitting your job right now.”

“But I need the money,” I protested.

He struck me hard across the face.  “You heard me.  You’re quitting.  Now, let’s go.”  He gripped my wrist tightly and dragged me behind him to the parking lot where his car was parked.  He opened the door and shoved me in.  I cringed when he slammed the door.  I sat in the passenger seat, holding my face, shocked as we drove off.

We went to my place and as I stood there, still in shock, he said, “Sherry, honey, I’m sorry I hit you.  It’s just that the thought of you dancing for other men drives me crazy.  I’m sorry.  I promise I won’t hit you again.  Forgive me?”

I nodded.  “Yes, I forgive you.”  He looked and sounded so sincere.  I wanted to believe that he would never hit me again.

He pulled me roughly against him and began to kiss me.  I kissed him back.  We ended up in bed.  He spent the night and left early the next morning.  I went to the club and told the manager that I quit.  He was understandably livid, especially since he knew that one of his best customers was the rich man who always asked for me.  I had no idea what I was going to do now that I was working at the club.

My cop had it all figured out.  Several weeks later, he asked me to marry him.  It didn’t seem to bother him what other people would think of him marrying a former stripper.  We got married and I moved in with him.  I wanted to find another job but he refused to let me.  So, I became a housewife.  I felt like a prisoner in our home.  I couldn’t go anywhere without him.  If I needed to go to the supermarket, he took me on Saturdays.  If I needed to go to the salon, he took me.  I don’t know how he managed to get away from work just so he could take me where I needed to go.  I guess when you’ve been with the force as long as he has, you can pretty much do whatever you liked.

We stopped going to the policeman’s ball because he felt that I was too friendly with the younger officers.  Two years ago, after we got home from the ball, he beat me because he said I was flirting with the desk sergeant, a young Nigerian man.  It wasn’t true of course, but my husband was blinded by rage and jealousy.  I was black and blue and had a black eye.  Once when I was in really bad shape, he took me to the Emergency but never left me alone with the nurse who tended to me.  And he answered all of the questions and as soon as the examination was over, we were out of there.

We went home and I was laid up in bed for a few days in bed.  He took care of me.  He apologized for what he had done and brought me flowers.  He told me that he loved me so much it drove him crazy to think that I would leave him for another man.  And as usual, he promised that he would stop hitting me and get help.  I stopped believing him.  I stopped hoping.

We hardly had company over and when we did, I had to wear long sleeves to cover the bruises on my arms.  There were times when I could hardly move because I ached all over.  During the day, it was a struggle to do the chores and I was always so exhausted.  At night, I lay there in bed, long after we had sex, staring up at the ceiling, wishing I could just go to sleep and never wake up.

We didn’t have any children because he didn’t want to have any.  He already had two from his previous marriage.  “Besides, I want you all to myself,” he said and then, he would take me into the bedroom and have rough sex with me.  Sometimes, he liked to pretend that I was under arrest so that he could hand-cuff me to the bedpost while we were having sex.  There were other kinky things that he liked to do to me  and wanted me to do to him.  I went along with it because I loved him and he was my husband.  He told me that he never  wanted to do these things with his first wife but he wanted to do them with me because I was beautiful and exciting.  I brought out the animal in him, he said.  And he was like a wild animal in bed.   Sometimes it was thrilling and other times it was terrifying.

Then he started to blame me for the abuse.  “I never hit my first wife.  In fact, I never hit a woman in my life until I met you.  You make me do it.  There’s something about you that drives me so wild with jealousy that I lose control and I hit you.  Do you think I like hitting a woman?  It’s your fault that I do it.  I love you so much it makes me go crazy just thinking of you with another man.  I swear if you ever leave me, I’ll find you and kill you.”

I began to hate him and wish that something bad would happen to him but I always felt guilty afterwards.  I couldn’t go on the computer because he was afraid that I would go into those chat-rooms and pick up men.  I had the Bible which my grandmother had given to me a long time ago when I was finished with the household chores, I sat down and read it.  It gave me comfort.  I quit smoking.  I began to pray every night when he was sleeping.  I asked God to help me.  I claimed His promise, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

My help came through a neighbor who was out of sugar and she came by to borrow some from me.  After we exchanged pleasantries, she followed me into the kitchen.  As I reached up in the cupboard for the bag of sugar, the sleeves of my shirt moved back and the bruises on my arm were exposed.  As I closed the door and turned to face her, I saw her staring at me.  Her expression was grave.  “How did you get those bruises on your arm?” she asked.

“I bumped into stuff,” I lied.

“I’ve seen bruises like those before and I know that they are not from bumping into walls or doors or from falls.  He’s beating you, isn’t he?”

“Please, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Sherry, you need help.  It will not get better.  It will only get worse.  Do you have family or friends you can go to?”

“I have family and friends but I’m too ashamed.  And who will believe me?  He’s a cop.”

“I’ve known women whose abusive husbands are cops, doctors, professors and even judges.  And I’m sure someone in your family will believe you, especially when they see the bruises.  If you prefer, I can take you to a shelter where they will take care of you.  All you have to do is pack what you need and I will drive you there myself.”

“All right,” I said.  Maybe this was God answering my prayer.  I got what I needed and I walked out of the apartment.  I didn’t leave a note or anything.  When my husband came home that evening, he would find me gone.  My neighbor and I went to different shelters but I was turned away because they were full.  As I tried to figure out what to do next, I remembered Lucy.  Lucy still worked as a waitress at the strip club where I used to work.  She and I were good friends.  I let her stay at my place when she walked out on her cheating boyfriend.  She always told me that if I ever needed anything, not to hesitate to call on her.

I couldn’t remember her phone number off hand so I called the club and asked Bill, the bartender for it.  He seemed happy to hear from me.  It was he who got me the job at the club.  I called Lucy and she told me to go right on over.  My neighbor dropped me.  She hugged me and said, “Take care of yourself.  When you’re ready, get help.”

I thanked her and watched her drive away before I went into the apartment building.  Lucy was standing at door when I showed up and she hugged me tightly.  “It’s so good to see you,” she said.  “Ever since you got married, you’ve been a stranger.  Come in and tell me everything.”

We went over to the sofa and sat down.  I told her everything and showed her the purple marks on my arms.  “I had to leave him,” I said.

“Yes, you did.  The brute.  He thinks because he’s a cop, he’s above the law.  The first thing you do is to report him.  He belongs behind bars.”

“Who will believe me?  I’m accusing my husband who is an exemplary cop of abuse.  No, going to the police is a bad idea.”

“All right.  We won’t go to the police.  You don’t have to make any decisions right now.  You’re welcome to stay here for a long as you need to.  Whatever you decide to do, you have my support.  Are you hungry?  I’ll fix you something before I head off to the club.  When I’m gone, please make yourself at home.  Call me if you need anything.”  She got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen to fix me some supper.  I wasn’t hungry but I forced myself to eat.

“I should be home around 2.  I have a spare room.  You can put your things in there.  See you later.”  She hugged me and then she was gone.

It was a nice, modest apartment and quiet.  It was in the heart of Soho.  After I finished eating, I washed the plate and went into the living-room to watch some television.  I rested my head against the back of the sofa.  I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes the room was dark.  I got up and turned on the floor lamp beside the window.  I stood looking out at the street below when I heard the key turn in the lock.  I glanced at the clock above the fireplace.  It was ten-thirty.  Lucy said that she would be home by 2.  Perhaps, she decided to check on me or she wasn’t feeling well.

I called out to her but there wasn’t any answer.  Puzzled, I started for the foyer when I froze in horror.  My husband stood there.  Fear and panic gripped me.  “What are you doing here?”

He came into the living-room.  “To take you home, my Love.”

“How–how did you know I was here?”

“A little birdie told me.”

“You’re lying.  Lucy wouldn’t have told you that I was here.”  And I knew it couldn’t have been my neighbor who brought me here either.

“Who said anything about Lucy?”

Then it hit me.  It was Bill who told him where I was.  He was the only one beside Lucy who knew I was here and I had begged him not to tell anyone that I had called.  He had promised to keep his mouth shut but somehow, my husband had gotten him to talk.  “Where–where did you get the key?  Did you steal it from Lucy’s bag?”

He laughed.  “Of course not.  I showed the landlord my badge and told her that I had a warrant to search this apartment.   If she had bothered to check she would have seen that the paper I showed her was the lease for my apartment.  Now, get your things, we’re going home.”

I backed away from him, shaking my head.  “I’m not going anywhere with you.  I want a divorce.”

His expression darkened and he grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me.  “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you divorce me so that you can run to another man,” he muttered through clenched teeth.  “I would kill you first.”

Although this wasn’t the first time he threatened to kill me if I left him, I was really frightened because of the look in his eyes.  I felt as if I were staring into the eyes of the devil himself.  I wanted to run for my life.  I shoved hard against his chest and managed to get free.  I headed for the door but he grabbed me back the hair and dragged me back into the living room.  He shoved me face down on the floor and raped me.

When he was finished, he stood up.  I lay there for a while, trembling and crying.  Then, I slowly got to my knees.  My back was turned to him.  He yanked me to my feet.  “Clean yourself up and get your things because you’re coming with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.  You raped me.”

“How can you call it rape when I took what is lawfully and rightfully mine?” He demanded.

I was shaking so much that I could hardly stand.  “You’ve beat me and raped me for the last time.  I’m going to file for a divorce and get a restraining order put on you.”

“Over my dead body.  You’re my wife, Sherry and the only thing that’s going to separate us is death.”

Then, I saw him pull out his gun and point it at me.  I screamed and then everything went black.

When I came to I was lying in a hospital bed.  I learned that the bullet caught me in the shoulder because I had moved.  If I hadn’t it would have gone straight into my heart.  My husband shot me and then he shot himself.  The police were called to the apartment when a neighbor reported hearing two gun shots.  The landlord told the police that my husband had shown up and told her that he had a search warrant for Lucy’s apartment.  The landlord believed him because she knew who he was.

I told the police about the years of abuse I had suffered at the hands of a man whom they had respected.  When they asked me why I hadn’t reported him, I told them that I didn’t think that they would have believed me.  After I was discharged from the hospital, I stayed with Lucy and went for counseling and psychotherapy which really helped me.  A couple months later, I decided that I had had enough of New York.  I sold my condo, packed up and left for Lisbon, Portugal.  Years ago at the strip club where I worked, I met a visitor from Lisbon.  He was a very nice man who gave me $1,000 each time I danced for him during the three weeks he was there.  I always promised myself that if I were to go and settle anywhere in Europe it would be Lisbon.

Lucy and I are in touch.  She is dating a guy she met on the tube.  I told her to bring him to Lisbon the next time she visited.  I’m not dating at the moment.  After being in an abusive marriage, I’m not ready for another relationship.  The men in Lisbon are very attractive but I want to remain single for a while.  I’m working at a boutique and love it.  I have become a member of an English speaking church where the members are like family.

I love living in Lisbon.  Sometimes, I wish that I had come here when I first thought about it and then I wouldn’t have met my husband or been a victim of domestic violence.  Then, I tell myself to forget about the what ifs and be thankful that I’m still alive.  My life could have easily ended that night in Lucy’s apartment if it had not been for the grace of God.   I was a victim of domestic violence and now I’m a survivor.  I have survived to tell my story.  Other women have not been so lucky.  I think about them often and that’s why I want to join in the fight against domestic violence.

There are times when I meet couples who are still madly in love with each other after thirty or more years of marriage and I’m filled with a heavy sadness.  That could have been my husband and me.  I sometimes ask myself why couldn’t he have loved me the way the Bible says a man should love his wife?  And I wanted to love him the way the Bible says I should but how could I respect a man who beat and violated me?  How could I submit to his violent and controlling ways?  He claimed he loved me but his love was was cruel, selfish, demanding, easily provoked and abusive.   I believe that if he really loved me he would have gotten the help he needed and our marriage would have survived.

Today, I’m speaking fluent Portuguese and am a volunteer at a Domestic abuse treatment center here in Lisbon.   God spared my life and I want to use it to help women who are going through the same thing I did.  It is my earnest prayer that one day very, very soon, domestic violence will be eradicated.  Marriage between a man and woman who love each other the way the Bible teaches could be a very beautiful thing.  Love shouldn’t hurt.  It shouldn’t kill either.

March 7, 2019 was a national day of mourning for victims of domestic violence in Lisbon.  Portugal’s Cabinet went out into the street to observe a minute of silence as part of a day of national mourning it decreed for victims of domestic violence.  According to police, 12 women have died this year in domestic violence incidents — the highest number over the same period in 10 years.  On the eve of International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a tweet that domestic violence is “a collective challenge” for society as a whole – National Post

Sherry’s story, though it is fiction, it is the reality for many women.  Some have survived domestic violence and others have not.  There are resources for women who are in abusive relationships and for the abusers as well.  Here is a list:

Victims of abuse often feel guilty as if they have done something to provoke their abuser or that they somehow deserve the abuse they receive. Abusers are often skillful at making their victims feel responsible. But no one deserves to be abused by another, and abusers are responsible for their own choices and actions – Bible Info

Join the fight against domestic violence.  If you are a victim, please seek help as soon as possible.  Your life depends on it.  Be a survivor not another statistic.  If you suspect that someone you know is in an abusive marriage or relationship, please reach out to that person.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Take action today for the many women who feel trapped in the vicious cycle of abuse and feel that there is no way out for them.  Domestic violence affects all of us.

Sources:  Huff Post; Bible Gateway; Bible GatewayTVO

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

My Reality

Image Courtesy of Stocksy United

I see the fear on her face as we walk towards each other.  It’s broad daylight.  I’m just walking down the sidewalk, minding my own business but she looks at me as if I was going to attack her at any minute.  She walks faster and clutches her handbag tightly.  Maybe she thinks I’m going to make a grab for it.

She moves closer to the wall, trying to put as much space between us as possible.  Her eyes dart back and forth, like a frightened prey and its predator.

Anger and pity fill me.  I’m angry because she assumes that I’m a criminal because of the color of my skin and pity because she’s a victim of her own twisted, racist preconceived notions.

I walk past her.  I don’t look back.  I don’t care to.  I continue walking and with each step, I try to let go of the anger.  It doesn’t do me any good to hold on to it.  But, the pity remains.  I pity her and others like her who live in ignorance.  Perhaps one of these days, this race problem will go away but even as I think it, the idea seems ludicrous.   It will never go away.  It’s something I will have to deal with until the day I die.  Sad, but that’s my reality.

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

Simón’s Temptation

And he took the path to her house  In the twilight, in the evening, In the black and dark night. – Proverbs 7:8, 9

young_hispanic_man

“Man, you have to be crazy to go over there,” Felipe told Simón.

“Her husband’s out of town.”

“So what?  You shouldn’t be going with her.  She’s trouble.”

“No, she’s not!”

“Amigo, she’s married!  You shouldn’t be getting mixed up with her.”

“You’ve seen her, Felipe.  She’s hot.”

“Yes, and you can get burned.”

“Whatever, Man.  You’re just jealous.”

“I’d rather be a living jealous fool than an dead one.”

Simón looked daggers at him.  “Leave me alone, Man.  It’s my life and I’ll do whatever I want.”

“Suit yourself, Bro.”  Felipe turned and walked away.

After he was done, Simón sat down on the steps, mulling over what his friend had said.  Maybe he was right.  He should know better than to be in this mess because he grew up in the church.  His grandmother would be bitterly disappointed because she raised him to do whatever the Bible taught.  He had been doing pretty well until he met Alisa.

They met at the track opposite his school.  After running a couple of laps, he sat down on the bench to take a breather and to drink some water when she joined him.  She was dressed in a long sleeve tee shirt and spandex leggings.  She looked amazing.  “You looked really good out there,” she said.

He flushed.  “Thank you.”

“Do you run here often?”

“Yes.”

“I run here too but I never noticed you before.  I guess until today, we were running at different times or days.  Do you live nearby?”

“No, but I go to that school,” he said, pointing to it.

“Sophomore?”

“No, senior.  I graduate in June.”

“What’s your name?”

“Simón.”

“Pleased to meet you, Simón.  I’m Alisa.”  She held out her hand.

He grasped it in a firm handshake, his eyes meeting hers.  His face felt very warm and he knew it had nothing to do with his running.

“So, have you decided which college or university you want to go to?”

“I have my mind set on Cornell.”

She smiled.  “Good choice.  I know a few people who go there.  I went to New York University.  Do you have a major?”

“Yes, Electrical Engineering.”

She looked impressed.  “Good for you.”

The sun was beginning to set.  He had to get going before his grandmother started wondering where he was.  “I have to go,” he said, apologetically.  He would have rather stayed and continued talking to her.

“Don’t let me keep you, then,” she said.

He put his water bottle in his knapsack.  He stood up and she did as well.  He towered over her.  “It was nice meeting you, Alisa.” He said, his expression serious as he gazed down into her face.

“It was nice meeting you too, Simón.”

He knew he ought to walk away right then and there without a backward glance.  She was married.  His heart had sank when he saw the ring.  He should have known that a woman with her looks would be taken.  Every instinct told him to leave but he couldn’t seem to move.  “When can I see you again?”

She smiled.  “We can meet here tomorrow at the same time.”

“All right.  See you tomorrow.”  He turned and walked away.

The next day when he showed up to the track, she was there.  They met every afternoon after that until one afternoon she invited him back to her place.  He was hesitant.  Being out there in the open with her was one thing but being alone in her apartment was quite another.  “What about your husband?” he asked.

“He’s out of town.”

“I really shouldn’t…” he protested weakly.  She was wearing a summer dress with spaghetti straps and her hair fell in thick waves over her shoulder.  He wanted her so badly.  It was all he could think about these days.  And here was his opportunity.  It was within his grasp.  All he had to do was take hold of it…

“But you want to, don’t you?” she murmured.  “What we both want to do we can’t do out here.  Let’s go back to my place and enjoy each other.  It’s something we’ve both wanted since the day we met.  It’s no use denying it, Simón.  I can see it in your eyes and I know you can see it in mine.”  She took his hand and led him to her parked car.

She and her husband lived in an upscale low-rise building.  Their condo was on the fifth floor.  It was beautiful and spacious.   It was obvious that both of them had a big income.  He barely got time to admire the place before she took him to the spare bedroom where after closing the door, she started unbuttoning his shirt.  And as she dragged the shirt off, she bent her head and pressed her lips against his bare skin.  He stood there, his heart pounding and his chest heaving as he fought for air.  Soon they were both naked and she pushed him onto the bed.  He reached up and pulled her head down so that he could kiss her.

They made love there in the room and afterwards, he took the subway home.  They had other such trysts.  He hang around the library or somewhere until it got dark and then he would go to her place.  She buzzed him in and he took the elevator up.  Most of the time, hardly anyone was around which suited him fine.  No one knew about their affair, except Felipe who warned him that he was playing with trouble.  He sat there now, pondering whether or not he should end this now.  Then, his cell rang.  It was her.  “Are you on your way?” she asked.

He could say no and tell her right then that it was over.  “Yes, I’m on my way.”  He ended the call and got to his feet.  It was no use.  He was hooked.  He was in over his head and didn’t know how to get out of this.  And he wasn’t sure that he even wanted to although he knew that there was no future here.

He took a shortcut to the subway and had his head down so he didn’t notice the two guys approaching him until it was too late.  The first blow sent him flying on the hard sidewalk, knocking the wind out of him.  Then there were more blows and kicks, he tried to fend them off but he couldn’t and then he passed out…

When he regained consciousness, he was lying in a hospital bed.  He had gotten a severe beating but aside from a cracked rib and cuts and bruises, he was going to live.  He was the victim of a random attack by a couple of lowlifes.  Someone witnessed the attack and called the police.  He was lucky to be alive.  His grandmother and Felipe were there.  After she spoke to him, she went to speak to the doctor about when he could be discharged.

Alone with Felipe, he said, “I was on my way to see Alisa when they jumped me.”

“I’m glad that you’re okay, Man.  Sorry about earlier.”

“You were right, Felipe.  I should have listened to you.  I think that this happened to me for a reason.  It opened my eyes to what could have happened if her husband found out about us.  I could be worse off than lying here in a hospital bed.  Once I get out of here, I will call her and tell her that it’s over between us.”

Felipe grinned.  “Good.  Finally, you got some sense knocked into you.”

Simon smiled weakly.  “Somehow, I knew you’d say that.”

What happened to Simon was done out of evil but God used it open his eyes to the truth which set him free.

 

How Were They to Know?

caged-liz
Copyright Liz Young

 

She sat there, unable to move or speak.  Her face was covered, her hands were strapped.  She was helpless.  People passed by, stopped to gawk at her, remarked on how real the dummy inside the cage looked before walking away.  How were they to know that she was a victim of a sick, twisted mind?  How were they to know that for her it was a nightmare, being locked up like a caged animal at the whim of a depraved human being?

He stood there, savoring their macabre interest.

Her husband, the charming monster.  How were they to know?

99 Words

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