Dear Anna

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Photo Credit: “Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department” 

a mother in Mumbai, India, who is looking for her lost daughter.

 

My monthly post for Exodus Road from the perspective of a mother.

Read Anna’s Story here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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Image courtesy of  papaija2008/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear Anna, 

You have been gone for 365 days. I have watched the seasons pass over the River Neva. The waters are ice-covered again and all around lies in winter drab. This is how my heart feels, dear Anna. We ate a tula gingerbread on your sixteenth birthday. 

I stand on the water’s edge at sunset and sunrise and pray that you might return to us. Pray is not the right word, I plead. 

You left for me, for Pavel, for Pyotr, for Petya to help us have a better life. 

There are whispers on the streets that the people you left with were dishonest. That you may be in great hurt and danger. It’s like the ice cracking across the river through me. You were only trying to bring us hope.

I did not know. I am so sorry I did not know. 

Pavel has began telling the story of the Firebird and the Grey Wolf to his brothers as you used to each night. In the end when Prince Ivan regained all he had lost. This is what I plead, that you might regain all you have lost. 

If you could read my heart, you would know I would come for you if I knew where you were. I would trade spaces the very second I could. I would give everything to go back and not allow you to board that bus. I hope you are not cold.  I hope you are not alone. 

So I will continue to plead as the river changes. I will keep telling mothers, to hold their daughters close. No matter how bad it becomes, we cannot let this happen anymore. 

Love, Your Matushka

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Sometimes a family can lose their daughter to human trafficking under the veil of the promise of work.

Other times family’s find themselves in the position of selling their daughters into slavery. This seems beyond our imaginations.

Read the following story by Laura Parker How Can a Mother Sell Her Child? 

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Understanding that truth places us in the proximity of making difference.

Anna’s Story Part 4

Read Anna’s Story Part 1 

Anna’s Story Part 2

Anna’s Story Part 3

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[Image courtesy of Worakit Sirijinda/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Anna’s Story Part 4:

The city streets faded behind Anna. Green stood out against the sides of the road and there were buildings with mountains rising behind. When her feet landed on the dusty road, she paused to take a deep breath. She dared to hope this was a breath of freedom. At this place of fragile hope, a woman gently led her to her space in a dormitory-like room, only her bed was not empty. Sitting tall on the side was Valentina. She stretched her hands out to Anna.

“They found you.” Valentina held her tightly and Anna’s tears fell onto her shoulder. “I was sold, they did not even let me say goodbye. The next place was even harsher, but shortly after I arrived there, a raid occurred. After I was rescued, I worked so hard that they might locate you.”

“I owe you everything,” Anna told her, surprised to be loved.

Valentina shook her head, “No, we can be happy together, we are saved.”

 

Anna slept through a dark night into day, no terrors to disturb her sleep. The sun was shining high when she woke and she sat up, again surprised. She touched her fingers together, pressed her palm against where her heart resided under her chest, alive.

Here in this place: she ate, doctor’s visited and she spoke daily with a quiet woman who helped her understand. When she talked to this woman, shards of ice dislodged from her frozen River Neva and began to float away. The best time of the day was the evening, when they sat in the grass and spoke together. Some girls had written poems, some songs and others were quiet. Anna sat still, quiet and listened. She was not alone. They too had endured and emerged in hope.

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[Image courtesy of Hordur Vihjalmsson /FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

News arrived that she had been cleared of the local legal system. There was a room with a telephone. Her hands trembled when she drew it to her ear, her Matuska’s voice and Pytor, Pavel and Petya jabbering in the background. At first there were too many tears to speak. When words broke through the tears she repeated, I’m sorry over and over again. Her Matushka whispered an invitation to come home. They had a surprise for her.

That evening, in the group, she stood up from her quiet. Into the night she recited the story of The Firebird and The Grey Wolf, the story she whispered at bedtime to her brothers in a forever ago time, the story that she whispered into the dark, until hope drained away. Now, when she spoke there were stars above her in an open sky.

…And Prince Ivan lay dead. His brothers took all that he had; the firebird, the horse and Helen. Then the crow brought the water of death and the water of life to the grey wolf. The grey wolf revived Ivan with the water. He regained all he had lost.

“He regained all he had lost. I have regained all I have lost. You have regained all you have lost.” She walked around the circle touching the top of each girl’s head like the child’s game of duck, duck, goose and whispered you have regained all you have lost.

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Now, she and Valentina counted the days passing in happiness. Two months passed, and they were cleared by the government to travel home, home. They whispered the word to one another, unbelieving, surprised.

“I have nowhere to return,” Valentina announced to the NGO volunteer who would accompany them on the flight.

“She does, she is my sister,” answered Anna. “We go together.”

The miles they had traveled were below them, moving away, out of their vision.

 

They were waiting for them, her Matuska, her brothers and Mrs. Belikor. They held hands all the way home. Only home was no longer the little apartment without light, without heat. Their home was now behind the bakery that was once Mr. Belikor’s. He leaned over one morning explained her Matushka and left the world, and with Mrs. Belikor’s help the bakery would become Anna’s. The 1,000 USD stipend she was given, would pay for business school.

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[Image courtesy of tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Four years later:

Anna stood at the edge of the River Neva. Spring had arrived, melting the frozen layers, the water ran clear and forward. She turned and stole a glance at her bakery. Valentina swept the front walk and raised her hand to wave toward Anna. They would employ another girl today to knead bread, another girl that might had followed the sign she had years ago. She would add to their number and draw them up safety, to hope.

Where rescue resides there is hope.

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Anna’s Story has been part of a realistic fiction series for the Exodus Road. Please consider following and supporting their work. Anna’s story has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve written on About Proximity. She touched my heart because I know her story is one that girls all over the world are actually living right now. We can fight for rescue and offer hope. 

Anna’s Story: Part 3

You can read

Anna’s Story, Part 1 here

Anna’s Story, Part 2 here

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Anna’s Story, Part 3

She had passed through all four quarters of a year. Only sleep brought relief. The nights were so long and then the hours of labor to keep up the building.  Meka was unrelenting, if Anna made any error Analu or Ipo would be called and she would feel the strikes of their hands. Six girls slept in one small room. They whispered with one another, but no one else spoke Russian.

On day fifty-eight Valentina never returned when dawn broke. That was the day Anna stopped counting. She searched for her brown eyes and dark hair everyday, but she never came back. She tried asking Meka about her. Meka just twisted her smile and chuckled.

 

When the sun was at its highest she fell onto her pallet. She covered her head with a thin blanket. No matter how hard she worked, how obedient she acted, the debt still stood. Even if she paid off the debt, she still would not have the passport or money to travel home. Bone weary, her Matushka used to feel that way. The weariness was not only exhaustion and the ache of her body, but the way her soul quieted with each passing day. In her mind the River Neva was frozen as solid as a diamond. Mr. Belikor, at the bread shop, had told her that was the hardest element on earth. Sometimes he had let her borrow books.

On her pallet, she wanted to dream of her Matuska and her brother’s faces, their little room. Their images were faded in her mind now and thinking of them scared her, because she could not imagine how they had survived when her checks never came.

One evening she started counting again. That night, in a hallway, a paper square was slipped into her hands. In Russian the script asked her name and her age. She tucked it into her pocket and it weighed heavy. Analu and Ipo would surely beat her if they knew. Under her pallet she kept a strip of charcoal for her eyes. She scratched the answers on the paper square. The next night, the same hand reached out in the hallway, without turning up her eyes she parted with the weight.

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That morning she whispered the story of The Firebird and the Grey Wolf.

And Prince Ivan lay dead. His brothers took all that he had; the firebird, the horse and Helen. Then the crow brought the water of death and the water of life to the grey wolf. The grey wolf revived Ivan with the water. He regained all he had lost.

 

Four days passed, her whispers faded away again, and she dreamed of sinking into the frozen expanse of River Neva with the ice layers covering over her one at a time.

The fifth night, she stood behind the glass window in thigh high boots when everything blurred. The room and the hallway filled with strangers and men in uniform shouting. She shifted to a corner. Analu and Ipo were bound and led out. She could not see Meka. Gathered up with a large group of girls, she was led out of the hallway, then the building into the night. Suddenly under the blur of the neon lights and dirty street, she felt her heart race. What if whatever was happening drew her into a space even worse then what she had known?

Down the street, they walked to a building with more uniformed men. They asked her questions, but she did not understand. A man with broken Russian tried to speak with her. She heard the word rescue in his halting phrases. She did not know if she dared to hope. In another room she was examined by a doctor. The whole group would be transferred, but she did not understand where. She wished for Valentina’s arm to hold her up.

She thought of the word the man had said, it stood out against her mind like the colors of the firebird in her story, rescue.

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The frozen gave way like a fragile line bending through the uppermost layer of ice.

 

The Exodus Road

“27 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery. 80% of the victims are women and children and are suffering in 161 countries, including the United States. Sexual slavery has become a lucrative global industry, targeting the poor and inflicting abuse, usually in the darkest of places.”

Anna’s Story Part 2

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Read Anna’s Story Part 1 here. 

Anna’s Story Part 2 of 4

Through Anna’s drooping eyelids, the bus interior faded in and out. Nightmares disturbed her sleep of the bus never stopping and the bus stopping where it should not.

Valentina shook her shoulder one dawn morning. The landscape had turned to a green she had not known before. A flicker of hope warmed her, but faded just as quickly. They continued into a city. In the glow of the rising sun, grew buildings and neon lights flickering off after illuminating the night. The bus stopped on a narrow, un-swept street. Anna stood up, disoriented. Valentina locked their elbows together.

The two girls who had sat in the back of the bus exited first, and took off running. Three large men followed after them. Anna heard the screams, the sounds of heavy dropping onto pavement.

 

“Be still,” whispered Valentina into her ear. Anna was led into a dim building and up a narrow flight of stairs. A middle aged man pushed her toward a closet-sized room. Anna held onto Valentina with both her hands, frantic. The man shoved her so hard she skidded across the cement floor into the wall. Click and she was locked in: no windows, dark.

Anna quit counting the minutes pass. She thought of the smell of warm bread in the morning. Matushka used come home tired, and yet still brushed her long hair and helped braid it away from her face for the ovens. They would be waiting, her brothers and Matushka. They were waiting on her. She thought of the money never arriving. Her heart constricted and she felt warm tears slide down her cheeks.

 

Hours passed before the door clicked open and a three people entered the room. One walked to the center and pulled on a chain. All that time there had been a bare light bulb and she had laid there in darkness. A small sleeping pallet lay in one corner.

She stood up tall. “I want my passport back. I want to go home.”

The woman laughed bitterly. She moved her fingers against her palm indicating money and pointed at Anna. Then, she moved closer and cupped her hands around Anna’s narrow waist, nodding her head in approval. Anna darted for the open slit of the door. The young man to struck her across the face. Rising up she tried again only to be struck back. This went on until she could not summon strength to stand again.

Lying on her stomach, she could hear voices in the hallway through a small gap between the door and the floor. The words spoken tangled into rhythms and sounds she did not understand. Sometimes she could make out names. The people that came to her space were Meka, Analu and Ipo.

 

She lay crumpled on the pallet and whispered the story of the Firebird and the Grey Wolf into the darkness as she did to her brothers each night.

And Prince Ivan lay dead. His brothers took all that he had; the firebird, the horse and Helen. Then the crow brought the water of death and the water of life to the grey wolf. The grey wolf revived Ivan with the water. He regained all he had lost.

 

Days passed where she refused to rise despite their yelling and the kicking of her body. One day they brought a fourth person into the room with them. She lifted her head and folded herself into Valentina’s arms. Valentina whispered into her ear in Russian, “They will kill you. You can’t run with no passport, no money. They will find you anyway because of the debt. Be a good girl, do what they say. Down the hallway, girls share rooms. Maybe we can. These things I know. I will watch over you Anna, I promise. Stop fighting. I worry for you.”

“I want to go home.”

 

Anna wore high heels, a mini-skirt, red lipstick and eyes rimmed heavy with charcoal. A glass window separated her from the ogling eyes. She would not raise her head, they could not make her. The younger man, Ipo came and lifted up her chin. Her eyes grappled for the floor as she strained against his cold fingers. Every night following would pass the same.

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Her tears dried up. The thought of home made her ache and she let it become dim in her mind. Empty was easier, it took all her strength to keep breathing. Sometimes, she wondered why she cared to keep on, death might be better, only she was too scared. She thought of her River Neva frozen to the bottom layer of silt. There was no more water running underneath the frozen layers, alive. No, everything lay solemn and cold. She quit whispering into the dark.

 

Join the fight against human trafficking at Exodus Road.

Follow the Exodus Road Blog to keep your thoughts in proximity to the need. 

Harvard Student Lea Parker attended Passion 2013. We, God’s people, need to be present.  Read her post here.

Blogger Amy Bosma writes a post here called Break my Heart. 

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