Anna’s cheek felt hot from the sun coming in through the bus window. Her hunger had turned from a dull ache to sharp pains radiating from her core. She felt another wave of nausea flood her and she leaned her head back onto the seat.
The other girls were somber, each mind burning through a whirl of possibilities and fears.
Oksana had been the first to ask when they would be at the airport, but the bus driver didn’t answer. None of their questions were answered.
Surely this had to be a mistake, they had given their passports and even signed contracts for employment in the U.S. But now, days later, they could see the signs written in Chinese and everything familiar was no longer. The bus driver pulled over and a Chinese man with slick black hair cropped close to his skull was talking to him.
Anna saw a stack of passports and a thick wad of money being exchanged and knew with horrific clarity that this was not what they were promised. When the Chinese man climbed into the drivers seat and pulled the door closed, Dima let out a tiny whimper, a keening pathetic noise like that of a small child and closed her eyes tight as if to block out the reality that was unfolding before them.
Natalya’s eyes were rimmed scarlet as she had started crying after the first day when they were given a small portion of stale bread, the crust as hard as the circumstances that had made these girls jump at the opportunity to travel to the United States, to become nanny’s to wealthy American families for the astounding wage of $1000 a month.
Anna had earned around 120 Rubles for her work in the bakery but Oleg often docked her pay if she spilled flour or if he had been drinking. He knew that because she was only 16 and her mother worked as a prostitute, there would be no one to advocate for her if she wasn’t paid the full minimum wage.
She had two little sisters and a brother at home so really, he was doing her a favor employing her. Plus he liked looking at her slim body as she leaned over the mixer. Sometimes he would grab her as she went by him, such a pretty young thing, but his wife was often around so he mostly stuck to his fantasies. There would be time for that later, she wasn’t going anywhere.
When Anna had first seen the sign in the shop window advertising nanny’s needed in the United States, mixed emotions flooded her.
She would miss her little brother and sisters and her mother but she knew that $1000 U.S. dollars was equivalent to more than 30,000 rubles. An amount they barely scraped together in an entire year. She would be able to send money home and Klara, Lucya, and Andrey would be able to stay in school. She had stopped going when she was 13 because Andrey had fallen ill and her mother couldn’t bring home enough food to keep them all fed, often going to bed with nothing.
With this money, her mother could stop going out in the evenings coming home as the sun was rising, a haunted look in her eyes as she wiped the smeared lipstick from her mouth and went in to wash.
Anna couldn’t remember a time when her mother hadn’t looked old even though she was only 37. Her mother’s right eye drooped and sagged wearily, her father had beat her in a drunken rage, lacerating her cheek with the force of his fist and it had healed leaving a scar that pulled on her lashes and gave her the look of constant mourning. He had left soon after and Anna remembered little about him except the acrid smell of alcohol that permeated his cruel temper.
There were four of them on the bus. They had started this journey with smiles and laughs, the giggles of excited school girls on an adventure. They talked about the glamorous things they would do in America, things they had seen in magazines and billboards.
She had been the only girl whose mother had seen her off as she climbed onto the bus that would take them to the airport. She had gripped Anna’s face in her hands and kissed her on each cheek pressing her face tight, their tears mixing together. Then she had stepped back abruptly and pushed her forward towards the yawning bus doors, knowing she could not hold onto her any longer and wishing it done.
The other girls had already boarded. Most of them had no homes to speak of and spent their days begging in the metro station and sleeping in abandoned cars or attics, but they didn’t have the look of the ghosts, the kids who clung to and sniffed their pots of glue and gazed out passionless from their sunken soulless eyes. The kids who sold their bodies to the men who would give them a few rubles or buy them soda pop and candy.
These girls still had their souls, and now they had a dream too, a future in America.
As the bus groaned and began rumbling down the road, Anna thought of her old life in St. Petersburg , and dreamed of the life ahead of her.
As an advocate for the end of all slavery and trafficking, I am partnering with The Exodus Road to use my voice to help bring awareness to the global issues of this heartbreaking reality. A reality that an estimated 27-30 million people face every day.
I will be sharing A Story of Anna in four parts over the next month, covering some of the realities of trafficking occurring right now across the globe. The Exodus Road is just one organization that is committed to ending slavery.
If you want to join in, check out their website, tweet this post with the hashtag #blog4rescue or share on Facebook.
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