The following account is fiction, but the circumstances are real. Anna’s story represents girls worldwide who are sold into slavery. This is part 1 of 4. Details have been provided by The Exodus Road. Any errors are mine.
Anna pulled her thin coat tight around her frail form as she braced herself for the walk to the bakery. She quietly descended the three flights of stairs from their humble apartment to the street below, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes, wishing she could have stayed snuggled beneath the layers of worn blankets with her sisters. Her heart ached to leave them, but if she didn’t they might not have anything to eat by the end of the week.
Working at the bakery was not what Anna wanted from life. Nothing about her life was as she wanted it. Who, if they could choose, would want to be the oldest of four daughters to a single mother who worked as a prostitute to make ends meet? Her biggest regret was having to leave school two years ago, when she was just 13, to add to their meager income. Anna loved her mother, but she wished life could be different. For all of them.
The streets of St. Petersburg were nearly vacant as she made the familiar trip to the bakery. She knew she should be thankful she had a job, but Anna was tired. She rose early every morning to make bread and spent her afternoons and evenings caring for her sisters while their mother did her job. The thought of it always made Anna sick to her stomach. She didn’t know the details of her mother’s work, but she knew enough.
She could walk this route practically in her sleep. Nothing ever changed. Just like their lives. Anna wondered if she would end up an old woman, having cared for her sisters and mother all her life. Or if she would even live that long.
At the sound of footsteps, Anna looked up to avoid bumping into a stranger. As she passed the older woman bundled in layers of clothes against the cold, Anna noticed a sign in a shop window not far from the bakery.
1,000 USD per month
Nannies needed to work in America
Travel expenses included
Anna read the words twice to make sure she understood. A strange feeling came over her: hope. Was this her sign? Anna turned and walked toward the bakery so as not to be late, but she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind. She could get paid to watch children, something she was already doing. She could send home whatever extra she had for her mother and sisters. Their life could be different. Better.
All morning, Anna worked with fervor, hoping to finish her work and leave a little early so she could stop by the store where she’d seen the sign. Her insides churned with fear and excitement, but she’d already made up her mind. She would go to America to make a better life for her family.
By the time she arrived home later that day, it was done. Anna had given her notice at the bakery and would leave in two days for her new life. Her sisters cried. Her mother hugged her tightly and whispered into her ear, “I’m proud of you. Make a better life for yourself.” Leaving was going to be the hardest thing Anna had ever done.
When the day came, Anna left the little apartment in tears. “I will write to you,” she promised. “And I will send money.” She pulled herself from her family’s embrace, picked up her bag and walked to the address the man in the store had given her. He’d said her chaperone would meet her there and arrange the travel plans. Anna’s head was already full of dreams. She’d heard about America and could hardly believe she would see it for herself.
A bus was already waiting when she arrived at the meeting point.
“You’re late,” the stocky, bald man grumbled as Anna approached.
She mumbled her apology.
“Don’t let it happen again,” he said. Anna didn’t like the warning in his eyes or his tone.
“Passport?” he demanded. Anna fumbled through her bag to find the required document. He took it and pointed to the bus. “Get on.”
“But, my passport?”
“I said, ‘Get on.'”
Anna lowered her gaze and walked to the door of the bus. She supposed she shouldn’t question the man. He was arranging their flight to America, after all. She boarded the bus and smiled at the four girls already seated. None of them met her gaze, but that didn’t dampen Anna’s hopes for a friend. How long had it been since she’d had a chance to spend time with girls her age?
The excitement she felt as they left St. Petersburg had turned to worry. She’d lost track of how much time they’d been on the bus and how long it had been since they’d had something to eat. Nothing more than some stale bread and enough water to keep their mouths from drying out. The sickness in Anna’s stomach was part hunger, part fear. And she wondered if she’d made a mistake. She blinked away tears lest any of the others think her homesick and not up to the challenge ahead.
When another day passed and they hadn’t set foot on a plane, Anna’s fears grew. The man who had arranged their travel wouldn’t answer their questions. When Anna awoke this morning, the signs on the road were in a new language. Maybe Chinese, she thought, but she didn’t know for sure. The bus stopped and their driver was now speaking with an Asian man. She saw the man hand over what looked like their passports and a stack of money. The Asian man boarded the bus and began driving, leaving their countryman behind.
Anna saw fear on the other girls’ faces. It matched her own.
What had they gotten themselves into?
Stay tuned for part 2 of Anna’s story. Find other adaptations on this story through The Exodus Road’s Facebook page or searching on Twitter for #blog4rescue.
And there’s still time–about a week–to join more than 100 others who have ordered a “Rescue is Coming” T-shirt, the proceeds from which will fund investigations aimed at rescuing women and children from sex slavery.