Friday, December 9, 2016

Thou Shalt Atone

‘This isn’t what I had planned. It’s not how I wanted to live… or to die, for that matter,’ I thought, looking at the man holding a knife against my stomach.

When I was little, I used to dream I’d be a big star one day. I loved watching films to forget about my problems  and I wanted to be like the beautiful women I saw on the screen. Most of all, I wanted to be like Caroline Ingalls because she was pretty and also kind.

I also wished my mum was more like Caroline, but she wasn’t. She spent her days drinking in the kitchen or crying in her bedroom. I still wonder how she got the little money we had. It guess it was from the cheques my dad sent from time to time.

As I grew up, my dreams started to die. Some of my teachers noticed my family life was not ideal and tried to help, but mum always got rid of them.

Mr Molina, my Spanish teacher was the bravest. He even came to the house one day.

He knocked on the door and, when I opened, he smiled and asked to see my mum.

I took him to the kitchen. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want him to see how dirty and untidy everything was.

‘Good morning, Mrs Miller, he said.

My mum looked up and grunted.

‘I’ve come to talk to you about Lucy.’

‘What about her? Has she been misbehaving?’

‘No, just the opposite. She’s a lovely girl. It’s just that… well, I’m concerned about…’

Just looking at him, trying to say what he was thinking, made me feel sorry for him.

‘Well, it seems her clothes aren’t warm enough and she doesn’t usually have the necessary materials.’

‘So? Are you trying to tell me I’m a bad mother?’

‘No, of course not, Ma’am.’

The conversation ended with Mum telling him to get the hell out of our home.

That was when I was around seven. For years, my teachers kept on giving me second-hand clothes and pens to write with.

When I was sixteen, I’d had enough. I decided I had to leave Beaverton. I wanted to move to a big city and Montgomery seemed like the obvious answer. I had saved some money I had earned while working at the local hardware store in the evenings, and I guessed I would have enough for the trip and to pay for modest accommodation for a few days.

I didn’t bother to say bye to mum. I knew she wouldn’t have tried to stop me and that  would  have hurt too much.

Montgomery was a lot bigger than I had imagined it. Getting off the bus was a shock to my already weakened system. I walked to the centre and, after hours asking around, I managed to find a cheap room. 

The next morning, I started looking for a job. I tried pizza restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores… but I guess I was out of luck. Nobody seemed to want to employ a skinny, frightened teenager.

After five days, I started to worry. I didn’t have much money left and I didn’t know what to do to earn some. I walked to a nearby park, deep in thought, and sat on a bench. Some children were playing on the swings while their mothers talked.



A man I hadn’t noticed before was standing opposite me.

‘Is it okay if I sit here?’ he asked.

‘I guess.’

I kept on looking at the children, but I felt uncomfortable. I noticed he was watching me.

‘Are you a student?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I said, staring at him. I wondered why he had asked me that.

‘Are you looking for a job?’

‘As a matter of fact, I am.’

‘I might be able to help.’

Either I was very naive back then, or I was desperate. I can’t remember which. Anyway, it should have been obvious to me what kind of job the man was offering me.

He told me his name was Juan. Juan was from Puerto Rico, but had lived in Montgomery ever since he was four.

I started working for him the following day. He was a nice man, considering. He treated me and the other girls like princesses. He never hit us, like the other pimps did. So I guess, to a certain extent, I was lucky.

All the same, I hated my job. The first time I slept with a client, I cried non-stop.

The only good thing about the job was Joni. Joni became my best friend. Together, we had this wonderful idea. We would save and when we had enough money we would open a nail salon of our own.

Two years passed and nothing much changed. Our bank account grew. One more year and we would be able to make our dream come true.

One night, I was talking to Joni when a dark blue car stopped next to us.

‘Are you free, ladies?’


Joni told me to go ahead. She said she would wait for the next one. She could be kind like that. It was freezing outside and we were wearing short skirts and thin revealing blouses.

Once inside, I noticed the driver was quite young.

‘What do you want to do?’ I asked him.

As soon as I said that, I saw his jaw tense.

‘Who do you take me for? I’m just taking you for a ride. I have morals!’

I didn’t say anything, but started worrying.

‘Where are we going?’ I asked.

I got no answer. I noticed he was driving towards the outskirts and I became frightened. I tried to open the door on my side, but he beat me to it. He locked. I was trapped.

The car kept on moving. We were leaving the city behind. There were less and less lights and hardly any buildings around us now.

After half an hour or so, he finally stopped.

‘Get off!’ he shouted.

I did as I was told. He came towards me and got hold of my arm.

‘Come with me.’

He took me to a barn and tied my hands and feet. I had always thought these things only happened in films.

‘Why are you doing this?’

‘You are filthy. You have to pay for your sins.’

‘I don’t like my job. Do you think I enjoy it? But I need to survive.’

‘I don’t believe you. It’s because of a dirty woman like you that my dad left my mum.’

I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent for a while.

I saw he wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I guessed he didn’t have much experience. Maybe I was his first victim. Was he planning to kill me?

After a while, he left the barn and locked the door behind him. I hoped Joni or Juan would call the police when they noticed I hadn’t come back. But they might not notice till the next day. Or if they did, they might think I had decided to spend the night with the customer.

I sat on the floor and cried. After a while I must have fallen asleep. I dreamed I was back home in Beaverton, living with Mum. In my dream, she was a loving mother and I was a normal five-year-old.

The noise of the barn door opening woke me up.

‘Get up, you lazy bitch!’ the man said.

In the daylight I noticed he was even younger than I had thought the night before. 

I stood up and he walked towards me. I realized he had a knife in his hand.

‘What are you going to do?’ I asked him.

The people in TV shows always talked to their captors, it seemed the only way to stay alive. I tried to engage him in conversation, to make him see me as a human being.

‘My friend and I, we are opening a business soon, you know,' I said.

‘I don’t care. Shut up.’

He tore my shirt open and started sliding the knife blade over the skin of my stomach. I shivered.

‘Please, don’t. You don’t have to do this.’

‘I do. You have to atone for your sins.’

Just then somebody kicked the barn door open. Two local cops walked in.

‘Drop the weapon,’ one of them said.

It wasn’t as exciting as in films. No FBI, no shots fired. My captor surrendered immediately. It was a bit of a letdown, to tell the truth. After all I’d suffered, I had expected a more exciting rescue.

Joni was waiting for me outside. She had called the cops the night before. At first they hadn’t paid any attention to her, but then she called in a favour and things had started to move quickly.

That was the day Joni and I decided to give up the job. Juan lent us some money and we started our salon. The day that could have ended my life turned out to be the  day that started a better one.

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