The Longest Journey: From Freedom To Chains
I woke up to find out that I was in the back of a truck with my mouth tied shut by a sock and tape along with a few others. My arms were tied together behind my back with rope and my legs were taped together. I could not move and became restless as a sense of claustrophobia struck me. I did not understand what was happening and tried to scream for help. Looking around, I realized that I was not the only one. There were a few other girls in the same position as I was with helpless looks on their faces. We had no power over our own movement and were clueless as to what was happening.
After what seemed like days, the truck finally came to a stop and the back was lifted open. We didn’t know whether to be happy or not nor did we know whether it was rescue or not. A man whose face was covered in a scarf stared at us and motioned for us to come out and line up inside what appeared to be a shipping crate. Only untying our legs, the man shoved us into the direction of the crate. Frightened by the huge gun in his hands we all listened to him and obediently walked into the crate.
“Crack!” I heard the gun go off and I looked behind me. A girl attempted to run off to who knows where and there she was now: a dead body on the ground in the middle of nowhere with no family to retrieve her body or mourn over her death.
“If any of you try to escape, this is your fate!” the man said as he pointed to the dead body. Fearing for our lives we all quickly huddled into the crate and watched the open-end close on us.
A few minutes later we could feel the crate rising above the ground. We panicked and tried to scream for help, only to realize that our mouths were still tied shut. Being more aware of my situation I started to feel the rope burn and cried in pain.
“Thud!” the crate landed and I felt like I broke my back from the impact. Not able to handle the situation anymore, I drifted asleep, hoping that things would be better when I woke up.
I woke up to the smell of a fresh new place. We were docked somewhere on a ship. The atmosphere felt arid and hot. My thirst was killing me so I banged the walls of the crate for help. That woke up the rest of the girls and they all still had the same frightened look on their faces. Suddenly, the crate opened and the same man motioned for us to come outside. One by one he untied us and told us to line up on the dock of the ship. As we lined up a couple more men came and handed us boxes of food and water bottles and told us we had ten minutes to eat. Cramming the stale bread and banana down my throat and chugging the water, I began to panic. What was going on? Where were they taking me? What about my family back in India? Where even am I?
It was late in the night after we finished eating and they started telling us what was next. We were in Dubai, the promised location, but for an entirely different reason. Soon they would hand us new legal documents and change our identities. We would be a new man’s slave everyday for the rest of our lives. And there was nothing we could do about it. Upon hearing this horrid news everyone started to cry, knowing that the rest of their lives was ruined. For me, all that mattered was that I needed to be able to support my family. I knew that I would be going against everything that I’ve believed in, but according to the circumstances, this was the only option I had and I had to do it to provide for my family.
After reaching the brothel where I would be spending who knows how long, I was told that I would be sharing a room with two other girls. One was a girl who travelled alongside me from India, and the other was a veteran who had been doing this for a while. I settled down and made myself feel somewhat comfortable and began talking to the elder women who seemed to be in her forties. She introduced herself explained to me how the job worked. A man would walk in, meet the director of the house, who would then allow him to choose between all the women in the house. After that, we were subject to whatever he wanted to do. I started to shiver and tear up as I realized that I would never be in control of anything anymore. I lost everything that was mine, even my own body. My fate was in the hands of God and I prayed that he would find me a way out of this horror.
The following day I lost what I had for past twenty-four years. After the helpless and powerless situation, I felt more vulnerable than ever. I was tarnished. I would never be the same again. For the first time in my life I contemplated suicide. I tied the rope on the fan and stood on a stool scared put my head through the noose. As I placed my head through the noose and about kick over the stool, my roommate walked in. She immediately yelled at me to stop and caught me was I kicked the stool over.
“Why did you stop me?” I yelled.
“Because this isn’t the end!” she replied
What she told me after that changed my perspective on life forever.
“What are you going to achieve by killing yourself? You will leave your problems behind and give everyone else who cared about you something to cry about. On top of that you will increase their burden of problems even more because you will be one less person to help out. I don’t care what problems you have or how bad they are. Running away is never the answer. You will be remembered as the girl who could not conquer her fears. The one that died because she couldn’t handle her life. The one that was too scared to face reality. I’ve been doing this for the past ten years because I’ve had no choice, but the reason I did not quit is because I know that if I do, I’ll lose. I’ll lose everything I am living for right now. I’ll betray everyone who is living on the hopes that I will return to them. Don’t do this for anyone else because they’re not here to give you support right now. Do this for yourself. You’re the only one that can keep yourself going. Do you want to win or lose? Remember the worst defeat is in your own hands.”
I reflected on my past following this confrontation.
“Nandana,” my principal called out in front of the whole school on awards day at the end of the school year.
Tears flew down my face as I walked up to receive the award. I was the college topper. Coming from a lower class family, I had worked so hard for this and I was finally successful. This opened up so many opportunities for my family and me as this meant that I would practically get any job I wanted and could support them and alleviate almost all of our financial problems. I would finally be able to repay my mother, a widow for the past twenty years, for supporting me and my five other siblings.
I raced back home to tell my mother that I would finally be able to resolve the family debt and pay for the education of all my younger siblings. As soon as she heard the news, she congratulated me with more tears than I had ever seen in my life. We spent the rest of that night looking at the stars with her head resting on mine out on the porch. Contemplating all the possible scenarios with her made me feel happier than I had ever felt before. I would be able to buy her all the saris, bangles, and modern jewelry that she had missed out on for the past couple decades. All because of our bastard of a father that left us for Dubai in order to get a better job, never to return. I remember those long nights, just sitting outside in hopes that he would return and make things all better. But that coward never showed us his face again, and we learned to live without him. Soon I would be able to provide for my family and things would sort themselves out.
Our college’s job fair was this upcoming week and once I landed a job, I knew things would get better.
On the day of the fair, my best friend came to pick me up on his new motorcycle that his dad bought him for graduating. This further reinforced in my mind that I would be able to be a father, mother and caretaker for my family soon. I got on his motorcycle and we went to the fair. We got to our college, knowing that from this day on we would be living in the real world and we needed to take the right decision in choosing our first job. I was immediately attracted by the huge Microsoft sign that said, “hiring.” I hurried down there and waited in the kilometer-sized line. An hour later, after the line moved like a couple steps, I got tired and walked up to the front to find out what was going on. But as I went there another guy called me over and asked if I wanted a job abroad at Microsoft. I never, even once, considered working abroad, but with this new opportunity I could not say no. I noted his number and went back home to talk it out with my mother.
Knowing that this meant not seeing my family for a while, I started to reconsider on my way home, but as soon as I got home my mother greeted me by breaking a coconut in front of me to ward off the evil eye. She got excited that I landed a job when she saw the paper in my hands. I then told her what the situation was and without even thinking she said, “Go for it!” Losing my patience, and now that my mother gave me the go signal, I called the guy who offered me the job.
The following day he came over and told me that I would be working in Dubai and that he could send me as soon as I wanted to go. Seeing this opportunity as something that I could use to support my family as soon as possible I told him that I would be ready to go by next week.
I spent the rest of that week saying good-byes and reminiscing. I could not believe that this time in my life was finally here and I was so psyched but scared at the same time.
The time came when I had to leave for Goa, from where I’d go to Dubai. Leaving my mother and my siblings brought tears to my eyes. I felt like I could not live without them after being so attached to them. I slowly gathered myself and remembered why I was doing this. It was for their good. It was for our good.
I got in the cab sent by the Microsoft hirer to head to the airport. Feeling tired and overtaxed I slept on the way there.
What followed must have been a miracle because the cops rushed into the house. Before we knew what was going on, we heard gunshots and people screaming. I took cover in my suitcase, somehow fitting myself in it because of the panic and fright.
I came out after what seemed like a few hours to see the aftermath. I walked out to the main lobby to see all the men that transported us here, tied up and handcuffed. And I saw officers that were talking and clearing all the girls out of the house. I went up to a man who was writing down some reports to ask him what was going on and if everything would be all right.
“Sir, what’s going on?” I said as I tapped his shoulder.
“Nandana?” he said as he turned around and started crying.
“You left us behind with nothing.”
“I had no choice.”
“What do you mean you had no choice? Look at you. You have a job and everything. You could have come back at least once.”
“I know. It was my fault. I just thought that after I left, you would be better off. I couldn’t give you anything. My own family. I couldn’t support it.”
“It doesn’t matter. You just had to be there for us. That’s all we wanted. Your love and support.”
The next morning my dad and I were on the first flight back to India. What seemed like the longest journey of my life finally ended and I sure was glad it was over. I had gained so much on this journey, but at the same time I did not know if I could ever forget what happened and move on. Some journeys are like small wounds that heal over time, but this one was a deep cut that would leave a scar with me for the rest of my life.