Lost and Broken
A hand grabbed my arm. I whirled around and saw a man in a business suit with a friendly expression. The colorful Thai street was packed with people bustling every which way. There were street vendors, businesses, shoppers, and people hurrying off to work. None of them seemed to notice the man holding my arm.
“Let go of me,” I said.
“Where are your parents?”
“None of your business.”
“Just leave me alone, okay?”
“I will. Unless… do you want to go to America?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“You’ll get a good job, fair wages, a good education, and a place to live.”
I thought about it. I had gone to an English school, but dropped out of after I had learned to read and write in both English and Thai. It had always been one of my dreams to get a good education and a home, since I had lived on the streets my entire life. My parents died last year, so I had no real reason to stay in Thailand.
“I’m not saying yes, but how would I get to America?”
“That’s easy, you come with me. You speak good English, so you’ll fit right in.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“Why wouldn’t you? I haven’t done anything.” He pointed to his suit. “I’m rich, what would I have against you?”
He pulled out his black leather wallet and opened it to reveal an ID badge. I didn’t know what the ID was for, but it looked official, so he must have been trustworthy.
“What would my life be like in America?”
“You’d work for a family in Los Angeles. You’d watch their younger kid while the parents are out and do a little cooking and cleaning. They’d give you a room in their house to live in. They live in a safe neighborhood.”
“Why are you the one talking to me about it?”
“I met the family when I visited America last year. They told me they were looking for someone to fill the position, and you fit the bill perfectly.”
“Who exactly are these people?”
“Brad and Helen Franklin. They have two sons. Clarence is seventeen and Sylvester, or Sal, is ten. You’d be watching him.”
“Are you sure this is safe?” I didn’t have any reason to stay in Thailand, but that didn’t mean I wanted to walk out of there and into danger.
“Yes, I’m positive.”
“When do we leave?”
“First thing tomorrow morning. You ready?”
The house was large and imposing as I walked up the front steps. When Helen opened the front door, the house had a musty aroma, but I could tell it wasn’t too fancy or filled with antiques. It just lacked a good spring cleaning.
“Your room is down these stairs to the right,” Helen said.
I peeked around the corner and saw a dingy staircase leading to what I assumed was the basement.
“Go on, what are you waiting for?” Helen pressed.
The concrete stairs were a little dusty, but not unbearably bad. When I turned right and walked through the door, I saw a room with a concrete floor and a bare bulb hanging in the middle of the concrete ceiling. In the far corner, a cot with a worn mattress and no blankets was pressed against the concrete walls. Helen shoved a thin, old blanket in my hand and walked back up the stairs.
“When’s dinner?” I shouted up at her.
“There’s no dinner for you. I expect breakfast to be on the table at 7:00 sharp. The kitchen’s up the stairs to the left. The bathroom’s right outside your door. Take a shower, you’re disgusting.”
I heard Helen’s high heels clop up the stairs. When she reached the top, I heard her slam the door. “Don’t want moths upstairs, now do we?” I sighed with relief when I didn’t hear the lock click, although I realized it was only so I could make breakfast.
“I want this entire house clean, scrubbed down to a polish,” Helen said through a mouthful of scrambled eggs that I had meticulously prepared. “You need to pick Sal up from school and feed him snack. You also need to make dinner for us. Clarence just keeps to himself. You don’t have to worry about him.”
“Don’t even think about leaving. If the police catch you, you’re done for. Come on, hop to it.”
I walked out of the dining room and back into the kitchen. I washed the dishes and wiped the counters. I figured that I had cleaned the kitchen enough, but just before the door shut, I heard Helen shout, “Don’t forget to wipe the floor.”
I cleaned the dining room, the hallway, and the living room. I scrubbed the bathrooms and swept the garage. When I walked into Helen and Brad’s room to make their bed, I was astonished by the sheer size of their room. There were at least three closets, all filled with clothes and shoes. The room had so much stuff. Most of it wasn’t important, but it was well organized and showed that they had a lot of money.
When I walked through the upstairs hallway, I saw that there were at least three spare rooms. Why couldn’t I have gotten one of them? Even their smallest extra room was at least twelve times nicer than my room. It had a nice bed, art on the walls, ample closet space, and tons of furniture. It was well organized and color coordinating. I decided that I would talk to Helen about getting the room once she got home from work.
The cleaning took all day. Before I knew it, it was time for me to pick up Sal from school. I looked at the message Helen had scribbled on a post-it note. It told me how to get to Sal’s school, so I started walking. However, before I had even gotten half way there, I ran into Sal, walking home with his friends, laughing.
“Kamala, what are you doing here?”
“Your mom told me to pick you up from school.”
“Well, you don’t need to. I walk home every day with my friends.”
“Why don’t you walk home with us?”
“Thanks, Sal. You’re the first person who has actually been nice to me in America.”
When Sal and I walked through the front door, I could hear Clarence and several of his friends talking upstairs.
“Hey Clarence, I bet you couldn’t,” I heard faintly from upstairs. I couldn’t hear the rest of the bet because the voice had dropped to a whisper.
“No way you could. I dare you to,” I heard in a faint whisper, that was supposed to be quiet, but ended up like a loud stage whisper. The whispering had obviously stopped because everyone started laughing. I could hear at least five different laughs.
“You have to clean the house and cook for us every day you’re here. You don’t have to pick Sal up from school because I don’t want you to leave this house. The police are a real threat,” Helen mumbled through her mouthful of dinner. The chicken and potatoes I had made looked good, but I knew she wasn’t going to share. Luckily, I had already eaten while I was cooking.
I cleaned up from dinner and went downstairs to my cave. Only then did I remember that I wanted to talk to Helen about getting a nicer room. I sighed because I knew that she wouldn’t have given it to me anyway.
I heard a knock on my door. The door swung open before I had even reached it. Clarence stood in the doorway, taking up almost all of it.
“Hey Clarence, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, it’s you,” Clarence responded, disgustedly. “Just looking for something.”
“Can I help you find it?”
“No, I’ll find it on my own.”
Clarence walked towards me. I backed away from him, and ended up backing into a wall. Clarence kept walking towards me.
“Get away from me,” I said.
“What? I didn’t do anything. Come on, you can trust me”
“No, I don’t even know you.”
“Well, you’re about to.”
I was covered in bruises. They ran up the entire left side of my body, but were especially bad on my hip. My face was pale and I had a small cut above my right eyebrow. I touched it and it stung a bit.
“You ruined my life!” I screamed at him. My voice was strong, but I felt completely shaken inside.
“I don’t care. I won my bet. That’s $200 for me, more than your life’s worth.”
I ran. As soon as Clarence left, I grabbed everything I owned, which wasn’t much, just a couple sets of clothes, and sprinted up the stairs. I reached the door and galloped through it. I raced down the block and found a hiding place behind some dumpsters. I hunkered down and hoped that the Franklins weren’t running after me.
I was cold. I was completely unprepared for the night to fall, but it was falling fast. I wished I had grabbed the ratty blanket Helen had given me for my bed. I put all my extra clothes on to try to keep warm. Then, I curled up behind my dumpster and tried to get some sleep.
I woke up with a flashlight on my face. A friendly looking police officer was looking down at me with a concerned expression on her face. I realized that she probably noticed my bruises that went all the way down the left side of my face.
“What happened to you?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m fine.” I wasn’t fine, but I didn’t want her to find out that I was here illegally.
“Well, you don’t look fine to me. Come on, let’s go get you taken care of.”
I followed her only because I didn’t want to cause any trouble.
“Where were you before the dumpster?”
“At my house?”
“Your house, or just the one you’ve been staying in?”
“No, it was my house.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive.” If I ratted the Franklins out, they’d rat me out. An eye for an eye.
“Were you recruited by someone to come to the US? They often carry fake ID badges and dress nicely.”
“What country are you from?”
“Here. The US.” I didn’t want to be arrested for being here illegally.
“Are you 100% sure?”
“You look like you were trafficked. Human trafficking is very common in LA. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I wasn’t trafficked.”
“Well, if you were, I’m not going to arrest you, so don’t worry.”
“I wasn’t trafficked.”
“Let me take you down to the police station. We’ll clean you up and you can decide if you want to change your mind about being trafficked. Keep in mind, that if you testify, you can stay in the US and even get adopted by an American family, if you want. It’s not the most common course of action, but I can pull some strings for you.”
I did want to get adopted by an American family. How did she know exactly what I wanted?
“Fine, I’ll come to the police station.”
“What’s your name, by the way? You can at least tell me that much without worry,” the police officer asked.
“What a pretty name. I’m officer Rachel Nelson. I’m on your side, really. My wife, Rebecca and I are actually looking to adopt another daughter, we want our daughter Amanda to have a sister.”
“I guess I can testify. I really want to get adopted.”
“What exactly happened?” As I recounted the entire story from the beginning, I realized that there was one thing I was missing. A family.
“Alright, thank you so much. We will hunt down the Franklins. Now, let’s get you taken care of.”
I sat through a multitude of medical testing. Finally, it was determined that I was physically fine, but that I might experience PTSD, so they put me in therapy.
In therapy, I thought about what had happened to me. I tried to work through how I felt, but it was hard. I felt like I was spiraling out of control and needed something in life to grab onto. The therapists tried to help, but their efforts were mostly futile. My life was over and it was all my fault.
The therapists told me it wasn’t my fault. I was tricked. It was Clarence’s fault. It was the Franklins’ fault. They imprisoned me.
The therapist’s words felt hollow. I hadn’t done anything to fight back. I did as much wrong as they did. I should have stood up for myself. I was weak. I was at fault.
Eventually, the therapists started to convince me. I realized that it wasn’t my fault. I started to feel like I had some control over my life. It was deemed that I was in a stable situation, so I was released.
When I got out of therapy, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get adopted.
“There is a family interested in adopting you. Don’t you at least want to meet them. Consider your options,” a guidance counselor said.
“Fine. I’ll meet them.”
As they walked in, I immediately recognized Officer Rachel. There was another woman and a girl with them, who I assumed were her wife and daughter, Amanda.
“Hi, I’m Rebecca Bliss. This is my wife Rachel and our daughter Amanda.”
“I’m Amanda Nelson-Bliss. How are you?”
“I’ve been better.”
“Well, you’re safe now. We want to adopt you. How do you feel about that?” Rachel asked.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” Rebecca said.
“I guess I’d like to be adopted by you guys.”
“I just want to let you know that the Franklins have been arrested. Rebecca and I have decided to become activists against human trafficking to make sure nothing like what happened to you happens to anyone else.”
“Thank you so much. It means a lot to me that you care.”
“Of course we care. We’re family now.”