“Do you see anything you like?”
It’s a phrase I’ve heard on movies. I’ve read in articles. It’s common in The Life, but I never anticipated how I would hear it the first time.
Last night, I did something most people would consider unwise, dangerous, risky, but it came out desperation. Our girls our constantly forced to work on the streets. Night after night, they’re put out time and time again in clear sight, yet hidden. And, even when they’re placed in a safe, peaceful place, they’re sometimes drawn back to the darkness. The fear and terror pull them back, to a place they hate yet feel comfortable in.
So, last night I needed to understand. I needed to see for myself. I needed to know what drove them back to The Life.
My heart pounded and my head was foggy. I knew exactly what to expect and absolutely nothing to expect. As we slowly drove through the stroll, a liquor store came into sight. In front were several young girls, dancing and singing and smiling at the cars driving by. Several cars were parked with men setting, gazing, and slowly taking drags off of…
My anger took over my anxiety and we pulled into a spot nestled between two of those cars. Many people stared at us as we stepped out of the car. As we walked into the store the girls and boys followed us. We went aisle by aisle trying to breathe, trying to acknowledge what we were experiencing. The kids would look at us and smile and discretely follow us around the store.
But once we stepped back outside that’s when we heard it. The bell click of the door was loud and clanking and then he was beside us before I knew he was there. His words caused me to take pause, “do you see anything you like?” I was baffled. My mind couldn’t comprehend it. He thought we were there to purchase. We were two, normal looking women and he thought we were there to purchase minors. Again, I couldn’t breathe. I was caught somewhere between disgust and confusion. It had to be directed at someone else. But then he came and blocked our path. There was no doubt the question was directed at us.
As soon as he learned that wasn’t our intention, his demeanor changed. He walked a fine balance between attempting to appease us, while warning us to not come back. He made small talk, trying to be civil and asking prodding questions, but shaking our hands and refusing to let go while staring us in the eye.
Once back in the car I was caught somewhere between barely being able to breathe and being physically sick. I wanted to quit and go home. I wanted to go to bed, cover my head up, and forget everything that happened. But, that sickening experience fueled the anger; the anger and realization that those kids standing on the curb attempting to balance in between their services could have been my kids.
We went to the seedy hotels who swore they would never let minors in their rooms.
We went through parks where “kids” were walking and offering.
We went to the metro where girls quietly stood waiting for their next dates.
And within hours we were exhausted. But the exhaustion was also a reminder. A reminder of what it is we are truly combating. A reminder that regardless of how tired I am, the work has to go on and have purpose.
And, the reminder that these are kids. They sing and dance. They slowly put one foot in front of the other while pretending the curb is a balance beam. And, they smile in the direst of situation, because that innocence is still there hidden deep within them.