I do not weep for your passing, but I am filled with a sense of guilt. Luminita was the name that you chose for me; my little light, my ray of sunshine. You rejoiced over my birth as if I were a boy. Do you remember how you took me to all the neighbours to show off your ‘little light’? And then when I was older how I would brighten your work day by following you around the junk yard as you looked for scrap metal to sell. I would sing you songs and recite poetry I had made-up. You said that I should write them down and that one day hopefully, someone from the city would see them and want to buy them. You had big dreams for me, you said that if I worked hard I could one day leave the camp and live in the city, wear pretty clothes, do my hair and makeup, and I believed you. I always believed you.
Still, I do not weep for your passing. Your constant love and affection was both a blessing and a curse to me. I remember with great joy how you would tell me stories at bed time. I never told you father, but your stories were not very good. I delighted in your enthusiasm in always creating a new story, the problem was, they often did not make sense. You spoke of a land far away of where our ancestors came from. You spoke of travelling, of borders and countries and foreign languages. It did not make any sense to me. I was not familiar with other countries and peoples, I had only been into the city once. I realise now that maybe you did not have a good imagination or maybe it was I who didn’t.
As I sit here in this undersized, slightly damp room I wonder if you did it on purpose. You loved and adored me, told me I was beautiful and protected me from any harm. But you failed Father, you failed to inform me that not everyone was like you, or rather, not every man was like you. But what I desperately want to know is why you did not rescue me when I needed you most? Did you blame me? Did you think I deserved it? Were you ashamed? Or was it guilt you felt? I do not weep for you now but I am filled with a sense of guilt and regret that we didn’t have time to talk, time to explain to you what happened, time to say goodbye.
Do you remember the day after my thirteenth birthday? When Uncle Vasile came by the house and you spoke in private. You told me later that he had a nephew that was interested in becoming my husband. You shouted at Uncle Vasile to get out, that you didn’t want to speak of such things, to never mention it again. I was not on the market to be married. I understand now that you went against our culture to protect me. You didn’t care who you offended or cut off. You did what it took to protect me from a sad life at the hand of another man. You wanted to keep me young as long as possible. And that is why I write you this letter Father. I owe you an explanation. You refused to listen when I called or wrote, was it too painful I wonder or was it shame, guilt, hurt, heartache? I guess I will never know.
I remember the day I met him. It was September and the leaves had started changing colour. It was the first day of school and I don’t know who was more excited you or I. You were always so proud of my achievements, so proud that I had made it to high school. No one in my family had ever attended high school. No one in my family was expected to attend the local gypsy high school. Because of my good grades and unusually fair complexion I was accepted into the local Romanian high school. A reality that you were so proud of Father, I was worth more to you than 10 sons.
He was sitting outside the school in his two door silver Mercedes, music playing loudly. He was also there the next day and the next. On the third day as I walked out of the yard I noticed he looked at me and smiled for an instant. Something inside of me twisted. It felt as though my insides were switching places with each other. I had never felt like this before. You did not teach me about such things Father, at 14 I knew not that one could feel like this regarding another person. I continued to walk to the bus stop; he followed me there with his car and asked if I needed a ride somewhere. I declined politely, as I had no intention of getting into a car with a stranger. You had taught me that. But when this scene repeated itself the next day I felt like I already knew him, he no longer seemed a stranger and I accepted. It was harmless at first, we would chat about mundane things, he would pick me up after school and drop me of nearby. This went on for approximately one week. Then he became friendlier, complementing me then touching me ever so gently on the shoulder. By the time we had our first kiss I was deeply in love with him despite the fact I did not know what that meant.
I don’t know why I hid all this from you Father. I guess it was my first mistake of many. I should have known I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t. I am tempted to stop and not continue with the rest of the details but I want you to know the truth. We always told each other everything, didn’t we? You treated me like your best friend and I knew no closer soul. I know now that the day I ceased talking to you was the day I destroyed my future and yours. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. I am afraid I will live the rest of my days with a sense of guilt. Guilt for ruining my life, guilt for betraying you and guilt for not being there in your final moments. That is my punishment.
You always taught me to help those in need especially those we love. Well I loved him Father and I would have done anything for him. He told me that he had landed in some trouble. He owed some people money and he couldn’t pay it back. I felt responsible somewhat as he had bought me such lovely gifts. Gold necklaces and rings with expensive coloured stones. I offered to give them all back if that would help. He shook his head slowly and said that it just won’t do. There must be a solution was my reply, to which he stopped and mumbled that there was, however he was too embarrassed to say. You see Father I didn’t know at the time, I was blind, I thought he loved me too. His ‘lenders’ had seen me once before when I accompanied him to one of their meetings. They took a fancy to me and told him if he gave me to them for one night all his debts would be cancelled. How bad could it be? I had thought to myself. One night in exchange for a debt free and peaceful life. Oh but Father how was I to know that this was the plan all along? You didn’t warn me, you didn’t save me from harm. You have to believe me, this is not what I wanted, it is not the way I had envisioned my future.
I don’t know what they told you afterwards. I presume they had told you I had given up my education, that I preferred the ‘nice’ things in life and would do anything to obtain it. The process from sale to street was brutal. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. After that tragic night I was not allowed to go home. I was told that the debt was much higher and that I must stay a little longer. I did not complain at first, hoping that it would all be over soon. I loved him still, I did this for him. But it was becoming clear that he was never coming back. At which point I started to ask questions: when can I go home? Why do I have to continue doing what I do not wish for?
The making of a slave is what they call it, the breaking of the spirit of a person. Tears fill my eyes as I write this. I want to protect you from the details but I know it is necessary, perhaps for me rather than you. The making or breaking of a slave consisted in physical and psychological conditioning. The first thing that needed to be done was breaking the will of the slave, any disobedience or acts of will called for harsh punishments. Violent beatings were given in front of the other girls to ‘make an example of’. Intimidation, rape, beatings, deprivation of food or sleep, isolation was all in the order of the day. What broke me however, was the threats Father, they told me they knew where you lived and if I left they would kill you. I stayed for you, Father, I stayed to protect you.
I’m not sure how long I was there for, it could have been six months or maybe two years, time was irrelevant, something our pimps handled, along with our lives. I thought of you every day until the memory of you became faint. As I lay on that filthy mattress I thought of you. And when that door opened and I looked on the face of the next John I held my breath in anticipation. You see father I never gave up hope that one day you would walk through that door and take me home. Why didn’t you come looking for me? Did you wonder where I was, were you praying for me? I think you must have prayed, there can be no other explanation.
And now I must tell you about Violeta, it is because of her that I can write you this letter. She was older than me and had been there longer. She was a quiet one that kept to herself and didn’t speak a word to us girls. She was a mystery. It seems that she had had enough. She had smuggled a small pocket knife into her room and when the next John came in she didn’t hesitate to use it on him. It turns out he was a police officer under investigation. It didn’t take long for the police to swarm the place.
Now I find myself in this place, once again in a home with many girls. This time in safety, lonely, but safe. I spend my days reading away the pain and loneliness. Father did you know that one third of women who are trafficked from Romania are minors? And many of them from little gypsy villages like ours. Why do you think that is so? Do we make it easy to be stolen? Are we not as bright? Or are we worthless?
I do not weep for your passing since everything has its time. For there is a season and a time for every matter: a time to be born and a time to die, and a time for everything in between. I learnt that from a book I am reading, it’s called Ecclesiastes, written by a King of a far away land. He was wise but suffered a lot, towards the end of his life wrote about the vanity of everything. You would have liked him Father, he reminded me of you. He wrote things that you used to say to me such as: man must work hard to feed his mouth then he must sleep and wake and do this over again. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, a chasing after the wind.” I do not weep for your passing Father, but I feel a sense of guilt that I was not there for your end as you were for my beginning.
Forever your Little Light
Eli Salt is a writer of short stories and poems. Her passion for social justice flows through the lines of her stories. Proud wife and mother. She previously lived in Romania where she volunteered for several NGO's aiding the poor and abandoned.
Her writing is inspired by her boldness and rather desirable lifestyle. From studying abroad in England, through to living in the Italian country side and of course, her dedication and passion for the Romanian community.
Currently residing in Melbourne, Australia. She is young, vibrant and an inspirational writer. For more details or simply to admire her adventures, follow her on Twitter & Instagram.