Her screams tore through the night pulling us from the peace of our dreams and like dominoes down a corridor, blurry eyes peered around doors to encounter a woman deposited in the middle of the hotel’s corridor, like someone’s bag of trash. She glared back at us from a defiantly misplaced heap.
“What is wrong?” I muttered sleepily.
“They took my shoe.” came the reply.
Sleep cloaked my brain in a thick fog as I strained to put pieces of a puzzle together. I looked down the corridor at several sheet tussled but familiar heads belonging to a team of Americans who had come to Bulgaria to lay the foundation of a church. There was a doctor, a retired editor of a popular magazine, a plumber, and a builder.
Instinctively, I knew that if I closed the door and returned to the warmth of my bed, if I left her sitting there in a shoe-less heap in the corridor, one of them would attempt to help her.
I glanced down at my grey, flannel long johns. For a woman who loves fashion, this was not my apex. My feet protested against the cold hotel floor. There in the doorway of my room, staring at a prostitute in a heap on the floor, the warmth of my bed beckoned my return and I found myself wavering.
Glancing down the hallway again confirmed that the heads were still waiting. The prostitute evidently intended to stay put. I was the only one who spoke Bulgarian and obviously, I was supposed to do something to right the situation.
Moments later, I had managed to locate a sweatshirt and socks, and I was feebly attempting to kick my sluggish mental faculties into gear in order to explain our situation to the desk clerk. What Bulgarian words could I string together to say,
“Excuse me but there is a shoeless prostitute sitting in the middle of our
corridor”? Could you help her please?”
At my approach, the clerk blew a cloud of smoke and squinted through the haze. A low murmur of background noise drew my attention to a television with Euro Sport broadcasting an earlier football match while the lights from the new casino threw ghastly hues of magenta and blue across the walls. With a sigh, I began to explain the reason for my foray into his realm but only a few words into it the clerk held up his hand.
“Yes, I know the woman. Just a minute please.”
He immediately reached for the key to the offending room and set off for the elevator leaving me to follow. The ride together was interesting. What does one say on their way to retrieve a shoe in the middle of the night for a prostitute?
“Lovely hotel you have here.”
The heads of my team returned to their positions to witness the resolution of this midnight production. Curiosity mounted as the clerk spared not a glance for the woman and rapped upon the offending door. Raucous laughter from unseen faces sliced through the corridor as a door opened and then quickly slammed shut. The clerk waited as a muffled rustle of activity and more laughter skipped down the long hallway.
The woman now rose from her position on the floor and hopped on one foot to lean against the wall. Suddenly the door opened wide and a shoe catapulted through the air of the hallway, smacking the opposite wall and falling limply to the floor. Once again, the door slammed and the rumble of men’s voices died to a murmur. In slow motion, the clerk turned, retrieved the shoe and handed it to the woman.
Silently, she walked past us, pulling a jacket about her in some semblance of, if not quiet dignity, then at least palpable relief. The click of the elevator testified to its arrival and the curtains on the last act of the night’s program closed. I muttered a good night to the heads and returned to my bed.
As far back as 1996, from my high rise in Moscow, I could watch a blonde with a white fur coat and long white boots sway along Leninsky Prospekt. In Sofia, my mini-van of children shuttled by them each afternoon on our return from school. They lined the road on our way to church each Sunday. Their cigarettes glowed in the dark as we drive home after a ‘date’ on Saturday night. Here, in the heart of Europe, we find some of the fastest growing percentages of human trafficking in the world. Every border has a poster. Every newspaper has an advert.
How did these women get there? Why do they do what they do?
Some were orphans. For their eighteenth birthday, their bed was given to someone else and they became free to discover their destiny. Very few of them made it around the corner before Destiny found them. He took an unwanted child and put a price tag on her wanted body.
For others, it was an exchange of one kind of abuse for another. Some believed they were going abroad to discover the life of their dreams. They handed their passports to their agent only to discover that their dream consisted of fulfilling someone’s warped fantasies. The list of how and why is certainly as long and as varied as the line of girls that decorate the highway that borders the city in which I live.
So, here I stand in the corridor with Monday morning around the corner and Freedom Sunday fading fast. I am still wondering what do, what to say, how to help, how to pray.
Get your shoes. Put them on. Take a walk with me. Let’s talk, shall we?
Monday’s topic: vulnerability – understanding why it happens.