Chapter 7: Truth and Freedom
Cyril and I couldn’t sleep throughout the entire night. We dozed off sometimes only to jolt awake whenever we heard the breeze blowing too hard or whenever we could hear footsteps outside the door.
No one came into the room anymore. We could hear people moving around the house, but we couldn’t confirm what was happening around us. Unlike the typical moans or groans that echoed around Tuya’s shed, we could only hear chatters and the sounds of laughter. The only time there was silence was late into the night and hours later, with little rays of the rising sun becoming apparent through the windows, the noise in the house was back up.
There was a click at the door eventually, but no one walked through the door for a few seconds. Eventually, a lanky man stepped in, dressed in a loose robe and looking like he was completely naked underneath.
“Oh well, aren’t they exactly worth my money?” He grinned, staring at us admiringly.
His body moved fluidly and if half of his hairy flat chest wasn’t showing, I would have thought he was female. He had shabby strands of beards too and seemed to be using a lot of cocaine. There was a speck of white powder on his wide moustache.
“Step forward, little one.” He beckoned at us. “There is really nothing to frighten you about me.”
Cyril and I didn’t move. Cyril especially curled backwards and seemed to be irritated by his presence.
“Well, that was expected.” We heard him chuckle. “Tuya did tell me both of you would be a bit of trouble. Now, would you have me ask again or you would be nice enough to step forward as I have earlier asked.”
There was something about his new tone that suggested that he wasn’t a man to be crossed. He always got whatever he wanted too, and we would be foolish not to obey his orders.
“Now, good. Good girls.” He grimaced as soon as we left the bed and coyly stepped towards him.
“You probably have heard of me.” He said, “Tuya referred to me as Bat Erdene, yes?”
I nodded, remembering clearly how Tuya had told Hulagu about us being gone after he contacted a Bat Erdene.
“Oh, I expected that you would be the smart one.” Bat Erdene smiled at me. “Yuna, correct?”
Again, I nodded, wondering how easily he could shift between being irritable to being frightening and nice. There was also that putrid smell that came from him as he spoke.
“Well, Yuna, what do you think about this room?” I heard him chuckle. “Would you like to have it all to yourself?”
I glanced around the room, pretending as if it was the first time I would be noting the light, the windows, the soft sheets and the cupboard.
“At what price?” I whispered.
Bat Erdene seemed surprised. “Pardon?” He scoffed.
“At what price do we get it? Do we have to fuck men like we always do? Do we get fisted, beaten, drugged or do we just lay back silently and have all those done to us at the same time? A few months later, the room wouldn’t be ours anymore, would it? – it would belong to new set of girls?”
I asked the question nonchalantly that even I was shocked by my own words. Bat Erdene took a step backward as if he wanted to take a good look of my face. Eventually, a wide smile spread over his face while he stepped forward and cupped one of my cheeks in his hand.
“Ohhh but I am so going to enjoy having you around.” He hissed.
He hit my cheek swiftly and hard with the back of his palm, Cyril jerking forward with a furious groan. She stopped in her track though when she realized that I hadn’t even reacted to the hit. I only smiled up at Bat Erdene, wondering the fury as well as confusion that were going on in his head. He would of course realize that nothing would ever have us believe or trust him. The kind gestures of the first day are usually preceded by many hurt and betrayal. It was always like that with the people that had taken us in.
“I see you both don’t feel pain.” Bat Erdene scoffed now. “It is good for business.”
He turned and began to head out of the room. When he paused at the door to take a final look at us, I noticed mischief spreading across his face like a cancer. He was already cooking up various plans to break us; to hurt us. I knew this somehow.
“Enjoy the peace of my room for another day.” He whispered as he stepped out and closed the door behind him. “Bangkok is different from Chiang Rai. You will learn a lot being on the streets here. Oh, you will.”
I came to know Bangkok as the most populous city in Thailand that I had ever come across. It was overpopulated. The city streets were always busy with people and merchants, as well as fun lovers and Buddhists. It was amidst the city congestion that Bat Erdene had made a business of prostitution and trading of heroin and Ecstasy for himself.
While he fed us twice on our second day in the city, two men walked into the room the next morning and threw some tops and short skirts at Cyril and me. We were then instructed to freshen up in the bathroom and wear any of the clothes that we liked. We understood immediately that we were about to carry out our first job in the city. We didn’t just have a clue if things would be so different to the activities we were already used to.
They turned out to be different after all. The men made sure we were dressed like ordinary Thailand girls with a small bag or backpack, heading to work or to school. One of them left and came back with another girl who looked our age, and instructed her to help us fix our hair into ponytails. Afterwards, they guided us out of the room, leading us into a more beautiful part of the house and up the stairs to meet Bat Erdene.
Bat Erdene clapped gleefully when he noticed us. He was surrounded by two other men and since the night Od brought food to our room, it was the first time I was seeing him again. He stood beside Bat Erdene, his face devoid of any emotion. He didn’t reveal any reaction to show that he knew who I was.
“Don’t they look amazing, uhn Od? They will be perfect to fool the boys in brown, won’t they?”
Od only nodded. He bent to pick up two bags on a nearby table and placed each one in our hands.
“What are we supposed to do with them?” Cyril asked.
“Oh please. You should learn to be patient. It is how anyone ever survives or become successful in new places.” Bat Erdene muttered. He nodded at Od though who once more picked another bag from the table, pulled out two papers and gave them to us.
“Not to worry. It is just a map of every single street, building and public transport in Bangkok.” Bat Erdene grinned when he noticed the confusion on our faces. “You should notice the yellow dots starting from a point in the city to your destination. All you have to do is get there, give the bags to whomever receives you and then find your way to the starting point. You are not to ever concern yourself with the contents of the bag.”
I was more confused. I frowned, wondering why we were being given the freedom to walk around the city. Didn’t Bat Erdene consider the possibility of his errand girls running away? Contacting local authorities was out of it anyway. Living with Tuya had thought me how unhelpful they can be since they probably can be paid off.
Bat Erdene was able to see through the frown on my face. He stepped forward, standing just beside Od. “I have eyes everywhere.” He said. “Don’t even think about not getting to your destination. You wouldn’t like the outcome of such insolence. You do not have legal documents of your stay in this city. You are nobody and if the authorities cannot make you disappear, I can.”
In that instant, I notice Od nodding gently. He seemed to be telling me to believe Bat Erdene’s threat. The nod was so brief and almost unnoticeable though that I was unsure I had seen it. I however gulped in breath and nodded at Bat Erdene’s words. Cyril did the same thing, bringing a smile to Bat Erdene’s lips.
“Now, be gone.” He said, waving his hand dismissively. “Od and Batu here would drive you to your starting point and they would also get you when you are back there.”
I thought Bat Erdene referred to Cyril and me, but it appeared to be the opposite. The men that had led us out of the room earlier simply stepped aside, one of them holding on to Cyril’s shoulder. Batu was the second man in the room with Bat Erdene. He stepped forward with Od, both men leading me down the stairs and away from Cyril. Cyril’s gaze dropped to the floor with disappointment as I was led away while my breaths dropped in sadness.
Whatever new world we had just stepped in, it was about to create a distance between Cyril and me.
I did exactly what I was told to do the first few weeks of my stay in Bangkok. Bat Erdene’s operation was simple, tactical and safe. He housed so many young girls in various parts of Bangkok, only offering them food and shelter as payment for their services. Apart from delivering hard drugs to various locations, he also sent some of the girls to clients’ homes for sex. The clients paid in advance and have the right to any choice of sexual intercourse with the girls when they arrived.
The first week for me was just about delivering bags to certain location. The map helped always. Once I was dropped off by Od and Batu, the map helped me to locate buildings, temples, shores, streets and public transports. In the end, I might get to a safe house, a private property or an avenue with mean-looking men who were always in a hurry to collect the bag from me, go through the content to see that it was exactly what they wanted and disperse within seconds.
“Who are the boys in brown?” I once asked Batu when he came to drive me back to the house. “The men I give the bags to sometimes speak of them with fear. Bat Erdene once mentioned them too.”
My naiveté seemed to crack Batu up. “The Thai police.” He chuckled. “You haven’t seen them in their brown attires? Let’s just say they don’t like to see whatever is in your brown bag on some certain set of people.”
Batu answered my question but he also confirmed my suspicions ever since my first job. I had become part of a group that boldly committed crime in the city. I didn’t have a choice. I also had Od who hardly ever spoke to me. Sometimes, I wonder if it wasn’t just my imagination that I knew who he was. I never got a chance to ask him questions too. I wanted to know if he knew what had happened to the rest of us. Was he also found underneath a heap of sand as I was?
One month eventually went by and I got used to all the streets and transport system of Bangkok. I didn’t need the map anymore. Meanwhile, I somehow realized that every movement I took around the city had been monitored too. There were men who stared at me at various points whenever I was on my way to deliver a package. At first, I thought they were dangerous but seeing that they never stepped forward to attack or arrest me, I soon realized that they worked for Bat Erdene too. I was right to think that he wasn’t a man to be crossed. He was also extraordinarily careful and tactical with his operations.
By the fifth month of my stay in Bangkok, I was already familiar with a few other girls that worked for Bat Erdene. Most of them weren’t always around the house. It was as if they worked round the clock, having gotten more familiar with the business and the city. Cyril and I worked more as time went by too, getting us so neck deep in the business. At some point, we were sent to meet clients that wanted both the drugs and young girls to fuck. We let these happen without complaint and get back to our picking points, ready for another working day.
This would have proceeded forever, if i hadn’t come across Altantsetseg at a warehouse two weeks later. I had thought she and her sister, Chinua, were dead too.
The warehouse was a storeroom for toys and beads and was also my destination for a next delivery. I noticed that the men this time around weren’t up to fleeing the scene, immediately I handed the bag to them. One of the men had also come with a girlfriend who had half of her face covered with a black scarf. She immediately whispered into her lover’s ears and exited towards a rest room after taking a long weird look at me.
I felt inclined to follow her. So, I asked the men if I could use the rest room while they confirmed that everything in the bag was intact. I only got a few grunts as a reply, having no choice than to leave at my own request.
Stepping into the rest room, I came face to face with Altantsetseg, her once-soft cheeks having grown to have hard edges. She smiled curtly at me before running towards me to give me a warm embrace.
“Oh Altantsetseg!” I cried. “Whatever happened to you all these years? You were caught and sold off? I thought you, Khulan, Chinua, Od and the rest were dead.”
“Only Od, Chinua and I ever made it through that night.” I heard Altantsetseg whisper. She held back tears and stepped back to take a long look at me. “You have seen Od I suppose?” she asked.
“We don’t have much time.” She whispered when I nodded. “How long have you been in Bangkok?”
“Ten months. A year?” I told her.
“And you aren’t dead or resold yet.” She whispered, as if that was good news to her. “You probably didn’t think to run or disobey Bat Erdene then. You have always been the extra lucky one.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked her.
“Ten months is enough to get the dogs off your back. You wouldn’t be watched as often as you have always been in the past.”
“Is that how you got out after you were brought here?” I asked, finally having guesses of what she spoke of. “Are you out?”
“I was.” I heard her whisper.
“You were caught? Why are you back?”
You don’t understand.” She replied. “Some of us made it out, for good. A few of us weren’t so lucky. Dead, they are after they were caught. Dead. Others have to treat sexually transmitted diseases and addiction to drugs. We were already broken beyond repair.”
Altantsetseg was driving me nuts. She was muttering words so fast it was hard to keep up. She kept staring at the door as if she expected anyone to barge through it soon. I held her hand suddenly, utterly curious about some of the girls that had made it out, as she had phrased.
“Tell me about those that got out.” I told her. “How? Where are they?”
“Phuket.” Altantsetseg sighed, temporarily calm. “I was there too. We were so happy. Some of us actually got work, good work at restaurants and bars, but payment was just food and shelter. I wanted more.”
“So, you came back here and got back to the men that probably raped or forced you to use the drugs you once sold to them?”
“It is better this way.” Altantsetseg argued. “I was of no use despite the freedom in Phuket. Many us went back to Mongolia to find our parents too. Everything was just so wrong. They didn’t want us back. We learnt so many things when we became free. We have been lied to since we were taken. So many lies.”
“I don’t understand.” I whispered. “What did you find out?”
“We were sold by our own parents, Yuna.” Altantsetseg whispered. A tear finally fell down her cheeks. Father only had two daughters and he sold us off like animals to have enough money to cater for the boys.”
I was shell-shocked. In an instant, I was back to the fields in front of my father’s house again. I could remember clearly what had happened now. It wasn’t my imagination anymore. I wasn’t falling into a dark pit. Everything was as clear as the day. The strong hands that had gripped my hands first were Father’s. He had quickly passed me on to stronger arms that immediately left the house, Father only standing there while I was taken away. His figure had been the silhouette in my dreams. He had sold me off, condemning me to a fate that had broken every ounce of my spirit.
“I was only eight years old.” I found myself muttering. “I was only eight years old.”
I was backing away from Altantsetseg. She tried to hold my hand, but I wouldn’t let her. I inhaled and exhaled with difficulty. My heart was beating fast and I could feel a sudden ache in my head. It couldn’t be the truth, I tried to convince myself but deep down, I felt that it was. I always knew. I just never wanted the truth to be so dwindling.
“Where will you go? Yuna!”
I wasn’t even aware that I was running. I hurried into the warehouse once more, staring absentmindedly at the men who only nodded at me to show their satisfaction with the content of the bag.
I didn’t stop to say anything to them. I only reduced my pace and stepped out into the afternoon sun, thinking of all the years of suffering and pain. I thought about the number of times I had been raped and abused. It had all begun that afternoon…the day I was kidnapped, and Father had made it happen.
I began to run once more, far away from the point I was supposed to return to for pickup.
I was never going back to Bat Erdene. Never.
“So, that is everything – my entire tale. You should know some part of it since you were in it.”
Od sat in front of me, his eyes revealing nothing as usual. He must have perfected the act over the years. He had been the one to find me since I ran a week ago, always hiding from plain sight and seeking secret passage to anywhere else but Bangkok or Mongolia.
When he stepped into the small hidden shed that had become my home for a week two hours ago, I had no inkling to run. I had only poured two cups of drink, handed one to him, and sat. When he took the cue, and sat on the chair across mine, I had begun my tale then, recounting my ordeal from the moment it had all began.
He had said nothing the entire time. I knew he listened though for his blue eyes never left mine. His scarred face sometimes got me curious, but I knew better than to ask him now what had happened all those years.
“So, what now?” I asked. “Are you here to take me back to Bat Erdene or you are here to kill me upon his request?”
His silence was getting me nervous. When he moved, I thought he would reach for my neck or drive a knife through my heart, but he did nothing. He only dropped the empty cup in his hand on a nearby stool and smiled.
“Leave during the night.” He whispered. “There will be a bus moving out of the city around ten. Some of its passengers, Cyril inclusive, have been through a lot like you. Don’t miss it.”
He was leaving and all I could do was stare at his back while my eyes filled with tears.
“It was you. You have always planned an escape.” I finally managed to whisper. “It was you who got them all out one after the other. Why didn’t you ever leave yourself? Why?”
He paused at the door, the smile on his face dissolving into profound sadness.
“Use your freedom,” he muttered, “if you ever have a peaceful one, to find others like us. Perhaps you can tell them the same tale you told me today.”
He was gone in a blink of an eye. I was alone in the shed and once more, the entire years of slavery flashed through my eyes.
I wept uncontrollably.
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