The first breath was the most important of all. The first breath of freedom, free of sweat, dust and stale urine, free of any fear and oppression, the most important breath of all indeed.
Choosing to put away those horrifying thoughts for a second until she reached her destination, Linda focused only on navigating her way to the river, to safety. The cold wind whipped her dirty honey brown hair over her face constantly and she had to push it away to clear her vision. She needed her mind to work for this to be accurate; after all, she was working on estimation from the maps she had seen on the wall during her captivity.
She needed to walk only two kilometers more through the cane plantation paths, to the river which was used for irrigation, to get to absolute safety. Lisa had ascertained of it when she left the warehouse in which she had been held.
Sweat dripping down her forehead with the effort of running, her time in captivity kept her folded and stiff; she hadn’t quite caught up with her original fiddle-fit existence.
Took a left in the mastered maze, another left, a right; all a seemingly endless journey until she heard a faint rush of running water. The reality of just how achieved her goal of finally making an escape was, the relief brought tears to her eyes (which she hastily rubbed from her cheeks) and gave her the final push to go all the way. God only knew all the number of times she had nearly given up and slid into acceptance of her situation.
Even when the prospect had glimmered like an unobtainable dream, she had refused to give up, and certainly would not give up now. Thoughts that propelled her forward like a helicopter in her mind and a slow limp trot in real life and before she knew it, the blazing sun was glimmering against gray waters that rushed forward, a little misplaced in a field of cane with only two meter banks on either side of it.
The pull of gravity to fall down and relax was almost irresistible; almost, but not quite so much. There was still work to be done. Shielding her dark brown eyes from the sun, Lisa Terry force her gaze to search for the small parcel she had been instructed to locate for the next step to her release.
Immediately going to her knees, she tore open the polythene, for the first time not caring whether she was littering the ground, hoping that the plan was still intact. A small grey flipper phone fell out of the packaging, a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks to the God that she had learned to talk to of late, before getting to work on it.
The numbers had been literally burned into her brain, a lifeline and a prayer for the longest time; her fingers were trembling as she pressed the necessary buttons.
Wait. What if the number was no longer in service? What if it didn’t go-
No thinking of the what if’s, no more doubts, just action. But just to be secure, she sent a short prayer of pleading up there; you could never be too sure. Closed her eyes as she put the phone to her ear to listen, the first dial tone nearly made her heart give way, the answer form the other screen rendered her speechless with joy.
“Hello..” no response, “hello..” with a trace of irritation, “you know what, if you’re going to play_” the familiar hoarse voice was the sweetest thing shed ever heard in her life, but she interrupted before the tirade begun; familiar as well.
“It’s me. Find me in the Sarandon Cane Plantation, field three next t the river bank. As soon as possible if you please,” she forced herself to give the rehearsed speech before she could allow herself to be overcome by emotion, before other questions followed.
“Lisa… but how? I…. uh….” The stammer in her brothers voice was new and unexpected, he was not known for his open exposure of emotions and all unnecessary ‘burdens’ as he called them.
“Brent, get here. Now,” it was nowhere near a request, and it put the blubbering to an end, with that the phone call.
The breath whooshed out of her lungs, and with it the fear of being found, she could now safely assume that she was safe. Her family would find her. She focused on picturing their reactions when they finally got to her; her mother’s small shy smile, her dads stoic business-face, her littlest sisters endless tears. The vision of them was something that had haunted her dreams right when she had lost hope for herself.
It had pushed her through the cold nights when her only shelter from the harsh wind had been her thin dirty scrap of a sweater, an anchor when the abuse had nearly torn her soul from her body. Hunger, endless hunger satiated with a small dried out piece of bread and tumbler of water every three days.
Suffering. Tears filled her eyes as the razor edged memories rubbed across her sanity.
Yes, suffering. But something else grew in her as well; the instincts that our ancestors had been kind enough to hone in mankind, the spirit of survival. The will and determination, the intelligence that her personal tutor and life-coach had failed to raise in her. Gone was the shy, naïve girl who focused on all the wrong endeavors, in her place someone undefined.
How long she remained cocooned in her thoughts, trembling an shivering, remained to be determined. But the next time she opened her consciousness, a blanket was coming around her shoulders and she was in someone’s warm embrace.
The perfume proclaimed its owner to be her mother and instinct kicked her arms forward to grasp the only familiar thing she could sense. They remained embraced in each other for a long time, murmuring and crying for each other, to each other. Only after they broke apart did she finally look around, two sirens; one of a police car and another ambulance, several other cars and equally numerous people in the vicinity.
Her father, little teenage sister( in tears as predicted) and brother stood a short distance besides the mother and daughter. The looks of sadness and pity dispersed as she took just a step towards them, which was all the encouragement they needed to envelope her in their arms, their love. She had to admit, she love all the support and unity her family was taking on.
Everyone was speaking all together, probably words they were not fully comprehending, same with her. Apologies, worries, thanks and sadness all in one, none of which she cared about.
• * * * *
“My name is Lisa Terry, twenty on years old, on exactly 6th August, 2014 I was kidnapped by an infamous ransom gang known as the ‘Tormentors’ as I was going to the store for groceries. I was meant to be a hostage of ransom but on the way to the warehouse where I was held, the team leader only known as Lee was killed. This left the group disoriented and it was unanimously agreed to keep me until a decision on how to dispose of was found. I was held for exactly three months and during this time I was… beaten exactly fifteen times by various members of the gang, raped ten times by five different members of the gang. Proof of this is in the doctor’s report. We travelled to different locations under the pressure of pursuit and finally happened on an abandoned factory where I was held for an extended period of time until I made my escape. I did not make the escape alone; however, I had help from one member of the gang. We exchanged no names during our planning. I exchanged sexual favors and a valuable bracelet worth a large sum of money for a map of the city, a disposable mobile phone. During my moments of isolation, I memorized the map of the nearby Sarandon Cane Scheme and devised a route that would lead me to safety. I then took advantage of a day when I was guarded by only one gang member, stabbed him in the neck and escaped to the nearby farm where I called my brother, Brenton Terry to rescue me.”
The video statement was delivered in an emotionless voice that did not quite capture the horror of her experience, the burn that accompanied each lash of the whip, the humiliation of experiencing gang rape while you were fully conscious, mockery and helplessness marring your brain. Nothing could capture the patience it took to plan so carefully that not even the rats whom you co-habited your dirty cell with, could not even grab a hint. Constant blows on all fronts.
Nothing could capture it all. Even a week after her rescue, she still lived with the fear that she was going to be taken again, which accounted for her insomnia. Her family was handling the change in her with as much grace as they could. Counseling and support group meetings were her entire schedule, tiptoeing around her and endless consideration were another occurrence.
Her parents whispered constantly about her new- found dead stare and how she burned all the clothes she had on when she had been picked up, and how she refused to see any of her friends except her pet cats, Lorna and Trevor. They wanted to help, but couldn’t, no one could.
As for her, she was taking it all in stride, keeping a tight leash on her emotions.