R  J  Flo
© R  J  Flo 2015
Chapter 1  ‘I don’t want to go!’ cried Kristina, flinging her arms around her mother and hugging her tight. Airport farewells are never easy, but unbearable when an only daughter goes far into the unknown for who knows how long? Airport wrenches need to be short and crisp and this change of heart was not helping either of them. ‘Let’s return the money and I’ll stay here?’  The two hugged each other as they stood at the entrance to passport control - the one-way passage leading to other worlds; unknown adventures. The two women were of similar height, tall and slim. The mother, Elena, was dressed in a beige knee-length coat to protect her from the weather on her journey home, the daughter in jeans and T-shirt in readiness for the heat of her destination. At their feet, a light blue coat lay across a single small suitcase which held the meagre essentials for a life away from home – a lifetime packed into one small space. Around them milled other passengers going about their business of travel; oblivious to the domestic scene unfolding before them. Kristina held her head on her mother’s shoulder so their natural blonde hair intertwined and looked as one. She whispered once more into her mother’s ear. “I don’t want to go.’ ‘No,’ said her mother, ‘Once you are on the plane, you’ll be fine. It’s what you have always dreamt of. A professional dancer, earning really good money; and it’s not forever; you can always come back from Almina.’ Elena knew full well there could be no change of heart now. Banks would never entertain lending money to people like her and Kristina. She had borrowed enough money to pay the agent’s fees and send Kristina off, plus a little extra to help her get on her feet before she could start sending money home. Some was spent, some saved but the interest was ticking away and rising at an alarming rate; and the people who had lent her the money had a way of dealing with late payers.   Her mother held up Kristina’s chin and looked into her eyes. Kristina had the same blue eyes and pert nose. She kissed her daughter lightly on the forehead, looked up and saw behind Kristina the large departures board flashing, ‘Almina – proceed to gate.’ Time to go love, you’ll miss your flight.’  The mother gently but reluctantly pushed her daughter away and smiled. Kristina picked up the coat and suitcase and proceeded down the zigzag line of people queuing at ‘departures.’ She looked back at her mother every now and then and attempted a nervous smile and wave. Kristina showed her ticket to the waiting official, took one last look at her mother and waved her hand with passport and ticket held high before rushing around the corner and out of sight so as not to let Elena see the torrents of tears flooding from her eyes.   She was gone.  Elena stood for some time staring at the gate through which her daughter had so recently disappeared. When all hope of Kristina returning had dissolved to nought, she wiped a tear from her eye, turned and with shoulders drooping, made her sad and lonely exit.   On the plane, Kristina cried almost all the way to Almina. As they made their final approach, she saw for the first time the yellow incandescent ‘criss-cross’ street light patterns set against a darkening sapphire blue sky, holding the promise of a new future. It was then that excitement overcame her tears. The plane touched down and Kristina joined in with the round of applause from the other passengers. As she emerged from the aircraft doors hot air rushed at her and hit her full in the face. It made her breathless. Kristina was reminded of the times when, as a child she would open the oven door to remove the bread her mother had baked. This place was like a furnace. She worked her way down the steps and onto the bus, hanging on as it made its tortuous journey to the terminal to deliver its exhausted travellers. Kristina couldn’t help noticing the bus carried many single young women like herself but very few older people and families. At passport control, the immigration officer, dressed in his military uniform was joking and laughing with the family in front of her, welcoming them to Almina. Kristina thought how different this was compared to her own country and the old communist ways but when her turn came he became sullen; official. ‘Passport! Visa!’ he demanded. The official spent a long time examining both; trying but failing to find some error in the documentation before finally and ferociously stamping the documents. ‘Next!’ He snapped and turned to the couple behind her, instantly replacing his stern looks with the broad welcoming face of before.    Kristina and the other passengers raced through the rest of the procedures as soon as possible and once outside she stood for a moment to take in the atmosphere. It was total chaos. Taxis were everywhere with people shouting and pushing. The heat and the humidity were unbearable but she saw a friendly face, a woman holding a hand-written sign saying, ‘Kristina. Dance troupe.’ The woman was older and heavily made up with greying hair almost reaching her shoulders. Her skin was dark and cracked from spending too much time out in the sun. She wore black trousers that were two sizes too small for her short plump body and a white blouse with the buttons pulling at the cotton - straining to burst open as her large bosom tried to break out. Kristina smiled at her, ‘Hi, that’s me, good to meet you.’ ‘My name is Eva,’ the woman replied pleasantly. ‘Did you have a good flight?’ ‘Very good,’ lied Kristina.	 ‘We have a car waiting for you and I’ll take you to your lodgings. You must be very tired?’ ‘A little bit,’ Kristina replied looking around, seeing lights everywhere and not believing how much electricity was being wasted.  A large black BMW drew up; the windows tinted to keep out the heat of the midday sun and prevent any outsider seeing what lay inside. The street lights and bright neon signs reflected in its gleaming paintwork. Kristina and Eva piled into the back. Eva introduced the driver. ‘This is Na’im; he’s been in Almina for five years – a long time.’ ‘Welcome to Almina, Ms Kristina,’ said Na’im, ‘I wish you a pleasant stay.’ Na’im was a Pakistani in his mid-thirties, dressed in an open-necked blue short-sleeved shirt and dark slacks. His head was totally bald, clean-shaven to keep him cool in the summer. ‘Thank you Na’im,’ replied Kristina, feeling a little more at ease. Both these people were very friendly.  As the car pulled out of the airport and drove through the city, Eva pointed out the main attractions. Huge steel and glass structures brilliantly lit until they disappeared into the dark night sky. She passed over a thick wad of low denomination notes. ‘Here’s one hundred dollars in local currency. It’s a float; we’ll take it back at the end of the month when you get paid.’ Kristina had never held this much money in her hands ever before. She stared at it in wonderment. She had only been in Almina for a matter of hours and already she was driving through the big city in a luxury car and holding more money than she could earn in months back home.  She fondled the bundle of notes carefully and thought of what she would buy for her mother. ‘We need to start on your application for a residence visa first thing in the morning. I’ll need your passport for the authorities so I can arrange your residence visa. You can have it back tomorrow evening.’ Kristina hung on to the money in one hand whilst rummaging in her bag with the other. She found the passport and handed it over. What we’ve also done for you is to arrange a local SIM card for your phone. It’s a different system here so yours won’t work. If you let me have your mobile I’ll change it for you then you can ring your mother later.’  ‘Oh, thanks’, she said gazing out of the car’s side window, enthralled at this new spectacular modern city and looking forward to telling her mother all about her new home. Eva changed the SIM card, collected the passport and delivered Kristina to the apartment block where she would be staying; a characterless concrete building with small windows set back so as to lie in the shadows. The building was tall, standing perhaps twelve or more floors high. Each floor had balconies staring out at nothingness whilst hiding clothes drying on racks hidden behind the balustrades. Nearly all the balconies held a satellite dish, pointing inexorably at some distant unseen alien lurking in outer space.  Kristina looked around the room as she entered. Apart from the ‘en suite’ bathroom the room had one set of french windows leading to a small outside balcony. She could see the tops of houses and remembered Eva had pressed the lift button for the sixth floor. She saw each girl had her own bed space with just a mattress lying on the floor. Each space was personalised in one way or another with photographs of the family back home, stuffed toys and racks of clothes accompanied by rows of bags and shoes all neatly laid out. ‘How do people live like this?’ she thought ‘and more to the point, how long have they lived like this?’ She remembered her small cosy bedroom back home and felt tears come to her eyes. The room was silent save for the hum of the air-conditioning unit blowing welcome cool air into the apartment.  There were three Eastern European girls already inside, all still in their pyjamas, with two sat on mattresses reading magazines whilst the other stood in the bathroom doorway cleaning her teeth. The girls briefly stopped reading, looked up and said ‘hello’ in Kristina’s own language before returning to their studies. The girl brushing her teeth waved and then walked out of sight into the bathroom.  ‘Little bit cramped isn’t it,’ said Kristina looking at the four mattresses lying on the floor. ‘Think yourself lucky you are not Chinese or African,’ muttered one of the girls covering her mouth with her hand so neither Kristina nor Eva could hear. ‘They share thirty to a room.’  ‘Settle yourself here for the night; we’ll sort everything out in the morning. Your bed is the one on the left,’ said Eva as she left the room. It was only a few seconds later that Kristina heard the click of the key in the lock.  Sponsored Links     Stop trafficking. End slavery  Learn about human trafficking.  Support the treaty to end it.