May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
January 12, 2004
Russians don’t use closets. They keep their clothes in wardrobes. Most Russians don’t have an excess of possessions so the storage space is unnecessary. Closets are an invention of the west, where people hide the things they don’t want seen.
A Russian girl from Vladivostok in Siberia, Olga had longed to leave Russia for the west. While not exceptionally talented or intelligent, she’d spent years becoming fluent in English so that she could get to America. Each Saturday evening she and her brother Slava went to a cafe and only spoke English to one another.
“I long to leave Vlad for America, Slava,” she said.
“Why do you want to go so badly?”
“Because in America the sun shines all year and money is easy to make.”
“And if you get there who will you sip your coffee at Starbucks with?” he asked with a grin.
“My husband, of course!”
“I see, the one who works on Wall Street?”
“That’s the one. And we will make so much money to send back to my family in Vladivostok and one day, they will come to live with us.”
A friend, Tatiana, placed an ad on a website and a man in New Jersey fell in love with her. He came to Russia, proposed, married her, and took her home. Olga received regular letters from Tatiana telling her how happy she was, how well her husband cared for her, and that they always sent money back to her family and hoped to bring them to the States soon. Tatiana urged Olga to try the website, what harm was there in trying? “You are such an attractive girl, Olga,” she wrote, “I know you would have no problem finding a man to marry you and bring you to America.”
The thought of moving so far from her family was a daunting one, but they suffered deeply in Vladivostok. After years of driving a train and inhaling soot, her father had contracted lung cancer and could not breathe without wheezing. When he lay down to sleep at night, he would cough until he spit up blood. He needed to stop working in order to take care of himself, but this was not an option if the family was to survive. Olga knew that if she could get her family to America or at least send them extra money, her father would be able to find rest.
Tatiana used a matchmaking service called ‘Russian Brides.’ Olga made an appointment to meet with them and on a freezing day in January, she braced herself against the elements in order to find her destiny.
“Do you have a specific country in the west you would like to live in?” asked the American woman who interviewed her.
“What’s your level of education?”
“I finished high school.”
“And what do you do now?”
“I fold towels in a hotel.”
“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
The interviewer looked up and smiled smugly, “Of course, but what will you be doing there?”
“Oh, well, I hope to marry and have children. And maybe my family will be able to join us.”
“Okay, are you a virgin?”
“Excuse me?” Olga asked, surprised by the question.
“Are you a virgin? Have you ever had sex with a man?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Some of our clients want to be sure their woman has never been with another man, in case of disease.”
“I see,” Olga paused, “Yes, I’m a virgin.”
“Alright, and do you hope to find love?”
“Yes,” the interviewer was becoming frustrated, “Do you hope to fall in love on this journey?”
Olga hadn’t anticipated this question. She’d hoped for a new life and new chances, but love?
After an awkward silence Olga whispered, “Yes, I hope to fall in love.”
“What are you looking for in a man?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you looking for a man who is rich, good looking, old? What? What do you want in a man?”
“I want a man who is kind.”
“Is that all, kind?”
“And who will take care of me.”
“And the family we will have.”
“Someone who is fun, has a good sense of humor.”
“Okay, is that all?”
“I don’t know, should it be?”
“Well, it is a lot,” the interviewer said.
“Yes, but we’ll see what we can do.” The rest of the day was spent taking pictures. The agency gave her clothes to wear and they even did her make-up, drawing dark lines around her wide blue eyes and applying red lipstick to her small mouth until she began to wonder who the girl in the mirror was. Her shoulder length hair was blow-dried into a puff and then curled away from her face, showing off her square jaw. She looked ten years older than her young 20. She was dressed in flattering outfits to reveal the slightness of her frame and the depth of her curves.
“You look just like an American girl,” the make-up artist told her.
The pictures were posted and within days Olga had dozens of emails waiting for her. Men had found her appealing and wanted to correspond with her. Along with their emails she was sent photos and information about who they were and what they liked. Some were car mechanics, librarians, garbage men, and small business owners. Their names were Mike, Ron, Will, Jerry, and Brian. She recited each name aloud to see how it sounded on her tongue.
She read where they lived in the United States and went to the library to look the places up on an atlas. Sometimes the places were so small she couldn’t find them and would have to do a deeper search on the computer.
Finally she would look at their faces. She studied their eyes looking for kindness, their mouths looking for laugh lines. She thought she could interpret what kind of men they were if she looked deeply into their photo. One especially caught her attention.
His name was Randall and he was a computer programmer who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. He wanted someone to come home to, dinner on the table, and a traveling partner. He didn’t expect any wife of his to work, but if she wanted to earn her own spending money, that would be fine with him. She was drawn to the smile in his picture, the wrinkles etched around his eyes. They were brown and sparkled even in the photo. The statistics page said that he was 6’4” and enjoyed hiking and skiing. She could tell he liked to spend time outside, his skin looked bronzed by an Arizona sun. His hair was sandy blond and cut short. He looked clean and honest, the kind of American man she’d seen in the movies. Olga was amazed that someone so good looking was searching for a wife through a matchmaking service in Siberia.
In his first letter he talked about the small business he owned in Phoenix. “I do well, and want someone to share the prosperity with me,” he wrote, “My parents died in a car accident and I don’t have any other relations. But please don’t feel sorry for me, I have had a happy life.”
“I only fold towels in the laundry of a hotel, but I am fluent in English,” she wrote, “and love my family more than anything.”
After writing for a few short months, Randall asked if he could come to Vladivostok to meet her and the family. Olga agreed but realized she would need to tell her family about her American beau. Dreaming about his was easy, talking about him with those she loved would be another matter.
“I have something I need to tell you,” she said one evening at dinner. They were eating fish and potatoes in their small steamy flat. Her parents looked at her with surprise hearing the tension in her voice.
“I’ve met a man and-“
Her mama jumped out of her seat and rushed to her daughter, “My lubischka!!! Olya!!! Why didn’t you tell me there was someone in your life?” Her thick fingers were wrapped around her daughter’s face and she smelled like garlic and boiled potatoes.
“Mama, please, sits down. This is important.”
“I know it is, Olya,” and her mama moved back to her seat, adjusting the scarf that had gone askew on her head.
Olga smoothed her own hair and tried again, “I’ve met a man, an American man.”
Slava looked up from his plate then, “Olga…”
“Olga! How romantic!” exclaimed her young sister Natasha.
Olga looked at Slava, remembering their conversations over coffee and their dreams of America. She wanted his support. “I met him through a matchmaking service and he wants to come here to see me and meet my family.”
There was silence at the table while all eyes were focused on Olga.
“What does this mean, Olya?” asked her papa, wiping crumbs from his face.
“I don’t know papa, but he’s coming and we’ll see if we belong with one another.”
“And how will you know that?” asked Slava, “By how much money he makes?”
“Hush, Slava,” their mama whispered.
“I’ll just know,” Olga said.
“You think you’ll find happiness this way, with an American?” her mama said, “They’re not like us, Olya. They haven’t suffered like us.”
There was silence at the table. Olga didn’t know what to say.
“Tatiana found happiness. She’s even expecting her first child,” she finally defended.
“Who cares about Tatiana? You can find happiness here in Russia,” Slava yelled.
“But I won’t find anyone with money.”
“So that is what this is about, isn’t it? Money? Olga, you have to be kidding me,” Slava said.
“Slava, all I do is fold towels all day. I hardly bring any money home. If I go to America I can do my part to help and may even find more opportunity for all of you.”
Her papa took her hand, her own diminishing in the broad size of his, “You are a big girl, Olga, so I’m not going to try and talk you out of this.” His eyes filled, “But I cannot imagine you finding happiness with a foreign man you’ve met through a computer, no matter how much money he has,” he wiped his eyes, “And what is so much money, if we don’t have you here with us?”
Randall came in June to stay for a month. Olga met him at the airport with his picture in her hand. He’d said he’d be wearing a yellow sweater. Even with this information, she felt certain she’d know him when she saw him. She’d already memorized every detail of his face.
What drew her attention, though, was the shouting between a cab driver and a tall broad man. They each appeared furious with the other. Hands where being flung and gestures made, one in Russian, the other in English. With abrupt movement, the tall American grabbed the cabbie around the neck and began choking him. From behind, several men grabbed the man’s arms and pulled him off the Russian.
Olga was mesmerized. It wasn’t until the argument was over and the cabbie was driving away yelling at the big man that she realized he was wearing a yellow sweater. He was dusting himself off, re-tucking his shirt, when he looked up and saw her staring at him. For a moment he looked caught, and then his face broadened into a smile and with long solid strides, he came towards her.
His hand was extended, “Olga?” he said.
She looked at him and recognized the eyes, “Randall?”
“Yes,” and they shook hands, “I hope you weren’t witness to that scuffle. There’s no telling what will set these foreigner cab drivers off.” He smiled again, “But let’s not let this ruin our meeting.”
Her own face brightened with a smile. She was happy to forget the argument, “How was your flight?”
“Long, but good. The food was decent. You know plane food, never know what you’re going to get.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been on a plane.”
“Never?” he said.
She shook her head.
“Well, we’re going to have to do something about that,” again he smiled, “I almost forgot. I brought you a gift.”
From his coat pocket he retrieved a long velvet box, “It isn’t much, but I wanted you to know how glad I am to come here and meet you.”
She opened the box and found a silver watch inside. She took a quick breath and looked up at him, “Randall, this is too much.”
“No, it isn’t enough,” he squeezed her forearm, “And please, call me Randy”
The next few days were spent touring the city. They ate every meal at a different restaurant and he always paid. He opened doors, pulled out her chairs, and listened attentively. He told her that he didn’t intend on kissing her until he was certain she was the one for him.
Olga relished each moment spent with Randy. He towered above her and she felt shielded by him. Her desire to come to America intrigued him, as did the family she loved.
“Why do you want to leave Vladivostok and go to America, when your family is here?” he asked.
She wanted to be careful and not make Randy feel as if she wanted to come to America only for the opportunity to improve her family’s situation. Olga was also hoping to find love.
“I’m hoping that the right man will also want my family to come to the states.”
Randy’s answer was slow, “I see.”
“Please don’t misunderstand me,” she said, “I also know that the right man will be the one I love.”
“And how are you feeling about me?”
She was surprised by the question. He’d only been in Russia for a week and she was hesitant to speak about her feelings without knowing his.
“I mean,” he said, “I know what I’m feeling. I just want to know what it is you are feeling.”
She studied his face and decided she could risk telling him how she felt, “I’m beginning to feel love for you.”
His eyes brightened, “You are?”
He wrapped his arms around her in an embrace and whispered in her ear, “Because I’m falling in love with you.”
They stayed this way for a moment and he asked, “I want to meet your parents. I want them to know how I’m feeling about you.”
She smiled up at him, “Okay. Let’s have dinner with them tomorrow.”
When Randy entered the flat the next evening, her family welcomed him, although her parents couldn’t speak English. Randy had brought each of them gifts, a bottle of old vodka for papa, a fine tablecloth for mama, a book for Slava, and a Backstreet Boys cd for Natasha. They sat on hard green kitchen chairs, brought into the living room for extra seating. While Olga translated, Randy asked to marry their daughter. She had explained that she wouldn’t marry him without her parent’s permission. They had said yes and her papa slapped him on the back, pouring them all a glass of vodka while mama rushed to finish dinner. Slava watched from his seat on the couch. Natasha took pictures and Olga realized this was her engagement party.
“I’d like to marry Olga before I return to America,” Randy said.
“And when is that?” her papa asked.
“In two weeks.”
Olga’s mother looked at her, “You don’t think that is too soon, Olga?”
She was gazing at Randy, feeling peace at his strong presence in the room, “No, mama, it isn’t a moment too soon.
Before an Orthodox priest they recited their vows with her family as witness. In moments she was bound to this man forever. He left and they began the immigration process. Four months later she took her first plane ride to Phoenix where Randall met her at the airport.
She felt all hands and feet as she walked the terminal looking for her husband. If there was something to stumble over, she found it. “Don’t be such a little girl, Olga,” she chastened herself, “Randy is expecting a woman, a wife.”
She caught site of his broad shoulders outside the terminal where he was smoking a cigarette. Coming up behind him, she slipped her arms around his waist, “Guess who?” she called.
He turned around and looked her up and down and then pulled her close, kissing her hard, “Finally, you’re here.”
She pulled away and looked in his eyes. There was a change there.
“Are you okay, Randy?”
“I’m great,” he said, “Now that you’re here.”
He drove them to their apartment while she watched the city fly past the car. The desert was unlike anything she’d ever seen with its sand plateaued mountains and turquoise sky. She felt as if she was on the edge of the world.
“Does it ever snow here, Randy?”
“Once in a while, but mostly it’s always warm.”
Pulling in front of the tan stucco apartment, Randy said, “In America we have a tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold of her new home.” He scooped her up and opened the door into an empty apartment. All the blinds were drawn and it smelled musty. Carrying her straight into the bedroom, he threw her on the only piece of furniture in the apartment, the bed.
Olga giggled, expecting to make love as they had in Vladivostok before Randy had returned to the States. Instead he climbed on top of her and pinned her arms back, pulling them so hard that she cried out in pain.
“Now, my dear wife, you will satisfy your husband.”
Olga looked into his eyes, “Get off me Randy,” she cried.
“Nope, I’ve waited for you to come home way too long. I want to be with you.”
“I understand, but…”
”I doubt you understand,” he interrupted.
She stopped talking and tried to catch the breath that was suddenly escaping her. A shot of fear ripped through her heart. She just needed a moment to get herself together, to figure out what was happening so that she could give her husband what he wanted.
“Can I settle in first? Take a shower?”
“It cost me a lot of money to get you here and you will do what I want you to do. Right now, I want you to have sex with me.” Randy pushed more deeply into her body, but let go of her hands in order to unbutton her blouse, “No shower.” “Please, Randy, get off me,” and she pushed at him. He grabbed both her arms with one hand and hit her with the other. She pushed against him, but the fighting only made it worst, until he hit her so hard that the room and Randy slipped away.
When she woke, Randy was gone. She was naked and when she moved her whole body ached. She felt as if she’d been ripped open. Stumbling to the bathroom, she looked in the mirror. Her eye had swollen shut and her nose was crooked, having received the blunt of Randy’s fist.
She began to cry, unable to put together what had happened to her. No longer excited about being here with the man she loved, Olga knew she needed to leave. She dressed and grabbed her bags, walking gingerly to the front door. It was locked from the outside.
Light seeped through the blinds catching the motes of dust that swam in the air. Olga fell to the ground. There was no furniture, no phone, and she didn’t know where she was. Standing, she walked to a window and pulled the blinds. Staring back at her were iron bars not even wide enough for a cat to sneak through.
In the kitchen Randy had left a note, “I’ll be back later. There’s food in the fridge.” Light slowly seeped out of the room.
As the apartment darkened she could hear the neighbors moving around next door. Their music was playing loudly and she recognized N’Sync. Her sister was in love with Justin Timberlake. They’d shared a room at home and Natasha’s half was covered with band posters. She missed their little crowded room.
Cars passed outside and their headlights caught the height of the bars on the windows and extended them into long lean shadows on the floor, traveling over her outstretched legs and onto the length of bare wall.
She wished she could write a message on that wall so those who passed the apartment could read it. She’d write, “HELP ME.”
Standing up she ran into the bedroom and pulled the sheet off the bed. In her purse she still had the red lipstick from when her pictures had been taken. Across the white sheet she wrote her message, “HELP ME.”
Choosing a window that seemed to get the most traffic, she hung the sheet out the window and tied the ends to the bars. A slight breeze caught her sign and ironed out the wrinkles until it fell against the outside of the building.
Olga lay against the wall waiting for someone to come to her rescue. Her body felt stiff and she longed to sleep, but her hope for rescue was strong. Her body jumped at each brush of a branch against a window, at the fall of footsteps on the walk, at the call of neighbors. Olga knew that she shouldn’t keep the sign out too long. She was uncertain what Randy would do if he saw it.
Despite her will to remain awake, she woke to the sound of a key in the lock. The man who filled the doorframe was Randy. He slammed the door and rushed at Olga. She hauled herself off the ground but wasn’t quick enough. He tackled her from behind, grabbing her legs so that she fell onto her face. He spun her around and with his fist hit her three times. She could taste the blood seeping from her nose down her throat and began to cough. The blood spewed out of her mouth and across Randy’s face.
With little effort he pulled down her pants and unbuttoned his own. The violence and blood aroused him and within seconds he was in Olga, continuing his game of dominance and oppression, rape and violence.
When he was done he whispered in her ear, “Why would you want to leave? Can’t you see I need you?” He drew his face up away from hers and his voice filled with menace, “If you ever try a stunt like that again I will kill you. And no one will even notice, because no one knows you’re here.” He kissed her cheek as she shuddered away from him. He grabbed the lipstick stained sheet and threw it at her.
“Now, I have to teach you a lesson.” He pulled out a roll of duct tape and tied her arms behind her back. After binding her feet together he put a piece of tape across her mouth and said, “For good measure,” with a wink.
“You do look good like that, tied up and naked. But, alas, I must leave again.” He said with a smirk, scooped her up and carried her to a closet. Tossing her in, she fell hard against the wall and struggled to sit up while the last crack of light vanished.
She made an effort to reach the closet door, calling to Randy through the tape. But he disappeared as the door slammed shut. His heavy steps echoed away until she heard the front door close and his key in the lock. Rolling away from the door, Olga began shaking. She was afraid and cold. Her head was throbbing and pain was shooting up the center of her face where her nose hung broken. In the midst of the pain, she graciously passed out.
She woke remembering a time at home in Vladivostok when a group of boys began to follow and taunt her, attempting to flip her skirt. Her pace had quickened as she tried to hurry home, but they stayed with her until suddenly they surrounded her and she couldn’t get away.
“Come on, sweetie, how about a little love?” One big red head said to her.
Tell us your name, sweetie,” said another pimple faced teen, “Mine’s Sasha.”
She had no words and her feet were frozen as the boys continued to surround her. Moving in closer, one boy was suddenly hit in the head with a rock.
“Hey boys! Why play with little girls when you can have the real thing?” called a boy from across the street.
“What do you think you’re doing, faggot?” yelled the red head.
“You’re dead, faggot!” yelled another and the boys took off after the boy who threw the rock.
“Run, Olga, run home!” Yelled the boy.
It was Slava. He was a fast runner and could have escaped the boys, but he kept turning around to the frozen Olga, “Run home!” he called.
Olga woke with a start in the dark closet. She remembered when her brother had saved her. She’d only been 13 and frightened when he had shown up and distracted the boys. Running home, Olga waited for Slava. When he stumbled into the house he was bloody and swollen, but they fell into one another’s arms, crying.
“Thank you, Slava,” she’d cried, “Thank you.”
“It was nothing, little one, it was nothing,” he had soothed her.
Tears fell even now, as the memory seared her heart and she longed for the protective arms of her brother. Randy had become that ring of boys, but now there was no Slava to distract him. She could feel their circle tightening around her, those boys, and Randy. They would dominate her.
Seconds later, she realized she needed to relieve herself and didn’t know what to do. “He’ll be back soon and will let me out,” thought Olga, “I can wait until then.”
She counted the bright spots that passed before her eyes to pass the time. When she reached 32, she knew she couldn’t wait any longer. Olga inched toward a far corner of the closet and relieved herself. Scooting away from the corner, she resumed her counting, waiting in eerie silence to be released.
Olga thought of her mama. Her hands were rough and calloused from cleaning rooms in the hotel, but when they patted her cheek or rubbed her husband’s shoulders no two hands had ever been so full of love. Everything about her mama was square, even her thick square fingers. Her stocky figure was a formidable one, but when she hugged her daughter, Olga would melt into the embrace. She’d walk away from her mama with her scent of garlic and boiled potatoes lingering in her nose. Her love was fierce as nails, holding the family together.
When Olga’s papa had been so ill with lung cancer that they thought he would die, mama had worked long hours at the hotel to make ends meet. When she came home, she would nurse her husband until he slept, bathing his head with cool cloths, feeding him broth and vodka to clear up the phlegm, and cleaning his bedpan. In the morning she’d make porridge for her children and send them off to school with a kiss, making sure they had their shapka, telling them papa was feeling better that morning.
It was the same safety she’d known in those first moments at her parent’s flat when she had brought Randy to meet them. If they had said no to Randy, she would never have left Russia. Her protection was housed in a tiny flat in Vladivostok, a place Randy could neither rape nor destroy.
A quick rush of air destroyed her sleep when Randy opened the closet door and yelled, “Holy S— woman! You sure know how to stink a place up!”
Randy grabbed her legs and pulled her out of the closet. Using scissors he cut the tape and then ripped it off her skin. She jerked from the sting.
“Get in the shower. You smell like a pig,” he said and walked to the kitchen.
She’d not had food or water for several days and was weak. Rising slowly she staggered to the bathroom, bracing herself on the doorframe for support. She closed the door and knelt beside the tub. Turning on the faucet, she shut her eyes and listened to the water. She imagined she was in another place, beside the ocean maybe, anywhere but here. Cupping her hands, she dipped them into the filled tub and drank deeply, replenishing what she’d lost and refreshing her spirit.
Lowering herself into the tub she relished the slide of water against her skin. The stains of her stay in the closet began to drift off her body. As she became clean, she wept. Hugging her legs up to her body, she folded into herself. The splash of water and her tears rinsed her clean and she wished she could sink down the drain with her grime.
Weak she gingerly got out of the tub. Dressing herself she felt as if she already didn’t know her own body. Her ankles and wrists were red and chaffed and the side of her body bruised from being thrown into the closet. Her eyes and nose were still swollen from where Randy’s fists had pummeled her. She had lost weight and already her hips were sharply perpendicular to the rest of her body. Shivering in the cold room, she dressed.
Walking into the bedroom she fell onto the bed, pulling the covers around her for warmth. In moments she was asleep, but a sound slap across the face jarred her awake.
“I don’t have all day. Get up and eat something,” he threw the covers off her and hauled her up by the arm.
Pulling her into the kitchen, he placed a sandwich and glass of milk in front of her, “I don’t want you to think I don’t care for you.”
She ate slowly, and couldn’t eat much. The milk bathed her upset stomach and coated her contracting intestines. For a moment she felt filled and relaxed, until Randy came up from behind and groped her.
“You want to know the truth, Olga?” he whispered in her ear, “The truth is, I’m married and have 4 children. I live miles away from here and my name isn’t even Randall.”
She shut her eyes and braced herself against the counter, trying hard not to let his whisper seep into her soul. He continued to talk, but she didn’t hear any of it. Her focus was on home and her papa.
He always smoked Mr. Utilsky cigars. Even when he could hardly breathe and his lungs were filled with disease, the scent of the tobacco would fill the house. She breathed deeply now and the faint smell of Russian cigars wafted up her nose. His laughter had often scared her friends, because it was so deep and mucous filled it had sounded evil. But to her it was witness to the warmth and tenderness of his heart.
Randy had finished talking and was pulling her to bed. He tied her arms to posts. She decided she would no longer fight him, but put her energy into memory. Maybe then she would not be beaten and he would be kinder to her.
But instead of being gentle, Randy became even angrier. Hitting her and entering her roughly, he yelled at Olga to fight back. When she wouldn’t, he finished quickly and buttoned up his pants. Untying her arms he pulled them around her back and taped them together again. He did the same with her feet and then carried her to a different closet.
“Try not to soil yourself this time. I have a cleaning deposit on this place and urine is hard to get out of carpet.” He walked away and returned with a plate of food and water bottle, “This will be difficult to eat without hands, but get creative. It will help to pass the time.” He closed the door and Olga heard his footsteps fade away. Seconds later she heard the front door click shut.
She let out a long sigh and tried to relax. Slava was with her again, “Olya, only you can make the choice to save yourself. Not me, not your family, not an American man in the great land of opportunity.”
Days passed and the plate of food Randy had left for her was gone. Olga became uncertain what day or what time it was. She found herself in that stage of hunger when one no longer knows what it feels like to not be hungry, and so her stomach had ceased its protests. Her tongue had become thick and occupied the space where food should be. She tried speaking in Russian, but there wasn’t even space for words in her crowded mouth.
She kept awake by wiggling her fingers and toes. Discovering she could slide her lower body up a wall of the closet, she was able to at least change positions every so often.
Randy returned and fed her, let her bathe, and chose a different closet for her to live in, “We’re going to run out of closet space before long,” he joked.
Olga looked at him vacantly, hardly able to comprehend his words anymore. She wondered if she was beginning to lose the ability to speak English. The only language she spoke in the closet was Russian, even in her mind.
“Someday I’ll take you out of that closet, Olga, some day when I can see that you’re ready to live here under my conditions,” he said, “For now, you could show your gratitude by at least pretending to enjoy yourself when we make love.”
“Enjoy?” she said.
“Yes, I’ve done so much to bring you here.”
She had no response.
“And, if your attitude improves, I’ll start looking into bringing your family over.”
Her head shot up, “No!”
He looked at her, “But I thought you’d like that, you’re family here with you in America. Isn’t that why you wanted to come?”
Olga looked away. She hadn’t the energy to converse with this man.
“Alrighty, it’s time for me to go,” he said, “back in the closet for you.”
“Why do you do this? Why do you keep me this way?”
Randy looked at her and his eyes twinkled as if he were amused, “Why not? Can’t a man have a little happiness if he’s earned it?”
“Let me go, let me go home,” she pleaded, “I promise I won’t say anything.”
Taping her arms, he left her legs unbound, “My little gift for you,” he winked, “I’ll get you some food and water and will be back in a couple of days.” He returned with the food and as he was closing the door said, “You take care of yourself now, you hear?”
Later she was hungry, but didn’t want to eat. “I’ll never get out of here, not unless I die,” she thought.
Slava was with her again, “Olya, only you can make the choice to save yourself. Not me, not your family, not an American man in the great land of opportunity.”
“But I’m so tired, Slava, so tired. I just want rest.”
“So rest, but then fight.”
“If I fight, he’ll kill me.”
“But you might live.”
She rested and then ate. “How did I get here?” she asked herself, “Why wasn’t I content with my family? Why wasn’t I happy in Russia?”
The questions plagued her and when they wouldn’t let her rest, another voice would whisper, “This isn’t your fault.”
Olga remembered when she first realized she loved Randy. They’d been on a bridge that arched First River. He’d told her about his parent’s death and she only wanted to hold him and protect him from such pain. It had dawned on her then that she loved him. Now she felt crushed under the weight of memory.
While closets hide those things we want to forget, more often than not they also reveal the things we need to remember. Olga remembered she loved her family. She’d known happiness with them, whether she had deserved it or not. She wanted to go home. The weight lifted and she found peace. She wanted to fight.
Her feet untied, she began to bang her legs against the wall and yelling for help. She knew this was risky. She didn’t doubt that Randy would kill her if he discovered her looking for rescue. But she’d rather attempt to escape than continue living this way.
Methodically, she began to bang against the wall. Starting slowly, it sounded as if someone was using a hammer. She kept it up for as long as she could, and then lowered her legs so they could rest. She listened for a response, someone telling her that they heard the bang.
When she began again, she hit the wall more loudly and quickly. Again she rested, and then started hitting the wall more insistently. It became a sort of Morse code, a staccato message of desperation.
When she could no longer hold her legs up, she collapsed into a heap. Her feet felt hot and swollen from the pounding. She slept for awhile, and then began thumping again. After she could no longer use her legs, she backed her head up against another wall and began to bang with her head. When her head hurt so much she could no longer thud it against the wall, she buckled in exhaustion.
Her whole body tensed when she heard a key in the front door.
“Holy mother of God! Don’t he know how to use a toilet?”
Olga heard the yell and relief overwhelmed her when she realized it wasn’t Randy. She began to heave her entire body against the closet door.
When the closet door opened and Olga fell part way out, a man cried “Jesus Mary and Joseph!”
After dialing 911, the landlord carefully cut Olga’s tape and gently peeled it off her skin. Her hair was caked with blood and her body swollen from lack of water. When he finished removing her bonds, she fell into his arms crying.
“It’s gonna be all right, sweetie,” he whispered, “You’re safe now.”
Randy passed the apartment just as the paramedics put Olga in an ambulance. She saw him drive by and away.
**50,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year through a variety of methods, including matchmaking services. At least a million people are trafficked through out the world each year. A person is trafficked when they are forced through violence and threats into compliance. Trafficked persons are used for prostitution, pornography, as household servants, and sexual slavery. Human trafficking is a lucrative industry that carries billions of dollars in profits each year. Not all are as lucky as Olga, who was rescued. Many find freedom with death.
April Folkertsma is a writer and social worker who works in Calcutta, India with women and children who are struggling to escape the reach of prostitution.