Miria slows as she nears the rear of the shiny, black car and then she veers to the right to walk around it, wondering who might be inside the dark, tinted windows. As she walks by, she hears a whining sound and turns to see the passenger window open. She stops and peers inside from where she stands and sees a handsome young man smiling back at her. She smiles nervously in response, wondering what this is all about. That’s when he speaks in a friendly voice.
“Sorry if I scared you, but I saw you walking all alone and wanted to make sure you are ok.”
Miria is stunned and not sure what to say. She looks at the ground and shuffles her feet. She is embarrassed by her ragged clothing and dirty appearance in the presence of someone with such a car. She looks up at him and shrugs. He leans over closer and removes his sunglasses with one hand. “What’s your name?”
“Miria,” she replies, shyly.
“It is good to meet you Miria…You know a pretty girl like you really shouldn’t be out here all alone. I used to live here and I know it’s not that safe. Hey, I’ve got an idea. I am hungry and was just going to head into the city to get something to eat. Are you hungry? We could get some food and then I can give you a ride to where you are going. It would be an honor.”
Miria feels her face blushing at the kind words from the handsome young man in the beautiful car. She is hungry. Her feet hurt and the sun is already more than warm. What’s more is that something he said keeps repeating itself in her mind. I used to live here… How did someone from Bwaise escape and become so successful!? No one ever escaped the slums because the education was so poor. No education, no good jobs. No good jobs, no nice car and certainly no way to afford living in the city. Her train of thought is broken when he speaks again.
“Hey, sorry, but if you are going to come with me I need an answer because I’ve got to get going or I will be late for appointment I have this afternoon. You coming along?”
Miria looks up and smiles. Then she blushes again as he smiled back. As she watches he leans even further and the door in front of her swings open. She can feel a blast of cold air from inside the car. The car smells good. “Ok, but I do have to come back here before dark.”
“That is easy. I will have you where you want to go long before dark.” He says it all through smiling, white teeth.
Miria steps forward and ducks into the car, immediately happy with her decision as she feels the cool interior.
Issac Mugulu smiles at her and says, “put your seatbelt on please.” He puts the car into drive as he thinks, can’t have the merchandise being damaged, now can we? One down and one to go.
Grace Atubu is just blocks away from where Isaac is parked. After leaving the uncle’s home, she has felt a sense of urgency that is near to panic. The visit has confirmed the information that she had received and it was all adding up to something very concerning. Desperation. Miria is going to be in a state of desperation. Desperation leads to vulnerability and vulnerability leads to bad decisions. Grace has seen it far too many times in her years as a social worker. In heart, she knows Miria is in grave danger!
Grace grips the steering wheel hard enough to turn her knuckles white and presses down on the accelerator looking left and right at each intersection, but focusing on getting to the place Miria’s uncle had mentioned. She thinks back to the many cases she has been involved in that have culminated in tragedy. She curses the very system she works for! Sometimes she feels like such a fraud! For Grace, her role in helping the orphan children of her country is a role in which she is fulfilling God’s will, but she knows all too well that she is the exception rather than the rule. The government agency she works for puts on a good show for the world, but like many developing nations, it is there primarily for that purpose…to put on a good show.
Apathy and a lack of money were the problem. Thousands living on the streets. Sleeping in doorways, in alley’s, anywhere they can find shelter from the night. They beg. They steal. They rummage through trash that has already been rummaged through. They are beaten by property owners and chased away. They are beaten by the police, often fatally. Sometimes they are thrown in jail with adult criminals who abuse them even further. Then there are the human traffickers. The lowest of the low, preying upon innocent children who are desperate to be loved and cared for. Many thousands of children have disappeared and never been seen again. Human trafficking has become an epidemic with no real solution. The few children’s homes in the area aren’t even capable of scratching the surface of the great need! She can feel her heart beating faster as these thoughts run through her head. She is not going to let this happen to Miria!
Isaac Mugulu pulls the selector into drive and pulls away from the edge of the road, glancing over at his prize as he does so. She will do just fine. Better than fine! He may even get a bonus for this great find! As he looks at Miria, he notices that her chin is quivering and recognizes that his victim is nervous, perhaps afraid. He shakes off a slight pang of guilt and turns right at the next street. The sooner he is out of the slums, the better. Memories. He knows that right now Miria is feeling a very confusing mixture of fear and hopefulness. She is fearful because he is a stranger, and hopeful because he is a stranger. He represents the hope of a good meal in the near future and perhaps the hope that one day, she too might escape the slums that are her prison. He pushes the feeling of guilt away and thinks carefully about how to make her more comfortable with her decision. He puts on his best smile and goes to work. “I’m sure glad that I saw you there today. I remember exactly what it is like to be hungry and alone. Those are days I don’t miss at all.”
Miria smiles back. “I’m happy for you that you got out of the slums. I hope to one day. I just want to be with my family again.”
Isaac instantly regrets his statement because of the response it elicits. Again, with the pang of guilt. He can’t help what comes out of his mouth next. “You have family?”
Miria nods, a smile crossing her face at the thought. “Two younger brothers. I miss them very much! They went to a children’s home, but I had to stay with my uncle.” Her smile fades at the latter. “He is awful. He beats me and makes me serve him and his four children. I really don’t want to go back there, but the children’s home doesn’t have enough money for me to live there with my brothers.”
Isaac turns and looks at her full on. There are tears rolling down her cheeks. He shakes his head and turns away, his eyes back on the road.
Grace has all but lost hope now. She found the empty school a half an hour ago. Now she is cruising up and down the streets surrounding it. She sighs deeply, recognizing that the chances of finding Miria alive, if at all, are waning rapidly. Her phone rings. She pulls over to the side of the road and looks at the screen. It is her office and she realizes that she hasn’t checked in for a few hours. She grimaces and as she answers the phone with an apology and listens to the response, her eyes growing wide!
Grace ends the call and performs a quick U-Turn, the tires screeching in response. Three minutes later she reaches her destination and parks in front of the old school the uncle told her about hours ago. There, in front of the school, sitting cross-legged on the ground…is Miria.
Grace closes her eyes and says a silent prayer of thanks to God, then exits the car and walks over to Miria who is now standing. “Miria? Are you ok? Do you remember me?”
“Yes ma’am. I mean yes, I’m ok and yes I remember you. He told me someone would come for me, but I didn’t know it would be you!”
A look of confusion crosses Grace’s face. “Who is ‘he’ that you are talking about? I got a call from the office and they told me you were here. They said they received an anonymous call.”
Miria nodded. “It was a boy, well a young man named Isaac. He brought me here and then he said he was going to send someone to get me. He says you would come and take me to be with my brothers.”
Grace feels sick as she responds.“Miria…honey, you know the children’s home can’t take you. There just isn’t the money for that. But it’s still going to be okay. We are going to figure something out.”
Miria walks up to Grace, reaches into her pocket and pulls something out, hands it to Grace and says, “Isaac gave me this. He says it will be plenty for the children’s home to care for me. Is that true?”
Grace looks down at the roll of money in her hands. All hundred dollar bills. Many of them. Her eyes grow wide and her mouth opens, but no words come out. All she can do is clear her throat and nod over and over again, tears filling her eyes, confusion and wonder in her mind over this strange miracle she is witnessing.
A huge smile crosses Mira’s face and she throws her arms around Grace, holding her tight.
Several miles away, Isaac cruises the filthy streets of Bwaise…in search of a boy…in search of a girl…