It was something in the wind that prompted her. A voice that whispered in her ears, fervently saying run, run while you still can. The beautiful voice of a man that she’d heard since the days of her childhood. The mysterious voice never failed to be correct. It never failed to guide her.
And that’s why she did what she and no one else thought she would ever do. That’s why she ran.
Her legs were pumping as her bare feet slapped against broken cemented pavement. She ignored the painful, jagged rocks as they lodged into her feet. She was used to worse. Her breaths were quick and panicked. She felt like she would drop and have an anxiety attack at any moment. Her vision was a blur.
She didn't know where she was running. This place was foreign and unfamiliar to her. America. The people here didn’t even speak the same tongue. She was brought here on “business.” Meaning, they brought her to this place to sell her on the streets for profit. All the way they kept their eyes on her, held her by the wrist, and dragged her along. They whispered to her in Japanese be quiet, keep your eyes down, and don’t make a scene. We wouldn’t want to see what happens to you if you did such a terrible thing. They were threats she was used to hearing, yet she never grew numb to them. The threats still terrified her.
Around the corner, down the street, rounding another corner, she didn’t dare look back for fear they were following her. She was supposed to be with a customer—had been with a customer—until he looked away. It was all the opportunity she needed.
A final corner before her lungs gave out and she fell to the ground. Her chest heaved. She curled up into a ball. Tears sprung at her eyes and slowly dripped down her cheeks. She yearned for the voice in her heard. She yearned for its guidance.
What do I do now?
Get up. Get up, Yoi. Don’t give up now.
The voice was soft yet firm. It’d always been that way. Yoi blinked back her tears and gave a solitary nod of her head. Slowly, she rose to her knees and looked around. She was beside a large building. Beside the large building was a large dumpster. Yoi shivered, realizing how cold the wind felt against her bare skin. The sun was set and night was falling. If she didn’t find a place to go, she’d freeze to death.
Help me, She prayed desperately to the voice. Please, help me.
The voice didn’t respond this time. It made her feel a dreaded feeling that it was gone. She was left on her own for now. Yoi wringed her hands together. She wished she had more than a nightgown on to stave off the cold. Her breath was coming out in puffs now. It was a sure sign of a dark, cold night.
Her mind traveled back to the dumpster. Yoi glanced at it. She wondered if it would be enough. It was better than nothing, wasn’t it? And it was a hiding place. She climbed to her feet and approached the dumpster. Her shaking hands shoved up the lid. The dumpster was—fortunately for her—empty.
A breathe of relief escaped her lips as Yoi climbed into the dumpster. She peeked out one last time into the darkness. The area was still. Clouds accumulating in the sky gave warning of rain. She lowered the lid and curled up inside the dumpster. Her eyes closed and she tried to sleep.
Yoi wasn’t sure how many hours she slept in the dumpster. Somewhere between her entering it and waking up it began to rain. Bright lights shone into the dumpster. Voices spoke in the same unfamiliar tongue everyone else in America spoke. Yoi’s eyes fluttered open. Her heart lurched into her throat. Before she could say anything they were hauling her out of the dumpster. Her eyes winced as she faced bright headlights of cars with sirens that glowed red and blue.
Instinct kicked in. Yoi struggled against the hands. She elbowed and kicked until she felt one connect. Whoever held her was stunned enough to let her go. Yoi made a blind run for it.
She was nearing the cars when a man jumped in her path. He planted his hands firmly on her shoulders, forcing her to a halt. Yoi jerked back. His grip on her was firm.
“Hey! Hey! It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re safe now. They aren’t going to hurt you. It’s okay.”
It wasn’t so much the familiarity of Japanese than it was the familiarity of the voice that made Yoi pause. She knew that voice. Her eyes lifted to get a better look at her assailant. She stared into two of the most brilliant blue eyes she had ever seen. They were a part of a pale, refined face covered with pristine, curled black hair. There was a faint, almost angelic glow about him. His expression was warm. A gentle smile spread across his face.
“It’s okay, Yoi. You are safe now.”
Her mouth dropped open yet words refused to come out. The voice was in her head. His voice was in her head. It was him. It was the voice that guided her all those years and ultimately the voice that guided her to freedom. She felt tears again push at her eyes.
She wasn’t able to finish her sentence. Suddenly, the angelic man was gone. She stood dazedly in front of the cars. The lights of the sirens bounced off her skin and reflected on her nightgown. Yoi shivered. It was him.
Yoi glanced over her shoulder. The people were approaching her with caution. She wondered if they’d even seen him. Her angel. Yoi turned to face the Americans. A small smile spread across her face. If he said it was safe, then she was willing to go with them. She walked toward them.
You’re safe now.
My Dearest Daughter,
You are turning 13 this year. You’re a curious daughter. You always ask me questions about my life and I never give you the answers. I’m writing this for you. Maybe one day you will find it long after I’m gone. Maybe you’ll read it. And then, hopefully, all those questions you had about my life will be answered.
The Americans who took me in introduced me as the authorities. Police. They were gentle and patient with me. At the time, I didn’t speak a word of English. That was something that came much later in my life. That May night was the night I was reborn. My destiny changed and suddenly I was free from the shackles of my old life. That didn’t necessarily mean my old life would no longer haunt me. Even to this day I can’t escape the triggers and reminders that plague me. I can’t escape the nightmares.
My name is Yoi. At least, that is what I called myself. To tell the truth, I was never given an official name, though I know my maiden name would have been Mizuno. My mother died when I was born. I was stolen away by my father and raised into the life of a sex trafficker. (Your Otōsan thought he could hide this information from me, but I found his research upon his death). For all it mattered to the world, I was a human that didn’t exist. There was no documentation of my existence anywhere.
When the police took me in and questioned me, I was only able to answer so much. I estimated my age from 16 to 18. I knew my birthday was sometime in December. I grew up in the mountainous outskirts of Hida-Takayama of Gifu prefecture. I lived in a small building with 父上 (chichi-ue transcribed. He always demanded I call him that when talking to others. When the police prompted me for his name, I was reluctant. However, I suppose there’s no harm now in saying his real name is Akumu Izumi. Or was. I’m not sure of his whereabouts or life status.)
It’s hard for me to recollect my years in Hida-Takayama. Every time my mind travels to that dark place, the memories overwhelm me and I hole myself up for days at a time. You know this very well, my love, and I’m sorry for it. I’m sorry you have to take care of me when it should be I who is taking care of you.
There was a dark room with a small window in the building. That was my room. Chichi-ue lived in the rest of the house. His associates lived in the city. I remember the naïve child I was. Back in my youngest years, Chichi-ue was kind to me. He was always the kindest one, but he was kinder still when I was but a baby. He was the one who rocked me at night, fed me, and kept me alive. He taught me to walk and talk. He taught me all the basic life skills without hesitation, but also without love.
I was too young. I didn’t know he didn’t love me. His attention was all I ever needed to thrive. I still remember nights where I toddled into his room. He liked to sit in an armchair under a nightlight and read.
“Papa?” I’d say, standing in the doorway with a helpless look on my face.
He’d look over at my with gruff disregard. “What?”
“I had a bad dream.”
His response would be another gruff. He’d put his book down after a few more pages, beckon me over, and pull me into his lap. It was those times I felt Chichi-ue loved me the most. I fell asleep in his arms and my nightmares would wash away.
All of that changed as I grew older. Strange men started coming to the house. Chichi-ue started growing more distant. He let them drag me to my room and do what they wanted. He told me to do what I was told. A lot of it was touching. Touching, disrobing, and following orders. As long as I obeyed, Chichi-ue would absently pat my head and tell me I was a good girl.
A good girl. It was from that phrase which I pulled my name. Good. Yoi. It was my own, childish way of clinging onto any slither of approval Chichi-ue would give me. I craved his approval. I yearned it. And when he gave it to me, I ate it up. That was how he kept his leash on me. That was how he convinced me to stop fighting what was happening to me. It was how he kept me from running away.
The first time I bled, things changed again. The men stopped coming. I overheard a piece of a conversation between Chichi-ue and his associates. They were in the kitchen and I pressed my ear up against the door.
“It’s best to do it while she’s young. If we wait, she might be ruined for good.” An associate named Isamu-sensei. (He was a doctor). “It’ll be rough on her, but it’s what’s best for the business.”
“Or.” Chichi-ue. “We could wait. I understand the…importance and urgency…of the situation, but if we risk it too early she will be ruined, too.”
“With all due respect, we already have someone in mind,” said the voice of another associate. Jirou-san. “It’ll be a perfect match. And we can’t shield her forever, even if you may want to.”
I moved away from the door. If they ever caught me eavesdropping, I was in for a beating. At such a young age, self-preservation was already a strong concept in me.
A dozen questions ran through my head. Unfortunately, I worried that I would soon figure out the answers to each of them. I went along to do my chores. That was another change from my youth. I was now responsible for all the chores in the house. If I slacked off on them, I knew they would not be pleased. They would hit me. Chichi-ue would hit me. The first time he ever lifted a hand against me, I cried. I cried and cried the whole night away; feeling like a betrayal had taken place.
It wasn’t even the beginning.