The first few chapters of Sunset Shadows will remind readers very much of Wings At Dawn, especially the helplessness of the children at the hands of violent and abusive adults. This particular chapter was difficult to research, conduct the interview and then reconstruct into fiction. Much as I would like to take credit for a vivid imagination, the story of Dante and Jason is based on an interview I conducted in the Philippines.
This extract has been heavily edited and much of the gruesomeness removed. When you read the book you will understand why. Suffice it to say that it is not suitable blog material. When you finish reading today’s entry, all I ask is you spare a kind thought and prayer of the millions of children who suffer a the hands of abusers and end up being trafficked. Only a small percentage of them are ever rescued. Those who survive, like Dante, are scarred forever. The character of Jason is based on one of the youth projects Chef Jessie supports.
Paolo glanced around the restaurant and his gaze fell on an elderly gentleman dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit. He was talking to Jason, a server who seemed to grow more and more agitated by the moment, and that piqued his curiosity. Pretending to inspect the delicate floral arrangement on the table, Paolo leaned forward and tried to catch some of the conversation.
After some time, Jason bowed his head at Señor Jorge before walking over to Paolo’s table. “Yes sir, would you like more jasmine tea or perhaps something to go with it? Chef Jessie made some mango cheesecake today.”
Paolo smiled and contemplated the cheesecake, but decided he had eaten enough for the day. “No thank you. I’ll just finish my tea, but if you could, you please let Chef Jessie know I am here and if she has a few minutes to spare, I would love to have a word. Tell her Paolo Melendez is here, she will know what it is about.”
“Right away, sir.”
“One more thing. Does the elderly gentleman at the other table come here often?”
Jason looked over his shoulder and lowered his voice before replying.“Señor Jorge used to come every Friday at noon with his wife, Señora Menchu for their weekly date. They were such a cute couple, always holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes as if they were newlyweds. She passed away two months ago, but he still comes every Friday and sits at the same table.”
“Does he always dine alone?”
“Yes sir. We have never seen them here with anyone else.”
“Thank you. I’ll try to be here next week as well, and hopefully he will accept me as a suitable dining companion. I’ll ask Chef Jessie to introduce us so that he doesn’t think I am some sort of stalker.”
“That is very kind of you, sir. Are you a social worker or psychologist?”
“Good guess! I am both, in fact, and I know grief when I see it, even from across the room.”
“In that case, you will make the perfect lunch date for Señor Jorge. If you don’t mind my asking, what is your area of specialisation?”
“Why, are you in need of counselling? My area is grief and trauma.”
“Not for me, but for my brother. Well, sister. I don’t know how to refer to him anymore.”
Paolo sat up straight and looked at the server straight in the eye before pulling out a business card. “Here is my card. Have your brother call me anytime.”
Jason flushed and smiled timidly. “Thank you, sir. You have no idea what this means to me. I have struggled for so long to help my brother, but I am at a complete loss. I didn’t mean to intrude, but after seeing you with your friends earlier, I know you are the right person.”
“What time does your shift end today?”
“In 20 minutes. Why?”
“I can hang around the lobby and wait for you so we can talk, and you can tell me a bit more about your brother’s situation before I meet him.”
“Really? That would be perfect! OK, I better let Chef Jessie know you are here.”
Roughly 40 minutes later, Paolo sat with Jason in the building lobby outside the restaurant. “So tell me, what is this all about?”
“I honestly don’t know where to begin. We were all born in Guagua, Pampanga. My parents married very young, and had six children. Mama had four miscarriages as well, so we would have been ten. She never finished high school, but was smart and very good in finding quick solutions to everything, even money. Papa was much older than her, 15 years to be exact. He asked my grandparents for her hand in marriage when she was only 12, but my grandfather did not agree. When papa found out mama had begun menstruating, he kidnapped her one afternoon when she was walking home from school. She had her first baby at 14, and my grandparents never knew about it because my parents moved to Pangasinan, and then to Ilocos. They never stayed very long in one place because people talked, noticing the age difference and that mama was never allowed to speak to anyone without her husband around. He locked her in the house whenever he went to work, and did all the shopping. She would make a list of things she needed for the house and the children and he would bring them home in the evening, if he was sober. I never saw her smile at him, only at us when we were alone during the day. She taught us how to cook, draw, clean the house, and sometimes played with us if she wasn’t too tired. When papa came home at night we were all sent to our room and were not allowed to come out, not even to go to the toilet. We had a little bucket in the room if we needed to pee at night. One night, my sister, who was only four years old, had severe stomach pains and went to my parents’ bedroom. She witnessed something she was not supposed to, and suffered the brutal consequences. She died that night and was thrown into the river.”
“Did anyone call the police?”
Jason started laughing and wiped his nose when the tears rolled down his cheeks. “My father was the chief of police and the other men in the room were his subordinates. Who were they going to report anything to? Each night when I close my eyes, I can still hear my sister’s screams and my mother begging them to stop.”
“When did he start beating you and your siblings?”
“He began beating us during the fourth pregnancy. He came home one night when mama was already seven months pregnant, and was so weak she could barely walk. He wanted sex, violence, and food, in that order, so he turned to my brother Dante, who is the eldest. He was barely five, I was four, and Grace, was two. Dante never told me any details, but he didn’t need to. I heard his screams from our room. When he returned, Dante just curled up in bed and sobbed. We always took turns to wash his soiled underwear in the morning.”
“Didn’t any of the teachers notice anything?”
“We were 45 in a class, the teachers had no time to pay attention to details like bruises or limps. Besides, papa was careful never to leave marks on our faces and arms. Our uniforms covered up the marks on the rest of our body.”
“What about your friends? Surely they would have seen or noticed something amiss and told their parents.”
“We were not allowed to have friends. Papa spoke to the teachers and school administrators, giving strict instructions that we were not to play or eat with the other children. It was easy when we were still in elementary school, but as we grew older, we needed to do group projects and sometimes stay later to work on them. On such ocassions papa would send one of the other police officers to keep an eye on us and make sure we were really working on a project. We grew up without any friends, never attended parties, and had very limited socialisation.”
…. to be continued.
NB: For those of you wondering if the entire book is going to be shared here. The answer is no. Only a select chapters from the first part will be shared to give you a clear idea of where this whole project is going. As always, my books are part of my personal advocacy of the anti-human trafficking campaign.