Almost four years after being abducted from her home in Vietnam and sold as a bride in China, my trafficked friend M was nearly home.
M’s Chinese “husband” had, unexpectedly, given his permission for M to visit her family in Vietnam.
As an illegal resident, M had risked a bus journey of some 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) across China without any identification.
Rather than returning directly to her family, however, M had returned to the Chinese Hmong man who had originally sold her to her “husband”.
Under the pretense of obtaining a Chinese identity card, she had entered the man’s home and obtained the details from his own identity card, which she then passed to the police.
As a result of her incredible courage, M’s trafficker was arrested, while she herself was free to continue her journey home.
As the distance diminished, M found herself in landscapes reminiscent of those she had known in Vietnam: rugged mountains stepped with rice terraces, and splashed with brilliant green corn fields.
These were landscapes she loved and had missed during her years in the flatlands further north. The border belt, however, is a dangerous place for a young woman with no identification.
In a small town only 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the frontier, and only two hours’ journey from her home and family in Vietnam, M learned that the situation along the border had changed.
She was told that vigilance had increased and it was no longer easy for locals to cross between Vietnam and China without identification.
Local Hmong women told stories of others who had been captured by the authorities while attempting illegal crossings.
As M hesitated, she received a call from her Chinese “husband”.
His grandfather had been hospitalised, he said, and M’s assistance was needed.
M’s “husband” said he could purchase a Chinese identity card for her in the north. If she returned to him now, she could use the new identity card to cross the border and visit her family after his grandfather had been released from hospital.
M was torn.
M had carried her Chinese-born daughter with her to the border, and her “husband” no longer held any physical power over her.
If M desired, she was now in a position to disappear from China forever, just as P had done.
She was free to return home to her family and friends in Vietnam for the first time since her abduction almost four years earlier, and to begin a life of her own choosing.
There were, however, complications.
M feared being caught at the border, not knowing what might happen to her or her Chinese-born child.
She also feared that if she did not return to her “husband” now, the option would no longer be open to her.
Most of all, M feared that in disobeying her “husband”, she would incur the wrath of her father in Vietnam, who insisted she remain a loyal wife regardless of the circumstances of her marriage.
M’s dilemma was almost identical to the one in which she’d been entangled for the past twelve months, since I’d met with her in China and first offered her hope of escape.
For the first time, however, M was in a position to make her decision from a position of freedom and safety – but the stakes had been raised, and the clock was ticking…