My trafficked Hmong friend M never made it home to her family in Vietnam.
After having risked a bus journey of some 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) across China without identification, M had almost reached the Vietnamese border.
M first hesitated on hearing rumours of increased vigilance along the border, fearing capture by the authorities.
While other information I’ve received indicates that the security situation along the border has not changed dramatically, and that there are still many points where it would still be a simple matter for M to cross to Vietnam without identification, that decision was hers alone to make.
M then turned back from the border at the urgings of her Chinese “husband”.
Having given M permission to visit her family in Vietnam, it seems M’s “husband” was having second thoughts, and was concerned she might disappear forever with their child.
He promised to arrange for her the identification card she needed to cross the border legally, if she would only come back to him.
Though their marriage was an illegitimate one and he no longer held any physical power over her, M was afraid to disobey her “husband” – not for his own sake, but for fear of being judged a disloyal wife by her own family in Vietnam.
Despite her formidable courage, M is unable to stand up against her father.
‘If I go back to Vietnam, my family will hate me a lot,’ she told me.
What will you do in the north? I asked her.
‘Just love my baby, nothing else.’
I spoke to M just hours before she turned northwards again. I encouraged her to do what she felt was best for her, rather than simply succumbing to whatever her “husband” or father might demand of her.
M, however, felt she had no real choice in the matter.
‘Now is not very good for me,’ she told me, before turning north with a heavy heart.
For the sake of a quiet life with her daughter, and continued good relations with her Vietnamese family, M spent two days and nights retracing her steps to her “husband”.
In proving herself a loyal daughter and an obedient wife, I had the sense that M was leaving behind any hopes and dreams she might have held for her own future.
As sad as it seems, M’s choice may have been the best of the bad options available to a young woman caught between two men in a male-dominated world.