Red Light by April Payne

Red Light DistrictStanding in the middle the Kuala Lumpur, my mind drifted back to the training seminar intended to prepare me for this trip. Remembering how much my heart ached and agonized over the stories being shared about women in sexual slavery. How disgusted and infuriated I was at the thought any human being was sick enough to be involved in such a revolting industry. Often times when we hear statistics and go to seminars we gather a bunch of information that feels somewhat surreal. However, this time it didn’t, the facts being brought to my attention felt far more real than I knew how to handle. I remember gripping my heart, fighting to breathe, and feeling physical pain. I had never hurt so badly for something I was so far removed from.  The experience triggered a steady stream of thoughts and expectations for what this industry and my role in attempting to save these women looked like. But there I was and it looked nothing like I imagined. In fact, standing in the middle of it felt far more surreal than when I was only hearing about it.  Honestly, I didn’t feel much of anything. The street seemed so normal, similar to the bar strips I frequently visited in college; young people walking from place to place, laughing, talking, and occasionally getting out of hand. This couldn’t possibly be it, this wasn’t the place. Feeling as if I were in some sort of denial, I walked straight up to one of the entrances men had been walking in and out of. The entrance opened to a flight of stairs lit by a small red light hanging from the top of the door frame. Without a bit of hesitation I stepped through the doorway attempting to peer up the stairs. Immediately, I heard a voice behind me. “What are you looking for?” I turned around to see a very normal looking Malaysian man. Why did he care what I was looking for? He knew something he didn’t want me to know.  I decided to play dumb (at least I thought I was playing dumb, in hind sight was definitely dumb.)

”I was just curious about this place,” I replied. “Do people stay here?”

“Oh no,” he said, pausing. “I don’t think you want to go there.”

Taking another step toward the stairs I asked: “why?”

His demeanor changed in attempt to be gentle. “You are looking for a place to stay aren’t you?”

Without waiting for my reply he continued: “Well, I help girls like you a lot. I can get you a place to stay for free and help you find a job. I can tell you are in need.”
It was true. This was exactly how they told me men picked up young women.
So much anger set fire within me and quickly burned right through my interior setting my flesh ablaze, quickly enkindling the man that stood in front of me. My words were like sparks flying from a fire that could not be contained; my hatred toward everything this man represented and was now attempting to pull me into. My tone was sharp, tears were pouring from my eyes, I hated him and I wanted him to know just how worthless he was. As I was speaking, his eyes were metamorphosing from empty black tunnels to tiny holes peering into is soul. His expression and demeanor became almost helpless for a moment but it didn’t put in an end to my piercing words. He quickly became aware of this moment of vulnerability and immediately resorted back to what He knew. His eyes became dark black tunnels. My precious friend saw the shift too. She had not spoken since the moment I stepped foot in the doorway but in a soft tone muttered, “April, run.” We ran as fast as we could and he followed. I’m not sure when he gave up, I was afraid to look back. We arrived at the gated church we were staying at, my heart pounding as though it were going to break through my chest if I didn’t let it out. Everything happened so quickly it almost felt like a dream. However that memory has been replaying in my mind so frequently over the last month. That man’s face has been in my dreams. His eyes have been stained on the back of my eyelids. When I close my eyes, I see his. I don’t see the dark empty tunnels I see the tiny holes peering into his soul.  I see the terror that arose in him when he thought for just one moment that I might be right. That he was ruining people, that he had lost feeling, that he was scum. My words somehow diffused their way through the cold dense walls that had taken a lifetime to build and penetrated this man’s heart. He seemed beyond feeling and hope to me, but even his heart was not impenetrable.


Written by April Payne

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