They’d cut my hair. Hacked off the soft, caramel curls that swung loosely round my shoulders, coloured it chocolate and given me steel-framed spectacles.
“You’ll answer to Andy.” They informed me in gruff tones.
I squeezed back tears as the jet hurtled through inky night-skies. Though devastated by the loss of my hair, it was the least of my worries. Only twelve hours earlier, I’d hugged Mom at the garden gate.
“Goodbye, Angie. Have fun on camp, and don’t forget to text if you need me. I’ll keep my phone on, 24/7.”
“Oh, Mom.” I rolled my eyes. “What could possibly go wrong?”
I set off to Chloe’s house, my mind full of adventure; climbing, abseiling, white-water rafting, night walks. I couldn’t wait.
As soon as Chloe opened the door I knew something was amiss. I’d only known her a few weeks but her face looked pinched and her eyes were watery. As I stepped inside, her father locked the door.
“Through here girls.” He gestured to a back room.
The next hour was a jumbled kaleidoscope of terror. A bewildering tangle of fear and shock.
“Your mother stole you from your father.” Chloe’s dad hissed.
Luis, a swarthy ruffian with a gold earring and fetid breath was helping him.
“Your Dad’s waiting for you overseas. He just wants to see you again.”
I didn’t believe them. For ten of my eleven years, my mother had been a single parent and I knew she really loved me. She seldom spoke of my father but I gathered he’d been involved in gangs and had divorced her when she became a Christian. The last she’d heard, he was involved in criminal activities in the Middle East.
“You’re lying!” I screamed. Luis produced a gun, ramming the cold, hard butt into my rib-cage.
“One more peep and I’ll use this on your mother.” His eyes were cruel black pits.
I started praying then. I’d always gone to church with Mom but hadn’t paid much attention to God. I suppose I hadn’t really needed Him. “Help me, God.” I whispered. “I’m sorry for ignoring you all these years but I need to go home to Mom. It’ll break her heart if she loses me. Please help me get away.”
Chloe’s father dropped Luis and myself at International Departures. Luis had my upper arm in a vice-grip. “Remember. Your name is Andy Garcia and I’m your father. Try one thing and your mother gets it.”
I’d been on a couple of commuter flights but nothing like the huge jet we boarded a little later. Smiling attendants greeted us, graceful in cream uniforms with red scarves. “Can’t you tell?” I wanted to shout. “I’m being kidnapped. I need help.” Luis had booked seats in the back row of the plane, ensuring we were isolated from other passengers.
In another setting, I would have been in rhapsodies. My own screen in the back of the seat with endless, on-demand entertainment. To distract myself, I flipped through the guide. Movies, music, games, satellite calls, email, text messages. My stomach lurched as I thought of Mom and her cell phone. If only I could find a way to text her. But Luis would never give me a chance, plus I needed a credit card. “Make a way, Lord.” I cried silently. “Show me how to do this.”
The crew were serving dinner by now and I forced a little down while Luis swallowed copious amounts of alcohol with his. After a supervised bathroom visit, he tethered my ankle to his with plastic cuffs. ‘Don’t try a thing.” He warned. “I sleep very lightly.” He tossed and turned under the blanket and eventually pulled his wallet out and tucked it into the seat pocket in front of him.
I waited until gentle snores signaled he was asleep. My heart pounding ferociously, I carefully eased his wallet out and selected a credit card. My message was short and simple.
“Mom. Kidnapped by Dad’s friends. Chloe’s family involved. I’m on Emirates flight EK 746. Send help and be careful.”
About two hours later, a flight attendant brought juice and cookies for those who couldn’t sleep. She stopped by me and looked carefully at Luis who was still snoring. Then she smiled and handed me a cookie with a thin strip of paper around it. I read it by the dim light from the screen.
“Message received. Help on the way.”
I closed my eyes.
“Thank you, God. You’re the greatest.”
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