We’re staying in Amsterdam, and we went into the city today. Everyone here speaks English but I guess they have to - I don’t know anyone back home that speaks Dutch. There was a road with an intriguing sweet shop about halfway down it. Mum didn’t want us to go there. She said the road led to the famous ‘red-light’ district, but Dad pointed out that it was three in the afternoon. Plus, apparently some of the most beautiful historical buildings are there; even if you want to stay right out of it you should visit them.
“Anyway,” he said. “We’re only going as far as the shop.” So we got out way. Dad insisted on buying some Dutch liquorice - it was absolutely disgusting (even I thought so, and I like liquorice!)!! Only as we were leaving the shop did I see her. At first I thought it was an illusion; I blinked and pinched myself but it didn’t go away.
It was a tiny window in the building opposite. Just for a second there was a face pressed against the dirty glass. It was bruised and pale, but I recognised Eleanor. My eyes widened in shock. I knew she’d seen me, too, because she gestured the floor in front of the building and used our old sign for ‘this time tomorrow’: a top of the wrist and then a tumble of hands to represent tomorrow. I nodded. Natalie, my sister, had seen her too.
“Isn’t that Eleanor?” she said. Nat’s only a year older than me and before all these problems we were as close as sisters get. She had all the luck: she’s really pretty as well as super clever.
“Yeah,” I said, my voice quiet and shaking with disbelief. Eleanor: the friend I’ve grown up with, shared everything with, is being forced - and by her face I was sure that it is forced - to work as a prostitute in Amsterdam, one of the few places where no one would really look twice! This is a case of trafficking now, I know. I remember an assembly given by someone in my year group two years ago.
“Trafficking is tricking or forcing someone to leave their home, and then moving them to another place within their town, country, or to another country; using them for forced labour, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation … “ Like everyone else, I’d been shocked that slavery still existed, but it didn’t seem to affect me. Now I realise: there is not one place where people can say ‘trafficking does not happen here’. It has happened - in my south-east London town, the last place you’d expect it! And to my friend.