The following is a true essay I wrote a couple years ago. Many of you have read it before, but I'm reposting it because I believe it's one of my best and I want to collect all my memoir writing here on this blog. So, here it is, enjoy, and let me know what you think, especially if this is your first time reading it.
I played Connect Four with a pretty young girl named Emily in a Philippine bar years ago. I don’t know what it was about that game, but there were many copies of it in the bar and the girls were all playing it obsessively. She came over with her game in front of her and said, “Want to play?” I did.
I asked her how old she was, and through cute, but imperfect teeth she said, “Eighteen.” I asked again, this time for the truth. “We’ll play a game for the truth.” How could I refuse? But she was really good and beat me handily and then told me she was thirteen even though she didn’t have to. After a couple of games she asked me, in a well-rehearsed line, if I wanted company for the night for only fifteen dollars. I told her no, but that I’d pay her twenty-five cents a game to play Connect Four. At that offer, she was visibly relieved and her brown eyes sparkled as she ran off to tell her ‘manager’ that she’d be busy at our table and yet still making money.
We played many games that evening and I learned about her family, her childhood, and her current life.
Her grandfather lived in a mountain village and the entire village had done pretty well for centuries, living off rice fields and fruit orchards as well as engaging in some trades until a wealthy Philippine woman with an Australian husband came to the village and offered to buy all the land so she could turn it into a plantation. The village wished to refuse, but the woman also had armed bodyguards and they all eventually came to an agreement on price. The woman came back with trucks, equipment, workers and the villagers packed their belongings up and left, unfortunately when they tried to collect the money promised them, the woman refused to see them and the bodyguards beat several of the men and women, forcing them to leave their village, broke, homeless, without prospect.
It was into the resultant poverty that Emily was eventually born. Her family had struggled on the outskirts of Manila for many years. One of her brothers had been ‘accidentally ‘killed by police after being caught picking pockets. Another brother had signed on with a fisherman and had never come back home. Her two sisters sewed for some company and had been at it since they were school-age. Emily had been purchased by a brothel in exchange for money to pay the family’s debts. She had first been with an adult man when she was 9, and had now been a prostitute for four years. She told me she still didn’t like it.
Why didn’t her grandfather take their case to the courts? No court was interested in hearing about this tragedy unless these villagers had money to pay for the judge’s “time.” There weren’t any government agencies to help this family out. There weren’t any laws prohibiting the children from working instead of going to school . . . there weren’t any schools for these kids, at least none they could afford. There wasn’t anything Emily could do to get out of her situation short of purchasing her own debt-value.
This is the example I often think of when I hear Libertarians talk about “the strong will survive” and everyone needs to “make it on their own.” I think of Emily with her clear brown eyes and dimples and crooked smile. I think of her beating me in game after game of Connect Four, having had so much practice in endless repetitive nights of playing and whoring. I think of that story when I hear conservatives talk about less government and less government and less government, arguing that companies are better stewards of the nation’s resources and people than laws, regulations, and programs. I think of Emily.
She asked me if I wanted to marry her and take her to America. I said that I couldn’t marry a thirteen year old girl. She said that was okay, I should come back in three years and I could pay some money for a birth certificate showing her to be eighteen. She said that she was going to marry a G.I. like the other girls did. I hope that happened for her.
I left the bar late that night after having paid her more than what her ‘nightly’ fee was worth. I also slipped her a twenty-dollar tip.
My daughter is now the age Emily was when I met her.
- CV Rick