‘I just have to get through the night’
She comes into the office bouncing, dancing, speaking in a rap sequence about her day, dimples lifting her smile.
In her bedroom there is a Danielle Steel novel next to her university books, and a pin board showing her results, mostly A symbols.
She starts to rattle off her story: “Well, I was abused by my stepfather . . . my mother knew . . . she took me for an abortion you know . . . then they sold me into human trafficking . . . those people gave me drugs (crystal meth, I think) . . . I was in the hospital then I came here. Now I have a bursary to study but I’m going to convert my diploma into a degree.”
I have to tell her to stop and start at the beginning. That is when the bubbly Thelma disappears and she stops, staring vacantly into a terrible place. She is somewhere else for a long while. “Thelma, are you OK?” I ask. “I didn’t know where I was. It was dark and I was chained to a chair. They covered me in blankets and they only took me out to go to a room. For sex. I couldn’t see the men. I wanted to die.
“I only knew it was morning if it was cold, it was dark all the time. After a few days, I heard different footsteps. It was the police. I hadn’t eaten for about nine days but I managed to make a sound so they heard me, came in and found me.
“When I woke up in the hospital, I was looking for my mother, I don’t know why, but I asked for her.”
She knows her mother’s heart was devoid of love.
“She knew about the abuse but said my stepfather wouldn’t want me when he has her. I was close to him because she didn’t care.
“The more I speak about it and see the therapist . . . I have seizures sometimes when we talk. But at least I made it, some people don’t,” she says, the bubbles rising. The bursary has changed her life. “Hey, I took a shot! I phoned in on a radio station and I won. I’m doing well.
“I survived because I have a strong mind. I know I didn’t bring this on myself so I need to get through.”
Another long pause and she goes back to that past, the one she has to escape to function again.
“I don’t have a plan. I tell myself that if I can make it through the night then I can get through the day. Nobody asks to be abused. Some are small kids, but you can’t let it be all you are about.”