‘I just have to get through the night’

Sunday Times - - ACCENTS -

Thelma*, 23

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.”

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