International Women’s Day is a day full of roses. We have been handing out flowers in the red light district for three years now. Some of the girls already expect us to show up with our bags full of pretty things. Every year it is a special day, a real celebration of women and their strength.
In almost every other culture outside of our Western culture, International Women’s Day is a big deal. For example, the Eastern-European and South-American ladies we know are used to really celebrating this day by receiving gifts and attention.
But while the whole world is marching for women’s rights, these women are standing underneath red lights.
This year, the evening before the big day, we were present again. And just like previous years all the doors opened for us.
Most of the time we have a small chat while we hand over the rose, saying how much we appreciate every woman. How we know the job is tough. Most importantly, we recognize each woman’s strength.
Some women smile, accept the flower and close the window again. Some women invite us in for a talk, especially the women we already know well. We try to memorize all of their names. At the end of the evening we mostly remember the elaborate conversations, not the short chats.
But this year, one young woman remembered us.
When we went on the streets the week after International Woman’s Day, we were called in to a window. Now this doesn’t happen often. Mostly it’s us asking to come in. So we turned around and stepped in.
It was Anna* who had called us. A beautiful young woman, around 20, whom we had met the week before. Long dark hair and big eyes give her a girlish look. We didn’t really remember her, but she knew us.
From the moment we settled in to listen to her, she started talking. She told us the story of her life and how loneliness seems to be the bottom line of it. She described how she has nobody, how sad she feels every day and how she doesn’t know how to go on with her life.
I don’t remember what we said to try to make her feel better, but I do remember how sorry we felt. How we could feel her sadness sink down into our hearts. How we wanted to take her with us.
But of course we couldn’t. So we did everything we could do at that moment, and made sure we could stay in touch. Sometimes a hug and a phone number is all you need.
Four days later, Anna wouldn’t be in her window anymore.
The day after we met her, we called her to try and meet up. She refused. The day after that we called again, and tried to stay in touch throughout the whole day. She agreed to meet up but then refused again. So we had to wait for her to reach out to us.
Two days later a miracle happened. Anna had a problem with a client, and she called us in the middle of the night. We arranged to meet up with her the next day and bring her to our safe house. We helped her with her most urgent problem. Of course this was only a temporary fix so we made her a more permanent plan.
After explaining everything we could and couldn’t do for her, she could choose to stay with us and start a new life, or she was free to leave and we would give her a ride back home. That day she had told us repeatedly she had to be back in time because she still had to pay for her window.
But she never made it back to her window. She decided to stay.
Thanks to a single rose and a short chat we didn’t even remember, she found the strength and the opportunity to start a new life. She is still struggling with her past, but making new steps towards the future.
All the thorns have their rose.
* we changed her name for safety purposes