A three-and-a-half-year-old’s voice pierced the darkness between the back and front seat.
“Is your husband home already?” she asked Laura. The little girl was sitting beside her mom and younger brother in the back. Laura was driving.
“Yeah, he just got home,” Laura said, heading down our street en route to their house in the village.
“Does he hit you when he gets home?” came the little voice.
“No. He never hits me.” There was a pause. “Does your dad hit your mom?”
The girl’s mom didn’t say a word.
“Does he hit you?” Laura asked the little girl.
“Do you think that’s right or wrong?”
She didn’t answer. Perhaps the thought of a non-abusive dad was a new idea.
Thirty minutes earlier Laura had gotten a phone call. I had just gotten home, and we were just about to sit down to supper. I didn’t recognize the voice. The sound of sobs are universal.
“We had a fight,” the voice said, breaking. “I’m on my way to your house. Can I spend the night with you?”
“Where are the kids?” Laura asked.
“They’re with me. I’m getting a divorce. I don’t want to live with him anymore.”
Laura told her she’d call her right back. We looked at each other. We knew her spending the night at our house could cause even more problems for her and her children. The husband’s already proven to be incredibly leery of his wife receiving help from the foreigners. He’d much rather she not leave their one-room house in the village so no one finds out how poor they are. Were the husband to learn she’d spent the night, one, at another person’s house, and two, at the foreigner’s house, we might drive the wedge already between them even deeper.
But then again, who knows what’s right in a situation like this.
We tried to talk through the facts. We agreed we needed to assess if she was in any immediate danger and then go from there. If she wasn’t, we thought the best thing would be to take her back home. If she was in danger, well, we’d have to make up the guest room for the evening and take it step-by-step from there.
Laura decided to take the car and drive out to meet the woman and her children. That way she could pick them up, have them sit down with her before they arrived to our house, and get a feel of the situation. She pulled up next to the three silhouettes on the side of the road and stopped. She lowered her window and told them to get in. The 28-year-old, her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and her 18-month-old son piled into the backseat.
“What happened?” Laura asked. “Are you OK?”
Same story. They’d argued. She wanted a divorce. Laura let her tell her tale. There’s nothing quite as soothing to a broken heart as an open ear.
“Did he hit you?”
“Where is he now?”
He had already left the house and had taken everything that he would need for work for the next day. That meant he probably wasn’t coming back that night.
“Did you leave at the same time or did he leave before you?”
“He left before.”
“Who has the key to the apartment?”
She said she did.
“You can lock the door from the inside, right?” Laura asked.
She said she could.
By then it seemed she was in no immediate danger. She could safely return to her apartment and spend the night there.
“I really want to help you,” Laura said, “but I think if you go back to your apartment, you’re going to be safe, and if you come to my house tonight, your husband is going to find out, and when he does, it’s only going to make your problem worse. As it is right now, you can just go home and it will be like you never left. And he won’t accuse you of going anywhere or asking for anyone’s help. I think to take you back to your house is the best way I can help you right now.”
Laura asked her what she thought.
She said Laura was probably right.
“There’s a store down the street. Let’s drive down there. I’ll get you some groceries. You can eat something when you get home, and then just try to sleep. Don’t think too much about all this. Lock the door well. Then I’ll come back tomorrow, and we can talk.”
She agreed, and they headed for the store. Laura bought potatoes, carrots, onions, rice, buckwheat, flour, tomato paste, milk, oats, and tea. She didn’t have enough money on hand to buy sausage, so she left that, and walked back out to the car.
Laura double-checked that their plan was still OK, and the woman said it was, this time with a little bit more conviction.
It was then, on the way back to the village, that the three-and-a-half-year-old asked Laura if her husband beats her when he gets home at night.
Other little girls her age are curious about butterflies and what they’re going to get for their next birthday. She was curious to find out if Laura got hit like her, her brother, and her mom. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t quit taekwondo as a red belt.
Laura bumped along the streets of the village until she reached the house. She stopped the car and killed the engine.
“I want to pray for you,” Laura said, and she did. She asked God for peace and protection and a way forward. Even though at times it feels like you’re trying to see through an iron wall six feet thick. Laura grabbed the groceries and walked them inside. After a kiss on the cheek to each of the three, Laura told her she’d keep praying and that she’d see her in the morning.
As Laura walked back out to the car, she was left wondering how she was supposed to just go on with her evening plans. Yet there was only one way. One way for all of them. The way forward, one step at a time. The way toward the hope of a brighter tomorrow. Because we believe God hears our cries for help.