Benjamin Winship


Tangmo’s hands were beginning to shake. The evening rain had settled into a whispering drizzle that sounded like acid eating its way through the roof. The man zipping his fly was the third john to visit her that evening. She was tired. It was going to be a long night.

He came and rested a large pale hand on her bare shoulder. She didn’t have the will to look him in the eye. Instead, she turned and focused on a cockroach swishing his antennae over the tile in the corner of the room. The man laughed and gave her a playful slap on the cheek, a far cry of what he had done to her only moments ago.

“Thank you, Rose,” he said. He had demanded to know her name like most of the men did. She imagined they used it to feel closer to her, to violate her further. She never told them her real name, though. She kept her identity buried under layers of falsehood like concrete.

He turned and walked out, closing the door as he left. It was a door that locked from the outside so Tangmo couldn’t escape. She was only twelve and doubted her ability to survive even if she ever did manage to sneak away from the pimp holding her captive.

She had a few minutes of solitude before another john would come. Her hands were shaking more now, sending the vibrations up into her elbows and shoulders. They always shook afterwards, when she became herself again. Tangmo meant watermelon in Thai. It was a nickname her grandmother had given her when she was a baby. It was from the days in the village, before her father was too poor to care for the others, before he had sold her virginity to a karaoke bar owner from Bangkok to keep the rest of the family from starving.

She lifted her pink threadbare dress off the floor and pulled it up over her naked body. She reached behind her neck and buttoned it. She wanted to be clothed as much as possible. It was one of the few things she chose for herself when so many men wanted differently.

She let herself dream of a future where she was free. She saw herself as a teacher in a school, helping children learn English and Math. She educated them so they would never need to abandon their children the way she had been abandoned. It was a simple far-away dream.

Heavy footsteps sounded their way up the stairs. Tangmo tried to steady her hands against the cold metal bars that crisscrossed against the window. It was time to turn another trick. It was time to hide Tangmo and become Rose again. She gazed out the window into the murky night. Her window overlooked a parking lot. She made out a dim shape against the pavement, a plant. It had pushed up from below; through the dirty layers of concrete and spread its leaves in the rain.

The door creaked open. “Hello, sweetheart.” Then it clicked shut again. Tangmo took her hands from the bars and looked at her palms. They trembled, one last time. “What’s your name?”


She turned toward the man. His eyes gleamed under the flickering lights. She pulled on the button and her dress dropped to the floor. For a while she would hide Tangmo under the emotionless rock wall of Rose, again. She hoped that it wouldn’t be too long, that Tangmo wouldn’t be too weak to one day break free.


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