Dinh's Journey

by Andrew Passey

Chapter 7

The fallout from Bao's leaving wasn't as bad as I feared, at least personally. I was so distrustful of authority and pretty much everyone that I was concerned about what would be said about Bao leaving. Thankfully I didn't get blamed and Pete and Jane didn't either. It turns out that this sort of thing is depressingly common and that Bao wasn't the first or the last boy to feel they needed to go back to their traffickers. I was under no illusion that's what the bastards who did this were. We were just pawns to be used to enrich them with no thought of how it affected victims like me and Bao.

It was hard adjusting to my new life though. The sunlight streamed through my bedroom window that first morning and it was such a shock. All the windows had been blacked in the cannabis farms so sunlight was something I wasn't used to. If my mood hadn't been so down at Bao leaving it would really have lifted my spirits.

I did have some good news though. I'd been formally confirmed as a victim of child trafficking. This meant that I was allowed to stay in the UK and not be sent back to Vietnam. Even though that was my homeland I was worried I'd just be going back to a situation where the same thing would happen again. It was a relief that I was seen as the victim I was and this at least gave me some comfort.

Things moved very quickly. A kind lady from the government came to interview me along with another one from a charity that worked with victims like me. I was told I was to leave the temporary situation with Peter and Jane and move in with a family in a town called Oxford. The name rang a bell but I didn't know more about it. The family would take me in and help give me the semblance of a normal life. Of course for me life over here was far from normal. Everything about the UK was so different to home. The weather was bloody miserable in comparison although there were parts of it I liked. I was also excited that I would be able to go back to school even though I would have to work my arse off to catch up after months of only learning how to grow cannabis which was a skill I was fairly sure wasn't transferable to my new school!

As I was being driven to Oxford by Sarah, the lady from the charity, who told me more about the family I was to live with. There were three of them in the family. Two adults and a boy who was fourteen like me. The man was a professor at the University there which is when I realised why I knew the name Oxford. News of its famous university had even reached us in Vietnam. The man was a Professor of South East Asian studies and turned out to be Sarah's brother. It was all a bit too convenient I thought, maybe they wanted to keep an eye on me and keep me safe though? His wife was born in Vietnam like me but had lived in the UK since she'd met him studying at Oxford University. Clearly she must have been from a well off or well connected family back in Vietnam. The idea of going abroad to study was so far removed from what I thought possible it was all a bit of a shock.

I felt nervous as we got closer to our destination. Sarah obviously sensed it as she tried to reassure me.

"Dinh, It's understandable if you feel nervous but let me reassure you these are good people you're going to live with. They'll support you as will I and while it will take time you'll gradually settle into life here. You've been through a terrible ordeal and we will help you as much as you need."

This did make me feel better and I tried to relax. After all, what I was nervous about? I'd been in some horrendous situations since leaving Vietnam. Surely I could manage meeting some new people without shitting myself. Being fourteen years old I didn't necessarily have that much self awareness but I had an inkling the problem was partly due to what had happened to me. I'd been used, abused and mistreated and as a result I felt worthless. Why would any family want to take me in? As I had these thoughts Sarah continued to talk.

"Huong is very excited to have someone from the country of her birth to look after. She goes back to Vietnam with my brother and Alex for holidays occasionally. She works as a counsellor over here and that might be something you would find useful? I know this is all very new and overwhelming for you. You should be proud of yourself though. I know the police and the other officials you met were impressed with how you told your story. Believe in yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help."

As Sarah finished we turned into a road with some large houses on.

"We're just up here on the left," she said, slowing down and pulling into the drive of a nice looking house with a well manicured garden. As she stopped the car the door opened and I saw a middle aged Vietnamese woman smiling at us. Clearly this was Huong. I sat there reluctant to open the door for a moment before Sarah got out and I thought I better do the same.

Huong came over to me and gave me a traditional Vietnamese greeting before embracing me in a hug. It had been so long since anyone had hugged me like this. In fact, had anyone ever done that to me? The warmth, the comforting, the caring. Like a hug a mother would give to a son, something I had long since forgotten. To my surprise I burst into tears and she held me as I sobbed into her shoulder. What or who was I crying for? Me? My lost innocence? Bao or Phuc? I didn't know but it felt good to let it out.

I composed myself and she introduced herself even though it was obvious who she was! Sarah followed us into the house where we sat down at the kitchen breakfast bar. Huong asked if I wanted to speak English or Vietnamese. I went for the former. This was my country now and Sarah was also here so it felt like it would be rude to speak my mother tongue. Huong smiled at me warmly as she welcomed me to the family.

"This is your home now Dinh. We want you to feel safe here. I know it will be hard to settle in after what you have been through but we will all be here to support. You'll meet my husband Mike later and he is very excited to meet you. But not as excited as our son Alex who can't wait to have a new brother! We'll all have a period of adjustment but by working together we'll get it right. Anytime you want to talk about things I'm here for you. Mike and I know your story so you don't need to worry about telling us it or talking about it unless you want to. Alex just knows you're moving in with us and you've been through a tough time. It's up to you if you want to talk to him about things. I know it can be easier to talk to someone your own age and Alex is a good person who will also support you. "

I thanked her before Sarah chipped in, "You've been enrolled at the local school that Alex goes to and we've made sure you're in his class. Don't worry, you won't be going straight away, you've got a few weeks to adjust. We did discuss letting you miss the whole school year but in our experience it's helpful to try and get you settled as soon as possible. It'll be hard but the school will provide extra support and assistance for you to get up to speed so don't feel too concerned if you're bottom of the class at first."

I nodded, "Thank you, I love learning and it's been so long since I've been at school I think I'll find it very tough. However, I want to work and study hard to do the best I can." I said.

"All anyone can ever do is their best Dinh," Huong said in reply as Sarah nodded in agreement. Huong then gave me an overview of how things worked in the house. I'd be expected to help with household chores like emptying the dishwasher. "Nothing too onerous but we expect you, like Alex, to help out." Huong was keen that I cooked dinner occasionally as well and I could tell she was itching to teach me some Vietnamese dishes.

I did have to smile to myself. The idea that I would have to empty the dishwasher and help round the house and it might be a problem for me was funny really. The things that were done to me and I had to do to survive, let alone all the maintenance and jobs involved in growing cannabis....well let's just say that emptying the dishwasher would be a blessed relief after all that!

Huong told me Mike was still at work and wouldn't be home until dinner time while Alex would be home from school in an hour or so. Sarah would stay for dinner which I was pleased about. At least I'd have a fairly gentle introduction to family life.

Huong then showed me around their house. It was beautiful particularly compared to what I was used to, not a cannabis plant or heater lamp in sight! Dotted around the place were mementos and art from Vietnam which I liked to see. Huong was from Ho Chi Minh City and said even though she loved the UK and it had been her home for many years, part of her heart would forever be in Vietnam. That made sense to me and it was something I wanted as well. I was happy to make the UK my new home but part of me would always pine for the Mekong delta.

I was shown my new bedroom and I gasped in amazement. It was huge. Well compared to what I was used to! It had its own double bed, a desk, and a computer!!! My own personal computer! I'd barely used one since I was in Vietnam and I certainly never had my own. There were a few clothes in the wardrobe that Alex had chosen for me but Huong said we could go shopping at the weekend to buy me more. I couldn't quite believe how I'd landed on my feet. There was a large bathroom that was for me and Alex to share with a big walk in shower. His room was on the same floor as mine and the bathroom, while Mike and Huong's room was on the top floor with their own bathroom. I guess they could afford not to have to share a bathroom with their teenage son!

I stood there overcome with emotion again as I began to understand that I really was going to be part of the family. My own room. My own personal space I didn't have to share with anyone. My own clothes. My own computer. When you've had nothing for so long it felt the most amazing thing ever to be given all of this. I thanked Huong profusely as I choked up.

She hugged me again "Dinh this is no more than you deserve. Every child needs a family and you are no different. Well now you have one. They'll be ups and downs, shouting and crying, laughing and giggling. Just the things a normal family goes through, you're one of us now and we're never going to let you go. Now why don't you settle in. I know it's a lot to take in and once Alex is home he'll no doubt want to monopolise your time!"

I smiled and thanked her again before she left the room, closing the door behind her. I then burst into tears and cried my eyes out until they were dry.

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