It was late in the evening when Ashley's plane landed at Narita International Airport. She remembered the phone call she had promised her family and reached for her phone, but it wasn't there. She realized she must have left it in the confusion of her encounter earlier.
Ashley rushed out of the terminal looking for a landline to call her family. Public telephones were outdated, and she couldn't find one. Her search was cut short when she saw a middle-aged Filipina holding a sign with her name on it. She approached the woman. "Are you Ashley Gusman?" The woman asked her.
"Yes, I'm Ashley. How about you? Oh, I mean, who are you?"
"I'm Mrs. Gutieres," the woman replied as she scrutinized Ashley from head to toe.
"If you don't have any other luggage that needs to be collected, we should go now. It's getting late. We have a long drive ahead of us." The woman told Ashley, rushing her in the process.
"Mrs. Gutieres, could I ask a favor? You see, I lost my phone, I think the person who has it is here in Japan."
Irritated, Mrs. Gutieres asked, "What is that you want?"
Sensing the woman's irritation, Ashley changed her mind and responded that she needed nothing more.
"Then what are you waiting for? Let's go. It's getting late." With that, Mrs. Gutieres turned and walked to the vehicle that was waiting for them.
Exhausted, Ashley followed without asking any questions. After driving for an hour, they reached their destination.
Ashley looked out the window. When she saw where they were, she was in shock. A moment later, the car door opened, and two big men stood in front of her.
"Down!" one of the men shouted at Ashley.
"Huh?" She asked, eyes wide and shaking with fear.
"Did you hear me? I said down," the angry man yelled.
When she didn't move, a hand holding some kind of cloth cupped her mouth from behind. Within seconds, Ashley passed out…
[Before Her Arrival in Japan]
Tondo, Manila, the Philippines
"Everyone! Hurry up!" Ashley shouted in a frenzy, "I don't want to miss the plane!" You could see the anxiety in her beautiful eyes.
"We're coming, Ashley! I only have to find my cell phone," Mrs. Fely Gusman shouted back from the room above. "I can't remember where I left it," she said as she continued searching.
"Coming! Sorry, Sis," her big brother, Arthur, wearily replied.
"It took Arman forever to come out of the bathroom," he explained.
Ashley shook her head in dismay as her parents and brothers rushed around downstairs. Today, her dream of going abroad was finally coming true.
She anxiously paced back and forth in the middle of the living room. "This is a new start for me," she said aloud as she waited for her family to take her to the airport.
Even in the midst of her excitement, she couldn't help thinking of the hardships her family had gone through to help her realize this dream.
Since she was a little girl, she had dreamt of working abroad. You could always see the determination in her eyes, as if she could brush every obstacle in her way with sheer will. Seeing her dedication drove her parents to do whatever it took to send her to private school to make this future possible.
As a child, she would say to her parents, "When I grow up, I'm going to work in another country. I'll send money to all of you, and mother won't have to sell in the market anymore. Dad won't have to drive a jeepney for money anymore."
Unbeknown to her that although her father drives jeepneys for a living, he's also a doctor, and he's only doing it when one of their drivers can't drive.
The sweet six-year-old would promise her family at the dinner table, "you just wait…one day I will build you a big, beautiful house. It will be as big and beautiful as Malacañang Palace."
Her mother, Fely, had cried as she hugged her youngest child. "Ha-ha, my sweet girl. You haven't even started school, but already you talk like a grown-up."
The ambition of his daughter had also moved her father. "I know you want to give us a comfortable life when you grow up. But first, you must eat," he had said as he sat across from her.
Then he had pointed at her plate. "Look at your plate. It is full of rice, but no vegetables. How can you grow up on only rice?" He had said, with a teasing gleam in his eyes.
Her five older brothers had chuckled and taken turns putting meat and vegetables on her plate.
When they were finished, she pouted. "It's so much! How am I supposed to finish all this?" The look on her face as she spoke had made her whole family laugh. Unable to help herself, she had laughed as well.
Arman was sixteen, and he was the eldest. Then there was Arthur, who was fourteen. Ariel was twelve, Arnold was ten, and the youngest of the boys was eight-year-old Arnel. She was the youngest and the only girl. She was treated like a princess by her whole family.
They would do anything possible to give her anything she asked, give anything to make her happy. Her brothers studied in public school. She was sent to a private preschool and kindergarten.
Though they treated her like a princess, she wasn't a spoiled brat. She understood that her family was not well off and had limited resources. She was always mindful of their circumstances. She never asked for toys or things she knew they couldn't afford. She was a well-behaved, God-fearing child that had always had a clear goal in mind. She focused on her studies and avoided distractions. She hadn't even had a boyfriend yet.
Of course, as a young girl, she had experienced a few crushes. But she had promised herself that she would get her education and reach her goals first. She wanted to lift her family out of poverty and give them a prosperous life. There would be time for dating after that.
"We're ready to go!" Arthur's shout snapped Ashley back to the present as he descended the stairs. This is it. My dream is finally coming true. In moments, she would be on her way to Japan, and on her way to creating a better life for her family.
"Thank God!" Ashley replied, "Hurry up! The plane won't wait for anyone, and neither will my dream!" Ashley's laughter could be heard on the next street; she was so overcome with joy.
She had no idea that when she arrived at her destination, her life would change more than she had ever imagined…