Back in the early 1990s I was friends with a human trafficker.
Everyone in the small town in Hungary where he lived knew that he was a human trafficker. He transports ‘dancing girls’ to Western Europe, they’d say. And did you hear about the one girl he sold to the man in Italy? Her brother was in the military and came and rescued her.
I met him when I was about 13 years old and he was 30 or so. Hormones raging, I was an awkward, unattractive teenager. He was working at my good friend’s bike repair shop, where I spent many hours hanging out during my long lazy Hungarian summers. My parents weren’t worried – my good friend was the son of their best friends there, and they’d known him since he was three years old. He operated his bike shop out of my parents’ friends’ garage at that point. And my good friend was an honest, hardworking guy, and still is. The human trafficker, on the other hand, was different.
He lavished me with attention, made me feel sexy. He flirted with me. And being 13, I thought that this was perfectly normal. The first summer I knew him, even my parents were taken in to some extent – bringing him a Chrysler logo for the front of his 1990 Dodge Caravan from the States.
The next summer, he became more aggressive in his flirtation with me. My mother began to hear the stories, and told me to stay away from him. But nothing would keep me from that bike shop. He was married with three children, the oldest of them being a mere two years younger than me. His wife knew about his activities – apparently accompanied him at times. She knew about his philandering. But I don’t think she liked it. She would sometimes show up at the bike shop when he was gone, wondering where he was. She always looked sad, tired, and much older than her age.
He told me that I should lose my virginity to him. That he would be romantic, do things by candlelight, all romantic. He showed me the back of his minivan – it was converted into a bed with an amazingly expensive stereo system. He told me that I should dress sexier, like his daughter. Told me that he dressed her, and asked if I liked what she wore. She dressed like a roadside prostitute, and I thought that was the greatest. I was 14. I was a ball of hormones.
I have my mother to thank for the fact that I didn’t get involved with him. She kept an increasingly close eye on me when she learned of his activities. She knew what teenagers are like. She knew that it wasn’t just a matter of not trusting me, as I thought at the time, but of not trusting him. She warned me about him, over and over again, and planted the seed of doubt in my mind, although I talked back and ranted and raved about her rules and regulations.
We came to Hungary for Easter the next year. We stopped by the small town for a night or two, and while we were at dinner at our friend’s house, I went to the bike shop to hang out with my good friend. The trafficker was there.
There is a tradition in Hungary at Easter where men sprinkle women with perfumed water. He sprinkled me, took me on his motor scooter on a ride around the block, with me riding close behind him. And then he kissed me.
The next summer, I no longer saw him frequently. He had left his wife and moved in with a girl who was only a year or so older than me. The year after, his daughter moved in with them. Then he sort of disappeared from public view.
I used to reminisce fondly about him. Then I thought it was funny – I knew a human trafficker. And I would tell people about it.
Tonight, I watched the first part of the Lifetime original miniseries with Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland called “Human Trafficking.” And it suddenly all came back. And suddenly all stopped seeming funny. Or romantic. Today, I realize there is no lower form of life than a human trafficker.
Back in the early 1990s I thought I was friends with a human trafficker…