“Will Bebenya like it, do you think?” Estere is anxious as she looks at the immense bouquet of flowers and bunch of shiny balloons she has bought to welcome her daughter. “Is it alright to leave out the other things? The candles, her old toys, and all that? I want her to know we missed her and remembered her every day.”
“I worry she’ll be overwhelmed,” Pitso says. “By us, by her changed situation, everything. We don’t know what she’s been through.”
“What’s taking Tsietsi so long? I sent him to buy a card to give his sister.” Distress overtakes Estere as a memory arises. “I sent him … I sent him …”
“Stop it, Estere!” Pitso is sharp. “He’s not a little child, not like Bebenya was.”
“I can’t help it. I always remember–” A knock on the door makes her break off. “She’s here, our daughter.”
But it isn’t Bebenya. A neatly dressed woman stands at the door, holding a fat file and some big envelopes.
“Mr and Mrs Modisane? I’m Selma Khumalo,” she introduces herself. “I’m the local social worker who Child Welfare has assigned to your daughter’s case.”
“Social worker? Estere frowns. “This is a good home.”
“I can see it,” the woman says. “But the situation requires some monitoring. There are challenges with these children who’ve been trafficked. Reintegration is difficult for everyone. Some of them form an emotional attachment to their handlers.”
“Handlers?” Pitso is uncomfortable. “Their pimps, you’re saying?”
“Bebenya?!” Estere is shocked.
“We don’t know all the details yet. The man the police arrested on a tip-off has escaped, and Bebenya and the other girls don’t want to talk. I needed to be sure you understand the situation before we bring her in.”
“She’s here?” Estere’s face lights up.
“My colleagues from the police are driving her round the block while we talk, but I’ll call them now and tell them we’re ready. Mr and Mrs Modisane, I’ll be in touch about rehabilitation programmes for Bebenya.” The social worker gets out her phone.
“Rehab?” Estere is appalled as the social worker makes a brief call, saying just a few words. “It sounds wrong … as if Bebenya has done wrong.”
“No.” Selma Khumalo is firm. “Make no mistake, your daughter, and you, all of you, are victims. Evil people abducted your little girl, and she has grown up being exploited by them.”
“You say so.” Pitso is angry. “But these things are shameful when it’s a man’s daughter.”
“No! There is no shame to her or to you, let’s be clear. But this isn’t going to be an easy reunion for any of you. Everything will take time. Any problems, I want you to contact me …” She stops as there’s a knock. “Ah, that’s them now. Come in.”
Estere can hardly breathe as a policewoman steers a thin teenage girl into the house. She’s seeing her daughter for the first time since Bebenya was eight.
“Is it you, Bebenya?” Estere’s voice shakes as she stares at the girl, who is wearing jeans a size too big, a loose top, and takkies. “Given back to us? My daughter!”
Then she bursts out crying and laughing, both at once, surging forward with her arms flung wide.
Bebenya lifts her head, and stares questioningly round the room, and then at her parents.
“No,” she says. “I am called Baby.”
Tell us what you think: As the social worker says, the family and Bebenya are victims. So why does Pitso feel there’s something shameful about what happened to Bebenya?