In early 1998 Nicola Ruiz is eleven years of age and already looking a lot like her lovely mother when Angela, her mother, is sent to prison because the evidence of Nicola's father's criminal deeds point to Angela. The bank accounts, the property deeds, etc. are all in her name. Angela refuses to turn in the man she loves. Within a week of her mother's arrest her father (Roberto) has another local woman (Tequi) in his bed. Nicola is disgusted with her father. Sadly, she has nowhere else to go; her father's parents are long dead and her mother's parents disowned her mother when she married Roberto after she got pregnant.
Angela was the only member of the family with a regular job and Roberto has to cease his criminal activities, at least while the police are watching him so closely. Thus there's very little money coming into the house, most of it's welfare payments. Most of what's available is spent on cigarettes and alcohol for Roberto and Tequi, but it just isn't enough for them. They need to find a new source of income, one that'll allow them to live as well as they'd like to live.
One night near her twelfth birthday Nicola hears, through the thin bedroom wall, her father agree with Tequi's idea to make money, good money, by using Nicola as a child prostitute by renting her to men for sex. Nicola's seen what prostitution does to women and older girls, as many live in the same suburb of Dareena, the largest city in the Dareed region, and how it destroys their lives. She isn't going to allow them to do that to her. She gets out the two carry bags she has and packs all her clothes and possession in them. When she's sure both Roberto and Tequi are asleep she sneaks into the kitchen and gets all the edible food that doesn't need a can opener or cooking, what little there is of it, and two large bottles of water. Putting the food and water into her bags she's quiet while she leaves the rented flat without a backward glance.
After two hours of walking she's at the bus terminal buying a ticket to go as far north as she can with the little money she has of her own she saved from after school jobs. Near dusk that day she gets off a bus in Marley's Landing and starts walking north on the road that looks to be the least used one. Figuring when Roberto and Tequi get around to chasing her they'll expect her to stay on the most used road looking for a lift. About an hour later she's given a lift in a farm truck. When they reach the farm turn off the driver doesn't stop until he reaches the farmhouse itself, about three kilometres from the road. Nicola is scared and waits to see what's happening.
Getting out of the cab the driver calls to his wife they've a guest for dinner and the night. He tells Nicola to get inside, to have a bath, and get set to use the spare room for the night. He adds, "I don't care why you're running away from home, but I won't leave you out on the road overnight and you can continue your journey in the morning." After a good night's sleep and two lovely meals, dinner and breakfast, he drops her at the turn off and she starts walking north. She takes ten days to walk across the Kotar Plain to the Amir Mountains, but each night is spent in a farmhouse after a hot meal. It seems every farmer in the plain knows she's a runaway and is prepared to give her a feed with a safe place to sleep at night. None ask her about why she's a runaway. The friendliness of the people is a huge shock, and totally different to what she's used to seeing in the city of Dareena.
Three weeks after leaving home she's crossed the Amir Mountains and walked to the coast. She's nearing a small coastal town when a neatly dressed man stops to give her a lift. They chat for the twenty minutes' drive into the town. Parking, he asks her why she's running away from home. She turns to get out of the car and run. Seeing he's parked outside the local police station she turns back and answers the question. He gets out of the car and takes her to a nearby eatery. Sitting her down he orders and pays for a meal for her. He tells her to stay put and asks the owner to keep an eye on her. He crosses the road to the police station. Several minutes later he comes out and rejoins her in the eatery. Sitting down, he says, "Roberto Ruiz has got to be the world's number one arse hole. You did the right thing to run away. The police have a missing person's report on you, but they've just changed its priority." She's stunned when she realises he's convinced the police to not actively look for her. When she finishes her meal he takes her to the bus depot and buys her a ticket to Carmel. Giving her some money he says, "Go to Carmel, the King lives just outside the town. Go there, seek an audience and tell him your story. He'll help you, I know he will." He sees her to the bus and waves her goodbye.
When the bus nears Carmel she becomes worried, the one thing her father did give her is a strong fear of authorities, and going to the highest of all authorities worries her a lot. At View Port, the last stop before Carmel, she gets off the bus. She's had similar advice from several people, but he's still the top authority, what if he sends her back to her father. The law supports her father and that worries her more. She decides to find out more about the law and the king. She goes to the town library and seeks out books on the laws. For over a week she sleeps under bushes in the town park and spends her days in the library. The money the man gave her is stretched out by buying cheap food. Eventually it runs out, but not before she gets to know several children who visit the park each day. They often give her some of their food. These people are so friendly she'd like to stay here forever. Several days later most of the children are avoiding her now and she doesn't understand why.
A New Life
One day, seven weeks after her leaving home, a very young boy sits down on the park bench opposite her. Opening his bag he gets out two drinks and two packs of sandwiches. Handing her one set, he says, "Here, eat." She's so hungry she doesn't question his orders and starts eating. Looking at her between bites of his own sandwich, he says, "The others are avoiding you now because you stink. You really need a bath." She looks at him with concern about his statement. "My name's Gordie, when you've finished that you can either come with me and my sisters for a bath or you can go over to the police station for one. You can no longer stay here unwashed, because you stink too much and too many people are complaining about your smell."
Nicola is very shocked by his forthright manner, but realises he's probably correct, because it's been over two weeks since she was able to have a bath or wash properly. And she's unlikely to notice a gradual change in her personal aroma. When they finish eating she walks with him to the edge of the park where they're joined by a girl her age and a younger girl. The girls make a point of keeping upwind of Nicola while they walk across town. Close to the marina at the edge of town they reach a beach. Stopping, Gordie gets a girl's swimsuit out of his bag and hands it to Nicola. Pointing at a nearby toilet, he says, "Go in there and get changed, because we're having a swim to get rid of most of the stink before we go home and give you a proper bath." She's about to argue, but notices it's now three to one odds, and nods her agreement.
After she changes they walk down to the beach, where the others take off their clothes to show swimsuits underneath. All four go for a swim in the sea. The older girl is introduced as Isobelle and she takes Nicola further out than the youngsters, to make sure she gets fully washed. Gordie is very tall for his age, but clearly younger than her and Isobelle. After half an hour they go ashore and Isobelle provides an extra towel for Nicola to dry with. All their dirty clothes are stuffed into a plastic bag and put in Gordie's bag. They wrap the towels around themselves and head for a house at the base of the nearby cliff.
Entering the house they say hello to the old couple sitting in the front room and walk through to the back of the house. Opening a door at the back of the house they step into an elevator. Gordie smiles at Nicola's surprise while the elevator takes them up several stories. The elevator stops and the doors open, a woman is standing there with a tape measure. She measures Nicola and sends them all to the showers. After showering with the two girls Nicola finds the woman waiting with some clothes for her to wear, they're just her size. The woman takes Nicola and Isobelle to another room where Gordie is waiting.
Turning to Nicola, Gordie says, "Now tell us who you are and why you ran away from home. No point trying to run again, because you can't leave this floor unless one of us goes with you." No one else seems surprised at the young boy's straight forward manner. So she tells them her story.
When she's finished the woman stands, saying, "It won't take long to verify this." She leaves, and the children chat. Ten minutes later the woman returns, "It all checks, the missing person's report seems to have a picture that doesn't look much like you, now! If you wish, you can stay here from now on and go to the local school with Isobelle, since you two seem to get on so well."
Although Nicola is getting used to the people north of the Darunch mountains being friendly, she never expected this. It's too much, she's so happy she sits there crying. Isobelle moves over and gives her a hug while they just sit there until Nicola settles down.
.... There is more of this story ...