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There was something about pea pods that mesmerised me. I didn't know why, but there was something magical about the way the bloated pods burst so cleanly in my hand when I squeezed them. So the corner of the allotment where the peas grew was special, and I would spend hours there, engrossed in my own little world.
The vegetable patch was a piece of land at the end of our garden. On that day, as with many others when there was nothing else happening, I had sneaked off down the brick path that led from our back doorstep, down the garden and through the back gate. I was aware of other children being around. I could hear them but had no desire to find out the cause of their excited chatter. I just wanted to sit in the cool, leafy shade, cocooned from the glare of the sunlight.
I was four, almost five — I recall waiting impatiently for my fifth birthday — and from my diminutive vantage point, the vegetable plants were like giants. They grew in raised beds, forming bushy green bowers as well as tall vines that seemed to clamber across the fence. First there was the cabbage patch and lettuces, then the ranks of tall, straggly runner beans, then the place where the peas grew, the plants dense and bushy, a mass of tendrils and leaves and heavy pods.
I knelt down and plucked the nearest pod, marvelling at the satisfying crack! it made as I burst it open between my fingers. Inside the fat jacket were the glossy emerald globes I was after, and I popped the tiny sweet ones into my mouth.
Very soon I had a small pile of spent pods all around me and a growing pile of discarded peas neatly heaped by my side. Lost in my activity, I was oblivious to the fact that I was not the only person in the allotment that day.
It happened so quickly, it's only a brief snippet of a memory. One minute I was squatting on the bare earth, preoccupied. The next, I saw the flash of a black hand and white cloth, and before I even had a chance to cry out it had sailed towards my face and completely covered it.
I think I probably tried to scream. It would have been instinctive to do so. Perhaps I even managed to. But away in my special place, who would have heard me? And as I jerked in surprise and terror, there was the sharp smell of some sort of chemical that had already shot into my lungs. The hand was huge and rough around my face, and the strength of whoever held me was overpowering. My last thought as I began to slip into unconsciousness was a simple one: I was obviously going to die.
* * *
I had no idea of how much time had passed when I slowly began to rouse from my drug-induced slumber, but I was aware that everything felt strange. I started to tune in to faint noises around me, willing my ears to catch something that might reassure me. Where was I? What had happened?
I tried pulling my body out from its intense sleep, but my eyelids felt too heavy. I couldn't muster the strength to open them to see, so I continued to listen and try to make sense of things, attempting to paint a picture in my mind.
Soon, I was able to identify the sounds of farm animals — I was sure I could hear hens. Pigs too, perhaps. Ducks. I could also hear another sound I thought I recognised. It was an engine. And soon after came the realisation that the noise of the engine was all around me and that I was jerking in time to its tune. The noise rose and fell and juddered, and I juddered with it. I was in a car! Or — no, that might be it! — a truck.
What was definite was that we were travelling over an uneven, rocky surface — a fact confirmed when I finally managed to find the strength to open my eyes. Bright daylight almost blinded me, and colours blurred into stripes as they rushed past me. I had no idea where I was, much less where I was being taken, but the vehicle I was in seemed to be travelling at great speed and I kept sliding around.
Next, I realised I wasn't alone in the back of the truck. Though I couldn't focus my vision on the other passengers around me, I could hear crying and whimpering and anguished sobs of 'Let me go!' There were other children in the truck — terrified children, just like me.
I don't know if it was the fear, or just the effect of whatever they'd given me, but the voices and images then began to fade into a blur of sound and colour, and I drifted once again into unconsciousness.
* * *
When I woke next, once again I had no sense of how much time might have passed. I was focused on just one thing: the slap of irregular wet splashes to my face. The ground around me seemed to be shaking, and I realised I was being carried by an adult. My body was being thrown around in time with hurried footsteps, and I was facing the moving earth, my hair swinging over my eyes. I was getting tangled and slapped with leaves and twigs as I travelled. Thorns snagged my legs and feet, tearing my skin painfully.
I was being carried on the shoulder of a man who was running through dense forest, and, though I couldn't see him, I was aware of another man running with us. I could hear snaps and crackles, and the thud of both sets of feet. But that was all — where had the other children gone? There seemed to be an increased urgency with every stride the men took and I wondered if they were running away from something, frightened, just like I was. An animal? A monster? I knew from stories that scary monsters lived in the forests. And the men's breathing, which I could hear was heavy with panic and perhaps exhaustion, seemed to suggest we were being chased by something dangerous.
Every so often the man who carried me would lurch alarmingly, his knees buckling. I had no idea how far we'd run, or where we were running to, but I could sense we'd come far. The man was staggering, almost falling, and as I was too terrified to think beyond the instinct to cling on to him, I could only hope that soon we'd have outrun whatever it was that was after us.
Finally, he stopped, and my whole body jerked violently. I then felt myself being whirled around, as if the man was unsure in which direction to go next. But then we were moving again, plunging onwards into deeper and denser undergrowth, before stopping again, this time even more abruptly. I tightened my grip but, aware of the aggressive way he'd grabbed me, I let my hands go as he hauled me roughly off his shoulder and dumped me onto the ground.
Dazed, I tried to scramble up and see who it was that had carried me, but by the time I had pulled myself up onto all fours and turned around, all I could see were two pairs of long legs running away. One pair of brown legs and one pair of white legs, both of which were soon lost in the gloom. I tried shouting at them, screaming at them, begging them not to leave me. Even though instinct told me that these were not good men, I was much more frightened of being left in the jungle all alone. But just like in a dream, no sound seemed to come out of my mouth, and soon even their blurred outlines began to fade, melting away into the shadows of the trees and the bushes that were all I could see. I knelt there for a long time, hardly daring to move, just peering into the dark and willing them to return, or at least hoping to hear the cry of one of those other children. I felt helpless, abandoned and so frightened of being alone. Why didn't they come back? Why had they run away from me? Where was my mummy? How was I going to get home?
The darkness deepened and now that the men had gone away the eerie night sounds of the jungle were terrifying. I had no idea where I was, why I was there or when someone would come back for me. I had nothing on but the cotton dress and knickers my mother had dressed me in that morning, and I felt the heat of the earth on which I lay seeping into me as I curled myself into the tightest ball I could.
The sense of desolation and loneliness was gut-wrenching and I ached with it. All I could hope was that if I closed my eyes it would all go away. If I squeezed them tightly enough, perhaps the dark wouldn't be so scary, and soon — please let it be soon — my mummy would come and find me. Perhaps if I slept, when I next woke I would be safely home in bed and would realise all this had all been just a nightmare ...CHAPTER 2
It was the heat of the sun that first woke me. Beneath my left cheek I could feel only a warm, pungent softness but against my right there was a sensation of great heat. It was a strong, searing heat, and as I opened my eyes the light was so blinding I immediately squeezed them shut again.
I rolled onto my back, still halfway between sleeping and consciousness, aware of a new assault now. This time it was on my ears, the air as full of sound as the light was full of sparkles. There were frightening screeches and strange whoops that I couldn't identify.
As I carefully allowed my eyelids to part again, I found myself looking straight up into a big shard of blue. Bright, bright blue, surrounded on all sides by dappled darkness, and as I looked, trying to shade my eyes from the dazzle with my fingers, I gradually realised what it was that I was seeing. It was a patch of sky encircled within a ring of leafy treetops, so high above me that they were just a raggedy black blur.
At last it became clear where I was. In the jungle! The realisation shot through me, and with it came panic, as the memories of the last evening came rushing to greet me. I had been snatched from my home by men who had then dumped me here.
I brushed dark earth from my palms and pulled myself up to my knees. Then I scrambled to my feet and began searching for a way to escape. All I could think of was to find the men who left me. To catch up with them and beg them to take me home. I wanted my mummy. Where was she? Why hadn't she come to find me?
I had no sense of how much time had passed since I'd been abandoned here by my kidnappers. I strained my ears, hoping to hear any sort of sound that would reassure me. The laughter of children, a shout of greeting, the clatter of a cart rolling by. I cried out for my mother, sobbing as I called for her and called for her. My throat rasped with lack of moisture, but at this point I had no thought of finding something to drink or eat. I just desperately wanted to find a way home, so I tried to thrash my way out of all the undergrowth and the tangled hairy vines that looped down from the tree trunks. The gnarled branches and boughs seemed to cut off every exit, and the leaves — leaves so big and so strange and so different from one another — seemed intent on enclosing me in this frightening green hell.
But where to go? There didn't seem to be any kind of path and I didn't recognise anything. I couldn't make out where I'd come from.
As I spun around, every vista seemed the same as the one before it. Trees, trees and more trees, as far as the eye could see. Now and then, as I tripped and blundered my way over and under and around all the tangled obstacles, I would get a glimpse of something brighter beyond. A distant hill, perhaps? But all too soon the plaited walls of my green prison would close in again, and the further I travelled the more a trembling panic surged inside me. This was stupid! Why was I doing this? I should go back, shouldn't I? What if my mummy came to find me? What if she came for me but found I wasn't there?
I turned straight around, choking on the sobs that kept coming, and tried to make my way back to where I'd just been. But it soon became obvious that I had completely lost my way. There was no trace of my passing, no clue to lead me back.
I cried freely now. I couldn't stop the tears streaming from my eyes. And as I stumbled along, intermittently being scratched and snared by vicious branches, I kept trying to make some sense of how I came to be here. Had my parents planned it? Was that it? Had they wanted to get rid of me? I tried to think what I might have done to make them so cross with me. Was it the pea pods? Were they cross because I'd picked so many of them? Had my mummy or daddy asked those horrible men to come and take me?
I tried to remember the man who had taken me from the allotment. The black man, the one who'd covered my mouth with his hand. Who was he? An uncle? I tried to recall his features. He had been tall and very strong. Was he someone who knew me? One of my most treasured possessions back at home was my beautiful black dolly and for some reason this fact kept returning to me. We were a white-skinned family and yet I had a black dolly. Why was that? Did it mean something I didn't understand?
Too drained and upset now to thrash furiously through the endless waist-high undergrowth, my pace slowed, my shoulders drooped and my spirits plummeted. Yet what else could I do but keep trudging on? So I did. It was barely a conscious decision. I just kept going because perhaps I would find a way out or someone who would help me. Or just some sign that meant I might be a step closer to going home.
But as time went on, and my limbs became criss-crossed with scratches, the fear grew in me that this was not going to happen. And when the light began to dim I felt my hope disappear with the sun. It was night-time. It was bedtime. The day was all done. A whole day had passed and I was still trapped in the jungle. I would have to spend another night alone.
The night was blacker than any other I had ever seen. Hard as I strained to see, there was not even the tiniest pinpoint of light apart from the far-away glimmer of stars. The sky itself, though, felt oddly close — almost as if it had fallen down on top of me, settling like an enormous black bedspread all around me and trapping me beneath it with the creatures of the night. Without chemicals to blur the edges of my awareness, my terror now took on an even more desperate quality than the night before. It was the noise again, the incredible volume and range of noises, which I knew, because I'd heard grown-ups talking about them, must come from the jungle beasts that came out at night. And they did that, I knew, because hidden by the dark it would be easier for them to catch their prey.
I had searched around as the blackness had swooped down to claim me and found a small patch of bare soil, unadorned by plant life, that sat within the base of a wide-trunked tree. Here I sat, and as the air grew thicker and murkier I curled myself once again into the tightest ball possible, my back against the reassuring solidity of the bark and my arms wrapped protectively around my bent knees.
I felt strongly that I needed to keep still and quiet. Like in a game, I told myself. A game of hide-and-seek. If I kept very still and didn't make a sound, then the creatures of the night wouldn't know I was there.
But their presence was terrifyingly obvious to me. I could hear so many different sounds, and many were close by. I could hear the same rustlings that I had made as I trampled through the foliage. Scurryings, too — the sound of small animals moving by. And then a crack. A loud crack, frighteningly close to where I cowered. The crunch of something crisp — dead twigs? — being trodden on. The noise moved around me. Whatever it was, it seemed to be circling me, waiting for the right moment to pounce. Could it make me out clearly with its big night-time eyes? And what were those swishing sounds that seemed to follow it? A tail? Was it a child-eating monster? Could it smell me?
I tried to make myself smaller. I wished so much for a cage that I could scuttle inside. A cage that would protect me from slashing claws and biting jaws. Or a light. How I longed for my mummy to bring a light that would scare the monster away.
But then something must have startled whatever it was that stalked me, for there was a rush of small sounds as it darted away, and I felt a blessed moment of relief. But it wasn't to last. As the night wore on and I lay in my tight ball inside the tree trunk, my lack of vision merely served to terrify me even more. Frightening though it may have been to see any jungle creatures close up, I decided that not being able to see them was even worse. As it was, I could do nothing but flinch and quake in terror as creeping things crawled up and down my limbs, tried to explore the contours of my face and crept inside my ears. I longed for sleep like I had never longed for anything before, because no nightmare, however scary, could possibly be worse than the nightmare I was trapped in right now.
Excerpted from the girl with no name by Marina Chapman, Vanessa James, Lynne Barrett-Lee. Copyright © 2013 Marina Chapman. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 20, 2014
An incredible story of survival.
This was our book club's November selection. It is the story of a little girl of 4 who was kidnapped from her backyard,
then abandoned in the jungle of Colombia. We don't ever learn why she was abandoned, just that she was. Knowing
that this is a true story, I empathized with her right away. She was obviously very bright to be able to survive and not just sit
on the ground, cry and die. I was transported to the jungle with her, dealing with fear, creepy crawly things, hunger and
loneliness. Her story is amazing, insightful, and so sad that she had to go through all that she did. She kept her innate
goodness though, even though it was hidden when she had to survive on the streets. I like her. She is definitely a hero
of mine. I am curious to read the sequel. I am sure she used all she learned from the monkeys in raising her own family.