The rain had paused long enough for her to run down the street. The sidewalk was painted by the faded orange street lamps, and we were just supposed to drive by, continue on, keep going.

Of course I couldn’t. She was obviously crying, so I pull around the block and park. “I’m just going to see if she’s alright,” I say to my coworker in my passenger seat.

I hate wearing shoes. Even flip flops, I just want bare feet. I’m sure I should be concerned about glass or nails or something else that could harm me. But tonight, I’m just not.

I open my car door, bare feet onto the rain-soaked pavement and run towards her. She’s half running, half distraught, but she turns and stops when I ask if she’s alright.

I don’t really mind that we’re in the middle of the road, that we may be in someone’s way. I don’t mind, the girl just needed a quick reminder; nothing gets in the way of love.

And that’s all it really takes. A little desperation for change – or love or freedom or hope – and showing up bare. But I am always wishing there was something else. Something more.

Her mascara is old. It hasn’t run neatly down her face like fresh mascara would do. Instead, little black specs have taken over her now grey cheeks and she wipes it like it might all go away for me not to see.

We just hug. Loose gravel sticks between my toes and we don’t let go. Two strangers in the street, covered in rain and faded orange light.

“Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why don’t women see how much they’re worth? I make him so much money, and he treats me like shit.” She talks like we’re friends, no, sisters. I can’t help but wonder if we are.

We’re still hugging. Her hairspray and a trail of liquor hit my nose and I’ve got nothing left to say.

People keep telling me prostitution is a choice.

Her feet are bare too. She says they’re in her pimps car – the handsome man in the silver car nearby – and I want to get her my flip flops. I want to get her in my car, and give her my flip flops. Or maybe we could go eat pancakes at an all-night diner, or just sit there in the car. My mind is racing, but she just needed a hug in the middle of the night, without an expectation for something in return.

They keep telling me it’s a choice, but I’ve yet to see it once.

After four years out on those streets, building relationships with these women I quickly call my friends, knowing the stats of entry are still sitting at 12-14 year of age, and I can’t see the choice here. I can see the money, the hacking of heart and soul, but not the choice. Can you?

Of course she needs to keep going. She’s got someone she needs to get away from. She says I’m the nicest person she’s ever met and I can’t help but think that’s such an overstatement of my efforts, but I’ve felt the embrace of a real hug too.

My coworker and I, We sit and watch for a while in the car. She yells at her pimp, proclaiming her love and her hate in one breath at him. We listen, we cringe. We watch him leave, come back, leave and come back again.

And there at the little white church with the bright graffiti wall, she slouches into a ball. He comes back, kneels, puts on her shoes, and we watch.

Her hair was wet, mascara old, shoes missing, tears falling, and they keep telling me to let them be, this is all their choice.