The Low-Flying Dove

Posted: October 13, 2011 in Our work
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One of the first things we learned when we arrived in Manila was that there is no word for “prostitute” in Tagalog. If Filipinos talk about the girls or women working on the streets and in bars, they use the English word or the Filipino euphemism kalapating mababa ang lipad, low-flying dove. One of the staff at Samaritana told us that this was a clue to understanding just how shameful prostitution is in Filipino culture. As I came to know and love dozens of these women, the idea stuck with me–not just the shame, but the image of a beautiful bird who flies low and can’t recover. The phrase haunted me all year; now it’s the title of my novel.

Many of you have asked for updates on the book, which I really appreciate! I finished it a couple of weeks ago, a feat made possible by my husband, who has been working hard to make sure that I can write full-time, a dream we’ve shared for more than a decade. It’s been a season of uncertainty, but also of wonder; God willing, a new little Davis will show up sometime in March.

As of a week ago, my novel is in the hands of a couple of agents. While the publishing process can take months (or even years), I wanted to give you a little taste of the book in the meantime. The moment I have any updates on the publishing process, you will find out about it here.

The following is a short excerpt from the middle of the book. While many scenes are more light-hearted and capture all that I came to cherish about the Philippines, other parts touch on the difficult realities of sex trafficking and prostitution. This particular scene is an introduction to Lovely, a low-flying dove.


Excerpt from The Low-Flying Dove:

The dogs woke Lovely on the morning of her wedding. Usually she could shake off the pre-dawn cacophony, or even let the insomniac roosters and yelping animals tumble into half-dreams. This morning all she could think about was him, a vision too chilling to let her linger in morning slumber.

She crept past her sisters, who slept the contented sleep of innocence, snoring softly. As she passed the mattress by the far wall, she could hear her father’s whistling breath, and was immediately hit with the smells of sweat and Ginebra gin. She no longer heard him when he came in at night, many hours after the rest of them had fallen asleep. Lovely’s mother slept facing the wall, her back to her husband.

Outside the air was thick, and the sky hung heavily with pregnant clouds. The gray light of early morning didn’t have its usual cool, and Lovely took this to be a sign, a bad omen of her own terrible future.

She walked, ignoring the nagging conscience that had always been with her as the Ate to her younger siblings. She shouldn’t be out walking on the morning of her wedding. She should be home washing herself, wrapping her hair into little knots that would later become curls, dressing in the dress her mother had borrowed money to have made. She shook off this old wisdom; it hadn’t served her well. Someone else could be the Ate from now on.

She came to the place she’d been looking for without realizing that she was headed there all along. It was a sandy spot along the coast, less of a beach and more of a shoreline with only wispy memories of white sand. On the east side of the island, the waves were powerful and constant, a message from the endless ocean that ended in lands so distant and different that it was easier not to believe they were real. But on this side of the island, the water was still, and the world felt manageable, small. It was a place she hadn’t come to for many months, since before she’d left the province to work for Ma’am Yolly—before she met Jejomar. There was a perfectly smooth rock facing the water that was just the right size for a small person to sit.

Ate?” A squeaky, insistent voice stirred the morning haze just as Lovely was about to sit down. “Ah-tay!”

“Quiet,” she scolded, knowing without turning that it was Boy. “It’s still early.”

“Help me,” he said as he shoved a dirty fistful of white flowers at her.

“Not today, Boy,” she said, shaking off the feeling that had settled in before the small boy had spotted her.

Isa lang,” he cried. “Just one, Ate?”

She let him settle into her lap and dutifully tied the flower stems together in knots until she had made one wilting necklace, and then another. The flimsy blossoms might sell enough for Boy to buy some peanuts, but she didn’t have the heart to tell him that with her distorted harelip, his sister would always sell more. It wasn’t enough to simply be cute. They were street children, practically orphans since they had no father and their mother would do no more than sit on city curbs begging for spare change, sniffing rugby.

When at last Lovely had tied up the last of his flowers, Boy took the bundle and scurried off, forgetting to say thank you, and oblivious to Lovely’s weary expression.

She didn’t cry today as she had for so many days before. There was no use in replaying the scene, wondering if she could’ve somehow escaped from his grasp, chased away everything that would follow. Perhaps it hadn’t been her fault, her mother had said, smoothing Lovely’s hair as she cried, her inner thighs still burning even though she had washed herself until the blood and cloudy white fluid was gone. He really shouldn’t have been at the house while Ma’am Yolly was out. But Lovely was so pretty, and it was easy enough to understand why he’d wanted her. Now that he’d had her, they would marry. Perhaps it wasn’t the union they had hoped for, but there were worse men in the world, and Ma’am Yolly would find them work.

Her mother had said these things without looking directly at her, her soothing hand a betrayal. Lovely knew that the man she was marrying was not a good man, and her mother knew it, too. She must’ve known that Lovely had done nothing to suggest to him that she wanted the bruises on her wrists from where he held her down, or the lump on the back of her head from where he slammed her against the floor until she held still and let him do what he’d come for.

“Mama,” she’d said, facing away from her mother, but she couldn’t bear to ask the question she’d wanted to for months, to know if her mother had knowingly sent her to Ma’am Yolly’s, knowing what she’d be expected to do there. Lovely’s mother, as if she had known that the question was not one to be discussed, did not respond.

  1. Sarah says:

    With just this short section, I have been so moved to want to know much more about Lovely. How sad and lovely at the same time. So rich in texture. I can’t wait for you to be published!

  2. Wow, Laura. Powerfully written. I’m so proud of you–all the hard work you’ve put into this, allowing beautiful women to speak through you, speaking stories that need to be heard. I can’t wait to read the whole thing. 🙂 Praying for the agents to be smart and see what incredible writing this is, and how important these stories are to share. Mahal at miss kita.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks so much, Sarah! You were there through those early interviews, and I couldn’t have done the work I did without you laying that important groundwork. Mahal at miss kita rin!

  3. Sarah Ago says:

    this is the first time I have read your work and I am truly impressed. As a fellow advocate, I am so thankful to see you shedding light on this tragic reality for so many women around the world. I will pray for the process going forward for your book. this needs to be published- soon!
    Sarah A.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks so much, Sarah! In many ways, we owe you for this past year. If you had never taken that seminary class and told us all about human trafficking, or let me borrow that stack of books and articles on trafficking, we may never have found ourselves in Manila! You were the inspiration that gave us that extra push we needed, and we can only hope that we will be that for others.

  4. Marilyn quamme says:

    Thanks for sharing your writing. It has me wanting to read more and I trust the publishers will feel the same way.

  5. Jennifer Rolander says:

    Hey Laura,
    It is amazing how in such a short excerpt you were able to evoke so much emotion in me when I read this. This must be so incredibly hard to write about especially since you saw these women and girls first hand. I hope we are fortunate enough to see some more bits from the book-I am so looking forward to reading the entire novel. You continue to amaze me with your talent and drive my dear. We sure hope to see you soon-xoxoxo

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jennifer, and thanks for the way you guys have supported us through this whole process. And yes, there was a lot of love poured into this book because of how much I love those women. They are some of the bravest souls I have ever encountered, and my hope from the beginning is that what I’ve written will honor them and redeem some of the awful stuff they’ve been through.

  6. Laura, Your creative writing abilities will make a difference. Thank you and the Lord bless you.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks so much, Brian. Every day I try not to think about the three agents who have been sitting on my book for a month. Encouraging words like yours are what keep me remembering that the whole process in in God’s hands.

  7. Scrow says:

    Amazing! Can’t wait to read the rest. As always you tell a poignant story that has the ability to make the characters so real you could almost reach out and touch them. Thank you for taking us all through your journey this past year. You have touched me with your insight into the depths of human depravity contrasted with a tremendous potential for good. Looking forward to following the next chapter in your lives as God continues to touch others through your generous spirit. I love you.
    Your big Sis

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks, Sheri! While feedback always means a lot, feedback from family is pretty much as good as it gets in my book. Your support means the world to us! Thanks for believing in us through it all.

  8. says:

    I feel pretty sick reading the last three paragraphs. Which is the point. Good job.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks, Hal. I did a reading recently and someone came up to me and said the exact same thing. I assured her that the book isn’t all like this scene, that there are many other uplifting, more light-hearted moments. But yes, you’re right. Unfortunately it is the point.

  9. Anne says:

    Congrats on finishing the novel! That is excellent! I can’t wait until it is published, and I can bring it to my book group!!! The excerpt was excellent, and though I know it is difficult to get things published in this day and age, I bet you will have a contract by the end of the year!

    Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about the newest little Nate and Laura!!


    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks so much, Anne! You guys have always been so supportive, and we are so grateful. We get updates now and then from Shira on how you’re doing. It means so much that you’ve stayed in touch!

  10. Katie Leestma says:

    Wow. I just had a chance to read this, and you successfully managed to transport me from my living room back to scenes so common for women like Lovely. Your remarkable writing allows me to picture her clearly. The title of your novel sparks curiosity and is very fitting! This book will put a face on this tragedy and fate of so many who live this reality without overwhelming readers, and will foster compassion and action I’m sure! Excited to read more… 🙂 -Katie

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