She drifts in and out of my life like an unsettling gust of wind. She is 6, maybe 7. Dirty-face.

Tattered clothes. Often, barefoot. She has these eyes, these liquid-rich eyes that pour into your soul and drown you in their sadness.

I have met her many times. High above the blue city of Jodhpur, she ran from a shack made of trash and twirled my hair in her fingers as if it were  silk thread. She kicked at the hot sand and scrambled up a ladder leaned against a water tower painted with illustrations of a maharaja’s dream world.  At night, she sat at the edge of a cliff and looked down upon a life she will likely never know.

I found her again in Morocco in the crowded Djaama El-Fna Square where the snake charmers and storytellers jostle for attention. She moved with the stream of people until the time was right to tug on a pant leg and ask for a dirham.  On a street corner in Argentina as a cold wind blew a hat from her head, she grabbed a hard wad of bread from a storefront window and fled down the sidewalk in hope of escape and in search of a fuzzy cap.

Nobody knows the trouble these girls have already seen. I have written about a girl many times as a newspaper reporter then a magazine writer and now as someone who shares her thoughts on a blog. She doesn’t seem to want to let me go. Nearly every time I venture somewhere out there, I happen across a girl, another girl, with a story short on happy endings. She haunts me long after my suitcase is unpacked. This girl and that girl and those girls remind me to take more things to leave behind and find more ways to do good the next time our paths cross in a faraway place.

There is a lot of  talk these days about human trafficking. I’ve seen both the signs and the remnants. Here in my home state of Oklahoma, news of lost girls and stolen innocence doesn’t surprise us any more.  We rank high for a lot of wrong reasons – teen pregnancies, child abuse, female incarcerations, divorce. Those reasons plus our central location make our state a vulnerable target for anyone with a predatory purpose.

The girl with the big eyes who crossed my path some 20 years ago in my hometown grocery store tags along behind me like an unwanted friend. Sometimes, I look for her in the eyes of prostitutes or meth addicts I read about in the newspaper or see on the street. The last time we were together, I watched her slip her tender fingers into a box of cookies and plop two of them into her mouth. I didn’t call the store manager. I didn’t teach her a lesson. I picked up the box, stuck it at the back of the shelf and walked away. I don’t know if she was hungry or scared or just being a brat.

I know thieves aren’t supposed to have eyes like that. And neither are victims.

Meet me: Sheilah Bright, a sucker for a story. I've been a journalist for 39 years after first publishing at age 14. Do the math. No, don't. My work has appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. I spent 18 years writing advertising for People and TIME magazine. When I'm not traveling abroad, I bounce along the backroads of Oklahoma searching for some golden story nuggets as a contributing editor for This Land Press and Oklahoma Today.

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