Not Without Her Children

Copyright 2010 Mandy Mason

Based on a true story

There can be an escape

A book of Hope

All characters and locations in this book are fictive.

Chapter 1

The Moonlight flit

Mandy lived in a day-to-day fear, not knowing when Janus would make his moves. To avoid any suspicion, Mandy had given herself one day before their immigration to pack up their luggage. The previous day a social worker had come to visit Mandy’s house to observe Mandy’s interaction with the children. The visit had been to once again confirm there were no issues regarding the mother looking after the children. Everything in the house had still been in place. No one was able to see that within two days, Mandy and her children would not be there anymore.

The mother had made lists in advance, in order not to forget her children’s most precious toys and teddy bears, and the essential clothes they needed. She had bought a big second hand suitcase a long time ago, to avoid anyone from wondering as to why she needed it. However, she also bought it that far in advance, because even though it all seemed impossible, she had felt it was going to happen, she was going to leave together with her children. Somehow, by purchasing that suitcase, even when all the formalities around custody and visa weren’t ready yet, it had symbolised the vibe that one day, one day they would depart and embrace freedom! She needed that vibe to survive the dark forces who were after herself and her children, otherwise, she couldn’t survive. She needed that light at the end of the tunnel.

Mandy and Arthur wait for darkness to come for it is almost summer in the Netherlands and daylight would stay until ten o’clock that night.  The birds are still singing their songs well into the evening as Mandy stares at her dark purple bedroom wall with framed pictures of her and the children. She turns her head to look out of her window, straight into the bright green trees of the terrace she loves greatly. Her thoughts wander, thinking of this detached house in a crowded neighbourhood, a suburb close to Amsterdam, their home since she had left her ex-husband Janus.

It was surrounded by lovely neighbors and had a playground at the back of her forty square meters fenced garden, where the children used to play with their friends. Mandy, Arthur and the children had enjoyed many happy moments in this residency. It would have been perfect, had it not been for all Janus’s unexpected visits.

Mandy wanted to be free and she wanted her children to have a good life. This time, she had not made the mistake of telling anyone, not even her children, where she was going only Arthur knew and he would be joining them in a couple of weeks’ time. His stay with Mandy and her children in Australia would be a trial, to see if he could settle there. He argued with Mandy to convince her to stay in Holland, in the Netherlands. Regardless of his love, support, their warm relationship and good communication Mandy’s desire for a free, safe life is greater than her personal love for this man.

Even though he had a restraining order against him, skilled as he was, Mandy had seen that Janus knew how to avoid any laws or rules. It was like trying to catch and hold a water snake, nothing could stop him and authorities, merely thought it was a matter of bad communication between two ex-partners. No one did a search for truth, to investigate the different stories both Mandy and Janus would elaborate on, the police dismissed every report Mandy filled as a ‘family matter’.  He would come around especially when he knew the kids were home and out of the blue appear with his head above the blinded part of the window, banging his fists on the glass, yelling, “Belle! Jai! Your mother is a bitch!” It would frighten Belle to death and Jai didn’t understand why his mother would just not open the door to let his father in.

After the long drive to the German Airport they enter hand in hand and look up the flight numbers but they are not displayed on the digital monitors. Mandy’s resolve begins to falter as she steps up to the information desk, while Arthur distracts the children. “Perhaps,” Mandy thinks, “all of this is not meant to be after all.” The person at the counter informs her their flight has been cancelled. The ground flight attendant tells her not to worry however; she will give them alternative flights. These flights turn out to be even better and it flashes through Mandy’s mind that it will be less easy to track them since the original flights were cancelled. They check in and approach the man waiting behind the counter. “When something is Meant To Be, it will happen,” Mandy thought again.

In her bag Mandy has the translated registration from the City Council stating her sole custody over the children. The children did not have the same surname as Mandy so she hoped this registration should be enough for the airport stewards to let them go. Otherwise, in addition, she has put her court orders saying that she had sole custody in her hand luggage.

“Who are these children?” asks the counter man dismissively.

“They are mine, they are my children, I am their mother,” declares Mandy firmly. She expected a problem, expected a thorough check, but nothing like that happened. They checked in their luggage and were simply ready to go!

It was hard to say goodbye to Arthur. Mandy wants to hold on to him, but she has to leave. He needs to drive back to the Netherlands, so with tears in her eyes, she kisses him goodbye.

Mandy with Belle and Jai are on the plane, finally. It is a long journey, and during the transfer the luggage feels too much to carry. She’d thought a weight would be lifted off her shoulders, but it did not. The children are too tired to carry their own bags, and Mandy is exhausted as the children had hardly slept on the plane. When they arrive at Darwin Airport, it is a long que ahead of the passport control, as a blessing kind people let them pass ahead of them in line. Their luggage, all the possessions they could take into Australia, goes onto two trolleys and brave Belle, small of posture pushes the second trolley and tiny Jai is too tired to walk so Mandy places him on top of the luggage of the trolley where he promptly falls asleep, his body wriggling as he dreams.  They wait a long time in line for the passport control before it is their turn and then are not permitted to pass, but are referred to a second counter.

Mandy does not know what is going on, she enquires further, but the stern man behind the desk does not answer her. Mandy thought she would lose it, they had come this far and now, now it will be the end. Janus must have found out, he must have alerted the authorities, and he is trying to stop them. But that wouldn’t be realistic, how would it possible? She had sole custody, she had the legal right to make this decision. She had a court order stating that there could not be a parenting plan between Janus and the children.

The men behind the counter keep on checking their passports and then passing it on to the next colleague, who is also checking the passport in his computer. After checking the passports over and over again, for what seems forever, the person behind the counter closest to them announces their salvation and tells them that they are free to enter Australia.  Mandy, Belle and Jai walk through the exit of Darwin airport towards the taxi stand and they see the first palm trees of Australia. Freedom, at last!  A great sense of relief floods through Mandy’s body and Belle hugs a first palm tree as her way to embrace Australia.

Back in the Netherlands the school is alarmed, by Janus or by the fact that both Belle and Jai had not appeared. Two teachers cycle around to the house as the distance between Mandy’s house and the school is only a few minutes away. They are greatly shocked to discover an empty house and very concerned about what happened to Belle and Jai. Child Safety Amsterdam, who was supervising the children, is informed about the disappearance of the mother and her children.  In Janus’ first court case to retrieve the children, after Mandy had left the Netherlands, the child safety officer will declare, “The mother has done a Moonlight flit, she has changed herself into the Wind”.

Two days after she set foot in Australia, Mandy responds to an advertisement about a job as a teacher. Her advantage was that it was midterm, half way the Australian school year, and apparently it wasn’t that easy for Principals to come by teachers. She used the letter and CV she so carefully drafted whilst she was still in the Netherlands.

All her work now began to bear fruit as indeed, a Principal got on the phone to invite her over for a job interview. As strict as the rules would apply for the immigration services and the registration as a teacher at the Northern Territory, as informal would the Principal approach Mandy. In the Netherlands one would not easily use someone’s first name when applying for a job, whereas here in Australia it seems to be a habit to approach people in a friendly, informal way. The Principal said he lived just around the corner from Mandy, and as it were the school holidays, he could easily pop over for an interview. Mandy was astonished as she’d never come across such an approach for a job interview.

“Well, you’re most welcome, however, I’ve just moved up here and the house is rather empty,” she replied.

“Oh, that’s not a problem. We could meet at a coffee shop downtown if you like?” said the Principal.

“Ok,” said Mandy, “well here is the next problem. My partner is back in the Netherlands and I’ve got two young children aged eight and five, they do not speak English yet, nor do I think it is appropriate in this stage of our immigration to leave them with any babysitter. So, I’ll have to take them with me to the interview.”

“That is not a problem,” answered the Principal to Mandy’s great surprise.

Mandy instructed Jai and Belle to be absolutely quiet during the interview. She bought them some cake and they both had their tablet on them as well as some stuff to craft. Before the interview could even start, Belle managed to drop her whipped cream on the floor and Jai made a big mess. Mandy felt her stress levels raising, but the Principal was so kind, he sensed what was going on and reassured her that bringing her children would not affect the interview.  Once they could finally get started and could exchange their knowledge and passion about education the interview flowed and went very well.

“Look Mandy,” said the Principal, “I have to be honest with you, in the past week some other teachers applied for the job as well. They are not as experienced as you are, but I’ll interview them as well.”

“Of course,” said Mandy, “I fully understand.”

“And then there is another question I have for you,” he continued, “on your CV, after your references, you’ve noted ‘Please to not reveal my location to my referent’. Why is that?”

Mandy appreciated that the Principal had carefully read her CV and had noted her remark, she appreciated that bringing her children to the interview had not withheld him from meeting her and interviewing her.

“Well, I’ve got a stalker looking for me and I want us to be safe,” she replied.

“Oh, I understand. Well, it’s all good,” he said waiving away any potential problems with his hand.

After the interview, Mandy went home taking the bus with Belle and Jai, as they still did not have their own car. That evening, her mobile rang and she saw it was the Principal calling her.

“Look Mandy, I’ve enjoyed the interview and I have confidence in your capabilities, the job is yours if you want it,” the Principal said.

Obviously, Mandy did not hesitate and immediately accepted the offer. After she ended the conversation she yelled it out to Belle and Jai and the three of them held hands and danced in the empty dining room. The children did not quite understand the importance of the job and the necessity to have a source of income, but they felt their mother’s relief and happiness. Mandy’s relief was huge, but Arthur couldn’t be happier, having a source of income had been his greatest concern.

The kind, gentle Principal even agreed for Mandy to start as soon as Arthur arrived, so he could look after Jai and Belle, while she would be working. This gave Mandy some time to enrol the children into the nearest school. To their great surprise in Australia one had to wear a school uniform and the children thought that was rather exciting and cool. They also had to buy their own books for school, which in the Netherlands would all be provided. Mandy thought it was good that parents had to contribute something to their children going to school. Having it all for free created spoilt parents in the Netherlands, who wouldn’t even be willing to pay for their voluntary contribution to school.

The children were excited to go to their new school and were looking forward to their first day. Meanwhile, Mandy became very ill, it seemed like all the tensions, everything she had to arrange for, all the emotional guidance she had had given Belle and Jai, finally took their toll.  But it was ok, she didn’t yet have to start her job, she could give herself a break for a couple of days.

It was on Belle’s birthday, three months after they had arrived in Down Under, at ten o’clock in the evening there was a firm knocking on the door. For a moment Mandy thought it had been her imagination, then she got out of bed as quick as she could, as the front door was next to Belle’s bedroom and she feared that her daughter would wake up by whatever moron was knocking on her front door!

When she opened the door, feeling uncomfortable being in her pyjamas, she froze to see the police standing in front of her and inquiring about her formal name, as in Australia, she had chosen another preferred name, to make sure, Janus would never find them.  

“Are you Mandy?” said a stern looking female police officer, shadowed by a taller male colleague who was standing behind her.

“Yes, I am how can I help?” Mandy managed to reply.

“Well mam, we received a very concerning email from the Dutch Central Authorities, and we are here to check that out,” said the police officer.

Mandy felt her heart beats going up and her mind couldn’t stop thinking, “Oh no, oh no, this is it, there must be something terribly wrong.”

Then the police officer showed her an email in badly translated English. To her great surprise, the email was composed and sent from an email address Mandy recognised as one Janus had set up for her for professional purposes, about ten years ago and it contained the recipient ‘Ms Mandy’, as in ‘the teacher Mandy’.

The email stated that the police and Child Safety should not come around to find her, Belle or Jai or otherwise, if anyone would come close to them, she would kill the children by feeding them something containing poison. The writing was signed by Mandy.

The next day they all got up and went to school. Mandy actually had a Professional Development day. The whole morning Mandy felt nervous and she had good reason, as by the end of the morning session her mobile phone rang and it turned out to be a Child Safety Officer.

The officer wanted to meet Mandy that afternoon and would come straight to her house. Although Mandy dreaded the talk and the visit, not knowing what was going to happen, she was indeed impressed by the speed both the police and Child Safety here in Australia had acted. As a Head of School in the Netherlands, she had so often filed reports on children that were in dangerous home situations and that needed protection or a quick assessment of their situation. Almost never would the social system act on these reports, assessments by Child Safety would mostly only occur if it was somehow court ordered. Even if the child lived with drug addicts, had no food or even no parent to look after them, that wouldn’t really activate anybody in the Dutch Child Protection system. If the child then would be found dead, they couldn’t wait to cover their arses as soon as they could with any kind of paperwork that would exclude them from any responsibilities.

In the weeks that followed the assessor remained in touch and Mandy learned that Janus had applied for the return of the children with the Dutch Central Authorities, referring to the international abduction law of the ‘The Hague Convention.’  However, to Mandy’s great relief his application had been refused, the Dutch Authorities had stated that under the ‘The Hague convention’, according to international law, Mandy had had the legal right to relocate the children as she had sole custody.

Then, one Friday afternoon, when they were all looking forward to a relaxing weekend, a gentleman arrived at the doorstep to hand a package of papers over to Mandy.

“Excuse me Madam, could you please accept these? It’s about a court case. Were you expecting this, or does it come as a surprise?” the man inquired worriedly.

“What a kind bailiff,” Mandy thought, “I have never came across one before that would be concerned about the impact this would have on me.”

“Well, yes, I thought it might happen one day,” she replied smilingly accepting that what she feared would happen, was happening.

And indeed it was what she had feared, however, it was worse than anyone could have imagined. Never could she have expected an application to take the children out of her care, never would she expect any Dutch court to give Janus sole custody and to put her completely out of the picture. That was what the whole packet of papers was about, Jai and Belle had to return to the Netherlands.

Mandy scanned the two hundred documents containing affidavits from Janus and his Dutch lawyer about how she kidnapped the children from the Netherlands, statements from the Principal of the former Dutch Primary school that she had acted illegally by taking the children out of school, a statement from a new Dutch Child safety officer named Maria, that the mother had never been a reliable care taker, a letter from her own mother to explain how unpredictable Mandy had always been and a letter from a Malawian doctor stating that she had been involved in human trafficking and falsifying passports. It just couldn’t be true, she felt anger raising through her body.

But the most astonishing documents were Dutch court orders, made without Mandy’s knowledge and defence, overruling the initial decision of the Dutch Central Authorities not to apply to the Australian Authorities for the return of the children. After their refusal to apply with for the return of the children, Janus had simply dragged the Dutch Central Authorities straight to court. He appealed against their decision with success, managing to convince the judges in the appeal to force the Dutch Central Authorities to apply for the return of the children.

The Central Authorities knew the international rules best, but the judges in the appeal seemed to have believed Janus’ sad story about the mother who was trying to keep the children away from their father, about how Mandy ducked Child Safety in the Netherlands, how she would have lied in court about not moving houses while she had sole custody and how she left without awaiting an appeal Janus’ had started against her sole custody. The ignorant judges were influenced by Janus emotional manipulation and the Dutch Central Authorities appeared to have been flabbergasted, not really bringing forward a proper defence.

The nightmare was not yet complete, as in an appeal against Mandy’s sole custody, Janus’ lawyer pulled a legal smart trick and convinced the court, again in Mandy’s absence and without her defence, that they should write a verdict stating that Mandy’s sole custody should be deemed never to have existed. There was a restoration of shared custody between Mandy and Janus retroactively, which meant they have always by law been obligated to both consent to important decisions concerning Jai and Belle. In this way, all of a sudden, Mandy’s departure with the children was an act of abduction.

But these punishments against Mandy, her punishment for daring to leave Janus, for having the guts to even disappear from his field of control, was still not enough for him, he wanted more. And thus, he applied successfully for sole custody, keeping the promise he once made her, “If you divorce me, I will make sure you will never see your children again.”

And so it began

When the date was decided and the day of their departure came closer, she was crying as she walked through the house. Doing their last laundry, attending to the last practical things of packing their favourite toys and making sure they had everything they needed for their long journey on the plane from Australia back to the Netherlands.

She felt she was mentally collapsing and against her habits, took an afternoon glass of wine to sedate her sadness. The house was a mess, she did not keep track with the dishes and fortunately, it was the school holidays. Mechanically she had attended her job as a teacher every day, seeing and awaiting the big dark cloud in the distance, the cloud that was coming nearer every second. Could she be brave enough to see this through to the end, to fight for her children? Her thoughts wander off to her childhood move to Malawi and how resillient she had been at the time even as such a young child.

Little Mandy fears missing the aircraft, that she would be too late and that it would long be gone, off to Malawi, where they will live from now on. Mandy’s father is a doctor and he will work at a small hospital in the middle of the bush in Africa. At three years old, Mandy sits on her father’s shoulders as she and her one-year-old brother, being held by his mother, approach the aircraft by foot in the middle of the night at the biggest airport in the Netherlands, Schiphol. The massive plane waits patiently, the roar of its engines masking all other sounds.

The road is paved but scattered with potholes which the driver is avoiding as expertly as he could, keeping a limited speed. Now and then they must stop as a goat crosses the road or a little boy, dressed in rags, leads his cows with a stick to the opposite side. Dried, yellow grass stretches out from both sides of the road, alternated by strange looking trees that appear to spread their branches fully to both sides, as if it was a human standing tall and spreading their arms wide.

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