She’d been away for more than a month now, with pictures and videos to prove that she was indeed backpacking across Southern Asia.
Knowing her daughter to lie rarely, she believed everything she saw. But when she saw an unexplainable change of scenery, she knew something was terribly wrong.
Dora was a single mom living in New York. An established real estate agent, she’d built everything she had through hard work and determination. Dora lived with her two daughters, Grace and Maria, who she loved very much.
Grace was a senior in high school while Maria had finished undergrad and was on her way to attaining her Master’s in Sociology. As a single mom, Dora couldn’t be prouder of her kids.
The dynamic between Dora and her daughters was immaculate. Grace and Maria revered her as a woman who’d singlehandedly achieved so much and a mom who, against all odds, gave them the best lives they could ever want.
They respected Dora and, in most cases, emulated her in everything they did. So when Dora found out the truth about the trip to Asia, she was beside herself.
This whole incident started when Maria informed Dora that for the fieldwork portion of her Master’s degree, she’d have to travel to several cities scattered across Southeast Asia.
Dora had been reluctant at first, knowing how costly a trip across the world was. But Maria quickly offered a solution that seemingly brought her to heel.
She informed Dora that her school would fund the trip as she’d requested in her proposal at the beginning of her studies. Dora saw sense in this information but was still apprehensive about the trip.
The idea of her daughter galavanting across oceans and continents was enough to constrict her throat. Maria was her firstborn and best friend. Would Dora willingly allow her to go on such a daunting trip alone?
Dora told Maria her stand on the matter. Although she didn’t like it, she knew her daughter was as fierce as she’d been when she’d started working in real estate. If this is what Maria wanted, then Dora would stand by her.
Two months later, Maria left for Southeast Asia. She sent her first set of photos from Bangkok, hopping on a video call with Dora and Grace. If only Dora knew what was truly happening.
A few days passed with Maria staying in Bangkok. She’d call every evening to update Dora and Grace on her fieldwork. She also uploaded heaps of photos to Instagram, no doubt letting her friends know what she was up to.
In the second and third weeks, Maria traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, and Malacca. She’d check in with Dora and Grace every evening then upload pictures to Instagram. Then something weird happened.
The next time Maria called, she wasn’t in Southern Asia. The rich green vistas that usually shone outside her hotel windows were now endless dunes and blue skies.
“Dubai,” Maria chirped when Dora asked her where she was. Her background was bright, with a city of silver skyscrapers shining behind her. Dora quickly pulled up her Instagram and saw new photos. Her brows furrowed.
Dora always knew her firstborn to be a conservative young woman. Maria rarely dressed in revealing clothes and the like, always choosing to layer up even when the weather was friendly.
But in the photos staring at Dora, Maria was dressed in a flowing linen gown that exposed her midriff and parts of her thighs. But that wasn’t the most shocking part.
Maria had taken all her photos in yachts and high-end cars. The room she was in was also too luxurious for what her school could afford.
As a real estate agent, Dora met people from all walks of life. She’d heard of the stories surrounding Arabian cities and the people who loved going there. Most of these people lived luxurious lives, yet they couldn’t afford it, which landed them in trouble.
With her heart pounding, Dora asked Grace to give her and Maria some private time to discuss some grown-up business. Grace whined but left, and as the door shut behind her, Dora barraged Maria with questions about her trip.
She informed Maria of the dangers she’d heard of, giving her some real-life examples of people who’d jumped into such lifestyles only to suffer in the long run. What Maria told her made her lips part.
“I want you to go to my campus apartment at school, mom,” Maria said. “This will all make sense when you see what’s there.” Although the request was cryptic, Dora wasted no time jumping in her car and driving to Maria’s school.
With Grace in tow, Dora hurried to Maria’s apartment. She hastily unlocked it, pushing the door open. But what she found made her step back.
Maria was seated on a revolving chair while petting a pink carebear. A smile spread across her face. Dora’s mouth fell open, Grace pushing by her to stand by Maria while grinning.
“What’s happening?” Dora asked, still trying to piece whatever she was seeing. “You’re not gonna sit down, mom?” Maria asked, gesturing at her couch. “Sit.”
When Dora didn’t move, Maria made a frustrated sound and pouted. “Please, mom? I spent the entire afternoon preparing for this villainous moment.” When Nora sat down, Maria and Grace, who’d been in on whatever was happening, explained everything.
Maria was doing her fieldwork as she assured Dora she would be when she left home. But her work didn’t take her to Southeast Asia.
Maria had been sending her pictures to high-end photoshop artists to fix her into exotic places. She also used a green screen in her video calls with Dora and her friends.
She was studying the horrific side of social media, where most people present a fake lifestyle that they aren’t living. Dora looked at her as she explained everything, pride swelling within her heart. She wondered how she’d landed such an intelligent and driven daughter.