As she waits in the Chinese border town of Wanting, Na Ga reflects on her years of slavery and the Westerners who rescued and then deserted her. She is kept alive by two people who befriend her, her courage and blackly ironic sense of humour and above all by her need to become real person. Compelling reading.
'Don't worry, Na Ga is not your real name anyway,' she told me one day. 'You left home before you were given your real name.'
'My real name?' This was news to me.
'It's a custom with your people,' she explained. 'The Lu keep a child's name secret until it's old enough to ask. Then the mother whispers the name into a dried poppy seed. She dips the seed in a kind of hard glue and winds string round it, like a top for spinning. That's your real name and you wear it round your neck. It's what protects you, your name seed.'