“Hey,” she screamed as loud as her fragile body allowed.
Despite being a couple of blocks away from her, I could hear her heavy breaths coordinated with the harsh sound of her feet crashing into the asphalt beneath her. I ran, let my feet guide me, let my legs overpower me, shut my brain out. Bag in hand, I did everything but turn my head back. Turning back would have meant facing the fact that what I had done was unacceptable. Worse than unacceptable; horrible, unjust, dishonest. Unforgivable. Yet I did it anyways. And it wasn’t the first time.
I kept running, I could feel the air lifting my feet, helping me flee. Not that I needed much help. After a few minutes I realized I had lost her completely. But my feet didn’t stop.
I could have easily taken the bus back home, but running seemed like a much better option. I turned the corner onto my street. Whistles.
Strange noises crowded my ears. The whistles morphed into hisses. Soon, the hissing turned to a deafening screech. I recognized what it was. A laughter.
I stopped running and chose to walk instead. Those sounds weren’t new. They didn’t even scare me anymore. That is until I saw them.
They were leaning against the degraded wall. Their hungry, cannibal eyes scanned my body. I was their next meal. A shiver ran down my spine. There were three of them, one of me and they were drunk.
Empty bottles and cans rolled by their feet and I could smell the stench of alcohol emanating from their repugnant bodies.
Hood on, head down, I walked past them, praying they wouldn’t follow and trying to forget what I had just seen. I knew they would.
I quickly but cautiously reached the front door of my building. My head kept snapping from side to side, my eyes searching for those dark figures. I saw nothing. They probably passed out, I told myself. Still, I could not rest. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. Not patient enough to find my keys, I slammed my fist onto the doorbell hoping my mom would open as soon as possible.
As usual, no one answered. Not my mother, not her boyfriend. No one. After taking a few deep breaths I opened the door and walked up the three flights of stairs it took to reach our old, dirty apartment. The front door was unlocked so I assumed she was home.
“Hey mom,” I called out as I came through the entrance. “I got us some money. Looks like we’ll have enough for lunch and dinner tomorrow.” I looked down at the black, leather bag. It must have been very expensive, and it was gorgeous. Suddenly, I felt my heart sink and my vocal chords tighten in a knot. Guilt. I put the bag down and went to grab some water. I sat down for a second trying to calm myself. You’ve done this before, it’s not a big deal, should you just let yourself and your mom die?
I walked to the living room. “Mom,” I said. “Mom.” I went to our room sure I would find her lying on the floor, only to see that she wasn’t there. Not only she wasn’t there, but she was gone. The closet was open and all her stuff had disappeared leaving no trace of her, as if she had never existed.
I ran to kitchen and reached for our savings jar where we had stashed a couple hundred dollars for rent. “That money, you can’t touch,” she had always told me. “Without that we are out on the streets.” Now nothing remained in that jar. Not even a cent.
“She left,” I whispered softly as if saying it aloud would suddenly make it true. “That bitch left me,” I screamed, the reality of it finally getting to me. “She left me.” I collapsed to the floor and started crying. Then I understood, I was a sixteen-year-old orphan. And the sobbing began.
A few days later, I decided to go out, maybe finally have a bite of something, whatever that something was. I saw a hot dog vendor at the end of my street and thought that a two-dollar hot would have to do it for the day. After all, I hadn’t had a meal in forty-eight hours and thirty bucks was all I had, though they weren’t even mine.
“One hot dog please,” I ordered. For the fist time, I opened the wallet I had stolen a few nights ago. As I took a five-dollar bill out I noticed the woman’s license. “Camille Barns,” it read. I paid for the food and threw the wallet in my pocket, afraid to know more.
When I returned home, there was no home to return to. I found a small box with my belongings waiting for me outside the front door. On top a note read, “No money, no place.” My stupid landlord had kicked me out. Not only was I an orphan with no money, I was now homeless too. I left the box and walked out the building. I needed a fresh start away from my old life. I abandoned my neighborhood and never looked back.
I soon formulated a plan. I would first report myself to Child Protective Services and then I would check into a homeless shelter, just until I got a job. When I arrived at the office, I had to wait for a couple of hours while other people, perhaps in worse conditions than me, took care of their problems. Finally it was my turn. I stepped up to the glass window where a young woman collected a few forms to put in a file. I cleared my throat.
“Hi,” she said with a warm smile. “What can I do for you today?” Her eyes were caramel brown, her dirty blonde hair was in a messy bun, with a strand falling loosely by her right temple. She looked awfully familiar though I could not recall from where. Her sweet glance welcomed me, and for a second I believed everything would be okay.
As I tried to formulate an answer to her question, I noticed a nametag on her wrinkled blouse. “Ms. Barns,” was written on it, in white, thick letters. That’s when I figured it out. The reason she looked so familiar was because I had seen her picture a few hours earlier. On her license. From her wallet. In the bag I had stolen.
I dropped the purse on the floor, my eyes fixed on the woman’s tag. My chest started aching as I gasped for air. I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed the bag and ran outside the office. Still unable to catch my breath, I crashed onto the ground, my body supported by the building’s wall. I shut my eyes holding the purse close to my heart as I tried to steady my breathing. She didn’t recognize you. It’s okay. You did what you had to do.
All of the sudden the office’s doors swung open and right in front of me stood Camille. The only imaginable thing to do would have been to run; instead I was frozen. My legs were paralyzed and my hands shaking uncontrollably. Then tears started streaming from my eyes as I stared at her in fear.
“Are you okay?” she whispered softly while kneeling beside me.
Unable to speak I shook my head while the crying continued. “I’m so sorry,” I managed to squeeze out between sobs. I now stared at the ground, too ashamed to look at her in the eyes. I weakly extended my arm, with the bag in hand, returning what righteously belonged to her. “I’m sorry,” I murmured once more. She took the bag with eyes wide open, fixed on my hands. She was the one now avoiding my glance.
“I need help,” I finally said.