Sunday 24 – Tuesday 26 October 2010
Normally, I understand the origin of the ideas of the things I write. However, I don’t really know where this one came from. I just sat down and started writing. I can tell you though, at the end of it, I was left saddened by her plight.
It wouldn’t have taken more than a minute to turn back, but he wasn’t going to let her win. Not this time. This time, she would have to admit he was right. This time, she would have to concede.
He continued driving, occasionally looking in the rear view mirror. She was still standing in the same spot on the side of the road, a dejected look on her face. She was expecting him to return. But this time, he would not. She would learn the lesson once and for all.
He could hear his wife’s voice in his head, chastising him for his actions. The thing was, if she was bringing the child up properly, like he had told her to do, none of this would have happened. The girl would know right from wrong, and how to speak to her father.
Reaching for the volume button on the stereo, he pressed it, increasing the sound in an attempt to drown out his wife’s voice in his head. He looked down at the little pink backpack on the floor of the passenger’s side. She’s old enough now, he thought, to find her own way back home. It’ll take her less than an hour to walk. She’s ten years old. She’ll be fine.
The little girl watched her father drive away. Surely he would stop. This was all a silly game that he was playing with her because he was angry. He’d do like he always did: drive a bit further up the road and pull over to wait for her to catch up. Sometimes she wished he’d just yell at her, the way her friends’ parents yelled at her friends. But no, her father was always trying to teach her a lesson.
When she realised that he wasn’t going to stop, she felt a bolt of panic shoot through her body. Momentarily, she froze, wondering what she was going to do, how she would get home. She thought she might cry. Her cheeks flushed and the tears welled. She wiped them away from her face. She’d show him. She’d get home somehow, and tell her mother.
Feeling more than a little unsafe, she began to jog along the roadside. The cars sped by, almost knocking her off her feet. She could no longer see her father’s car up in front. Which way is home? She wondered. With the panic taking over, she lost her sense of direction. Was she meant to continue straight, or go left at the next exit? Should she cross over to the other side of the highway and walk on the cycleway, or would it be better to stay over this side?
Deciding it was better to walk on the cycleway, she stopped and waited for a break in the traffic. It seemed to her that the cars were getting faster not slower, and that there were more of them every second. There was no break in this traffic. If she stood here, she would be waiting a very long time.
* * * *
As she stood on the same spot from so many years ago, she remembered the day her father drove off, leaving her in an attempt to teach a lesson. It had been she who taught the lesson that day though. The stranger’s car pulled up beside her. He seemed nice enough. A little old man who somewhat resembled her grandfather. He opened the door for her and welcomed her into his car. It was such a long way to walk home, so she had accepted the lift, knowing perfectly well it was not the right thing to do. However, two could play at the teaching a lesson game.
The old man had taken her home. He had taken her to his home. She didn’t want to be there. He’d lied when he said he had a granddaughter her age. He had no children, no grandchildren, she could tell by the state of his yard and his house. When he’d opened the car door to let her out, she ran as fast as she could. The trouble was, she didn’t know where she was running.
She was terribly lost that night. Somewhere else in the city, her mother would be worrying about her. Maybe she would even stand up to him, yell at him for losing her girl. The child stopped in front of a window displaying all sorts of televisions. There he was, right in front of her, on the television. He was crying, and the police were with him. A photograph of her flashed across the screen, a phone number underneath her pretty little face in the school photo from earlier that year. They were looking for her.
She began to cry as well. Oh how she wanted to be at home in her mother’s arms. But she was not, and she was desperately hungry. And terrified.
People brushed by her on the street. Occasionally someone would look at her as if wondering why someone so young was out alone, but no one dared stop and ask her. Not these days. You could be accused of all manner of unsavoury acts if you spoke to a child who wasn’t your own.
Many nights had come and gone, each one as bad as the previous. The lesson she was teaching her father was no longer a game. He would be very angry with her when she got home. Somehow, through luck or divine intervention she managed to survive. She watched the other street dwellers and followed their lead. She learned which shelters were the safest, where to get the best food, how to find clothing. She was lucky being a child: the shelters always found room for a kid. And no one ever asked questions.
How she avoided the police all of those years, she never really understood. She thought that maybe she was simply overlooked. A no one. Invisible.
At first she had missed her mother intensely, crying herself to sleep each night picturing her mother’s face. But the streets had hardened her, and she no longer allowed herself to feel that yearning. Every now and then she wondered if her mother still remembered her. Was she still looking for her little girl? Would they know each other if they bumped into one another somewhere in the city? She wondered if her mother was waiting for her to come home.
That spot on the highway, that piece of land, was where her life had fallen apart, and yet it was a place she returned to often. She stood here now with the same dejected look upon her face as she’d had so long ago. It was dark now, and she waited to be found.
A dark sedan pulled up beside her, interrupting the memories she had been engrossed in. The window slid down and a rugged face half appeared, blonde hair falling across his eyes. He brushed the errant strands away and smiled.
‘Well if it isn’t Janey, my little girl lost. I want the full service tonight, sweetheart, so get your shit together, and get your arse in the car now.’
She sighed and got in the car with him, Mr Tuesday night. She wondered what his wife would say if she knew he was soliciting the services of working girls. Not that she really cared. Mr Tuesday night was an upfront payer, and he never asked for anything weird. He slapped a hand on her right thigh and drove away as another little girl lost stepped up to the kerb to wait for her next John.
Yeah, Janey thought, I really taught you a lesson, dad. The sardonic voice never let up these days.
‘So, Mr. Tuesday night, tell me what it’s like to live a regular, normal life?’ she looked over at him, and waited for the usual answer.
‘Shut up, Janey. I don’t pay you to talk. It’s not the quality I like the best in you.’ He spoke without turning to look at the young woman next to him.
Janey settled into the passenger’s seat. Soon enough they would be in the dive of a motel he liked to use, and within an hour she’d be two hundred bucks richer. Stretching out her legs, Janey kicked something and looked down. The little pink backpack she saw reminded her of the one she had once owned. A forlorn smile spread across her face, and this time, she couldn’t control the barrage of tears that came.