She pulls out her camera, and after 10 seconds I hear a snap. I don’t know what the picture was, but she looks pleased. I smile. She placed the picture on the back of a dumpster and stands. Pushing the dumpster back against the wall, she runs towards the center of town. That was the dangerous part. The part of town where you can die because you weren’t paying enough attention. I hold my breath. A few minutes later, she appears from behind the wall. The sky is dark, her face looks scared. She turns sharply away from me, blocking my sight of her. I shift my position, and her head darts to my direction, then as quick as a fly, she’s gone.
The space around me is small and humid when I wake up. I open my eyes. All I see is black, and the smell is rancid. Then I remember. Garbage day. I push the garbage bags off of me and run to a pile of gravel nearby. Then I see her. She stands, fearful, pressing herself against the wall. The Collectors marched down the alleyway, arrived at the dumpsters, and took out their guns. With a ray of blue light, the full, rancid smelling trash bags are gone, and only sparkling green bins remain. Clean is a strange sight in a usually dingy place. After a while, when I’m sure the Collectors have come and gone, I hurry back to where my makeshift house used to be, but the blue had swallowed it up. Leaning against the new bin, I feel a tap on my shoulder. Fear fills my head, I spin around and see her. Her eyes staring curiously into mine.
“Hello.” she says, “who are you?” I stare at her in shock, not saying anything
“H-hi,” I stutter, “I’m parker…” she smiles and laughs. I hesitantly stand and lean on the bin.
“What’s your name?” I ask
“How old are you?” I ask suddenly, breaking the silence. Startled, she says she’s 15 and asks me the same, and we talk for a while. Then, out of the blue, something in her snaps. It's like she sensed something. Without a word, she runs away and is out of my sight. I get up and try to follow her. I peek around the corner and see her standing at the other end of the wall. She’s too far away for me to hear, but she looks scared. I run. I’m standing close enough to her so I can hear, but she can't see me, I’m completely hidden.
“I don’t have the money! I don’t have any money! Just leave me alone!” she yells with tears in her eyes. A beefy hand reaches out and pulls her into the alleyway. I hear a wailing. I run towards it. There’s a three-year-old boy standing in the middle of the street yelling for someone but I can't make out the words. I look up from the boy and see Mira. I look up from her, and a huge man is staring at me with fire in his eyes.
“What are you doing here?!” He booms. His voice is deeper than any I’ve ever heard before, not that I’ve heard too many deep voices. My father died when I was four, and three years later, my mother got rich from some gambling scheme, moved to France, and was too embarrassed to bring me with her.
“I…” I try to figure out an excuse. I need to say something
“My brother ran off… I was trying to find him!” It’s unbelievable, but part of me can’t bear to leave him there. The man stays silent. He locks eyes with me and raises one eyebrow. I see Mira behind him sawing at a rope with a broken bottle. I try to stall him.
“I’m sorry, I’ll never come back again!” I try as I watch Mira. She breaks through the rope and falls on top of a pile of metal scraps. The man turns around slowly. Mira gets up and starts to limp away. The man runs after her and pulls out a gun. I grab the sobbing boy and run. I hear a gunshot in the distance and know it was her. Heavy footsteps come closer and closer. He’s following me. I can’t do anything about it. I can’t leave the boy, but at the same time, it would be better for me to die than a three-year-old. I set the boy down in a small cardboard box. Holding my fingers up to my lips I hug him.
“I’ll come back,” I tell him “I promise.” And then I run. I run more than I’ve ever run before. The man is following me and he’s fast, I can tell he’s catching up. I dive into a small pile of brush and fee the cold cement on my knees and hands. I poke my head out of the pile and see him standing by the corner staring at the sidewalk. I see a sprig of brown hair and a little hand sticking out of a box. He found the boy. I start to cry. I jump out of my pile and run at him. When I make contact, he stumbles back.
“No! Take anything but him please leave him here!” I scream at him.
“Get off.” He says harshly “GET OFF” I pull myself off of him. He pushes me to the ground and pulls out his gun. My hearing gets fuzzy, and I can barely hear a thing. The pull of a trigger sounds like no more than a soft-spoken word, but I watch blood seep out from the corner of the box. I turn and crawl away falling asleep in the same pile of brush I had just been in.
I walk through the center of town, paying close attention to my whereabouts. It had been a year since the boy had been killed, but I still felt like it was my fault. I knew there was nothing I could do I didn’t even know his name, but it was like I was fully responsible for him. I hadn’t even barely known Mira, but I could tell he was her brother. He looked exactly like her. As I reached the edge of the downtown crowds. I walked over to where Mira used to live. I pulled the dumpster away from the wall. Hundreds of pictures were stuck onto the back of it. Pictures of everything from the sunrise behind a skyscraper to her brother’s smiling face. I tugged at the picture and it came off. his face shone up at me from the Polaroid. I felt better. The picture was like him telling me “it’s okay, you did what you could”. I took her camera and started walking again. I looked at the shops around me. I’d never been to this part of town before, but I could tell by the way the metal looked new that to anyone walking by, I was an outcast. I crossed the street, trying to escape the people walking with their children. I see a small fruit stand and notice the rumble in my stomach. I haven’t eaten in days, and the last time I ate it was just bread and a bit of an apple. I look at the shops lining the street, and the people going in and out of them. I see the children running around with one another. This part of town is like a whole new world to me. I’ve never been here before, I don’t know the area like I used to. I look down the street at a small restaurant called “the New Age Pancakery”. Picking up my pace, I run down the street, and into the doors of the little shop. All eyes are on me as the cashier greets me.
“Welcome to the Pancakery!” she says warmly, “Anywhere you’d like” My eyes dart from place to place, taking in space. People in the restaurant all seem to be one of three things; scared, judgemental, or pitiful. I hate it here. I feel so out of place. Everything is so clean, almost sparkling and then there’s me. My clothes are ratty, my hair is a mess, and I smell like I haven’t showered in months (which, to be fair, is true). I walk up to the register and gather my confidence.
“Hello,” I mumble “Do you know… a place to stay around here” I read the cashier’s name tag, her name is Melanie, and she looks at me funny.
“Sorry, hon” she answers with pity in her voice. I turn and walk out of the restaurant, back onto the street.
I slump onto the sidewalk right by the window and lean my head onto the wall. I look at the Polaroid of the boy, flipping it over and over in my hands. I notice something on the back. Small writing in chalky black. Trying to decipher the word, I think of the trouble Mira went through just to write it, and how much she must have loved him. I picture her in my mind, putting together the pieces of her complexion. Her eyes, her nose, her mouth all fall into place followed by her hair and her gorgeous, somehow radiant skin. My body fills with warmth as I picture her. I never knew her, but I missed her so much. She was how I filled my days, watching her, wondering what she thought. I snap out of my fantasy with a jolt. In front of me, I see Melanie waving her hand in front of my face.
“Oh good,” She smirks “You’re up. I got a job if you want it.” I jump off the sidewalk and onto my feet.
“Thank you! Thank you so much.” I shout.
“There’s an inn down the street. You can work for me and i'll pay your rent along with a little money for food.” She leads me to a small stand-alone building on the corner. Pushing me in the door, she shouts at the manager
“This is that kid I told you about. Get him some clothes and a room.” She rushes out the door as fast as a pancake flips. The manager grabs my arm and drags me up the stairs. When we reach a room, he shoves a key in my hand.
“Here’s your room. You clean it, there are some clothes on the bed you can have.”
“Thank you” I try to say, but he’s gone. I shove the key into the lock and turn it. The door unlocks with ease. I push it open and look around. It’s a small room, but bigger than anything I've ever had. I walk slowly to the bathroom running my hand across the bed as I go. Without thinking, I take off my clothes and jump into the shower. The warm water runs over me, and I try to remember the last time I felt like this.
By the time I’m done, the floor of the shower is coated in dirt. I wrap myself in a soft towel and put the provided clothes on. Looking in the mirror, I feel different. I don’t feel like myself. I’m to clean, my skin is to pale, not dark from dirt stains as I remembered, my hair was longer than I thought, and I was taller. I the door opens and standing in the door frame is the manager with a plate of steaming food. I take it sit down on my bed, and my new life begins.