10.25.2011

be the change

They walked up Main Street holding hands, bellies full of frozen yogurt, her daughter singing as she skipped: "Oh that girl was full of fun, she was so fun, so fun! And she loved yo-gurt the most, after bur-ri-tos, which was her most fav-o-rite!"

On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in autumn, the street was flowing with people--college students, older couples, men in drag. The stroller brigade. Street musicians.

Her daughter pulled up short. "Mama, there's another of those signs you never read."

"Wha--? What signs I don't read?" But she knew the answer even as she stammered the question.

"You know, mama, those cardboard signs you never read. There's another one!"

"Oh, baby, let's talk about this, let's talk later, I can explain what I meant by I don't read-- hey!" The child had let go of her hand and raced ahead, stopping directly in front of a woman sitting on the sidewalk. Pack of cigarettes and a worn cardboard sign. The woman looked up into her child's face.

"Let's go, love. You can't run away from me like that."

"But Mama, what--"

The woman reached for her daughter's hand. "Little girl, do you think I should not be sitting here? On this public sidewalk?" Her daughter stared.

She moved forward and grabbed the girl roughly by her shoulder. "That's enough. Sophia, come now!"

As she moved to pull her daughter away from the woman a figure flew past, close enough that she felt a rustle of fabric on her bare arm. She glanced back as a raised fist swung down and made contact with the woman's skull.

The slow-motion movement, the sickening thunking sound. That was no closed fist, he was hitting her with something, again and again. What was it? Amidst screams, running, yelling, she remembered with a start her own small child, glued to the concrete right there, close enough to feel the breeze as his arm fell over and over, her eyes wide and glassy.

"SOPHIA!" She bent and scooped the girl into her arms, squeezing her close, feeling her little heart racing with her own. She scurried under an awning and collapsed with Sophia on the sidewalk just as the sirens began to echo down the street.

"Sophia, are you okay? Sophia?" The little girl struggled in her arms until she could see the woman again.

Someone had subdued her assailant; two men held him on a bench, dozens of onlookers circling the scene. A young man with a purple nametag held what looked like a washcloth to the woman's bleeding forehead. Another woman sat by her side, murmuring. "You'll be all right, you will, you'll be all right." The woman growled in reply.

"Why did that bad man hurt her, mama? Why?" The girl shook slightly and her mother began to wonder if she would need medical attention herself. Maybe her daughter was in shock?

"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry, she is going to be okay."

"NO AMBULANCE! NO DOCTORS! DON'T LET THEM TAKE ME!" Medical personnel approached. Police officers swarmed around the bench, handcuffing her assailant.

"Please, please no, leave me be. Leave me. I wanted him to kill me. I wanted him to--" She moaned as they lifted her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
 

Sophia jumped up and pulled on her mother's hand. "Mama, mama? What does her sign say? Will you read it, what does it say?"

She stood and stepped a bit closer to make out the words.

PREGNANT + HOMELESS. BE THE CHANGE.

I'm back in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge! This week, Kurt challenged me with a lyric from Elliott Smith's song, King's Crossing: "This is the place where time reverses/Dead men talk to all the pretty nurses/Instruments shine on a silver tray/Don't let me get carried away..."

I challenged the lovely Lilu with this: "The elevator was out of service, so he had to take the stairs." Go read!

News flash! This story is now posted over at Indie Ink: Be The Change