To my left, something juts into my field of vision. A black knit hat with reddish-blond curls poking out from the sides. The hat tilts sideways and then there’s a small face staring at me. I shift my eyes to meet big green ones surrounded by long lashes that glisten with tears.
“Have you seen my mom?”
I shake my head slightly and stare back down at my lap, silently willing her to leave me alone. I don’t need any trouble. She doesn’t get the hint.
“My mom said if I’m ever lost I should ask someone in a uniform for help,” she says, pointing at the stripes on my green army jacket. I almost laugh. I’m about as far from an authority figure as you can get.
So far, no one has noticed us. She has temporarily entered my sphere of invisibility, but that won’t last long. A well-dressed child perched next to a derelict will attract attention. Someone will come to her rescue.
She pokes my shoulder. “Aren’t you going to get up?”
I shake my head again and she slides down the wall to sit beside me.
“Good idea,” she says. “That’s rule number two when you’re lost. Stay where you are.”
I glance at her again. She’s humming now and tilting her head from side to side. The song is off-tune but familiar and I almost have it when she stops abruptly.
“Oh! We could call her,” she says. “May I borrow your phone?”
“I don’t have one.” I reach into the can settled in front of my crossed legs and pull out a quarter. I hand it to her.
“What’s this for?” she says.
I point at the pay phone on the corner and she stares at it for a few seconds before returning her gaze to me.
“I don’t know how,” she says.
“Do you know her number?”
She nods and rattles off a string of numbers, so I sigh and push myself to my feet. I debate taking everything with me but grab just the can instead. I’ll dial for her and come right back.
I push into the crowd of suits and she slides her hand into mine.
“Hey,” a voice says from behind us. “Where do you think you’re going?” A hand shoves my shoulder hard and I stumble forward. My can clatters to the ground, spilling coins across the sidewalk.
“It’s okay,” I say to the girl. “They’ll help you.”
I shake off the girl’s hand and start to run but I’m not fast enough. I’m pulled backward by the collar of my jacket and then yanked sideways into the wall. The girl reappears at my side, but she’s wailing now.
“Let go,” I say. “I didn’t do anything.” I stare down at polished black shoes. They are toe-to-toe with my worn boots. Another pair, equally shiny, edge in from the left.
“You like little girls, huh?”
“She’s lost,” I say. “We were going to call her mom.”
Shiny shoes number two is kneeling down beside me now. He has the girl by the shoulders. “It’s alright,” he says. “You’re safe now. He can’t hurt you.”
She snuffles and looks up at me. “He wasn’t going to hurt me,” she says.
Number two shakes his head. I can imagine the story he’ll tell when he gets back to work. She was so trusting, he’ll say. She had no idea.
Shoes number one still has me pinned to the wall. A semi-circle of legs has gathered around us now and from somewhere beyond them a woman is yelling, “Miranda? Miranda!”
Number two stands up and his shiny shoes are replaced by high-heeled black boots at the end of flared jeans.
“Oh, honey,” she says. “Thank goodness you’re okay.” She hoists the girl up so her tiny black shoes dangle at mid-thigh. Doesn’t anyone buy anything but black in this town?
“We’ve already called the police,” says number one. I can’t stifle my groan and he shoves me and tells me to shut up.
“Thank you so much,” says the woman.
“They’ll probably want to talk to you,” says number two. “Why don’t you wait over there.”
Her legs turn away and Miranda’s feet start to kick.
“No, Momma! No! Put me down.”
The woman is shushing her as she walks away, then she’s yelling “Come back here” and I feel Miranda’s small hand press something warm and round into mine. I glance at her and she smiles. “This is yours,” she says before she’s pulled away again.
I close my fingers on the coin and slide it into my pocket. I have no one to call and it won’t get me much else. At least I’ll have somewhere to sleep tonight.
© 2012 Dawn Huddlestone
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