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I watched the sun as darkness swallowed its vibrant glow. The sky was dark like ebony, and it seemed as though some reckless boy had shot a million holes into the milky abyss, uncovering a realm of stars. “Charlie, grab the crowbar.”
“Man, gurl, what up wit chu?”
I snaked my hand around the doorknob, letting the shocking cold of expensive metal bite me. It sent a fresh sense of clarity rushing through my body, but I held back. I didn’t want to do this again. “I don’t know, Darius. What if we get caught?”
“Charlotte Anne Morris, we dun dis place two times already. They ain’t neva caught us.”
“Don’t mean they won’t tonight. They ain’t no stupids. They catch on eventually.”
My partner yanked the crow bar out of my hand and jammed it in the door. I shoved him hard, though it wasn’t much use… ain’t no ten-wheeler that can scratch Darius. Crack. He let out a string of curses. “Darius be quiet, someone’ll hear…”
I whipped my head around as a voice resounded down the alley, “You kids, come here.” The crow bar clambered to the concrete beside the door, and Darius turned to run. I grabbed his arm so hard my fingers cramped. “Stop” I told him. The stranger stepped out from behind the curtain of shadows. Once his body was illuminated, I gasped. “Mr. Doran, sir?”
Cheet Doran was the town mayor. He was knee-deep in 100 dollar bills and drowning in success. Every paper had had his name smeared on the cover once the election results brandished his triumph. There wasn’t a single man who didn’t envy his perfect life, but he looked straight into my eyes and said, “I was you once.”
I let go of Darius’s arm but he didn’t move. I didn’t know if I wanted to run or sit and listen, but it didn’t matter because the man turned and disappeared around the corner.
I watched the light for a moment; the rays few but strong. There were places on the walls that seemed so shut up in themselves that they were doomed to an eternity of blackness. The space nearest the street light was overwhelmed with luminosity. The determined radiance bleached the wall a glowing white.
And then there was the wall beside the door. It was neither. My fingers touched the bitter brick surface and rested in its faint illumination. Was this me? So close to the light, yet still so far away?
“Charlie, come on gurl. I’m outta this place.” He bent down, picked up the break-in tool, and tossed it in a nearby dumpster. “Darius, ain’t you tired of livin’ like this?” He grabbed my arm, hard.
“We ain’t got no other life… ain’t neva gonna git no other life.” He whispered in a menacing tone. We glared at each other for a moment and then I watched him drop his head with a sigh.
“Forget it, Charlie.” Darius let go of my arm, shoving me back into the wall. He walked briskly toward the end of the alley, and as he neared the sidewalk I shouted, “I could change, Darius. So could you.” He paused a moment, then rounded the corner shaking his head.
I woke up some five hours later with a headache immense enough to feed all New York, but I managed to scramble out of bed and head downstairs anyway. Two little brown-eyed girls stood beside our lop-sided table, both holding their own makeshift dolls.
“Charlie, me and Joanie and Monica is hungry.” My eight year old brother pleaded as he tugged on my torn t-shirt.
I looked down at his humble appearance and shuddered. I was so sick of this life. Sick of livin’ in a dump about to be foreclosed. Sick of not havin’ money to pay rent because no one got a job. Sick of a dad who dealt drugs ‘till he poisoned himself. Sick of a mom who turned to prostitution because of it. Sick of takin’ care of my younger siblings all day since there ain’t no one else to do it. Sick of ruinin’ my life because everyone else did.
I walked over to the cabinet and grabbed a box of cheerios. “Eat this… I’ll be back.” Sighing, I slipped out the front door into a busy downtown morning. Vendors tried to sell discounted hot dogs and day-old papers. School girls jumped rope as they recited familiar rhymes. A few teens my age rode by on depleted bikes from the thrift store.
Poverty was everywhere; sloppily painted on the faces of people passing by, written in graffiti on each run-down shop, screamed from the very soul of the city. I was about to turn back around, what was I kidding? I would never leave this place. But as I took one last glance, I noticed a group of people gathered around someone on the corner. I ran down the steps and crossed the street to meet the crowd.
A man was speaking, and his voice sounded familiar… I pushed my way to the front of the group and stopped. Our eyes met and I was instantly captivated.
Cheet Doran spoke with undeniable confidence, “I know you all see me as a rich and popular man, one who has never truly looked poverty in the face… but I have. In fact, I punched it in the face. Not long ago, I was every one of you. My parents abused my older sisters and me, and my whole family fell apart. I stole from rich shops, and I vandalized everything in sight. Three years ago I attempted suicide. Luckily I survived, but my old self died because I realized something. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger… and I would not be here right now had my life not been so challenging. You may want to give up, but hear this. We are created by being destroyed.”