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It was past midnight when I stood in my room holding my backpack. It was filled with the essentials: water, canned food, can opener, money, and spare clothes. I put my ear to the door and listened carefully. All I heard was the hum of the air conditioner.
I walked over to my window and unlocked the latch. I was grateful that we lived in a one-story house. I threw my backpack out the window first, watching it arch over the bushes and fall into the grass. It made a soft thud when it hit the ground. I put my legs out the window one at a time and squeezed my body through, pushing the sides of the window. I fell into the bushes after losing coordination. They scratched my arms like a rough scrub brush.
After standing up and grabbing my bag, I rubbed the pain from my arms and headed out to the city.
I was past Michigan Avenue when I saw a dark figure curled up on the sidewalk. It looked like an animal, a dog perhaps, but as I got closer, I saw the human features.
Aside from his long greasy hair, facial stubble, and ripped clothing, he appeared to be a very attractive man. His eyes were closed and his arms were wrapped around a black backpack.
I knelt down next to him and lightly touched his arm. His legs sprawled out and his eyes sprung open. He quickly sat up and looked around. In the darkness, I saw him squinting at me. I stared at him, waiting for him to speak.
“Hey, what are you doing?” he asked in a whisper.
I just stared at him.
“What are you doing?” he repeated.
“I need some help,” I said. “I ran away and I need someone to stay with.”
He sighed and said, “Well there’s nothing I can do. Go back home, kid.”
“No, there’s no way. I can’t go back there…I don’t want to go back,” I replied, my voice quivering.
He pushed back his hair with his hand and held it there for a minute. When he released the strands, he looked at me. “Why would you want to stay with me? It’s not very safe out here. I’m sure your parents would be very upset,” he said.
“I’m sure they wouldn’t even notice,” I whispered. “To them I’m just some thing they give food and shelter to. Like an animal, or something.”
He gave me an intense stare, like he was really thinking about this. The silence between us made me uncomfortable so I looked towards the ground.
I heard a dog barking in the distance, it’s yelps echoing in the night sky.
“Okay,” he finally said.
I lifted my head up to look at him again.
“You can stay with me,” he said. “But it’ll be tough.”
“Thank you so much,” I said.
“Yep,” he replied. He curled back up, hugging his backpack again and closed his eyes.
“Wait, what’s your name?” I asked.
Keeping his eyes closed he said, “Sam.”
“I’m Jessie,“ I told him.
He didn’t say anything.
I lowered myself on the sidewalk, lying on my side with my backpack next to me. I closed my eyes and breathed in the fresh air.
I felt a sharp poke on my shoulder. “Hey, get up. We have to get a move on,” said Sam’s voice.
Opening my eyes, I saw Sam kneeling next to me. The sun was just coming up as Sam and I took our bags and started walking down the sidewalk.
We walked for a while, not saying anything, but just taking in the sights. Early workers passed by with briefcases and business suits, giving us dirty looks. Specifically, a man in a grey suit and red tie raised his eyebrows at us, shook his head, and kept walking.
Later in the day, Sam and I sat on a park bench to talk.
“So when did you start living like this?” I asked.
“When my parents kicked me out of the house,” he replied. “I had no where to go. I was too careless to try to get a job or do anything with my life. I felt like there was no point.”
I looked down at my black gym shoes. “Do you still feel the same way?”
He sighed and said, “Sometimes. But other times I wish that I were a doctor or someone really successful. But I know that can never happen.”
I noticed a small, red bird walking on the grass. Part of his wing was hanging limp by his side. He kept flapping the other wing, only getting an inch off the ground. After several attempts, he managed to get even higher. He was only in the air for a second, but he continued to try.
We spent each day walking to a new location and sparingly eating the canned food I had brought. We eventually had to use my money to buy meals, but that disappeared quickly.
It had been a little over a month since I ran away from home. My clothing was battered and my personal hygiene was non-existent, but I was happy.
Sam and I stood at a street corner begging for money. He had taught me this skill and I learned to master it.
I went up to a balding man with glasses. “Sir, my parents kicked me out of the house and I have nothing. I could really use some money for food, I’m starving.”
The man reached into his wallet and handed me a dollar. He didn’t look me in the eye; he just kept walking along.
After collecting money for a while, we sat down on the ground.
I smiled at Sam and said, “This is great; I love making money.”
He looked down at his hands and replied, “Yeah, it’s great.” His voice was so soft I could barely hear him.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He looked right at me. There were tears rolling down his cheeks. “Just seeing you, so young, having to beg on the streets, when you should be going to college and getting ready for a career. You should never have left your home. You chose to leave, I was forced to.”
“But I left because I wasn’t happy,” I said.
“And you are now? You’re happy without anything in your life?” He asked loudly.
I looked away from him and didn’t answer. A stray cat crawled by and stared at me. It dodged into an alley when I tried to go up to it. I looked down the alley seeing nothing but darkness.
When I woke up the next morning, Sam wasn’t in sight. Attached to my bag, there was a note written on an old candy wrapper.
I’ve decided that I still have time to turn my life around. I have taken off to find my first real job. Hopefully you come to this realization soon enough. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.
I placed the note inside my bag, zipped it up, and lay back on the ground.