A Funny Thing Called Hope

Grey rain wakes me up. The quiet plip, plops quickly become more forceful, threatening to soak the garbage bag that contains every physical thing I own in this world. I have to make the quick decision to sacrifice my own temporary dryness by coming out from under my hastily made trash can fort and laying myself on top of the bags so that I can maybe guarantee myself some warmth at night for at least a month. It is only a slight gain as water still leaks into the all too permeable plastic bag. If this seems like a lose-lose situation, it is because when you’re homeless, no decisions have entirely good outcomes.

Before I landed in my current living situation (or lack thereof one), I used to enjoy the rain. It meant that my father would make his classic gumbo, the one his family had been serving since the antebellum days of yore. It would take him hours slaving away in the kitchen to make sure all the meat had been cooked just right, but he always insisted that neither my mama nor I help him. I would sit in our tiny family room with feelings of awe and love towards him blending together like the spices he was mixing. And my mama would watch him from the window seat, wondering how a poor colombiana had managed to win the affection of one of the most eligible men in New Orleans. The best part was when we all sat together and ate; gave me a feeling of warmth that lasted long after the delicious stew was finished.

Days like those couldn’t last forever; even rain stops and you’re left to face the harsh sun drying everything up afterwards. About three years ago, on one of the hottest days the city had seen, men in carefully pressed suits that didn’t wilt in the humidity came to our door. They kept asking mama for papers, papers, papers, and when mama couldn’t give them what they wanted, they took her away. Father took me a few times to see her in the detention center they kept her while more men in suits waited to send her back to Colombia. Each time he took me, he would say less and less. Each time mama saw me, she would say the same thing:

“Esperanza, remember what your name means. Have hope. Ten paciencia y fe. I will see you again, mi hija.”

It got hard to live with hope after she was officially deported. My relationship with my father quickly broke down, as he saw me as a sign of shame that could ruin his political career in the city. I suppose “illegitimate child of the illegally immigrated girlfriend” is the kind of soundbite that dissuades voters in a heartbeat. For my part, I never tried to alleviate things with him either; he had just stood there with the same stone-cold face whenever mama begged him to use his money, his influence One day I came home from school to find that he was not home, that he had returned to the North Shore, to his affluent relatives, the Kennedys of Louisiana. They had so much money that he could escape the unfortunate luck that even Jack had.

Child Services had been paid a hefty sum so that all my forms would be forged and the guarantee that I would be placed in foster homes. But the combination of my mother’s stubbornness and my father’s temper, fiery as Bayou hot sauce, meant I could stay nowhere long before I was sat down in parlor-rooms with Child Services and the foster parents, who behind strained smiles would say that there was a family out there for me, just not this one. Eventually I got so sick of being the broken branch hastily placed on random family trees that I gave up and ran off on my own.
Now I’m here, sprawled out over the concrete, on top of piles of clothes and other stuff I don’t even really care about just so that some part of me maybe could be warm for once.
Because somehow I have to deal with this day, I open the bag, pull out a thin raincoat and a piece of cardboard to cover my head, and walk out of the alley I sleep in and towards the main street. I wave a brusque ‘good morning’ to Sam, a bum who always wears the same Saints jersey and who has been living in this part of town since The Storm. I make my daily visits: Angelette, a little old lady who always gives me some of the po’ boy she somehow gets everyday; Juan, a twenty-five year old whose drug habits scare me but who always shows me pictures of his late wife; Joe, the Vietnam vet who is the patriarch of our community and who every homeless person respects since no one else will; and Kat and Matt, fraternal twins barely older than me who took the bus from their small bayou town in hopes that the city would fulfill their limitless fantasies. My routine has at this point become less depressing than it was at first and even tends towards just being mediocre, like most routines.

I pass our corridor of poverty to head to my typical begging spot, where I sit every day, living up to my name and my mama’s last advice in hoping that travelers and denizens alike will take pity on such a miserable soul and give me more than coins or maybe a coupon. As you can tell, I’m pretty cynical about the whole thing. But I’m also a hypocrite because I know that when I had more, when as a little girl I would walk to the zoo with my father, I would walk a little faster than anyone who was dirty enough to blend into the street. Maybe that’s another reason why I liked the rain: it blurs people’s faces, making it easier to not notice their pain.

Something is different in me today. I just can’t handle the thought of sitting for hours on end, expecting everything but getting very little. There has to be another way out. I hate to have to think like this, but honestly, something crazy like robbing a corner store seems reasonable. I think if I just take a bag of chips, what’s the best case/worst case scenario? Best case- I get away, worst case- I get arrested and sent to juvenile corrections? Either way, I get a free meal. And when you’re homeless, win-win situations don’t come often. This is something more than I could hope for in this grey rain.





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