A big city, bustling with activity. A family buying some wormy apples, unknowingly. A squirrel, zipping up and down a young birch tree. A little golden-haired girl, rummaging through a dumpster.
In the young girl’s hands, she holds a “much-loved” satchel. She wears a dark turquoise sweater, with mud stains and holes. Her pants look like she just walked through a pigsty and seem to be five times too big. And her shoes, she isn’t wearing any shoes. Her face is so crowded with freckles, it looks like she’s been sprayed in the face with dirt. Which she has. On her face, she portrays a scowl. She’s not irritated, but she looks like it. She honestly isn’t even trying to. Just years of grimy living, has worn away her smile.
From a distance, she doesn’t look like much. Just another scruffy little urchin on the street. But if you look closer, her natural beauty makes a comeback. As she scans the garbage, her big green eyes move with the intensity of a wild cat. Her long gold lashes blink in the sunlight. And her hair, that’s when it hits. It looks like it’s made of curly strands of gold, bouncing and dancing as one. Though mud-splattered and tangled, her hair radiates a shimmery glow. It would make any sane or insane person stop and stare. If anyone had the time to stop and look at a little homeless girl.
This young girl doesn’t have a name, and if she does, she doesn’t remember it. No one cares though, because no one ever asks. The young girl likes to imagine that she has a different name each day. Sometimes she is Samantha, or Elise. Sometimes she pretends she is Casey, or Natalie. Some of these names have backstories, like the lady at the old soup kitchen. Her name was Casey. Some names, she just really likes, such as Elise. But her most favorite name, the name that she will be referred to, is Goldi.
Goldi casually continues her search through the dumpster, like it’s no big deal. She pretends that each not-as-broken item she finds is buried treasure. Goldi never finds much anyway. The most she’s ever found is a ripped in half dollar bill. But that kind of stuff is so precious to Goldi, she treats it like all the rubies and diamonds in the world. And that is what her bag holds. No, extra clothes or actual shoes. No food and water she’ll be able to snack on later. No, it’s filled with random little knick-knacks Goldi has found in dumpsters and in alleys.
It’s about time for Goldi to get going. It’s about the time that the elementary schools get out and Goldi likes to walk with them. She pretends that she is walking home to a happy family and a warm bed at home.
Goldi takes one last desperate plunge of her arm into the dumpster to maybe uncover a treasure that she had passed over. Suddenly, Goldi feels something fuzzy.
“Eeew!” and “Ahhhh!” Goldi appears to scream at the same time. She then instinctively covers her mouth with her hand to silence her own screams.
The dumpster sits there, eerily. Goldi watches it closely for movement, while staying completely still. Nothing. Not a growl or a hiss or even a small bump. After a few minutes, Goldi looks closer, and more carefully, inside the dumpster. Between all the brightly colored magazines and brown fruits, there is a, teddy bear.
Or at least, half of one. If there was another half of it, it was covered with some clumpy liquid. Hopefully, it was apple sauce. The toy bear entrances Goldi and, despite the stench, she reaches into the garbage and rescues the stuffed bear. There was indeed another half of it, but it was missing an arm. One eye was bigger than the other and it was as shiny as dry mud. In fact, here was some dry mud on it. But even without the mud, the fur was still matted and sticky. There was no name on it and it seemed like it had never been loved. But still, despite all the dry mud and stickiness, and all the sadness seeming to radiate off it, Goldi loved that bear like nothing before. She quietly and solemnly tucked the teddy bear into her pack, after giving it a quick hug.
Dust collecting in the corner. Dried mustard on the counter. Water spilled on the table cloths. And some mysterious green liquid on the ceiling. The Bere’s have their work cut out for them. They just ended a day in the café, not super busy but they still had steady stream of customers. They better start cleaning. Joey just got home from school, so he should be able to help clean the eating area. “But I don’t want to clean.” Joey complained. Mrs. Bere had put him in charge of picking up stray glasses and plates. Although given the easiest job, he still complained. But that’s little kids for you.
“Well if you finish, you can go watch a movie upstairs.” Mrs. Bere replied. And with that response, Joey beamed and quickly continued his task.
“Don’t forget you also have homework to do!” Mr. Bere called from the kitchen. “Apparently, you still have to finish your science fair project. Remember?”
Joey frustratingly yelled back, “I finished it at school! I don’t have any homework.” Joey hurriedly set the last cup into the sink. “Done!” And before you know it, he is already upstairs and turning the TV on.
Several hours later, the TV was still running. “Don’t you think Joey should turn the TV off?” Mrs. Bere told her husband. “He needs to do something active.” She pauses for a moment to consider the options. “I know! Why don’t we go on a family walk! We can all go and enjoy the fresh air. Great, so it’s settled I’ll go get Joey.” And just like that, a family walk was scheduled. And Mr. Bere didn’t say anything at all.
After walking around in circles with the school kids for a bit, Goldi assigned herself to a nearby alley. The alley was dark and stank with the smell of mildew and old milk. It looked like no one had walked down there in a million years. “Perfect.” Goldi muttered under her breath, while trying not to breath too much.
Goldi walked to the first dumpster on the left. It looked and smelled like any old dumpster would. And tomorrow was garbage day, so it’s bound to be filled with countless treasures from around the world. Possibly some Aztec gold here and some blood diamonds there. Goldi wasted no time in exploring the dumpster. As her luck permits, she found a little ring box. Of course, there was nothing in it, but it still looked fancy. Dipping her arm into the dumpster once again, Goldi notices something across the street. A little family is leaving a café to go on, it appears, a walk. Goldi feels a little twang of loneliness, and then recognizes the café.
It’s the café that never has any food in their garbage. In fact, Goldi has stopped looking in their dumpster because it is scraped clean every time. Apparently, they don’t believe in throwing away food. Somehow, to Goldi that is sort of respectable. So many people in this city throw away perfectly good food, not that Goldi is complaining. But this action of recycling, is inspiring.
The family is out of view now, but the little boy, about Goldi’s age, can still be heard laughing. Goldi is about to continue with her dumpster diving when she notices something about the alley alongside the café. The side door, is not closed. Just a slimmer of light can be seen streaking through the crack, but enough for someone to see that someone forgot to lock the door.
Goldi quietly makes her way across the street and into the alley. She plans to close the door so no one would be able to enter. Goldi reaches her hand to the doorknob and then is engulfed in heavenly scent. Homemade bread, fruit smoothies, and sweet cake. All Goldi’s original intentions have been lost in one whiff of a second. She slipped silently through the door and into the café, not taking care to close the door.
The place looked as wonderful as it smelled. Pleasant colors, comfortable temperature, and cozy tables and chairs. Goldi dazedly walked around the wonderful eating area. Then she saw a light blue door. Beyond the door, Goldi found the kitchen and pantry. The headquarters of the café.
In it were arrays of cookies, canned peaches, and that bread she smelled earlier. There were delicate pastries in the cupboard and little, perfectly cut, sandwiches in a plastic container. The sight of all the food was tantalizing to Goldi, who has never had anything fresh in her life. Goldi inhaled the scent and then slowly began eating, getting faster and faster by the minute.
Soon enough, Goldi was so full she felt like she might explode. Suddenly feeling very sleepy, Goldi stumbled into the eating area once more. She tried to climb into one of the bar stools, emphasis on tried. Goldi was small for her age, so she couldn’t reach it. In her daze, she sat in each and every chair she could. Never being a picky person, Goldi somehow still found problems with each chair. To squeaky, too straight, or too slippery. Eventually Goldi settled down in a little kiddy chair. Perfect size and a little hard, but Goldi didn’t care anymore. She curled her legs up to her chin and as she was about to doze off…SNAP!
One of the legs on the chair gave up on its chair leg life. It snapped and spread chips of plastic around the floor. Goldi plummeted to the ground and jumped with surprise. Feeling bruised, she got up and started to exit the café to go lie down on a bench or something. Looking around the café one last time, she suddenly saw a staircase that she hadn’t noticed before. It was behind the counter, and leading up.
The Bere family is just about home. Joey has grown sleepy so Mr. Bere is hauling him on his back. The walk was fun, even if only Mrs. Bere thought it was worth it. The family reached the café and Joey was let down. “Hurry up Dad! I want something to eat.” Joey whined. Mr. Bere finally fished the keys out of his pocket to unlock the side door.
Just as the key was about to enter the lock, the door swung open. “Oh well,” Mr. Bere stated nonchalantly. “I must have forgotten to lock the door. Or…” He started to mention mischievously, “it was you!” Mr. Bere lifted Joey off his back and spun him around. He flew like one of the superheroes from his comics. Joey laughed and giggled like the young child he is.
“You’re going pull his arms out of his sockets!” Mrs. Bere warned jokingly. And then started to laugh. Soon enough, everyone was laughing. It was moments like this that the Bere family loved most.
Eventually they all settled down and entered the café. All laughing stopped immediately. Mrs. Bere gasped. Chairs were overturned and there was a trail of food leftovers leading from the kitchen, Mr. Bere sprinted immediately through the blue door, around the dining area, Mrs. Bere was already fixing the chairs, and then… “Upstairs!” Joey cried. The family regrouped and raced upstairs.
They looked in each room quietly. “I hope they didn’t take any of my toys! And they better not have played with my dinosaur. I love that dinosaur.” Joey went on and on until Mr. Bere shushed him.
“Just pretend you’re a ninja.” Mr. Bere whispered while gripping Joey’s shoulders. Joey nodded while trying not to cry.
One more room, Joey’s. They entered single-filed and saw a small girl with curly golden hair fast asleep in the bed. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bere felt sympathetic at once. The girl looked dirty and she smelled like fish. But despite the obvious disregard of hygiene, both Mr. and Mrs. Bere felt sorry for her. In fact, both Bere’s have actually seen this girl on the street. One time, Mr. Bere had tried to give her some food, but the girl had run off after a glance of another human being. Mr. and Mrs. Bere also seemed to realize that she was the same age as Joey. They both seemed to realize this at the same time, so they looked at each other and nodded.
They were slowly leaving, when Joey started crying. “Waa! That’s my bed! And that’s my favorite blanket! And my favorite pillow!”
The girl immediately sat up and stared wide eyed at the family. She looked scared, then angry. But it seemed, more at herself. The little girl quickly leapt out of bed and started to run to the door. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bere were caught unaware and Joey had stopped crying. They just watched in shock and silence as the girl unexpectedly slid on one of Joey’s stray toys and slid headfirst into the wall. She let out a shriek, then crumbled to the floor. The little girl fell unconscious.
Goldi started up in bed. “Wait, I’m in bed?” Goldi thought confusedly.
She looked around disorientated, seeing all the wonderful play things scattered around the room, and then remembered all of what had happened. It is now the middle of the night, and the household is fast asleep. Goldi is holding her stuffed bear she found earlier and is wearing her clothes, except they are clean. Goldi feels refreshed, which is a nice change.
She sneakily gets out of bed and puts on her shoes and socks that were neatly placed on the side of the bed. Goldi feels a bit of regret as she finds her pack and tucks her bear into it. She then notices the warm bowl of porridge on the bedside table. It is still warm, and there is steam whispering off it. Goldi ignores the sensation to down the whole bowl, and despite her head pounding like crazy, leaves the silent house.
The birds are chirping merrily outside the little café. The wind whistles a tune no one can duplicate. The sun shines contentedly down on the café chairs and tables in front. The Bere’s haven’t yet summoned the courage to go check on the little golden-haired girl. All was quiet in Joey’s room. Eventually, Mrs. Bere decided to venture into the bedroom.
The door creaked open, and Joey darted around Mrs. Bere’s legs. “She’s gone!” Joey exclaimed. The bedsheets were crumpled, and the pillow was deflated. “Ooh! Porridge!”
Joey ran over to the bedside table, picked up the spoon, and started slurping down the bowl like there was no tomorrow. Mr. Bere peeked into the room, shook his head like he was somehow disappointed, and went back down to the café.
Joey quickly finished the bowl and ran down to join his father.
Mrs. Bere walked farther into the room and started to make the bed. She straightened the sheets and blankets. She fluffed the pillow and placed the stuffed animals in the correct placement. After the bed looked alright, Mrs. Bere moved on to the floor. The toys were put away in the correctly colored bins. The action figures were set carefully in the display cabinet. Mrs. Bere’s face showed an emotion that could only be described as remorse.
The family regretted much, but they continued with their lives. Their café flourished, but it was always a family business. The Bere’s never saw Goldi again, but they will always remember her as the little golden-haired girl.