Her footsteps were determined and resolute against the concrete floors. The eyes of the street folk followed her awestruck. What was she going to do, this child? Their gawk reminded her of who she was, briefly, but it didn’t matter. Something in her had died a long time ago, that was now stirring inside her little chest. She didn’t know by what name to call it. Some would have called it self worth, others pride, but she didn’t know these by name; in fact she knew too little for a girl of 12. Yet, she knew more than any 12 year old should know.
Her steps echoed in her own head beating in an odd rhythm with her thumping heart. She thought her heart had moved up to her ears because that was where they seemed loudest. Her feet were sore from hours and hours of roaming the streets carrying the infant that looked nothing like her. She could hear him even now, crying on the lap of the woman they said would be her mother while she was here, but she wasn’t. All the woman did was cower before the men and did as she was told. The vacant look in her eyes were never any comfort.
She had forgotten where she was from. Faint memories of running along a stream barefoot came in her dreams, then she awoke to the cries of strange babies and girls younger than she was. Sleep did not come soon on such nights, even with the weariness of a day trudging under the sun. There was no point in comforting the little ones beside her, there was no happy thought to comfort them with.
This was why she was surprising herself at the moment. Why was she chasing this stranger? Why was she looking up instead of down? Something was stirring inside her and it felt alien. Had she known any better, she would have said it was hope. Something about the strange lady and the way she had looked at her made her feel the need to reach out. She had asked her where she had come from. No one did that much. Some did but looked at her accusingly, as though she was out here on her own will. Did they know she was 12? Did they know she would rather be in a school in a muddy playground? Did they know she secretly longed to wear the little blue pinafores some children around town wore as they rushed with heavy important looking bags dragging from their shoulders?
She walked on aware that at any time a pair of dark strong hands could grip her shoulders and yank her back into fear. They would punish her she was sure. She had seen it before. They were worked on till the light left their eyes. Where did this spark in her come from then? From the lady, she guessed. She had held her hand out. She offered her money but the kindness in her eyes were something the little girl had long forgotten. For the first time she felt inclined to respond to the kindness of a stranger. Why? Many had tried before; she had shrinked away from them in surprise at first, and maybe she was a little shy and afraid she was being watched. She wished the lady had not walked away. She wished she had held her hand and taken her home. She wished all the men in blue who stood around would help her instead of shooing her away. Did they know she was 12?
The lady was gone. She wished she had not looked into those eyes. She wished she had not been awakened. The darkness went unnoticed when there was nothing to compare it to. She stopped in her tracks gasping for air. She had not realised that she had been panting. She was afraid. Too many people were looking her in the eye; and she was looking back at them. She must look down or they would notice her. For the first time in a long time, she wanted to cry. The tears threatened to burst out of the lump in her throat but she stopped herself. She must not cry; she was 12.
We all see them. Can we do more than merely sigh in pity and walk back into our lives?