THE HOMELESS HEART
Inya brushed back her long black hair from her face with her little hand, and sighed. “It is so hot Mommy. I am so thirsty.” She looked down and spotted a container that had some water left in it. She picked it up and brought it to her parched lips, then hesitated.
“Go on and drink it, Baby.” Her mother hugged Inya trying to comfort her eight year old daughter.
Inya drank the water from the container. The water was warm from the heat of the sun and she could taste the salt from her lips as she drank every drop. “I’m still thirsty, Mommy,” she cried. One tear found its way down her small cheek.
Her mother had to turn away, not able to comfort Inya or herself from the harsh truth they had to live every day. “Come on Inya, maybe we can find some shade.”
“I don’t want to walk, Mommy. I am tired.
“There are some trees a little way down the road. Come on, you will feel better once we get there.”
Inya drug herself along with her mother to find shade. The heat of the road was burning her feet through the holes in her shoes. “Please Mommy, can’t you carry me?”
“Oh Baby, I am sorry. I am just too weak.
“Look Mom,” Inya said keeping her voice very low. “Those people are staring at us. I hate that. It is so mean.”
A couple of women were walking by and smiled at the two of them. “Hello,” one of the women tried to be friendly. “You two look so hot. I was just heading over to get a soft drink across the road. Would you like something to drink?
I would really appreciate a soft drink, or water would even be better. for my daughter. But, I am fine,” Inya’s mother answered.
The friendly woman hurried back with two waters and a couple of sandwiches. “They had these sandwiches on sale,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Well thank you very much,” Keisha said. Keisha felt sad, humiliated, and relieved all at once. At least they had one meal today.
The woman smiled and told them they were welcome and hurried off with her friend.
“Oh, Mom,” Inya blurted out. “I have to go to the bathroom. What am I going to do?” Inya crossed her legs and looked up into her mother’s troubled face.
Keisha looked around for a place to take her. “Over there,” she said. Let’s try that store where that woman got the sandwiches.”
They walked in to the store and looked for the restroom sign.
“Now, Mom,” Inya cried. “Now!”
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” the store clerk called out. “Can I help you with something?” He looked them over and frowned.
“My little girl needs to use the bathroom. Please,” she said. “We are far from home and I am afraid she won’t make it. Won’t you please let her use the bathroom?”
“I am sorry, Mam. We don’t have a public bathroom. You will have to go somewhere else.”
Inya began sobbing. “Please, I have to go right now.”
“Fine,” the man sounded angry. “But, I better not ever see you two in here again. If she makes a mess in there, you will have to clean it up. I am not supposed to let anyone in there! There, right at the end of that hall. Now hurry up.”
“Please don’t yell at my little girl. It’s not her fault.”
“Look lady, if you can’t take care of your little girl, maybe you should give her to someone who can.”
Finally Inya came out of the bathroom. “Are you ok?” her mother asked. She put her arms around her daughter and gave her a hug.
“I’ll make sure there is no mess in there,” the store clerk said. “And then, you two get out of here.”
Keisha was relieved once they got out side. They walked hand in hand down the street looking for a shady spot.
“Look over there,” Keisha said. There is a tree over there with a blanket under it. Come on. Let’s go.”
“Mama, that is someone’s yard,” Inya said. We can’t just go in their yard. We might get in trouble.”
“Oh baby, there is no one home,” Keisha answered her. “It will just be for a little while. I promise. I am so tired of walking. My feet hurt. Come on, let’s go. We can cool off for a little while and then be on our way.”
They walked into the back, carefully looking around. “I hope there aren’t any dogs,” Inya said.
“Don’t worry! If there were any dogs, we would have heard them barking already.”
The finally made it to the blanket in the shade and sat down. Keisha leaned against the tree and finished her sandwich and water. She felt like she was in paradise and slipped off her worn shoes and dug her feet into the blanket. Inya finished hers too and lay back against her mother. They were so cozy in the shade lying on the blanket that covered the soft overgrown grass. They were mesmerized by the cool sanctuary they found and soon fell fast asleep.
Inya dreamed of swimming and playing with friends. They were splashing water at each other and laughing. Inya loved it when she had these wonderful dreams. Even though her mother told her that it used to really be like that, Inya couldn’t remember. But, she had her dreams. The sun was never too hot in her dream. And, oh the food they ate for lunch. Inya didn’t really know what kind of food it was, but she loved the taste. Fresh food and juice were abundant. They even had enough to share with their friends. She desperately did not want to wake up.
Someone yelling startled the two as Keisha felt sharp pain in her left side. She had woken to a couple of young men screaming at her, kicking her in the side. She quickly looked around to find Inya standing at the edge of the blanket.
“Don’t hurt my Mommy. She wasn’t doing anything to you. Please, stop.”
“Come on, get up you old hag,” one of the men said to her. “What the hell are you doing on our property? Does this look like a charity house to you? Get up and move on!”
Keisha jumped up feeling as much anger as she felt fear. “Ok, ok, give us a chance,” she said. She got up and grabbed her daughter. “Please, we weren’t hurting anyone. We are leaving right now. Just let me grab my shoes.” She bent down to pick up the worn shoes with no laces in them and holes in the bottom.
But, one of the young men kicked them out of her reach. Though he looked to be not much older than fourteen, he was tall and menacing. He then pushed Keisha again and yelled at her. “Just get out of here. You two need a bath. My dog smells better than you! You can leave the shoes as payment for using our blanket.”
“Hold on a minute, “the other young man said. “They might have stolen something. You never know. Did you two steal those waters from the house?”
“Of course not,” Keisha cried out. “We were just looking for a little shade. We’ll go now. Please give me back my shoes. I need them to protect my feet. Please.”
“Oh, just give her the shoes and let them get out of here,” one of them said. “We don’t need them hanging around here any longer.”
The young man picked up the shoes and threw them at Keisha. She grabbed them and her daughters hand and headed for the road. She was too afraid to stop and put them on till much later. She was struggling to hold back the tears and could only sigh.
“I told you Mommy,” Inya cried out. “You are not supposed to go on property that doesn’t belong to you.” She looked up at her mother crying and jerked loose from her hand. She wanted desperately to run off, but there was no better place to go. “I bet my Daddy would take better care of me,” she wailed.
“I’m sorry Inya. I miss your father too. But, he’s gone forever.”
“Do people ever come back from Heaven?” Inya asked.
“No Inya, they don’t.” Keisha hated lying to her daughter, but, she didn’t have the heart to tell her that her father didn’t want her anymore. He had left town leaving them with no money and only one month’s rent paid on their apartment. It had been three years since she heard from him.
The struggle since he left became harder each day. She worked two jobs to try and keep a roof over her head, but it wasn’t enough. It seemed that Inya’s babysitter made out better than she did. Once they lost the apartment, it was harder to keep a job. Then it became impossible. With no phone or permanent address, who would hire her. Actually, she hadn’t given up trying to find work until one day when someone had stolen her bag of clothes. That was two years ago. The only thing Keisha and Inya had left were the clothes they were wearing.
Keisha couldn’t hold back the tears a moment longer. She began crying hard, releasing the tears she had held back for so long. “I am so sorry, Baby,” she said. You know I am doing the best I can. Look, over there. It’s Ann. Hey Ann, how are you? I haven’t seen you in what about three weeks?”
“ Hi,” Ann said. I have been in the hospital, but, I am all right now. I see you two are still out here on the road. So, you haven’t found your sister?”
“No, I haven’t. And it has just been too hot to walk far. I tell ya, Ann. I just don’t know what I am going to do. Things are just getting harder.”
They started to walk together for a while. Kiesha was glad for the company. It seemed to help Inya too. Her crying had stopped and she was grilling Ann about her stay in the hospital. They walked endlessly down the road looking for somewhere to rest. But, there were no benches or even railings to be found.
“Hey, Keisha, look over there.” Ann motioned to the other side of the road. “They are selling used clothes over there. Maybe they have some to give away. You know something that might not sell.”
“Wouldn’t make any difference,” Keisha answered. If I had any money on me, we would be getting dinner in a little while.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she answered.
“Hey, I have an idea,” Keisha whispered into Ann’s ear. “Could you keep your eye on Inya for a couple of minutes? I don’t want her to see what I am doing.”
“Of course,” she said. “Go ahead.”
Keisha went across the street to the shop that was selling the used clothing. It doesn’t look to busy she thought. She looked around at the clothing, pretending to shop. She nervously went through the aisle looking for children’s clothing. Keisha wasn’t sure if she could do it. This is something she had never done before.”
“Can I help you?” a woman asked.
“I’m looking for little girls clothing,” Keisha replied. “She wears about a size seven.”
“Oh, they are three aisles over and down toward the back.”
“Thank you.” Keisha was happy to be heading for the back of the store. She browsed through the racks and tables while watching to see if anyone could see her. Keisha didn’t have time to be picky. She picked up a couple pair of underwear and a shirt and pair of shorts and stuck them inside of her makeshift purse. Then she moved on to the women’s department and found a couple of things for herself. She shoved a bra into the large pocket of her smock and looked up to see the woman watching her. Kiesha was struck motionless with fear. She was sure she would faint and grabbed on to a pole. She wanted to apologize for stealing, but, the words just wouldn’t come out. The woman nodded and then just turned away. Keisha wasn’t sure how to react. Was the woman pretending not to see her or was she expecting her to put the things back. She just wanted to run outside, but, she still couldn’t move.
One moment later, a man walked in. “Hey there,” he said. “How are things going?”
“Oh, pretty good,” the woman said. Then she motioned for Keisha to come on up to the front. “Unfortunately, we don’t have what this lady needs today. But, I told her to check back next week.”
“Thank you for your help,” Keisha said and headed out the door. She hurried and caught up with her daughter and friend.
“Well how did it go?” Ann asked with a smile on her sun burnt face. “Did you get what you needed?”
“I did ok,” she answered. “I am going to take Inya to that gas station over by the railroad tracks so we can wash up. Maybe I will see you a little later.”
“Keisha and Inya finally made it to the gas station and went around back to find the restroom. “Come on Inya, we are going to wash up and put on some clean clothes. Look, I have a new pair of shorts and a top for you. Now throw out those old clothes and the underwear too.”
“Where did you get these clothes, Mommy? Did you buy them at that store?”
“Well, sort of,” Keisha answered. “The lady that works there said I could pay her later.”
“Did you get clothes too, Mommy?”
“Yes, I got a couple of things too. Now turn around so I can wash up and change my clothes.”
Inya turned toward the wall while Keisha got out the clothes she had taken. She took a long look at herself in the mirror. The mirror is old and worn like my face, she thought. She looked at her hair that needed desperately to be washed and cut. She put on the bra she had taken and smiled. It felt good to have one again. They finished dressing, used the facility and went outside.
“Well, the sun is finally going down,” Keisha said. “I think we better head for the shelter if we want a place to sleep tonight.”
“Maybe we can get a real shower!” “Mommy, can we go to the one with the shower?”
“Yes, but we better hurry. It will fill up fast in this heat.”
It took them about twenty minutes to reach the shelter, only to find out it was already full.
“Please, can’t you squeeze us in?” Keisha pleaded.
“Look Ma’am, I’m sorry,” the attendant said. “There are so many so many people on the streets these days. You know, we do the best we can. There are just too many people. You know lady; you should consider taking your daughter to child protective services. She should never be on the street. They will find a family to take good care of her until you get on your feet.”
“I could never give up my baby,” Keisha yelled at the attendant. “She needs me. I am all she has, the only family. We have got to stick together.”
“My Mommy loves me! She can’t help it if she can’t take good care of me. She tries her best.” Inya was crying hard and held tightly to her mother’s hand. “Let’s go somewhere else, Mommy. Some place where they try to help people not split them up.”
Keisha and her daughter walked away slowly. Inya’s words were weighing heavy on her thoughts, but Keisha wasn’t ready to give up her daughter.
“Where are we going, Mommy?”
“I don’t know, Baby. “
“What about those bandon houses,” Inya asked.
“The abandoned houses are too dangerous. Lots of times, there are druggies and drunks in there. We’ll have to find someplace else.”
Keisha headed back down the road toward a Coney Island restaurant. Inya looked up at her and asked where they were going.
“I’m heading back to that place where that nice man gave us some food last week. Remember, Inya, the chili dogs and French fries?”
“I love French fries, Mommy.”
“It is getting dark, Mommy. Is it far?”
Keisha looked up just in time to see a group of teenage boys heading toward them. She felt fear envelope her entire body. She couldn’t move as she watched them head toward her.
“What’s wrong, Mommy? Why did you stop walking? I am hungry and want to get going.”
Just then, the gang of boys stood right in front of them. “Hey, bitch…you got any money?”
“Get real. Do we look like we have any money,” Keisha answered. “Now, just leave us alone and let us pass.”
“Not so fast,” one of the boys answered. He started shoving Keisha toward a row of houses. Keisha started screaming, so one of the boys punched her in the mouth. The sharp pain brought Keisha to her knees and blood began dripping down from her lip.
“Please, what are you doing?” she cried. “I don’t have anything. Please, just leave us alone.”
“Oh, I think you have something you can give me,” one the boy said. “Come on; let’s go back behind that building over there.”
“What do you mean? Let go of me. Please you’re hurting me.”
“Grab the little girl,” one of the boys said. “Follow me back behind the building.”
“Please, what are you going to do, please? Help! Someone, please help”
“Shut up you stupid bitch or I will hit your little girl.”
“Oh please, I’ll be quiet. Please don’t hit my little girl. Inya, stop crying, it’s going to be ok.”
“That’s right little girl. Your Mommy is going to be nice to us so we won’t have to hurt you.” He drug Inya around the corner of the building laughing at her trying to break free. “Wait, wait,” she cried. I lost my little teddy bear with the blue eyes. Please, I have to find him.”
The boy ignored Inya’s cries and held on to her arm so tight that he bruised her.
They reached the back of the building and the five boys started grabbing at her, ripping her shirt.
“Please, my little girl. Please don’t hurt my little girl.”
“Hey, Dude, take the little girl around the corner so she won’t see what we are doing.”
“No way, I want to watch.”
“Dude, just take her. You will get your turn.”
“Oh God,” Keisha cried out. “Please, don’t do this.” Keisha started throwing up.
Through all the chaos and screaming, Keisha could hear police sirens coming close. She wanted desperately to yell for help, but, she was afraid that they would hurt her daughter. The sirens sounded closer. All of a sudden, the boys took off running. Two policemen were running toward her.
“Ma’am. It’s ok now. We’re here. You are going to be ok.” The policeman put his arm around Keisha and helped her up.
“They took my little girl back around that building,” Keisha cried, “Inya, Inya!”
Inya came running toward Keisha, her face wet with tears and her body trembling. “Mommy, they hurt you,” she cried out.
“It’s ok, the officer said. “She is going to be all right. We are going to take her to the hospital. What’s your name?” he asked Inya.
“It’s Inya, she sobbed. “Am I coming to the hospital too?”
“Of course,” he answered.
Just then the other policeman came back. “They got away,” he said. “They all ran off in different directions.”
“No surprise there. Let’s call for an ambulance for this lady and her lovely daughter, Inya.
“Well, sir,” Keisha started. “I don’t have any money or insurance. I really can’t go to the hospital.”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” he said. He rolled up a blanket from the car and put it under head.
It seemed like a long time before they got to see a doctor at the hospital. Keisha was sore and scared.
The doctor started asking her questions about where she hurt and what happened to her.
“Why is everyone asking me the same questions?” she asked him.
“Just try to relax,” he said to her. “We are just trying to help you. Now, there will be a lady from Children’s’ Protective Services to see you about your daughter.”
“What do you meant to see about my daughter?”
“Well Ms. Bellows, we have to find a place for your daughter to stay while you in the hospital. The nurse said that you have no family or friends to call.”
“Oh no. Well you are just going to have to let me out of here. You’re not going to send my baby anywhere.”
“Calm down now, Ms Bellows. We are just trying to help you and your daughter. Don’t you want what is best for your daughter?”
“Mommy,” Inya cried. “I lost my little teddy bear with the blue eyes.”
“Don’t worry, Inya. We will find it when we get out of here.”
“I am what is best for her,” she answered. But, there was nothing she could do. The lady from Children’s Services took Inya from the hospital room.
Even though she tried to assure her that they would work with her and get her on track so she could get her daughter back, Keisha could not be consoled. She cried then sobbed until no more tears would come out. She slowly drifted off to sleep with the help of the medication she was given.
Inya walked into the large building with the nice lady. “See, Inya,” the lady said. “It looks just like a regular house. There are some other girls here that you can play with and make friends. You can meet them in the morning.”
“Ok,” Inya said still unsure of her fate. “Can I take a shower first?”
“Of course you can. My name is Mrs. Kelsey. I have some clean pajamas for you too.”
“Pajamas. I never had pajamas before.” After her shower, Inya climbed into the soft bed with a real pillow. She fell asleep quickly, so exhausted from the terrible day. And she dreamed. But, they weren’t dreams of friends and beaches and food. They were nightmares of dragons and monsters that took her Daddy and her Mommy away.
Inya was placed in the foster care system within the week. Keisha was released from the hospital the next day. Even with help from the Women’s’ shelter, she wasn’t able to find employment. Keisha remained on the street and became despondent.
Inya never found her mother again. Her memories of that time in her life were vague. She looked for her when she got older, but there wasn’t a trace. Every once in a while, Inya dreams about the day her Mommy was hurt and how they ended up at the hospital. But, the memory of what Keisha’s face looked like was fading. But, Inya had to give up the search. Her new job was taking her to a new home in a town far away from the big city of Detroit where she grew up. She never missed the city and all its awful sounds. But, somehow she still remembered the gentle hugs of her mother and still longed for the childhood and mother that she was deprived of. She drove one last time past the viaduct where she and her mother spent a lot of time that last summer. But, she didn’t see the older woman laying down in the shade of it holding on to a worn little teddy bear with blue eyes.