Angela huddled against a brick wall. There was just enough overhang from the roof above her to keep her head dry from the pouring rain above. Her feet were just small enough. If her feet had been any longer, she would have needed to slant her body. The alleyway smelled like human waste and garbage, but Angela could ignore the smell as long as she was dry. She would get used to it, she told herself.
Two days before, she had been under the roof of new foster parents, Sarah and Robert Earl. Upon arrival, Angela thought they looked like good people. Angela was a little plump but she wore a big smile and seemed really happy to bring fifteen-year-old Angela into their home. Robert also had a big smile on his face, for some reason it didn’t seem as warm as Sarah’s smile. Perhaps that was his large stature and his graying beard that made him look less friendly.
Later that evening, the three sat down at the wooden dinner table. The dining room was directly off the kitchen and decorated in a pink and beige floral print.
Angela looked across the spread of food. There was a whole roasted chicken that smelled of rosemary and sage, a bowl of garlic mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli. Angela hadn’t eaten this well in a while and heard her stomach growl at the thought of having access to all this food.
“Angela, would you like to lead us in saying grace on this special evening?” Sarah asked in her sweet voice.
“I don’t really know how to say grace,” Angela said in a quiet voice. Jumping from home to home had made her come out of her shell a bit more than before, but the shyness was in her bones.
“It’s not difficult. Just thank Jesus for everything, including this meal.”
“Okay,” Angela swallowed. “Dear Jesus.” She started. Although she had been in religious homes before, grace was not something she had ever been asked to lead. “Thank you for everything, including this meal. Amen.” The Amen came out as a question rather than the end of the prayer.
“Is that it?” Sarah looked at Angela. Angela thought of how to respond and gave one nod of her head. She didn’t know what else she should add. “Very well then,” Sarah looked annoyed, “Next time, maybe say a little more. Maybe explain how grateful you are to be taken in by a loving couple, a roof over your head, and fed.”
“Oh, okay,” Angela’s voice was just above audible. “Next time I will say more.”
“Very well, shall we eat?” Angela looked at Sarah, smiled, and nodded. Angela reached out for the mashed potatoes sitting directly in front of her.
“Oh no!” Sarah exclaimed grabbing the bowl of potatoes. “This food is for adults. Let me get you your child’s plate.” Although technically she was a child, Angela didn’t think of herself that way. Not after needing to raise herself, and in some cases, other children.
When Sarah returned, she laid a plate in front of Angela. On the plate were the organs from the chicken, boiled potato skins, and a piece of stale bread. Angela nodded her head, she knew better than to make a fuss.
“How was work today, dear?” Sarah asked Robert as she took her own seat and served herself.
Angela took a bite of one of the potato skins. It was soft but didn’t lend much as far as taste. It was bland. She looked over the chicken organs and picked one at random. She didn’t know which organ it was but knew it wasn’t the heart, as the heart was also laying on her plate. She knew it was the heart as it looked just like a small human heart Angela had studied in school. She took a small bite and nearly threw up.
“Manors girl!” Robert erupted toward Angela. Angela nodded. Her only hope of getting through this meal was to stick to the bread. Although it was stale, it was only a day or two past its prime and was much more appealing than anything else on her plate.
When dinner was finished and Angela helped clear the table, Sarah noticed the girl’s plate. She was not impressed with Angela’s eating habits and called her “An ungrateful mooch” to her face.
Later that night, Angela brushed her teeth, turned off the light, and climbed into bed. As she was drifting off to sleep, Angela suddenly woke to heaviness on the mattress next to her. Although there was no light in the room, she could see a man’s figure. It must have been Robert’s figure sitting on the bed next to her. She froze. Not wanting him to know she was awake.
He stroked her cheek. The thin blanket had been pulled all the way up only allowing her face to poke out. He began to pull the blanket down. And that is when she screamed and kicked him as hard as the blanket allowed her.
Sarah came charging in, “What is the meaning of this?”
“I just came to check on her and she screamed and then kicked at me. This child is an animal.” Robert defended himself and stormed out of the room.
“Is this true? You are such an ungrateful little monster,” Sarah asked.
Angela knew right then she could never be happy in this home. Between Sarah’s inability to think of her as a human and Robert possibly using his foster children for his own benefit, Angela knew she had to leave.
Angela didn’t sleep well that night. Her mind was going through her options. One, she could stay, but then she ran the risk of being starved and possibly raped every night. Two, she could call child services and have them place her somewhere else. But that someplace else, she learned, was rarely much better than this. Or three, she could try to make it in the real world by herself. She didn’t know what that meant exactly, but she had a good idea that this was something she was capable of. It wouldn’t be easy, but she could figure it out. She practically raised herself.
There was a knock on her door as the sun was coming up. And then the door opened. It was Sarah, with a jacket slung over her arm and a scarf around her neck.
“I am heading to the bakery this morning. When I get back, be ready for Sunday church. Robert is here, but he’s in his workshop in the garage. Don’t bother him unless you need to.” Without waiting for Angela’s response, she left the room, and shortly after, Angela heard the car roll down the driveway.
Since she had just arrived the day before, there was not much to pack. She grabbed the garbage bag she used as a suitcase and left through the front door. There was classical music coming from the detached garage. She kept one in the garage, trying to keep an ear out for any noises above the violins, as she walked past it.
Angela kept walking and walking. She made it into the closest town and found a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant, where she found a perfectly good box of Chow Mein noodles. She was so hungry, that she devoured the entire box as quickly as she could, grabbed her stuff, and kept moving.
She kept walking. The towns seemed to blur together. She didn’t know which town she was in or how many she had walked through. All she knew was the further the walk, the less likely she was to get caught. Her Converse started to become uncomfortable, but she didn’t care. The pain was less than her motivation. She was not sure what she was looking for but felt she would know it when she saw it.
She felt a drop on her cheek and looked up at the sky. A big thunderhead was heading right toward her. And this is where the first meeting with Angela began, against a brick wall trying to stay dry. Sleep fell over her. She was tired from walking and not sleeping. This was the first opportunity she was able to sleep since she left the Earl’s house. And since she was not going anywhere soon, she took advantage of it.
When she woke, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. She felt hungry until the smell of human waste hit her nostrils again. She thought she used to be immune to the smell by now.
She stood up, wobbling a bit, and rubbed the back of her neck with one hand and her trash bag hanging from the other. She continued in the same direction she was heading until her hunger pangs came back. She had been successful with the Chinese restaurant dumpster a few towns back. There was a sign for “Luigi's Italian Food” up ahead of her and figured she would try it there.
She went around to the back of the restaurant and dropped her garbage bag on the ground next to the dumpster, opened the lid, and jumped in. It was a sea of black bags inside. The first bag she opened smelled fowl and seemed to contain a slime that was not eatable. If she was trying to be sanitary, she would have washed her hands but that was the last thing on her mind.
Then she saw in the corner of the dumpster a pristine brown bag. It stood out against the black plastic bags. Angela swam her way over to it and opened it. And inside, were stacks of cash.
Without a second thought, she jumped out of the trashcan, stuffed the bag in her trash bag, and looked for a safe place to count the money. She couldn’t enter Luigi’s in case they had spotted her. She kept walking in the same direction.
She saw the golden arches and knew what that meant. Once she knew what was inside the pristine bag, she could then go inside and eat a real meal while safely deciding her next move.
She found herself, again, behind the restaurant and huddled down between the building and the dumpster. She opened her own trash bag and then the pristine brown bag. And she started to count. When she was done she pulled a crisp $100 bill out and stuffed it into her pocket. She closed the bags the best she could and entered the restaurant. Her stomach gargled.
She ordered and found a booth in the corner and placed her trash bag beside her and her tray on the table. She couldn’t think on an empty stomach. Once her first burger and half of her fries were finished she started to think. What was she going to do with the money?
She knew she didn’t have many options, being a runaway minor. But money, money could be her key. All she needed was a plan. She picked up another french fry. She found her freedom and her freedom tasted like salt, fired potatoes, and a new start in life.