In These Moments, We: Walk Here

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: End your story with somebody stepping out into the sunshine.... view prompt


Coming of Age Contemporary Drama

The light belonged to those who could return to their happiness.

Huin nodded at this new fact as she slid between the buildings. The cement felt cool under her feet, and the shadows of the apartments and the office complex together kept the sun away. Or maybe the sun didn’t want to shine here.

Well, it wasn’t Huin’s business as to where the sun wanted to shine.

Taking the next right, she really ought to have been focused on her next hit, but her mind strayed back to that woman she saw on the sidewalk. At her ears, small versions of lemonade glasses glistened, and her neck and fingers blinded Huin whenever she shifted or moved that phone from ear to ear. The woman sparkled, and Huin might have been able to say the same about her face, but annoyance curdled her lip, and rage furrowed her nose, eyes, and eyebrows and pinched her voice into a shriek. Huin stayed longer than she should have, but the moment she was about to leave, the woman’s features slackened before lighting up again, smooth and shiny.

Then she did something that made Huin come to her newest fact. She pulled the glasses sitting on top of her head down, and shadows encased her eyes. The woman walked down the sidewalk with teeth flashing as she laughed.

Huin frowned. Mr. Shen always told her to try understanding others and to not be too upset when they acted out of ignorance. She tried to be understanding—she really did—but she didn’t think that that woman was ignorant of the sun that lighted the world around her, bathed her in warmth, made her skin and small lemonades glisten.

After all, she rejected its light with those sunglasses.

Her orphanage patron had called them ‘privileged.’ He explained that they often didn’t have to grapple with the idea of nothingness, darkness, and aloneness. She didn’t really get Mr. Shen’s words at the time, but now she just confirmed it with that woman. To be so privileged that she could dismiss the light, Huin couldn’t imagine. But when she thought of the woman’s anger, then her smile, she saw why the light didn’t reject as the woman did.

The spice of cooking in the air pulled her out of her thoughts, and she shook her head. She had to focus.

Zhudan’s Diner probably had to be the hardest hit on Huin food’s list, but they also had the most delicious assortment of sausage, brisket, and eggs. If she was lucky, she could nab a toast that had been sitting in the meat juices or egg yolk. The taste was already melting on her tongue—oh, that was her saliva. Wiping it on her shirt, Huin snuck towards the diner’s back alley.

First, she checked the garbage. She wouldn’t steal if she could help it because she knew that Mr. Shen would be disappointed if she did. Garbage checks never amounted to much though, and the same was for this round. The only viable thing to eat was half a steak soaking in the juices of a popped expired milk carton. The sour from that milk overpowered every other smell, and rotten eggs and rancid meat perpetually permeated the alley. Food was a version of privilege too. Sighing, Huin shut the lid, hopped down, and, after watching the cook lady leave the cutting station near the back door, slipped into the kitchen.

The lights here made her blink a bit and shudder despite the heat of the fire. Yeah, she knew that she didn’t belong here. Huin slinked through to the cutting station. The cook lady never missed a slice of bread or two. Swiping some and even a piece of bell pepper, Huin stuffed an extra piece into her mouth and moved to wait at the clean dish cart. Her target was the pantry; the industrial-sized door was usually propped open, so Huin only had to make it in and out without getting spotted by the cook man at the stove area. He had a clear view of any visitors to the pantry.

Hot food constantly had someone guarding it, and soup was obviously not an option. Packaged food remained her best chance. Huin had a trick to get the cook man away. It worked on occasion, and the times it didn’t…

No, now wasn’t the time to think about past failures.

Checking for the cooks’ positions, she picked up one of the plates from the dish cart and set it on the edge, where the slightest bump would tip the plate. Then she grabbed one of the cutting boards and waited. The dish cart sat in the middle of her target in front of her and her distraction behind her, about in line with her exit, but a trash can and prep station stood in the middle too, buying her a few extra seconds of escape. A long sink lined the area between the soup and cutting station, her distraction.

When the cook lady turned her head to reach for a spice, Huin threw the board into the wall, the board banging against the faucet and then the sink. As she thought, the cook lady and man shouted to each other, asking about the noise, and when the cook lady couldn’t find anything suspicious, the cook man went too. Huin dashed forward, and the moment shadows fell over her head, her confidence bolstered out. Her fingers held no dazzle, but they were quick, and before the cooks had stopped shouting to each other, she already had a bag of rolls, the outermost can of peas, and a pack of sardines stuffed into her jacket. She stepped back out into the light.

“Who are you?”

Huin froze. That voice, low and chilled, belonged to neither the cook lady nor man. Then there came a gasp she knew.

“Thief! Catch her!”

Huin thrust the confusion away and sprinted for the back door. She pushed the dish cart on her way past it and clenched at her wares harder at the shatter. She bust back out into the alley and ran. They could never catch her if she ran a couple alleys. Through the shadows, no one ever dared to follow. She passed the third alley and relaxed.


Huin jumped and whipped around, backing up a few steps. The person she didn’t recognize in the kitchen, the one who had ruined her quiet escape, stood in the shadowed alley. The employee had long dark hair, a little wavy, but nothing on her fingers or at her ears or at her neck. Even the cook lady and cook man wore matching rings.

“It’s not legal to steal.”

The employee’s voice made Huin lean in. Its tone held no happiness, or contempt, or even anger. She had only ever heard that emptiness in the government people when they came to close her orphanage, but this person didn’t seem so intent on forcing her away. She had her weight leaned to one side and her arms crossed, her eyes only observing.

“You should return what you stole.”

“Why don’t you take them from me?”

The employee raised an eyebrow. “I’m less inclined to now that you’ve asked me like that.”

Huin had asked out of curiosity, not out of a taunt. She could see why this employee would be confused. She sidled a step back. The person didn’t move.

“You didn’t answer me.”

“Because you don’t look like you would steal food for fun.”

“You’re saying that I look like the street rat people pity but wish would disappear?”

The worker narrowed her eyes before reaching into her pocket. Huin jumped back, prepared to run, but the person only pulled out a small white box. Cigarettes.

“If you can speak like that, then you should know that the cook masters are pretty forgiving. They let me work for them.”

“I’m not old enough to work.”

“How old are you?”

“Around thirteen.”

The person paused, then pulled out a lighter. She sparked the flame to life, the light glowing in the alleyway, before she snuffed it out and gray breathed out her lips.

“I like my smoke break at eight-twenty, after they close.”

She turned around and walked back in the direction of the restaurant. The scent of smoke tickled Huin’s nostrils, softer than other cigarettes’ she had smelled before.

Huin heard the employee’s voice in her head, low and chilled, as her last sentence replayed. There was only one reason for saying something like her preferred smoke time that Huin could think of, though it didn’t make sense to her. A pang to her stomach made her put the thought away. Retreating to her safe place, an apartment rooftop, she popped open the two cans and bag and ate. The peas swam in water that she sipped in between scraping the oily fish onto her bread and listening to the people below her argue. The pungent taste of the sardines stained her throat even when she swallowed down the last of the sweet peas.

The spring breeze blew cool wind against her skin, and she watched the people below mill about in the sun. This apartment stood below the towering office complex, shading the rooftop. Huin also never visited here during any other time of the day because she knew that sometimes the tenants came up here during the morning to read a book, during the afternoon to escape an argument, and during the evening for a smoke and drink.

Smoking… Huin was curious, she had to admit. A little bubbling in her head and chest told her so. But if she got caught, she didn’t know where she would end up, and that was against Mr. Shen’s wish. After the orphanage closed, Mr. Shen gave her one last hug, teary-eyed, and whispered one last thing, words that carved straight into her heart as her one and only goal.

Survive but don’t forget to live too, okay? One day, someone will see your worth.

And if she was going to survive, then she couldn’t get caught. Simple as that.

She sighed as the bubbling didn’t go away with reason. Curiosity prodded her, and she never could make it go away until it learned what it wanted. Lying down on the bench, Huin thought back to the employee. Her reactions were never surprised or extreme, like when Huin had spoken to others. Sometimes she met other people on the streets, especially during the winter for the alley fires. One girl had cried when she told her that they were useless to society because society had either made them like that or dismissed them as so, and a man had nearly beaten her when she said that his failed business venture due to a scam was probably because people liked to step on the vulnerable.

But this employee didn’t miss her meaning. She didn’t seem to mind Huin asking questions either. She seemed curious about Huin too and seemed to be suggesting something when she said that the cook lady and man were forgiving. She couldn’t have been older than the oldest at the orphanage, fifteen-year-old Fuyari. The employee said that she was less inclined to take the food back, and it wasn’t because Huin had taken the cans that would expire soon.

Huin turned her head to see the remaining rolls in the bag. She had some sardines left, good enough for a meal tonight. Maybe after she ate, she would go. She didn’t have anything else to do—no more laundry to help Mr. Shen dry, no more poking around Fuyari to learn the big words his hormone treatment used, no more nights where they camped in the living room and Huin and Fuyari pretended to be dinosaurs for Aya and Uzakim.

The door to the rooftop rattled and yelling followed. Huin grabbed the rest of her food and hopped down the stairs, tossing the empty pea can into the recycle bin.


Huin liked the night. All the people who walked the streets and her seemed a little more similar, and if they looked similar, then no one would give her those looks of curdled lips and clicked tongues. Their ears and wrists and hands would still shine, but they dimmed under the streetlamps. People’s confidence too, while Huin padded through the dark with ease.

She used that grace to make her way back to Zhudan’s Diner, guessing the time. People were starting to leave, and the front lights of the shop had turned off. Huin waited around the corner, so she could sprint away if she saw any sign of a trap, but when the employee came out the back door, she paused.

The employee was laughing with the cook lady and man. They spoke about how they had a good day, plenty of tips, and many compliments on their food. None of them mentioned her thievery. And the employee’s smile—her hand covered it, but Huin saw the way she opened her mouth wide, showed her teeth, and her eyes squinted in joy.

That look didn’t belong to someone who walked in the shadows.

Huin backed from the corner, and after a moment, she turned away.


She froze and whipped back around. The employee stood in that triangle of light that bled into the alley from the streetlamp.

“Follow me.”

The worker started out of the alley. The bubbling in Huin’s chest shimmied up again, and her feet moved her forward. Following a beat behind, she glanced at the employee. Certainty kept her walk steady, her shoulders lined squarely, confident, and her steps cut through both shadow and light without a care. Huin didn’t understand.

They walked out of the heart of downtown, waited at a bus stop. Huin tried to escape then, not having the bus fare money, but the employee grabbed her wrist, dropped some coins in her palm, and went to swipe a bus card first. People shuffled up behind Huin, so she hurried to insert the coins in and get on the bus. The employee waved her over, and Huin lurched with the bus as it started. Lights beamed down on her from the ceiling, and she watched them until there was a tap on her shoulder.

More green space and less lamps made the landscape as they got off. It was quiet, reminding her of the calm nights at the orphanage when she snuck out of bed to watch the stars with Fuyari. They eventually stopped at one of the longest houses Huin had ever seen—long but the placement of the windows and doors looked cramped. The person unlocked one and bid her in. The furniture was minimal, like at the orphanage, and she heard the person rummaging in a room as if she were right in front of her.

The person came back with a set of clothes and gestured for Huin to follow to her to a bathroom. She set the clothes near the sink and turned on the bathtub water.

“Left is hot water. Use soap. When you’re done, come to the kitchen.”

And like that, Huin was left in the bathroom. She hadn’t had a shower since she was left out on the streets. Showering put her in a vulnerable position, so she didn’t do it, but the rush of the water teased her like rain. She had to refrain from running in the rain too, and she loved to run through the rain.

When she finished, changing into the new clothes, she poked her head out and followed the sounds of cooking to the kitchen. The place was bright, and the sizzling food filled the kitchen with a savory aroma that made Huin drool.


Doing as she was told, Huin stared at the worker when she put a plate of fried rice in front of her.


“Why’re you giving me this?”

“Free meal. You take it.”

Huin had to swallow again when the steam swirled in front of her. She didn’t see her add any poison, so she took the spoon and dug in, practically melting under the taste.

“I’m Ha Kiusik.” the worker asked, sitting across from her. “What’s your name?”


“What’s your family name?”

“Don’t have one. I was left on the doorstep of Charity Orphanage. Mr. Shen was the one who named me ‘Huin.’”

The worker—oh, Kiusik—didn’t pinch her lips in a pitying smile or even open her mouth in shock. She just nodded.

“Want to live here?”

Huin pulled back in surprise.

“You can shower, have clothes, eat, and have a stable shelter here if you adhere to three conditions. You stop stealing, you study for school, and you walk beside me, not behind me, when we go places. Deal?”

“Why’re you offering?”

“To you?”

“To someone like me.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Someone who society deemed useless.”

At that, Kiusik laughed.

“That’s funny. I didn’t think that you were one to believe in what everyone else said.”

“I don’t.” She looked down. “But I guess I assumed that you would.”

Kiusik laughed again, but it sounded softer this time.

“Patterns make the world a little easier to figure out, but they can be traps too. To answer your question, it’s because I think ‘useless’ is a word from the uncompassionate and uncreative. To answer my question, it’s because you’re interesting. I can’t help everybody. I’m not in any position to do that, but if you want, I’ll help you how I can.”

Huin didn’t understand, but Mr. Shen’s words echoed in her head, warming her. They took Kiusik’s words too and embraced them. They had only protected and guided her, so she said yes.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later during the afternoon, when she looked up the path to their townhouse after a grocery trip with Kiusik, that she realized that she walked in the sunlight now.

June 26, 2021 01:59

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.