“Where are you going, kiddo?”
“I’m going out,” Sadie replied. “I have that project.”
“Didn’t you do that last night?”
“It’s for two weeks, I’m only on night three.”
“The neighborhood won’t thank you for your troubles. Garbage grows in this part of town; pick some up and more just pops up in its place.”
Sadie lifted an eyebrow, “It must come from somewhere. It’s people who make garbage.”
“Well aren’t you smart for a ten year old,” she smirked.
“You’d think my big sister would know more,” Sadie grinned back
Sadie pulled on her coat, picked up the empty grocery bag and looked at her sister. “Anything else? I’d like to get this done with.”
“Be home before mom - you aren’t really supposed to be out on your own.”
Sadie rolled her eyes and she closed the door. When has anyone really cared what I do?
Sadie walked out on the small porch of their apartment and climbed over the railing, her feet thumped as they landed on the tall grass. She approached the sidewalk and scanned the grey and brown land investigating for speckled collections of colours. Small apartment buildings and trailers squished in next to each other, tall grass and boarded up holes lined the street along with the tiny green, blue, red, and yellow dots of litter. Yesterday she found a treasure of a pile and filled up her bag in ten minutes. It didn’t look like today would be as lucky.
Picking a direction, she turned left and walked up the road picking up the small colourful bits along the way, a crisp taste in the air. Snow all melted, the unkempt grass was still brown from an eternity in a frozen darkness. Slowly she added more collections to her bag as she went. Sadie decided to head back at the end of the long road so she crossed and returned to scanning the ground as she walked.
Standing up straight after crouching to pick up several water bottles, a flurry of movement caught her attention. A blur of brown hair and a blue curtain swung back into place. Sadie slowly placed the bottle in her bag as she watched the window. The curtain swayed until coming to a rest. Several more minutes passed before Sadie continued, the observer obviously not risking a return.
She made it back to her place and looked over the section of the street she had covered and smiled. You noticed the sidewalk and yards more when the garbage wasn’t covering them. She tossed the garbage into the bin outside her apartment, rounded the corner, and hopped over their porch railing. Just seven more nights of this then she can go back to her reading and video games. Mom kept pushing her to do her studies and get high grades. “Keep your grades up and you’ll be able to get a good job.” Well mom, not sure if garbage cleaning is what you meant but I’m doing my homework at least.
Sadie closed the porch door and squinted her eyes, brows furrowed at the dark grey sky. She pulled up the hood of her purple raincoat as the wind whipped her hair against her face. Tucking the loose ends under the hood, Sadie bent her head down and made her way back out to the side walk. She scanned the road she had cleaned up yesterday and her heart fell. Her face melted down as her eyes roved over what was now once again covered in colourful sprinkles, tumbling in the wind. Her eyes narrowed at all the small items tossing around. You stupid garbage! I cleaned this road, you can’t take it back that quick!
Cold hands snatched up each rolling piece of trash as her feet carried her quickly. Several bottles and food wrappers had caught themselves in the front steps of one trailer. Sadie looked around and walked up quickly, bending down to collect the treasures.
“What are you doing here?!”
Sadie jumped so hard she fell over backwards and looked up to the face standing atop the steps. The woman had frizzled hair and narrowed eyes.
“I’m picking up garbage.”
“Bull! Kids don’t pick up garbage, they steal stuff.”
Sadie blinked several times, held up her bag and opened it for the woman to see.
The woman’s small eyes narrowed even further as she looked Sadie over.
“It’s a school project. The wind blew some up here.”
“Well, get on out! I won’t have kids snooping around my place.”
Sadie scrambled up and ran back to the sidewalk, heart fluttering in her chest. SLAM. Sadie jerked her head back to the house. A pair of eyes watched her from the window, a blue curtain behind her. The two girls locked eyes, still as statues. Sadie could see that Jess’s round hazel eyes were a bit red. It wasn’t overly unusual for Jess, she was rather prone to tears. Suddenly the girl at the window retreated as the curtain was snapped open. The woman glared at Sadie as she yelled, “Get out girl!”
Sadie whipped into action and retreated back down the road to her warm and comforting home.
She squinted her eyes at the glaring sun, watching a bird fly across the sky. Free to explore the wide world beneath it. What must the world look like from the clouds?
Sadie stood on the highest section of the playground structure, the closest she could get to the view of a soaring bird. The wind swirled her hair around as she looked down at her mom sitting on the bench below and waved.
A shrill cry brought her attention to the group of kids playing tag down below. Hey eyes followed them as they ran around but was drawn away by some colourful specs at their feet. It’s Saturday. I don’t need to pick up garbage today.
A gentle pull from her stomach and Sadie race down the long swirly slide to investigate what snacks might be waiting down below. As she approached, her mom looked up at her and smiled. “Hi honey! You don’t want to play with the other kids?”
“I like looking around from the top. I’m hungry mom.”
Sifting through her bag, Sadie’s mom pulled out some granola bars and juice boxes. Sadie snatched one up, opened it, and looked down at the wrapper in her hand. “Mom, does all food come with garbage?” she asked as she took a bite.
“Unless you live on a farm and grow your own food. Things come to a store in bags or boxes.”
“Where does it all go mom?”
“Where does what go?”
“The garbage. Where does it all go?”
“Don’t speak with your mouth full. Garbage is taken out to landfills.”
“Then what happens to it?”
“Nothing, it just sits there.”
“Forever?!” her eyes went wide.
“I think so. You should ask that teacher of yours, she might know more. You're still doing that environmental project?”
“Yep, half way through.”
“Good girl, keep up on your studies and you should only need to work one job. You’ll have more time to do other things than I do.”
Sadie watched as several teenage kids at the next table left got up and walked along one of the paved trails out of the park. Her eyes widened when she saw the bags, wrappers, and cups left on the table. A ball of fire built up in her stomach as the wind picked up the napkins and the white sheets fluttered across the park, dancing on the breeze. I knew garbage didn’t grow outside. Her hands clenched and face eyes narrowed, Sadie got up and strode over.
“What are you doing Sadie?”
She went to the table and stuffed the cheeseburger wrappers in the bag. Walking around the park with the bag she picked up the chocolate bar wrappers she saw from above and found the napkins the wind tried to steal away. She went to the garbage and forced the bag into the little hole for garbage.
“Let’s go home mom, I don’t feel like playing anymore.”
Last day. After today I don’t have to care about this neighborhood. I don’t have to pick up after other stupid people.
Sadie walked up to the road and looked around. She couldn’t see any coloured speckles. She squinted her eyes and gave the street a more thorough look over. Interesting... I can try the benches on the next street, I shouldn’t be too far there.
As she had expected, there were some treasures left by those enjoying a seat with their warm coffees. Slowly her bag filled up as she thought of the questions her teacher had asked the class. “What have you noticed over the past two weeks?” I suppose I have noticed a few things…
Clearing the area, Sadie turned and headed back home, head high. Her bag was not quite full but there was no more garbage in the area she was allowed to go so she figured that was good enough.
Seeing one new red wrapper up ahead, she quickly approached and picked it up. A car driving by slowed next to her and rolled down the windows. Sadie took a few steps back, clutching her bag and the Kit-Kat bar wrapper.
“We’ve got a street cleaner here!” said a deep voice as armfuls of items were tossed out. “Here, let me help you out! Keep you busy all morning kid!” Laughter inside the vehicle rang in her ears before it sped off with a squeal.
Thumps from many bottles clattered on the sidewalk. Little colourful sprinkles fluttered in the air, confetti dancing as it tumbles down. Sadie’s heart was racing as her eyes grew wet as she watched the wrappers cover her street, the breeze stretching it out. She sat down on the grass and tucked her head down as she wrapped her arms around her legs. Mrs. Ackman says the earth gives us everything we have and if we don’t take care of it, it won’t be able to give us things anymore… Why does no one else seem to care?
Click. A door closing made Sadie look around. She wiped her eyes and saw someone coming out of the house with the blue curtains across the street. Moving back further, bracing herself, Sadie blinked away the wetness.
Jess was crossing the street, a plastic bag crinkling in the wind. She stopped in front of Sadie and the two girls looked at each other. Jess stepped closer and reached out her hand. After several heart beats that felt like hours, Sadie reached out her hand and Jess pulled her up. With shy smiles on their faces, the two girls turned to their task.