Yesterday, I asked for story ideas on Facebook. I received a few suggestions and this story was born. It’s not my best work, but I did write this in less than twenty-four hours. That has to be slightly impressive. Hopefully, it’s not too terrible.
When I was a little girl, you should’ve seen me run. I could sprint from my front porch to the corner in less than a minute. I could outrun all the boys in my grade, but that didn’t stop them from challenging me during recess. My parents and teachers had a difficult time keeping up with me, and it made me feel powerful; I was a kid who could beat the adults at something.
I was grateful my legs could carry me far and fast, because that’s how I was able to escape a doctor’s appointment when I was eight years old. One moment, I was sitting in a plastic molded chair, watching my father write our names at the receptionist’s desk, the next moment I pulled open the heavy glass door and ran out of the building.
It was a sunny day and the summer humidity felt like someone had slapped me in the face with a damp towel. The noon hour sun’s heat bit my bare skin and the heavy air made it hard for me to catch my breath. However, I kept running and did my best to dodge the bewildered lunch crowd, who were watching me zoom by them. I never looked behind me, but I was almost certain my father, Doctor Miller, the city’s police force, and half the National Guard was on my tail. It felt like I had been running for a lifetime, but it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes.
The soles of my sandal-clad feet stung as they slapped the sidewalk and my light green sundress was drenched in my sweat. My rapid heartbeat echoed in my ears and my lungs couldn’t keep up with my speed. I stopped at an old movie house my family and I went to on the weekends. Without a second thought, I pushed through the front doors, not caring who I would find.
The dim light bulb hung in the middle of the lobby; it was the only source of light. There was an empty concession stand and ticket counter, and the smell of stale popcorn clung to the air. A cool breeze came into the room that felt delicious on my sunburned arms and face. The adrenaline had stopped pumping through my body and I collapsed on the dingy-red, carpeted floor. I felt afraid and tried to push myself up, but exhaustion won. The thought of my father never finding me and me dying alone in the lobby filled me with dread.
As I started to drift off, I whispered a prayer:
“Please don’t let me die here, God! I’m sorry I ran away, but please let my daddy find me.”
My eyes closed for what I thought was the last time and I was sure that I heard faint meowing behind me.
The smell of buttered popcorn and Ariel singing about being part of my world woke me up. I thought I was being welcomed into Heaven, but I realized I was laying on plush theater seats. Next to me was a short, older woman with cropped, grey hair and a loud pink dress with multicolored polka dots scattered on it. She watched, transfixed, at The Little Mermaid playing on the large screen with a red bag of popcorn sitting on her lap. The woman would take a kernel, toss it in the air, and caught with her mouth. Each time she did this I was sure she would miss, but she always caught it. Whatever fear I had earlier was replaced with curiosity.
“How did you do that,” I asked, sitting up and smoothing the skirt of my dress. The woman looked at me and put the popcorn aside. She may have been older, but the twinkle in her brown eyes made me believe otherwise.
“I should be asking you the questions,” the woman said, as she wiped the butter off her fingers with a napkin. “What were you doing taking a nap on the lobby floor?” She peered at me and furrowed her brow. “Where are your parents, young one?”
“I-I don’t know,” I said, tucking my legs under me. “I ran away.”
She nodded, placed the bag of popcorn back on her lap, and went back to watching the movie. I couldn’t concentrate on the movie, so I buried my head in my arms.
‘Why’d you run away,” I heard the woman ask. When I didn’t speak quick enough, she added, “If you’re in trouble, you better tell me. Are your parents smacking you around?”
I lifted my head up and stared at her.
“No! Don’t talk about my parents that way!”
The only light in the room came from the movie screen, but I noticed something fuzzy scurrying by our feet. Thinking it was a man-eating rat, I screamed and covered my face again.
“Ah, Louie,” the woman said, reaching down to pick up the little intruder. She then placed the furry creature on my lap. It began to purr.
“A kitty!” Louie was small, white, and incredibly fuzzy. He proceeded to lick my hand and then settled down for a cat nap.
“Not just any kitty. He’s a world class tracker. If someone is lost, he just needs a bit of their scent, and presto! He’ll find them.”
I tried not to roll my eyes and instead stroked Louie’s soft fur.
“So, are you going to tell me why’d you run away?”
I looked up at the screen and watched Ariel sign Ursula’s contract, which made her both human and voiceless.
“I was at Doctor Miller’s office. That’s where I ran from.”
The woman stood up, brushed the kernels from the skirt of her dress, and stretched her arms over her head. I kept petting Louie.
“No one knows this except Doctor Miller and my parents, but I’m going blind in one of my eyes.” The woman stopped mid-stretch and faced me. “They want to send me to another doctor to see if she can make my eye better.” My eyes filled up with tears and I began sniffling, not caring if it was in front of a stranger. “I’m scared that I’m not going to see anymore and I’m tired of my parents feeling sad all the time, because of me.”
At this point, the woman was sitting next to me and had placed her bare, tan arm around my shoulders. All that could be heard was my crying and the movie’s soundtrack.
“I don’t know what tell you to make it all better,” the woman said softly, her head touching mine. “You are still so young, so it’s hard to understand why painful things like this happen. I hope you understand that your parents love you and they cry because it hurts them to know you’re suffering.”
She took my face in her hands and looked into my eyes.
“Bad things do happen. It’s awful, but that’s what happens in life. But I want you to remember something.”
“What?” Louie had jumped from my lap and was now perched on the woman’s lap.
“Good can come from the most miserable, evil situations. I should know. I’ve lived it.”
The woman stroked Louie’s fur, then pulled a little notepad and a pen out from a purse sitting next her. She quickly scribbled on it, tore the sheet out, and tucked it in Louie’s collar. She picked him up and it looked like she whispered into his ear. The cat meowed a few times, jumped to the floor, and scurried away. She looked back at me and smiled.
“My name is Beth Kim. You can call me Miss Beth.”
“I’m Adhira,” I said. I still feared going blind, but Miss Beth’s demeanor helped me relax. We sat back and continued watching the movie, but I dozed off again. When I opened my eyes, I saw my father’s tear-streaked face. I wrapped my arms around his neck, he pulled me into his arms, and I buried my face in his shoulder.
“Adhira, my little girl,” he said. “Why did you run away? We looked for you everywhere.”
“How’d you find me?” I saw Miss Beth holding a purring Louie in her arms.
“That white cat walked over to where Doctor Miller and I were standing, trying to figure out where you ran off. It meowed a few times, got our attention, and I saw a note attached to the collar. The address to where you were was written on it.”
“World class tracker,” Miss Beth said, giving me a wink.
“You know we’ll have to go back to see Doctor Miller, right,” my father said, carrying me out of the screening room. I nodded and peeked over my father’s shoulder.
“If you don’t mind,” Miss Beth said, putting Louie in her purse, “I’d like to come with you.”
“Miss Kim, you don’t have to. I know you’re busy with this business-”
“Nonsense,” she said, waving her hand. “My husband and sons will be here in ten minutes and can take of any customers that come in.”
Miss Beth ended up being a great support for me and my family, even taking me to doctor visits when my parents couldn’t get out of work to do so. Eventually, I ended up losing most of my sight from my left eye, but my right eye has impeccable vision. A few weeks after Miss Beth and I became friends, I asked her why did she take care of me that day instead of calling the cops or just kicking me out once I woke up.
“You looked like you had the weight of the world on your small shoulders,” she said. “You needed someone to lift it off you.”