He had seen her again for the fifth time this week. It was close to midnight, and as he looked out of his window unable to sleep he could make out the outline of her clothes as she shuffled across the street. People moving around in this area around this time of night were not uncommon. It was a difficult neighborhood, where many people seemed to make a living in the night rather than when the sun was shining bright.
But she was different from the drug dealers, prostitutes and homeless he had be used to always. She was a silent figure, cut of the night itself, seemingly knowing the world like the back of her hand.
She always stopped near the opposite wall. Her fingers would dig down her pockets to uncover a cigarette and a lighter. Then with unflawing grace, she'd light it and stare away into the black sky. Sometimes she'd talk on the phone and other times she'd make idle conversation with passerby's. Usually an unknown person would be considered a treat to the people working silently but here everyone accepted her as a forlorn youth with nowhere else to go.
That night, he had made up his mind to climb out of his window and talked to her. Yes, he was scared and why shouldn't he be? He was a gangly ten year old compared to the fifteen or sixteen year old she might be.
The place at night was a dangerous place to in. It would be a bad time for his mother to turn up dead. The next day was the first death anniversary of his father. He didn't want her to visit two graves at once.
Even after he had changed into a pair of baggy pants and hoodie, he wavered for a moment while opening his window. But he took one look at her and borrowed some of her confidence.
He climbed out, hopping from his window and latching himself to the tree from which he descended quickly. The moment he turned to move towards her across the street, he noticed her eyes were already on him. But he did not turn away and neither did she.
He leaned on the wall which was riddled with graffiti and the etchings of names and dates where people left a bit of themselves. 'Can I bum a cigarette from you?' He asked hopefully.
She observed him for awhile, a bit surprised that someone so young as him would pick up the courage to ask her. Everyone else knew better than to approach her. She was a loner and preferred it that way.
He looked down 'Oh.' He was quiet for a minute then he piped up,' you from around here?'
'None of your damn business'
'How old are ya?'
'Twelve' He replied a bit too fast, praying she didn't think him any younger than that. 'And you?'
'Twenty' she looked up at the moon.
He raised an eyebrow, 'you're lying.'
'So what? So are you.'
He blushed, angry with himself for being a hypocrite.
'So what brings you to this corner late at night?'
'God, you sure do ask hell lot of questions for a kid.'
'I'm not a kid' He hated it when someone pointed the fact.
He was a bit fed up. All I've done is made a fool of myself. He turned, ready to go home.
'I come here for an escape mate. It's like a break from my house.'
'What's your house like?'
'A dysfunctional circus.'
'Care to explain?'
She declined 'naaah. What's your family like?'
'A mom. The end.'
She was going to ask about his dad when she decided she wouldn't. She came from the other side of town where things were still better off. Here, the air seemed to have sad stories moulded in them.
'What do you wanna become?' She asked.
'I don't know. I don't think there is much I can do.'
'I don't know. I can't aim for anything high you know. Don't think mum will be able to pay for college and stuff.'
'So you gonna become a dealer?'
'Hell no. I ain't ever gonna do that. That was the one thing my dad ever told me. Said 'Son I'm not working my ass off just so in the end you become a drug dealer' so that'll be the last shit I do'
'What's your name?'
She considered him seriously, 'Well Joe, I'm going to be a poet.'
'What?' He gave her a blank stare. 'Seriously?'
He scratched his head, 'So um...Good luck?'
She nodded, seemingly more interested in the white curls of smoke that drifted like a weightless sleep in the air. He took in every detail of her. Her flyaway brown hair escaping the ridges of her hood, her thin papery fingers precariously balancing the cigarette, the lips that engulfed and blew out air that seemed like dream and lastly he noticed her sneakers. Just under the fraying hem of her jeans, he uncovered on its red skin a patchwork of poetry.
She saw him noticing, trying to make out the almost illegible words that only she could read. There were her safety words. When things got out of control, she'd read them and remember how to breathe again.
'Plath. It's Sylvia Plath.'
'Oh' He said, simply. Obviously he'd never heard of her before.
'There some Follow you down lyrics by Gin Blossoms as well.'
She sighed; this boy didn't know a thing about good words.
He pointed to the side of her sneaker. He noticed a quote, single lined and written in bold like as if to remind her to never forget those words. 'What's that?'
That's my favorite quote, 'Everyday' she let out a stream of smoke and continued, 'do something that scares you.'
'Yeah, I know. I live by it.'
'Does it help in anyway?' The ten year old looks at her with eyes of yearning, wanting to know life in a quote.
'Yeah. Makes you damn fearless in the end.'
'Something like you then?'
She smiled, 'No, like anything you want to be.'
They stayed up for hours like that, talking pieces of their own worlds, connecting like pieces of a puzzle. They talked about life and dreams and hopes. Forgetting that every plan usually falls apart.
Because perhaps in those moments, they needed to believe in something.
Needed to feel like they were somebody, not a hopeless fading mark like strangers you pass by in a park. That what they were would make a difference in the world.
Sometimes all you need is hope you know.
That night, once they were tired they separated. He crawled back into his bed with euphoria, not of breaking the rules or being up so late but just of having hope. For the first time in a long, long time.
She never turned up again. Everyday he watched the street endlessly but she never came again. He didn't know why and he was angry he did not take her number.
After sometime, just so he did not forget her, he wrote everything about that night in his journal. Just so he did not forget.
She had big plans for herself. She wanted to dive into the world of writing and rejection letters and poetry. So she decided to leave town.
Not before making sure he never forgot.
One morning, while he sat down for breakfast his mom came in with a box. 'Hon, this was on the doorstep. Has your name on it.'
He flicked a glance its way. Recognition dawned upon him just as he almost turned away from the scrawny almost illegible handwriting.
Hope one day i meet ya and we'll be big people changing the world.
luv, Night girl'
And he ripped open the box to find a book first. It was a poetry collection of Sylvia Plath.
When he dug deeper in the box, he pulled out a pair of red converse.
He laughed, reading inaudibly her words that fixed themselves on the shoe. She had given him her sneakers. There was a small note sitting in one of them. 'Hope you become fearless.'
He smiled, reading the words over and over.
'Everyday, do something that scares you.'
Somewhere, making her way to a new life, she was smiling too.