He wasn't allowed to go out, and he knew it; but he had reached that undeniable age when curiosity took precedence, and his mind craved experience. He had never been outside. Only glances – short, stolen glimpses really – from the window in Mother's bedroom let him know that the world out there spread far and wide; and looked much larger and brighter than the dark, dirty little existence he had been restricted to.
He wasn't actually permitted in Mother's bedroom, which had the only window with more than just a view of weathered brick walls; and he had paid for those rare peeks for many days afterward with bruises and swollen ears. Not that he had ever really noted such pains with any particular fright. Bruises, burns, bumps. Those were common enough to him.
He did know a little about the outside through television. Mother called it his babysitter. There were only three channels, but he learned a lot from hours of Sesame Street, infomercials and el Espanol telenovela. He figured out early on, though, not to speak to Mother in the language from el Espanol telenovela. It sounded like nonsense to her, she said, and she beat him for it. Mother's beatings gave him a clear grasp of right and wrong; and he understood only too well that he must have been doing wrong quite often.
One of these familiar beatings came after he had a chance peak at a sunset. He didn't really know what was making that sky – previously bright blue like Mother's favorite dress or deep black like her hair – this time turn shades of fantastic hues that he could not describe, because he had never seen them elsewhere. Well, elsewhere that was, until he discovered Mother's makeup drawer. Some of the colors that she put on her face reflected the colors that had been spread across the sky.
An innate sense of precaution kept him from prowling through the drawer until Mother went out for a long period of time. When she left, he selected the colors that best described the sunset he witnessed, and he used the makeup to recreate the view on paper towels from the kitchen.
Satisfied at capturing that wonderful aspect so that he could view it anytime he wanted, he imagined up more scenes, by smearing with his hands, spreading with blush brushes, producing details with eyeliner pencils. He kept those images in his shoebox, where he could get them out and stare at the bigger world for as long as he desired.
One day, Mother passed out in the bathroom. The fumes from the bathtub were too much for her this time. She hit her head, and she lay there for hours. He didn't really care. He didn't like her anyway, so he let her sleep in the bathroom, in an uncomfortable heap. With every passing hour, his courage grew, and the tiny little desire he had to venture outside became more of an idea. Then it developed into a plan; and finally, it turned into a resolution.
Of course, the door where mother had always gone in and out proved locked. It had always been locked on any occasions he had ever dared to try the doorknob. He felt determined now, though, so the lock might hinder him, but it couldn't stop him. He would find a way. The window in mother's bedroom should be a good place to start looking.
He peered out of it. Finally, he could see out without the fright of the consequences. The light glared in, blinding him momentarily. He'd never seen anything so bright, not even those snowy landscapes on the television made his eyes hurt and squint like this. After awhile his eyes adjusted and he saw a ramp of stairs beneath the window. It appeared quite a ways down, but it could be reached with a little effort. He just needed to get out of the window to get to it.
The pane didn't give when he pushed against it. It didn't go up, or down, or open like a door. So, finally, he got angry at it. He grabbed for something nearby with which to release his anger, and his fingers fell around one of Mother's shoes, the ones that the some of guys that came around called her "ball buster stilettos". He aimed the pointy edge at the window and hit it with all his might.
It cracked ever so slightly. After a moment of surprise, he quickly realized that he could break through the glass. Hitting it again and again with the stiletto made it crack a little more, but it made slow progress.
An inspiration welled up from somewhere in his brain. He ran to the closet by the stove in the kitchen to find something bigger, and quickly emerged with a long handled pot. His determination had escalated into a vital need now, so, without any pause or reflection of the consequences, he flung the pot at the window. This final blow happened to be just what he needed to shatter the glass.
Careful of the pointy glass fragments, because he did indeed know that bleeding wasn't good, he climbed onto the windowsill. Though he realized that the safest way would be to lower himself as close to the stairs as he could from the sill, the glass made that difficult, and he had waited long enough. So, after only a little hesitation, he jumped.
Like a cat, he landed on his feet, but the unevenness of the stairs threw off his balance, and he tumbled down a few of the steps until he caught himself. Glass stuck to his clothing, and punctured his palms. He squeezed his hands shut, and grimaced at his pain, but gathered himself up.
He made it outside. Astounded and amazed at what he took in, he turned in circles at the bottom of the stairs, too mezmerized to consider his next move. He was outside.
As he walked along the street, his curiosity drew him towards the faces of passersby. Their returning glances betrayed fleeting expressions of curious dismay and avoidance as they quickly averted their eyes from him. The looks were familiar. He saw them in the faces of the men that visited Mother. They noticed him, and then they turned away, preferring not to acknowledge him.
He didn't exactly care, and didn't want to be noticed. He associated being noticed with being beaten. It seemed better to be inconspicuous, safer and far less painful.
He walked all morning and could feel the warmth rising steadily in the air around him, like a tingly, almost burning feeling on his skin. Eventually, an aching in his feet broke through his awed wandering. He had worn the same shoes for the past two years, and they were tight now, very constricting. Each step shot stinging electric currents up his legs and made his toes numb.
Sitting down on the curb, he pulled his shoes off. His toes were throbbing, and the balls of his feet were sensitive; however, he was not about to let that stop him from his wandering. Cautiously, he stood back up, and walked on, careful to keep his weight on his heals.
He must have walked for several more hours. The scenery slowly changed from tall buildings and garbage can allies to rows of houses with large green yards. Occasionally, he saw other children. They were playing games on the lawns with balls and sticks, or running around in water that shot up in misty currents from the grass. Whenever he saw this he would stop and stare, entranced. The children were giggling, laughing, even squealing. After awhile they notice him standing there. The boys glared at him. The girls put their hands on their hips and gave him condescending frowns. Then, they went back to their games, and ignored the strange filthy little boy that hovered on the sidewalk. When this happened, the spell was broken, and he walked on.
Finally, he noticed his thirst, a dryness in his throat that could not simply be quenched by swallowing his spit. He didn't know what he could do about it. Normally he would use the red cup at the kitchen sink, when he could find the bucket to stand on so that he could reach the faucet. Otherwise, he would turn on the bathtub faucet and cup his hands to catch the water. He liked slurping it into his mouth. Mother didn't like him turning the water on, though, because it mixed with the stuff she kept in the tub. So, he only did that whenever she was gone or asleep.
The air outside now felt hot, and it made him groggy. He saw no sink around for him to get water from now, and he realized too late that he should have thought of that before he jumped out of the window. He would have gotten himself a giant drink of water first.
What he soon saw down a nearby street caught his attention, and made him feel a little desperate. In a miniature chair behind a small table in yet another grassy yard sat yet another child. A large piece of paper hung across the front of the table with some writing on it. If he concentrated enough, he could probably use his Sesame Street learning to make out what the letters read on the paper, but his mind felt too muddled to think. Besides, what really caught his eye was the large pitcher of liquid and several red cups on the table. Even if the liquid appeared to be yellow, at that moment it looked better than nothing.
Warily, he stepped up to the table and gaped at the beautiful glass pitcher, half full. He felt sure that he could drink the whole thing. It took a moment before he heard the child behind the table speak. She must have been talking to him before he realized, because she looked a little exasperated at being ignored.
"Ahem," she cleared her throat to get his attention. He looked up, and she repeated her question, "Would you like to buy some lemonade?"
He didn't answer. She poured the liquid from the pitcher into one of the red cups, while explaining, "My big brother is sick. My mom said its called leu-kem-ia, and that the 'high-and-mighty doctors can't seem to get enough of our money, and want to suck us dry before they try to find a cure'. She's very upset about it. So I'm selling lemonade to make money so that the doctors will make him better, and my mom can be happy again."
She filled the glass, and pushed it towards him, "That'll be fifty cents."
He wanted to take it, he felt so parched. He could smell it, and knew it was more than water. Between the look and smell of the liquid and the confusing words of the girl, he became very apprehensive, despite his thirst.
The girl observed his hesitancy, "You don't have fifty cents, huh?"
When he just looked at her, she interpreted his dumbfoundedness as pennilessness. This was indeed true of his monetary state, but his real reservations encompassed the entire situation as a whole: baffling girl, mystifying drink.
The girl gave him a half smile, and pushed the cup even closer to him, "Go ahead. Mr. Marlem gave me five dollars for a cup of lemonade when he was out for his walk with Pixey - that's his dog, so I do actually have some extra. You can have this one for free."
She offered the cup to him. Should he take it? He still felt wary. But he felt thirsty, too. Thirsty enough to drink the unknown liquid from the stranger, though? Yes, he decided. Yes, he was thirsty enough.
Cautiously, he moved the cup to his lips and sipped. Then, at the unexpected taste, sweet while pleasantly tangy, he gulped it down. It tasted wonderful. It quenched his thirst. He'd never experienced such a fantastic flavor and it felt so good rushing down his hot dry throat.
"Man, you were thirsty," the little girl exclaimed. She smiled, satisfied with herself for helping this poor dirty little boy in his need. So, she offered him more by topping off his cup. Her gesture, now that he was in a more satiated state, caught him off guard. Shocked him. Kindness: a completely new experience for him.
He looked at her. She smiled back. Finally, he saw her; and she was beautiful. An angel. Her hair fell dark and wavy with curls around her shoulders; her eyes were a lovely mixture of green and blue and brown; full lips spread across her face in a smile, and created dimples on her rosy healthy cheeks. He had never seen anything so pleasant to look at.
"I'm Esther," she introduced herself. "What's your name?" He didn't notice that she asked him a question. He just noticed that her name was Esther, and he thought it a beautiful name.
When he didn't answer, Esther raised an eyebrow and cocked her head, wondering if he was dumb or mute. She asked for his name again, even slower so that he might understand her better.
He finally realized that she asked him a question, and opened his mouth to answer, "Uuh. . ."
"Hey, you!" Suddenly, with a bang, the front door of Esther's home was thrown open. A grownup came stomping down the walkway towards him, with an angry look on his face, "Get out of here, you dirty little Gypsy."
Familiar enough with grownups coming at him in such an irate manner, he breathed in sharply, shrank to his knees and covered his head. This threw the grownup off guard.
"Daddy!" Esther cried, "What are you doing?" Esther looked genuinely stunned and confused, and her daddy now wasn't far from feeling the same way himself at the boy's reaction.
Something was wrong with this boy.