After a hundred lifetimes of daily beatings, neglect, and hunger; Carlos and Maria, six and ten years old respectively, decided to flee for something better. Their mother had died giving birth to Carlos Jr. and the children were left to the inept care of their abusive alcoholic father. They had both just been belt-whipped again for something that kids do. Maria gave her brother a small bag and told him to pack as many clothes as he could and be ready to bolt when she woke him after Carlos Sr. passed out in front of the TV in the living room.
“Where are we going?” Jr. asked his sister.
“I don’t know yet, but wherever it is, it’s gotta be better than where we are,” she answered. “Just get ready, and when it’s time I’ll let you know what to do.”
As she lay on their shared dilapidated mattress in dirty sheets staring at the ceiling with tears in her eyes, wondering if God were punishing her for being such a bad girl. Even if he were, he’d have to punish her somewhere else from now on, because she was taking her brother away from the Purgatory in which they were born. She looked at the clock on the floor next to the mattress and counted the minutes till she was sure their dad was deep in whiskey-driven sleep when she shook her brother awake.
“Shhh,” she whispered to keep him quiet. “Put on your shoes and let’s go.”
They crept passed Carlos Sr. in his stupor, still half-clutching an empty, and into the kitchen to put what little stale food they could find in the cupboards in her backpack. They snuck out the door of their slum apartment, down the five flights of stairs – the elevator had stopped working before either of them was born – and out into the cold night air, terrified, but with a sense of relief that their sufferings were behind them, and something – anything – was ahead.
“Where are we going?” insisted Carlos shivering, holding his sister’s hand.
“To the other side of town where the houses are big and the adults don’t beat their kids. They have plenty of food and rooms and yards and pets.”
“Tengo miedo (I’m scared),” trembled Carlos.
“Don’t worry,” his big sister said. “I’ve heard they’re generous over there. Someone will take us for sure. It’ll be better there. You’ll see.”
They walked block after long block through their treacherous barrio when Carlos insisted they sit down and rest, which they did on a bus stop bench until Maria got up, took his hand, and pulled him along.
“How much farther?” he whined.
“Until the houses look big enough for two extra kids,” she said matter-of-factly.
They journeyed beyond the projects, passed the liquor stores and bodegas with drunken men and women out front leaning up against the walls. After an hour or two, she couldn’t tell how long it had been. Their feet hurt and their bags felt as though they were filled with stones when the projects turned to apartments and the apartments to dilapidated houses, and later to homes with fresh paint and small yards. They rested on one such lawn till she ordered her brother to get up. They were moving on to whatever Promised Land lay ahead.
More indeterminate time elapsed – it must’ve been midnight or later – when they passed houses that seemed to them like mansions. The yards were surrounded with white picket fences and adorned with flowerbeds and love seats atop the porches. “We’re getting close,” she announced to her brother. “Let’s go a little farther till we know for sure that someone with lots of room will let us in.”
The streets became wider, the sidewalks were lined with trimmed maple trees, and the houses glowed a warm and safe appearance. “We’re home,” Maria said. “This is where we belong.” She picked out a yellow two-story house with a meticulously cared for yard. They ventured through the gate and up the front stairs, lugging all their possessions on their backs, took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. Their little hearts nervously beating with anticipation, they waited. No one came. She tried again and again until a light appeared in an upstairs window. The window slid open and an angry face appeared. “Who is it?” the man scowled.
“It’s Maria and Carlos Jr. Garcia, sir. Can we come in?”
“It’s the middle of the night,” grunted the man. “Go away!”
“But sir,” she said pitifully, “we’ve run away from home and need a place to live. You have such a nice house, and we don’t have any house at all. Please let us in.”
“Get out of here!” the man yelled, and slammed his window shut.
“Don’t worry.” Maria said turning to her blear-eyed brother, “We’ll find a new home. No te preocupes.” She took him by the hand, climbed down the stairs, hesitated at the sidewalk and, as though she had flipped a coin, turned left down the block toward the next house that had what she judged was an inviting appearance. At the next place and those after that were all the same. No one seemed to want them.
“Who’s at the door at this ungodly hour?” one woman asked her husband when he came back to bed.
“Just a couple of Mexican kids looking for a handout,” he said slipping back into their silk sheets. “I told them to go back to where they came from.”
“Don’t come to my house!” shouted one person through the window, “I’ve got enough mouths to feed and enough problems of my own!”
Maria and Carlos Jr. walked and knocked on doors till they couldn’t take another step. They lay down in one of the finely manicured flowerbeds and dropped off to sleep. When they awoke to the owner’s contemptuous railing, wiped sleep out of their eyes, picked up their belongings, and made the long journey back to where they’d begun. They climbed the stairs and quietly opened the door to their fleapit apartment, passed their still comatose father, and into their room without a hope in the world.
“Bring water for the thirsty… bring food for the fugitives. They flee from the sword, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the heat of battle.” Isaiah 22:13-17
“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’” Luke 11:7
This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of one another. Zechariah 7:9-10
I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice. Malachi 3:5
Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Deuteronomy 24:17
Some non-fictional accounts…