This story is by Linda Holbrook and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The city street was coming alive with traffic, but the sidewalks were still asleep save for the wailing child toddling down the frosty pavement dragging her once-pink blanket behind her. Dressed only in a diaper and sweatshirt, the barefoot toddler swiped at the tears and whatnot running down her face and trudged on. Every now and then a ‘mama’ could be made out in her incessant wailing. How a child of this age and in this state of dress was out unattended on a busy street at this time of day on a cold fall morning was anyone’s guess. No one was stopping for the child, no one wanted to get involved. Where was a cop when one was needed?
Coming along the same street in her boyfriend’s beat up Ford Mustang, Jessica sat in the passenger seat on her way to school. She was trying to put her mascara on without making any major mistakes and debating about possibly ditching school again after Justin dropped her off. Her father wouldn’t have a care about it, he was too drunk to even know. It would be the third day this week ditched, but hey, why not. No one seemed to care, so why should she. All of a sudden she spotted something on the sidewalk out of the corner of her eye.
“Hey, dude, stop. Pull over.”
“What for? Not here!”
“I said pull over, now!” Jessica dropped her forgotten mascara into her purse and had the door open before the car even came to a stop. Justin knew not to mess with that tone of voice, she could be a bitch on wheels. She bailed out of the car and ran to the child, scooping her up into her arms. Jessica looked around in all directions, saw no one and in a fit of desperation called out, “Hey, did anyone lose a kid?”
When no answer came back and the little bundle of chilled child in her arms looked up at her, Jessica hugged her tightly and headed back to the car. As she got in and slammed the door behind her she tried to wrestle out of her coat to wrap it around the child. The wailing had changed to whimpering.
“Justin, turn the heat up! This kid is freezing. Help me rub her feet.”
“What did you go and get her for? Now, what are you going to do with her? The last thing we need is a bawling brat in here!”
“Shut up and help me get her warm. I’ll figure out what to do later. She’d die out there like this.” Jessica had to shift the child to Justin so she could get out of her coat and the wailing started again. She grabbed her back as soon as she could and held her close, shushing her with soft soothing sounds. The child’s bountiful brown curls tickled Jessica’s cheeks and the little body started feeling a bit warmer against her. Jessica pulled her gloves out of her coat pockets and put them on the toddler’s feet. She stopped whimpering, hiccupped a little, wiggled her toes in the strange foot attire and emitted a tinkling giggle that nearly choked up Jessica it was so beautiful.
Jessica had a sweater in her backpack and she pulled it around the child’s legs as a makeshift pair of pants. It was the best she could do.
“Mama,” the child said and put her hand on Jessica’s cheek. “Baba.”
“I’m not your Mama, Honey but we’ll try to find her for you. What does ‘baba’ mean?”
“So, what do you want to do about school, genius? You can’t take her with you.” Justin was looking at the child with such disgust it made Jessica angry.
“I’m not leaving a helpless child alone on the street to freeze to death. You can just take me to the store and then home. Go to the GoGoMart. Now.”
“You can’t keep her like a stray puppy, Jess.”
“I know. But I can take care of her and feed her ’til I have to turn her over to the cops. Now, let’s go!”
After a brief stop at the GoGoMart where Jessica used all the money she had to buy a quart of milk, some yogurt, a banana, a chocolate bar and diapers, they returned to Jessica’s house. Her father’s truck was gone so that was good, one less hassle to deal with.
The first thing Jessica did was pour a bath for the cherub and let her play in bubbles until the water started to get tepid. Finding clothes for her was a challenge but she finally let her toddle around in her diaper and a t-shirt of Jessica’s that was too small for her. She had to pin it up but it seemed to fit the bill. Next came food. She hadn’t been able to get a bottle so she hoped the child would drink from a cup. With a little encouragement and lots of paper towels she was finally able to get a cup of milk into her. Then she readily ate the yogurt and proceeded to want her ‘banky’, which Jessica presumed was the disgustingly filthy blanket.
With ‘banky’ in hand and thumb in mouth the child snuggled into Jessica’s arms and fell asleep. Jessica sat and gently rocked the child, she could feel her heart beating against her chest and again, the curls tickled her cheeks. Jessica’s heart swelled and she felt feelings she never knew existed. Maternal feelings. She was quickly falling in love with the child. She had to give her a name. She looked like a Christi, so Christi it was to be.
As Christi slept and Jessica had nothing to do but hold her and love her and think, she thought about her mother who had left her many years ago. She barely remembered her. She had taken her sister Jamie and left, saying she loved Jessica, but she had to stay with her Dad. It made no sense to a six-year-old then any more than it made to her now. She hugged Christi tighter. If Christi was hers, she’d never, ever leave her, not ever. She kissed her forehead and swore that she would not leave her ’til they found her Mom. She’d only had this child in her arms for a few hours but she had already fallen head-over-heels in love with her. She wondered what had happened to her mother that would tear her away from her child who she must love more than this. The love was so all consuming to Jessica that she couldn’t imagine any other love being as big or as great. How her own mother could have left her was inconceivable.
Justin pulled the Mustang up in front of the Police Station and got out, went around and opened the door for Jessica and the child. Jess was calling her Christi. He was afraid her heart was about to be broken in two when they had to take the child from her.
Jessica took a steadying breath and held Christi tight against her as she walked up the steps to the station. A kindly looking sergeant at the front desk greeted them and asked how he could help them.
A tear trickled down Jessica’s cheek as Justin explained how and where they had found the child that morning. The sergeant started to come around the desk as if to take the child and Jessica clutched her tighter and backed away. He could see immediately that this was going to be a tough one. Instead, he ushered them into the building to an interrogation room and asked if he could get them anything to drink. He then went to notify people. Before long social services were making an entrance.
A nice older lady, named Mrs. Michaels sat with Jessica and Christi and explained the procedures. They had to take Christi into protective custody and she’d be given to a foster family until or if her mother could be found. Jessica would be allowed to come visit her. She would be well taken care of. Jessica cried.
Then it was time. Mrs. Michaels held out her arms for the child and Jessica hugged her tightly, whispered in her ear that everything would be all right and that she’d see her soon. Jessica then did the most adult thing she had ever done, she stood and handed Christi to Mrs. Michaels with one last kiss on her cheek. Christi put her hand on Jessica’s cheek and said “Mama. Bye-bye.” Mrs. Michaels hugged Jessica as she burst into tears and the three stood like that for a while. Then, Jessica pulled away and said, “Bye-bye, Christi. I love you.”