Andreea stared at the discarded picture of an unknown family. The ache in her heart threatened to erupt into tears. She breathed into a bag of glue and the world spun around her then she fell to the ground. The picture shattered when she dropped it. The pieces of glass shimmered in the dull glow of the dying light and even the dream family it encased ended up broken in Romania. The resident stray dogs howled and ran toward the dark streets. Shadows appeared at the entrance of the junkyard and she ran toward a gathering of street children.
The men carried sticks and used them. Andreea heard the cries. She took out her knife and ran to help but tripped. The knife clattered away then the men surrounded her.
“Only we can do that,” someone yelled. Everyone stopped as an older street gang appeared.
They dropped their weapons then ran away.
Andreea got up and dashed through the junkyard on twisting paths. She ended up near the entrance where a gap in the fence allowed dogs, kids, and others to enter. She counted the escapees as they left but noticed one was missing. Someone yelled, “Help.”
She found the man on the ground with torn pants and blood pouring down his leg. A nearby rusty metal beam stuck out of a pile of debris.
Voices came closer. “Quiet,” she held a finger to her mouth and led the abandoned man down a dark path that led to the center of the junkyard. The voices passed and faded into the distance. He twisted a rag from his pocket around his leg and looked up at her with pale blue eyes that looked bloodshot from alcohol, but still shined from a flickering light nearby.
“Thank you,” he said.
“I should have let them find you.”
“I bet you live in an expensive villa and yet you come to this wasteland and beat children that have no home and it doesn’t bother you?”
He paused and looked her over. It must have occurred to him then that she was one of them. Her clothes were torn and stain covered. Nothing matched or looked new. Her dark, greasy hair looked like a tangled clump of fishing line. She wore boy’s clothes unless she needed money. A recent scab made her fear that she had some disease. It seemed better not to know.
“I’m Stefan,” he said.
She led him out to a back gate that didn’t shut. “Why did you come here?” she asked.
“I’m leaving for college in a few weeks. My friends and I got drunk. Someone
complained about all the street children begging from people and making Romania look bad.
Then someone said let’s do something about it. Someone picked up a stick and someone else joined him then we all ran together. Nobody wanted to be the one who did nothing. The weakest one. I had no choice.”
“So, you beat up children that have no home and money. Nobody cares about us. My father tried to become a soccer player but wasn’t good enough. He beat my mother and when she left, he turned on me until I ran away. There are many similar stories here. We’re harassed by police and threatened by traffickers. The last thing we need is some college-bound jerks to attack us. Go home to your family and don’t come back.” She broke into a coughing attack that doubled her over.
He reached out a hand but she pushed it away. When he walked away steam rose from the sewer pipes and seemed to swallow him up. Some street children headed down into the sewers to escape the cold and she turned to follow. She saw Stefan stop and look back. Then she followed the others into the depths of the sewers.
The others looked at her and asked where she went during the fight. She told them she fell and blacked out. Misha passed her a bag filled with glue and she breathed it in so deep that she fell over and slumped against a wall.
A smaller boy with blonde hair jumped up, “Darius saved us.”
“They came at the right time. Don’t count on that all the time, Bogdan.” Darius ran the larger gang and she was once his boyfriend until she found him with another girl. Her attempt to stab him led to some of the scars on her arm.
Two large hot water pipes filled their underground shelter with some warmth, but it was no sanctuary. The smell of waste made her nauseous and a single stain covered mattress had already been claimed. Once they discovered a dead baby on the mattress covered with bugs. Rats scurried under the pipes on the edges of a brown stream of putrid water. A group of large bugs
skittered across the floor in front of her before she saw Stefania signaling to her. She lay down
next to her and they huddled together until sleep came.
The sound of a scream woke her up. “Get out of there,” someone yelled. The policeman banged his club against a pipe. The children climbed out of the shelter with yawns and
moans. The police gave each a tap on their arm with his club. “We have complaints about
you harassing tourists. I’m taking you to social services.”
They all scattered and the policeman yelled, “Come back here.”
Andreea ran. She knew the danger of the orphanages. Life there was worse than the streets, they all heard stories of the abuse and bleak conditions. She ended up by the metro station where passengers left the bus station. She had no money for food. Begging resulted in nothing but insults. She went to the street and to offer her body to men. One stopped and gave her some money and she got in his car. It was a risk. One girl got in a car and never came back and they think she is a sex slave in a foreign country.
After the police were gone, she solicited every passerby for money until a car stopped in front of her. A familiar man got out of a new car. “Andreea,” he yelled.
“What?” She answered then realized it was Stefan.
“I was looking for you.”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
“Well, you should.”
“I want to take you to get a coffee.”
“Are you crazy? Do you know what I look like?” She asked.
“I don’t care. Can I buy you one?”
“Okay, business is slow anyway.”
“What business?” He looked at her again.
“Do I have to explain it to you?” She asked.
“No,” he said and held the door for her. She touched the knife that she kept strapped to her thigh.
Nobody sat outside due to the cold wind that blew down the streets of Bucharest. A small stray dog struggled against it trying to get crumbs from an old man. Andreea ran to it and picked it up.
“Aren’t you afraid of it biting you?”
“I’m more afraid of you than this little dog.”
“Why did you help me?”
“You looked like a stray. Like him.” She held out the dog.
“You compare me to a stray dog.”
“You looked lost and lonely and your friends abandoned you.”
“I’m glad you helped.” He reached out to pet the scruffy brown dog. It snapped at him
protecting Andreea. She placed it down and the dog scurried away looking for food. She had none to spare.
“Let’s sit outside,” she said.
“In the cold.”
“I won’t be welcome inside.”
“Okay,” he said. They got hot coffee that sent puffs of steam into a gray sky. Giant snowflakes fluttered down around them. She realized that she sat alone on an outside table with a
good looking man and it made her feel romantic for the first time. With Darius, it was all
It ended when his phone rang. “My father,” he said then talked into the phone. He looked at her. “I have to go. Something about college.”
She shivered and he wrapped his coat around her. “When will I see you again?” He asked.
“My schedule is so busy,” she laughed then started to cough.
He reached out and she backed away. “I wanted to feel if you have a fever.”
She let him and his smooth hand on her forehead sent little shocks through her body. Despite her many sexual encounters she never felt that before. “You feel warm,” he said.
“I’ll bring some aspirin next time. I have to go talk about college. My father the doctor wants me to follow in his footsteps. I’m not sure I want to.”
She returned to the junkyard. Misha gave her a bag. She inhaled and held it for a long time as the others cheered. She fell and closed her eyes.
Darius grabbed her around the neck. “Rumors are that you helped someone escape the other night.”
“Who told you that?”
“The birds.” He laughed. “We want his money. Bring him to us and we’ll do the rest.”
“Never,” she said.
“You better or all of you get it.” He waved his arm at the small group that was held by the
others of Darius’s gang. He grasped her by the collar and lifted her. “Nice coat,” he pulled out
a knife and sliced through it. She tried to get her knife out, but he held her shoulders too tight.
He threw her down. “Bring him here tonight.”
They left. Misha helped her up. “None of us told him.”
“Will you bring him here?”
“I don’t know.”
They dispersed to find the money. She went to her secret spot where nobody could find her. Only the stray dogs ever found it. One sniffed her out and curled up with her. The dog licked her scars. “You’re a doctor too,” she said to the dog.
Stefan found her again on the street soliciting money. He either didn’t seem to care what she did because he never mentioned it. “Andreea,” he called out.
She waved to him and crossed the street. “Coffee?” He asked.
“Okay,” she said. They sat outside and sipped the hot beverage. He gave her aspirin and antibiotics. “My father will never miss them. Take two a day.”
“My plane leaves tomorrow but I want to stay here. Maybe get a job in a hotel and I can continue to get to know you.”
“You don’t want to do that. I’m broken. Go to college and become a doctor.”
“But I think you’re special.”
“I’m a dirty street girl. You don’t know how many bad things I have done.”
“I don’t care. I’ll miss the flight and spend time here with you.”
She saw a man in a business suit walk down the street with a woman in a dress and high heels. They laughed and gazed in shop windows. Maybe she could be his girlfriend and they would go to Paris and shop in clothes stores all day and sip wine at night. Get married and have
children. A man walked by and stared at her and held his nose in a mocking gesture to the others
of his group. She smelled bad and understood that they could never be like the family in the picture. She would ruin his life and would only stop him from ever being able to help others.
“Can you meet me tonight by the junkyard,” she said and got up to leave.
“Wait,” he said.
“I have to go,” she ran down the street so he would not see tears that ran down her cheek.
Darkness spread through the junkyard and she hoped Darius wouldn’t show up. But he came to the entrance with some of the others. Misha walked with her but stayed behind when he saw the gang.
Stefan appeared at the end of the street. He carried flowers. “He’s in love with you,” Darius whispered. “We’re going to take him for all his money. We’ll make him take us to his house and you’re the bait.”
She wanted to shout a warning but then he would still miss his flight and try to find her. She moved to stand under a light so he would see her. He waved then she grabbed Darius’s arm and pulled him under the light with her. Before he could pull away, she kissed him on the lips and held on with all her might. Darius gave in and put his hands on her behind.
Stefan stopped walking toward them and dropped the flowers. He turned and walked away. The stray dogs chased him, but when she let go of Darius he was gone. “You ruined it. Now, he will never come back to find you.”
“I know,” she said.
Darius shoved her away. The others ran down the street to look for Stefan but returned alone.
He would make his flight. She curled up in her secret spot with the stray dog that followed her. The dog licked the tears off her face, but some of them made it past its tongue. The lonely tears fell onto the dying flowers that she held close to her heart giving them the hope of life.
She knew that she would keep an eye on the coffee shop and look for a man, maybe a doctor sitting alone with a steaming cup of coffee. She would walk closer and see if there was a cup for her there too.
“Andreea, let’s go.” The others called out. She wiped away the tears and ran to join the others while the stray dog followed her.
About the Author:
William Falo lives in the USA. He studied wildlife in college and was a volunteer fireman. His work has appeared in Vamp Cat Magazine, Fictive Dream, Litro Magazine, Vaughan Street Doubles, and other literary journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He can be found on Twitter @williamfalo and on Instagram @writerwilliamfalo