01 Little girl lost

It was a warm and sunny day in the middle of summer in New York. People were getting on with their busy lives, working, sleeping, jogging, eating, and making new friends and sweethearts. Some were even on holiday. People were squirming inn and out of the statue of liberty like small ants. Other popular places to visit were the twin towers and the Empire State building, and that was just for starters. Shops and markets opened and closed, cars honked and crawled slowly through the rush hour traffic. The entire city was buzzing of life and movement, bringing both life and death every day.

Not too far from the city’s lower markets and strip tease joints were shops and services of a less accepted nature. People lived underground as well as over the ground. Beggars and poor people were moving slowly around, trying to find drugs, booze, or money to buy one or the other, some times by stealing from wealthier passers by. It was in this part of town that a little girl found herself in a undecorated flat in a condemned building taking care of her mum. The little girl was skinny, blond and dirty. Her eyes were the biggest blue eyes you ever saw, and she ran around in a filthy, torn yellow dress with a great big rose on her tummy. Her mother had been sick for weeks, and the colour had left her face ages ago. She lay an a mattress on the floor, curled up like a unborn baby inside its mother’s womb. All strength seemed have left her body, she coughed a raspy, deep cough, and she would hardly eat or drink anything. Little Kate sat down beside her mother and called her name gently. Her mother opened her eyes and rolled over towards her. A weak smile spread across her face.

– “Katie, baby!” she almost whispered.

– “I feel a bit better today! Maybe you could get me some food? I would just love one of those red, juicy apples Mr. Anderson has on the stand outside his shop.”

Kate smiled her biggest smile, showing that her two front teeth were missing. She gave her mother a kiss on the forehead and jumped happily down the stairs on her way to steal an apple for her mother. Her mum’s forehead had tasted salty because of her sweat, but Kate didn’t care. She had said she was feeling better, and that must surely be a good sign. Skipping and jumping, she made her way round the corner on her way towards the grocery store. She suddenly realized that she was a bit hungry too. But she wanted some danish or some doghnuts. It would have to wait till after her mum had got get apple. Slyly, she made her way towards the shop. Mr. Anderson was stocking up some bananas further back in the shop, so Kate grabbed an apple and held it with two fingers under her dress. Watching the grocer she backed up till she couldn’t see him anymore, then she turned and ran. Her mum was getting the biggest, reddest apple of them all. Nothing was too good for her, Kate thought as she was running. As she rounded the last corner, she felt a chill flashing through her. Shrugging her shoulders she just kept on running till she arrived at her building. She took the steps in leaps and bounds, and quite out of breath she stormed into the bedroom where her mum was lying. Her mum was laying completely still, eyes shut and leaning on the side all curled up like she normally did when she was not well. Kate leaned over her, holding out her apple.

– “I’m back, mum” she said proudly. “I found the juiciest apple of all…”

Her mum did not budge, and Kate touched her slightly on her shoulder. Her mum felt cold.

– “Mum?”

Kate suddenly realized that she couldn’t hear her mum’s chesty breathing. She grabbed her hard and rolled her on her back.

– “MUM!”

Tears were running down her face. She tried to hit her mum on her back, she slapped her, hammered her hands on her chest and tried to get her to breath. Her mum’s body was all limp. No air came out of her lungs. Kate dropped her mum, leaned towards the wall, and slowly sank down to the floor. She sat there for a long time and cried. When she thought she could cry no more and there were no more tears to find, she slowly stood up and moved towards the front door.

Close by Kate’s condemned home, there were only a few shops. Mr. Anderson’s grocery store was more a greengrocers than a normal shop. What Kate liked about that shop was that more than half of the fruit and vegetables were spread all over the sidewalk, and for a little thief like herself, it was easy to sneak something into a pocket or under her dress. Further up the street, there was Hayworth’s  bakery, but it was almost impossible to nick something from them. Almost everything was behind the counter, only a few cookies were put on display on top of  it. Then, there was the corner shop. Mrs. Blanchard had taken over the running of it since Mr. Blanchard died of a heart attack just over a year ago. Kate liked Mrs. Blanchard and only stole from her shop if she was desperate. The easiest place to steal something were Buxley’s indoor market. It was a big, round building with stalls and shops all over going round and round till you got to the grocery section near the middle. Right in the bull’s eye of the centre was an open space where Santa would have his grotto every Christmas season. All the open spaces inside the great hall made this a den of thieves where it was easy to blend in with the crowd after you had nicked something.

It was Buxley’s Kate was heading for now. Her face seemed even filthier now after she had cried. It was a bit further to walk than Mr. Anderson’s shop, but there she could find chocolates and sweets as well as cookies and sandwiches. The big electric doors of the western gate opened up for her like they had been waiting for her arrival. A few new tears had made Kate’s vision go a bit blurry. Aimlessly, she walked around for several minutes not knowing what to take into the big pocket on the front of her yellow flower dress. She wiped her face with a dirty hand. Then she reached out her skinny arm and grabbed a big bar of chocolate from a sweet stand.

– “Hey you!” someone shouted from inside the stall. A big unshaven man with a big black mustache and an even bigger belly dressed in a checked shirt and a funny looking top hat appeared moving fast towards Kate. She swirled round and set off as fast as she could run, her little legs running like drumsticks. The fat man continued shouting, but no one else tried to stop the little skinny girl running towards the exit. It was an advantage to be small in such a great crowd. Kate ducked, slipped between, and at one point even crawled under somebody’s legs. The big man from the sweet stall had more problems moving through the crowd. Kate ran up to the electric door of the northern gate. Why did it take so long to open? The door slowly swung open, and Kate ran as fast as she could up the street. As she went round the first corner, the fat man finally arrived to the front doors. He looked in all direction, cursed loudly, and turned back inside.

Kate hurried home. She didn’t know where else to go. Her mother was still laying on her mattress, cold and stiff. Kate sat down on the floor in what used to be the living room and opened her chocolate. She took a big bite. It seemed tasteless. Kate jumped up and threw the rest of the chocolate out the window, tears streaming down her face again. Then she slowly lowered herself to the floor as she cried and cried and cried.

– “What am I to do?” she said.

– “What am I to do?”

As if in sympathy to the little girl, rain started falling from the sky. Kate told herself that the angels were weeping for her and her mum.

Kate woke up with a sudden jerk. She didn’t remember falling asleep. Her arm was aching with a throbbing pain. She must have laid funny on it. It took her a while before she remembered her predicament. Her mum had told her not to trust any of their neighbours, so she was hesitant to go to any of them. Still, she couldn’t move her mum from the bedroom. She was too heavy although she had lost a lot of weight the last weeks. Kate simply wasn’t strong enough. She sat for a few minutes thinking so hard it almost hurt. The family in the house next door were a single mother with four kids, three boys and one girl. The girl was Kate’s age, but the boys were all older. In her despair, Kate decided to try and talk to the mother. She knew the mother was called Heather something. Satisfied with coming up with a plan, she half ran down the stairs and over to the next house. This house was not condemned, but was one of the houses that social welfare provided for single parents who didn’t have enough money to put a roof over their heads. Kate ran up to the house and rang the doorbell. The rain was still poring down in buckets, and Kate almost looked like a drowned rat when Heather opened the door. Heather Mills was a short, dark haired woman with warm hands and a cold heart. She didn’t care what her kids were up to, and she didn’t harbour any great love towards her neighbours who lived in the condemned building next door. Her dark brown eyes squinted to see who was brave enough to interrupt her whilst she was getting her daily dose of soap opera. In the twilight outside stood little Kate, looking scared stiff.

– “WHAT?” Mrs Mills barked, impatient to get back to her housegod in her living room where the entire family were worshipping the tube for hours and hours each day. Kate burst out crying.

– “My mum is dead!” she sobbed noisily.

Mrs Mills’ eyebrows shot right up.

– “I beg your pardon?” she snorted.

– “What did you do to her?”

But Kate couldn’t answer. She was crying her eyes out, trembling as she stood there in the poring rain not knowing what to say next. Heather Mills cleared her throat. This was even better than soap opera. She had never liked her illegal neighbours, and now she could finally get rid off some of them. She was going to sort this out once and for all.

– “Come in,” she said, opening the door. Behind her stood her kids lined up, starring at Kate, although they probably had not heard what Kate had said.

– “Come on,” she said a bit irritated. – “I will find out what to do while you watch telly with my boys – and Karen.”

Kate just stood there. She suddenly had an awful feeling that this had been a mistake. She turned and ran home, thinking my place is with my mother.She paid no attention to Heather Mills shouting her name. In a few seconds she was up the stairs to her flat finding her mother in the same place as last she saw her. The flat had no electricity, so she just sat there in the dark wondering what to do next. Minutes ticked by, and suddenly the silence was broken by a siren. Kate ran to the window. A police car with flashing red and blue lights had stopped by her house and two police officers stepped out. Mrs Mills came running out from next door and talked to the police men. Then she turned and pointed right at the window where Kate was standing. Kate froze stiff at first. Then she ducked down, wondering if they had actually seen her.

– “What to do, what to do?” she mumbled to herself.

Soon footsteps were heard running up the stairs. Kate ran in to a boxroom where there was a smallish hole in the wall. The policemen were now at the top of the stairs with flashlights brightening up the rooms. Kate squeezed through the hole in the wall. She found herself in an other apartment. She moved slowly in the dark towards the front door. She could hear the policemen talking to each other. They had probably found her mother already. One of the policemen found the hole in the wall. His torch was shining through the hole, searching for Kate. By now, Kate had found the front door. As she turned the doorknob her heart froze. It was locked! Desperately she looked around in the front room.  She found a couple of paint buckets there on the floor. She picked up the biggest one and swung it as hard as she could against the biggest window in the room. The glass shattered loudly.

– “Hello?” a man called out. – “Kate? Are you there?”

Kate knocked out as much glass as she possibly could to climb out safely. A loud banging noise was heard from the back room where Kate had climbed in. The policeman was trying to break through! Kate climbed carefully out of the window.

– “Ouch!”

A small cut on the inside of Kate’s thigh started to bleed. It burned a bit, but it was not too bad. As the policeman finally managed to climb through the now much bigger hole in the wall, Kate was running down the street disappearing into the night.

Kate roamed the streets for a long time before she could settle down. Painfully she realized that her mum would be gone when she came back. She would never see her mum again… not ever! The thought made her start crying again. Then she got upset with herself for crying so much. She gave a heavy sigh and wiped her tears again. It felt like she’d done it a thousand times that day. Her little legs felt like they were bound with something heavy. She needed to sit down and rest for a while. Quietly, she sneaked into a back alley looking for a place to rest. Several boxes were stacked in a corner, and Kate went round them to see if there was a space to rest there. She found a drunk man asleep behind the boxes and decided to find some other place to rest. Her mum had had plenty of dealings with drunk people, and Kate didn’t trust any of them. Sure, they could be harmless, but they could also be cruel and evil. Her mum used to tell Kate to go away for a while when the drunk men came calling at their house. She had said “Katie, dear! When the alcohol goes in, all common sense goes out!” and Kate believed everything her mother told her.

Kate searched for a while for a place to lay down her head. She found a shed in a backyard, but it stunk of urin. Heaving at the strong smell, she went on. Finally,  she found a back ally with a container parked at the back of it. Tired and weary she climbed the container. It was full of furniture from one of the houses that was being renovated. Kate smiled. She spotted a mattress. It had some holes, and some of the springs were sticking out, but Kate didn’t care. She was only a tiny girl and wouldn’t have any problems resting on it. As she laid herself down, she felt that her head was full of thoughts. Her head hurt from all the thoughts. If she could just put them in a bag and throw them away…

The sound of a lorry woke her up startled. The dark was gone, the sun was high in the sky, and the radio from the approaching lorry was playing music and telling people how warm it would become on this bright and wonderful summer’s day in June. Kate hadn’t noticed that she had fallen asleep, but she obviously had. She peered over the edge of the container she had been sleeping in. The lorry was a garbage disposal truck come to empty the bins early in the morning. A man jumped down and fetched four different bins and put them on the back of the truck, two at a time. The garbage was cast into the garbage truck and crushed by a compressor at the back. For a short second Kate got worried that they would try to empty the container as well, but the man just put back the bins, waved to the driver, and climbed onto the back of the truck. As the bin-men disappeared, Kate could hear Louis Armstrong singing “What a wonderful world” on the radio. The sound of the radio and the truck vanished, and the back alley went quiet yet again. Kate could hear her stomach rumble and realized that she was hungry. Buxley’s opened really early, but as she didn’t have a watch nor could tell the time if she did, she decided to go to the indoor market and wait. If it wasn’t open yet, it soon would be, and that was the best place to get some food. Kate brushed herself down and started walking towards the market.

There was a slight chill in the air this morning, but it wouldn’t take long for the sun too warm up the entire city once it’s got properly awake. It had been quite warm and humid the day before, and it most likely would be the same today. When Kate arrived to the indoor market, it’s doors were wide open. Different sized trucks and lorries were bringing in fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish and many many more things to stock up the stalls, booths and shelves inside the market. There were not many customers at this time, but Kate didn’t care. She was so hungry she needed something to eat straight away. She slipped into the hall like a shadow and oozed her way round looking for something nice. The bakery stall was loading up with fresh bread, pies and pastries. Kate saw two men stacking the shelves and baskets inside the stall. Their backs were turned against her, and she spotted some wrapped up sandwiches right in front of her. Cheese, ham and mayo? That would do nicely! Then she spotted a BLT in the basket on the left. Oh yes! She grabbed the sandwich and started backing up as she kept her eyes fixed on the two men working inside the stall. Suddenly it was like she had backed into a wall. She turned amazed to find the thick man from the sweet store standing behind her. He had seen her come in and remembered her from the day before. Now he grabbed Kate with both arms, laughing. Kate tried hitting and kicking, screaming “Let me go!”The big man with the big mustache just laughed and held her even tighter.

– “Samuel!” he shouted to the people inside the bakery stall.

– “I caught a thief stealing from you!”

The two men turned around. They looked quite alike. It was obvious to anybody that they must be father and son. The old gentleman with mostly grey in his hair came forward with a stern look in his eyes. Kate thought he had a nasty look in his eyes, and was convinced this was one of the evil men her mother had warned her about, although she couldn’t quite say why. The old man called Samuel looked angry.

– “Let’s call the cops!” he said darkly. – “We don’t want no thieves around here!”

Kate tried to wriggle out of the thick man’s grip.

– “No!” she sobbed. – “Please don’t! I just wanted some food to eat!”

A farmer’s wife might have been taken in by the little girl’s tears and pleading, but these men were not. They were only in it for the money, and they truly loathed people who stole from them. There was a telephone in the market office, and Samuel called the police himself. A few minutes later, an unmarked police car stopped outside the market. A police officer in uniform with a big gun hanging on his belt came in and took statements from the fat man and Samuel.

– “You’re calling us in for a sandwich and a candy bar?” the officer asked the two men.

– “Stealing is stealing!” Samuel said briskly.

The police officer just shook his head. He knew that in petty thefts like this, the kids normally got left off with a warning if their parents came to pick them up. With a sigh he grabbed Kate’s arm and pulled her slightly.

– “Come on, young lady!” he said with a tired look on his face.

– “Looks like we are going to the station.”

Kate had stopped fighting now, but she could not stop crying. She felt sorry for herself. Not only had she been arrested, but she had also lost her mum. And she was still desperately hungry! Kate thought all the bad thoughts she could and got overwhelmed by sadness. She cried all the way to the police station.

The police officer that brought Kate in to the station was joined by a police woman, and they went into an office. The man was tired and short tempered after working the night shift. He had short, brownish hair, was clean shaven and had a stern look on his face. The woman was shorter, had thick, long, curly hair and kind eyes. It was the man who was doing the talking, though.

– “What’s your name?” he asked in a grumpy voice.

Kate had stopped crying, just a short sob was heard now and then. Kate didn’t say a word.

– “What’s your name?” the police officer reapeated, raising his voice to a shout.

– “Do you want to get locked away, girl?” His face was getting red.

The policewoman looked at him, biting her lip slightly.

– “Stan?” she said with a soft voice. – “You must be awfully tired! Why don’t you leave this with me, and you can go and clock out? I believe your bed is calling you…”

The police officer called Stan turned and looked at the police woman. His lfted his eyebrows, and suddenly he didn’t look so angry anymore.

– “If you don’t mind,” he said with a low voice.

The woman just smiled at him and nodded her head. Stan rose to his feet, looked shortly at Kate, then left the office. Kate gave a sigh of relief. The woman looked on the notes that Stan had made. Then she leaned forward towards Kate.

– “Hi!” she said with her soft voice. – “My name is Debra! What’s your name?”

Kate wiped her tears and cleared her throat.

– “Kate” she almost wispered.

– “Hello, Kate!” Debra smiled.

– “When did you eat something last, Kate?”

Kate tried to think.

– “A couple of days ago?” she answered shyly.

Debra screwed up her mouth and tilted her head.

– “You must be awfully hungry,” she said. – “Let’s go and see if we can find some food,” she suggested.

Kate followed the police woman out of the office, down a hall, and into a room with a big sign on. Kate couldn’r read, so she couldn’t tell what it said. Debra opened the door. Inside there was chairs and tables set out all over the floor. In the corner were two vendingmachines, one with fizzy drinks, and one with snacks and chocolates and stuff. There was also a dobble percilator machine so that there was always coffee available.

– “I don’t suppose you drink coffee yet” Debra asked in a chearful voice.

Kate manage a faint smile.

– “I didn’t start drinking coffee till I was 18 years old,” Debra exclaimed. – “How old are you?”

Kate couldn’t help but like this police woman. She seemed really nice.

– “I’m five,” she said, holding up her fingers on her right hand. -“But I’ll soon be six!”

Debra smiled warmly at her. Then she walked up to the fizzy drinks machine.

– “You like Pepsi?”

Kate nodded.

– “Me too!” the policewoman added. – “Maybe we could share one?”

Kate didn’t answer. She was wondering why this lady was so nice to her. Now, Debra had walked over to the other vendingmachine.

– “What do you want to eat, Kate?” she said. – “We’ve got sandwiches, yoghurts, chocolates or potatoe chips!”

Kate had gone silent. She reallt wanted a sandwich, but she had gone all quiet now.

– “Tell you what!” Debra said. – “Maybe you’d like what all police men like. It’s their favourite!”

Kate looked up.

– “Doughnuts!” Debra shouted out.

– “Would you like a doughnut, Kate? With raspberry jam in the middle?”

Kate could almost taste it in her mouth already.

– “Yes please!” she wispered.

Debra went to a corner table where there was a carboard box standing in the middle. She picked out an enormous jam doughnut and gave it to Kate. She grabbed it and took a big bite of it. Before she had swallowed it, she took another big bite. Debra laughed.

– “Slow down, Kate! You’ll give yourself indegestion!”

Kate looked up from her doughnut. What on earth did that word mean? Debra poured some Pepsi into a plastic cup and gave it to Kate. She swallowed it down quickly. Then she burped. They both started laughing. Then Debra turned a bit serious.

– “Kate?” she said – “I need to tell you that when kids get caught steeling at your age, we tell you off first, becuse it’s wrong to steal. Do you know that it’ s wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you?”

Kate looked down to the floor and nodded slowly.

– “Then we call up your parents and tell them to come and get you,” Debra continued.

– “Can you please tell us how to get hold of your parents?”

– “No,” Kate replied honestly. But Debra misunderstood her.

– “Kate!” she said. – “I know you don’t want your parents to know, but it’s the only way!”

Kate burst out crying. Debra looked puzzled.

– “My mum is dead,” Kate sobbed. Debra could tell that Kate was telling the truth. Those tears were definately real!

– “How long ago, Kate?” Debra asked as softly as she could.

– “Yesterday…” Kate bursted out, tears and snot flowing down her dirty face. Debra felt a chill running up her spine. She took Kate in her arms and rocked her gently back and forth.

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