Annabelle's First Step
"Just another dim daylight,
Just another dark morn.
Too early to sing
Too dark to play my guitar."
"And today is just another day,
Just another shattered someday.
Another day to survive
So I can live to see nighttime."
"And I'm just a street singer
Just the dirt upon the ground
In their prim and proper city.
No, I ain't wanted in this town."
I stop singing for a moment to check my guitar case. Nothing. Not a single person has donated today. All I have left is fifteen cents and a bus token. I can't live on that! I can't even afford a bottle of water from the closest convenience store.
I hate being homeless, and I hate being a runaway. But what was I supposed to do? Dad lost his job in the oil field, and my stepmom was and still is a B-word who couldn't get a job if she tried. We were poor, and I figured without me, there'd be one less mouth to feed.
So I grabbed my jacket, my best walking shoes, a small bag of food from the kitchen, and my guitar. I knew that in NYC, I had a chance as a street musician. I've always had a talent for singing, and I started playing guitar when I was six. So I began the long, treacherous journey, on foot, to New York City. When I got to my destination, I was shocked that I had survived; I was only ten at the time.
Since then, I've been wandering the streets of NYC, singing and playing for everyone with ears. Generous people almost always left me tips, and I earned just enough to buy bottles of water and one meal (read: a bag of chips or a piece of bread) every few days. It was hard at first; my body needed much more fuel than what it was getting. But now, I'm used to being hungry. I've been lucky to make it for so long, but now, at age thirteen, my luck has run out.
I look around. I'm basically surrounded by people. Rich people, the kind who can afford food and water and homes and cars and medicine when they get sick. They won't spare even a penny for me, and I'm starving and the streets are my home. Don't they care?
Suddenly, I get the feeling that I'm being watched. I turn around and notice a group of people staring at me. A man points at me, and a woman starts walking in my direction. I try not to show my fear, but I'm a deer in headlights. New Yorkers aren't always the nicest to people like me.
The woman walking towards me is tall. She has long dirty blonde hair (as opposed to my long blonde hair that's super dirty) and black glasses. She wears a pretty green sweater, blue jeans, and warm gloves. I wish I could have winter clothes. I'm so cold.
"Hi," she says when she reaches me. "Are you homeless?"
Usually I would have made some sarcastic remark like, No! I'm living on the streets and singing for money because it's fun! but I'm cold and hungry and tired, so I just nod my head.
"Come with me, then," she says. She half leads, half drags me over to her posse.
At this point, I'm scared. What if they try to hurt me, or kidnap me, or worse? It wouldn't be the first time something like that had happened.
"Are you hungry?" She gestures towards some old guy holding a box. "Earl has sandwiches."
Well, if they're going to harm me, I might as well get some food first. I nod, and Earl hands me a sandwich. I don't even taste it. It's gone in less than a minute. I was hungry!
Another woman, no older than twenty-five pipes up. "What's your name, kiddo?"
My instincts scream for me to stay quiet, but for whatever reason I answer. "Annabelle."
"Pretty name," Miss Under-Twenty-Five comments. "Anyways, Annabelle, how would you like a real home?"
I stare at her in shock. I barely know this lady, and she's offering me a home? After a moment I snap out of my stupor and say, "You can give me a home? A real one? Seriously?"
"Yep!" She beams at me. "We're volunteers from a shelter for runaway and homeless children and teens. We take in kids like you on a regular basis." She pauses, then says, "I almost forgot! I'm Ellen."
I blink. "Uh, how do you forget your own name?"
Ellen laughs. "I meant that I almost forgot to introduce myself!"
I nod, but I'm still lost. I don't know what the word "introduce" means. That's what happens you drop out of school in... I can't remember. Third grade? Fourth?
"Come with us, we'll take you to the shelter," says the dirty blonde lady.
Suddenly my street kid instincts fire up again. These people are strangers. Why should I trust them? "This is weird. You people, who I met maybe ten minutes ago, are just going to give me a home. Suuuuuuuure. I'll bet you're secretly mermaids, too."
The only man in the group who hasn't spoken yet speaks up now. "It's a hard descision, trusting us, but it's worth it in the end."
The dirty blonde lady says, "You'll have a better life at the shelter. You'll be safe there, and you won't have to struggle to find food."
Earl offers his two cents. "You'll starve to death if you choose to stay on the streets."
Jeez, is this guy good at sugarcoating or what?
"Going with us is the right choice," says Ellen softly. "Beginning a new life is a long hard journey, and every journey begins with one step. This is your first step towards a better life. Please take it. It's so worth it. One street kid to another, right?"
"You were a..." I begin.
"Yep. I was a musician, too. Carrie Underwood's songs kept me alive for years." She grins when she says that last part.
I hesitate. It's a huge descision, but I think I know what the right choice is. "Okay, okay, I'm in." I think about it for another second. "But if you people turn out to be ax murderers or kidnappers or human traffickers or anything like that then you people are dead."
Ellen laughs while the others cheer. "You know," she says. "I think I said something like that when I got picked up and taken to this shelter. As you can see, no one is dead."
"Yet," I say, but there's no real threat in that statement, and Ellen knows it just as well as I do.
"It's cold," complains Earl. "Let's go already!"
Ellen takes my hand, and I take my first step into the journey towards my new life.