We slept in sleeping bags for the time we stayed there. If I wasn’t hanging with Ali or getting the latest news from Louis, I was wandering around the Children’s Centre. It was sad to see kids from two years old and up all by themselves. I was 16 and could barely stand it and I had Ali and Louis. Throughout the day, kids would be called out to the front desk. Every time it was nerve-racking. You were being called out because your family had come to get you, or your family was dead and they just found out.
I figured out that if you were younger than 12 the only reason you would be called out would be because your parents were there. I guess they couldn’t think of how to break the news to kids. “So if you aren’t called out?” Ali asked Louis. “That means they have no idea.” He said quietly as we watched a vaguely familiar girl walk out with one of the caretakers. For the whole week the three of us watched kid after kid walk out to the front desk.
The crowd of kids was thinned down until there were no more than 60 of us left. I was almost scared for someone to call my name. I wondered if Ali’s Dad would come to get her, and if they would tell Louis that his Mom was dead. Any scenario I thought of was wrong. Even if my parents came to get me, how could I leave Ali? And what would happen to me if my family was dead?
“In a couple days they’re taking the remaining kids to orphanages.” Louis told us over breakfast. I heard Ali gulp. “Why don’t we leave? We’d probably have better odds of finding our parents by ourselves.” I suggested. Louis chuckled. “We can’t leave, especially with so few of us left. They would know within minutes and find you. They’ve got guys ready for runaways.” Louis spilled out.
“I think it’s worth a shot.” Ali said suddenly, and we both looked at her. She shrugged and took a bite of her toast. I raised my eyebrows at Louis who shook his head. “No way, if you guys want to be idiots you can do it without me.” Louis said defiantly. “Will you at least help us?” I pleaded. He sighed and agreed to help. Ali and I positioned us at the front entrance and pretended to be deep in conversation.
Louis walked out to the front desk and said to the woman there, “I don’t feel good.” She squinted at him, “You look fine to me.” She replied dryly. Louis waited for her to look away and pulled a cup of the chilli from lunch from his pocket and threw it on her lap, pretending he had thrown up. She screamed and lurched backwards. That was mine and Ali’s cue. We sprinted out the door and across the road.
The Children’s Centre was situated just off of a winding road going downhill towards the towns and cities at the outskirts of the valley. Across the road was a vineyard, and the only way for me and Ali to go if we weren’t going to be seen right away. The vineyard was wet and the soil was like mud, which did not make it easy for us to run.
We grabbed onto the poles and kept moving forward through the stickiness. Soon, we heard a man revving up his truck. No doubt he was sent looking for us. I sighed with relief. If he was going by car, he wasn’t coming into the vineyard. Then we heard the sound of the woman at the front desk saying, “NO, they probably went through the vineyard.” The man started complaining about the mud and his white shoes but eventually just groaned.
Ali’s eyes widened as we heard him starting to trek through the mud. “He’s faster than us.” Ali panicked. “Let’s just go separate ways. He can’t get both of us.” I said. Ali shook her head, “You don’t think I would go on without you.” She scoffed. “I know, but it will be harder for him to find us this way. I’ll see you on the other side.” I prompted and Ali narrowed her eyes.
“Do you promise?”
“I promise.” The words tasted bitter coming out of my mouth that time since I wasn`t sure that I would see her on the other side of the road. I had this sinking feeling in my stomach that had come after we arrived at the Centre, the feeling that staying with Ali wasn`t going to work out. Either way we would end up separated. In every scenario I had played in my head, we would be apart at some point.
If I was dragged back to the Centre it might not be a bad thing for Ali. She might even be better off without me, I thought. I watched Ali run through the vineyard and I took off in the other direction. After running for a few minutes I could hear the man getting closer. I knew he had seen me because it seemed he was taking every turn I was. For some reason, at the moment, I stopped. I just stopped running and stood there, waiting for him.
He grabbed my arm and said, “Where`s the girl?” He asked gruffly and I winced as his muscly hand tightened on my arm. “I don’t know.” I replied truthfully. “I don’t even know who she is, she just came after me.” I continued, not-so-truthfully. The man grunted and started pulling me back through the vineyard. I tried to keep up but it seemed like the mud didn’t even affect him. “I’m not going to run, you can let go.” I said, and he chuckled but didn’t let go.
We finally got to the road and he basically pushed me through the doorway. I sighed and rubbed my arm where I’m sure he had bruised it with his grip. He waltzed in after me, looking quite proud, like I was a fish he had caught. The woman at the desk looked up at us. “Where’s Ali?” She snapped. “He doesn’t know.” The man said. She rubbed her temples and motioned for him to take me away.
He grabbed my arm again and pulled me through the main room where 60 sets of eyes were staring at me. I saw Louis up front, and he mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’ I just nodded. It wasn’t his fault, after all. He did the best fake puking he could. “Here we are.” The man said as we got to a door marked runaways. I frowned and opened the door. It was as small as a port-a-potty. It had a small window and nothing else.
“Am I supposed to stay here?” I asked, dumbfounded. The man nodded. “Think about what you’ve done.” He shrugged as if he wasn’t sure himself why I had to go in there. I cautiously walked in, and the door shut behind me, before I heard the click of a lock. I sat on the ground. I wondered if Ali was coming back to look for me, or if she just continued on her own.
A wave of guilty thoughts started to come as I contemplated the events of the day. Ali is probably waiting on that road for you, worrying if you’re okay. She’s probably scared all on her own in the cold. I looked over to the window. And it’s getting dark. I added to my list. My good deed of letting Ali go alone was not such a good deed. I groaned and stood up. If I have ever been frustrated with myself, this was the time. You did promise.
I walked over to the window and checked it over. It was bolted down. I would have to smash through it, but with what? I grinned at the water bottle on the floor. It was metal, and I had hardly drunk from it, so it was fairly heavy. I grabbed it and took a deep breath before using all my force to hurl it at the window. I frowned as it didn’t go through. The window had cracked lightly though.
Picking up the water bottle again, I threw the water bottle a total of six times before the window gave in. The window was small, but I strategically climbed through. After checking myself for any scratches, I ran around the building and into the vineyard. The evening was brisk, but darker than usual. It was so dark I could hardly see as I made my way through the vineyard.
Suddenly, I hit a piece of barbed wire that was lying across the ground. I fell with a thud to the ground and cried out in pain. The wire had cut into my shin. Even though I was in pain, I got up knowing that staying there wouldn’t help. I hobbled out onto the road and looked around. No sign of Ali.
There was a rustle from the wheat field on the other side of the road and Ali emerged. I smiled, relieved that she was still there. She looked angry though. “Where were you!?” She shouted at me, “I’ve been waiting for hours!” I was taken a-back from her tone. She wasn’t just angry, she was furious. “I-I got caught and I thought that you would…” I stuttered, but she wasn’t listening. “You promised me! I was so worried about you, and I didn’t know what to do!” She said, and now she was crying.
She pushed me back, “You idiot.” She concluded. “I’m so sorry, Ali. I came back because I knew I was being an idiot, it won’t happen again.” I said to her. She wiped away her tears and pointed to my shin. “You’re a bloody mess.” She commented. “It’s just a scratch.” I lied, and she helped me into the tall stalks of wheat where she was hiding. It was too late to continue walking into town.
So we settled down in the field. Ali had taken her time pulling out wheat stalks to make a space for us to sleep. It was surprisingly warm in there. The wheat blocked out the chilly wind, and the space that we were in was so small that I could feel Ali’s body heat. And for the first time since the flood, I slept. I don’t know if it was the loss of blood, or the relief of seeing Ali again, but I slept without a nightmare or a dream.
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