Chapter 1| No Way Back
Hitching the backpack tightly, Summer trod towards the bus stop. She turned back to make sure that she wasn’t being followed. She hoped that they were busy enough to not follow her. She was far away from the place where she had stayed for the last 20 years. She let out a shaky breath, her heart pounding in her chest, the side of her ribs and legs ached with exhaustion. She pulled the frayed hoodie tightly around herself, stuffing her hands into either pocket as the wind picked up. A street lamp just above the bus stop flickered occasionally. People hurried on their way back home, the weather turning colder as the night darkened. As the adrenaline started to wear off, she felt herself shiver.
The last bus to Melham would arrive anytime now. Her breath came out in puffs. She reluctantly drew out her left hand from within the hoodie’s pocket and checked her watch. 5 more minutes. She rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. The old sneakers did the least to keep her feet warm. At that moment, she almost regretted her decision of leaving, of causing such a ruckus. Oh, how she would give anything now to just slip under the warm blanket in her small attic room and just…forget everything else. She sighed wistfully. There was no way back now, not that she wished to go back as the cold air nipped on her face, her eyes watered, but whether from cold or from the incident, she didn’t know. The honk and the glare of headlights startled her. She hurriedly stood up, exhaling a shaky breath. The bus halted, and she boarded it immediately before she could let herself have second thoughts.
Getting a seat wasn’t difficult since the bus was fairly empty, save a few people. After having paid, she took one of the window seats. As the bus took momentum, her heart squeezed painfully. She wasn’t sad at leaving ’them’, but her sadness lay in leaving behind 20 years of her life. ‘You wouldn’t be able to survive even if you wanted to,’ a voice at the back of her mind snarked. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the cold glass of the window. Tightening her hold on the backpack, she forced her mind to remain blank, willed her mind to not replay those sordid images from today’s incident again and again. Her eyes fluttered open once again when she felt someone lightly shaking her. She sat up straighter, flinching away immediately — a habit that had been born out of her need to survive. The woman looked a little taken aback by her reaction. She lowered her gaze and mumbled, “Sorry, I—”
“Ah, it’s okay, actually your mobile...it was ringing incessantly,” she answered reluctantly, before going back to her seat. The lady looked a little embarrassed and stared ahead. Summer calmed a little. Her heartbeat started slowing. She dug through her backpack, her anxiety spiking a notch. Her fingers trembled as she clicked on the power button. She winced at the glare of the screen. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw that it was Gloria. She had left 15 text messages and called 5 times. She swallowed back the tears. Gloria had been the only one who might have been worried about her. Maybe she had heard what had happened. But she couldn’t answer her calls or texts. They might find her. She gripped the gadget tightly and, before talking herself out of the situation, switched off the phone. ‘Should have done this earlier,’ she thought morosely.
She slumped in the seat once again. It had started drizzling, and her eyes mapped two raindrops racing against each other. Her eyes felt heavy. ‘it’s the last stoppage anyway,’ was the last thought before exhaustion overtook her senses.
The bus had come to a jerking halt, effectively waking Summer in the process. She winced against the morning light. She blinked several times and tucked a few stray hairs behind her ear. Many passengers had got off while some were in the process of doing so. She slung the backpack on her shoulder and got off. The city still looked asleep, maybe just stretching its arms and in the process of waking up. She looked around, trying to process everything for a moment. She was in a new city, all by herself. She took in a shaky breath and started walking, having no idea where to go. She had some money that she had managed to save up and keep her foster caregivers’ grubby and greedy hands away from, but that wouldn’t last her lifetime.
She strolled down the pavement, her gaze wandering from side to side, taking in the view. Small houses lined the streets with trees in between. She had heard that it was a quaint place, and now that she was here, she could vouch for the statement. As she was walking and thinking, her eyes fell on a bakery shop. Her stomach growled at the sight and it was then she realised that she hadn’t eaten anything since last afternoon. But then her attention was drawn to the pamphlet stuck outside on a standing soft board. She sprinted towards it and skimmed through the contents quickly. They were hiring salespeople. Without waiting, she went inside. A pepper-grey-haired lady looked up as soon as the bell chimed.
She offered a friendly smile, but it wobbled slightly when her gaze fell on Summer. The latter felt a little self-conscious. She knew that she did not look presentable, but she mustered a smile nonetheless. “Hi.” she gave a short wave and walked up to the counter. The woman gave her a polite nod. “What would you like to have?”
“I—” she wet her lips, her yearning gaze looking at the delicacies displayed on the counter. Suppressing her ever-increasing she quickly said, “I...saw the pamphlet outside and...I would like to do this job. Please.” She looked at her pleadingly and the woman averted her eyes, looking over her shoulder.
“Well, you see…” she began, and Summer’s gut swirled with dread. She would reject her. “Ma’am, please...I am...I have travelled from another city, without any source of livelihood, this pamphlet just...it was like God’s gift. Please let me have this. I assure you that I have experience in working as a salesgirl. I have worked in a convenience store when I was in high school.” desperation leaked out of her voice. She had clasped her hands together and looking at the older woman earnestly.
She looked at her attire and maybe she had seen the sincerity in Summer’s eyes or maybe she was kind of like that because after a pause she nodded jerkily. “Alright.” She took a deep breath, and continued in a tight voice, “You can join from tomorrow. The shop opens at 7 in the morning and closes at 7 in the evening. My name is Barbara and I will give you a week to prove your sincerity.” She was looking at her sternly, and Summer could do nothing but nod at every word. Before she could open her mouth, the bell chimed again and Barbara bustled towards the front of the counter, wiping her hands in her flower-printed apron, and smiled at the customer.
Her heart was thudding in her chest as her lips stretched into a smile. She felt as if the reaction was foreign. The happiness — an emotion she had almost forgotten. For once, she wanted to thank her lucky stars. But then her smile dimmed. She turned around and asked, “Um, ma’am….is there a place where I could stay?”