A Life to Live and a Name to Be Called By

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Chapter 3

The sun was shining brightly high up in the sky. With no watch on her wrist, Aurora had no idea how much time had passed since she opened the gate and ran away. It could have been two hours; it could have been four hours. She didn’t expect the cornfield to be so endless, though. It would have been much easier to run along the narrow dust road which had divided the field into two and not have to make her way through the huge crops, but it was too risky. She was better off in the refuge of the majestic green leaves. No one could see her there.

Panting from the effort, Aurora stopped running. She peeked at the road from behind the leaves. It was quiet and deserted. There was also no sign of any houses or hints of civilization on the distant horizon. This startled her. Why wasn’t anything there? Could it be that the wretched house was so secluded? The nearby town the man and the woman had mentioned whenever they talked about running errands couldn’t be so far away, could it? Aurora’s heart suddenly sank as she realized that even if she reached the town soon, she might still run into the man and the woman there. And they had a car. She couldn’t compete with a driving car. The fear was paralyzing. Aurora fell on her knees, too petrified to notice the blooming daffodils on the sides of the road. She couldn’t go on. Just to muster up the courage to plan the great escape in a time frame spanning well over five months had taken a lot from her. She felt discouraged; this life she had been given, this name she had been given, whose meaning was still vague to her, were both cursed. She was never meant to go out there and see the world, the voice in her head said. It sounded awfully like the woman’s voice. For the first time in her life, Aurora, the quiet, defeated, unloved, unwanted little girl, let herself break down. Devastation tears forced their way out of her eyes, and the damn that had protected her all these years and kept all the sorrow safely locked up gave in. All she ever wanted was to find other parents, parents who’d love her, who’d not be ashamed of her, just like the kids she saw on the TV commercials. They always smiled and looked so happy to her, walking hand in hand with their mom and dad. They had a perfect life, a life she desperately wanted: they could go to school and be with friends, they could leave the house, they would sit at the table and dine with their parents, they’d ask for help with their homework. She even didn’t know how to read!

Little Aurora cried bitterly, unleashing all the tears that had been waiting to come out of her since the day she was born. Although the sun was shining fiercely, the darkness, the bad darkness, paid her a visit, engulfing her in broad daylight. She was alone in the world. All she had to offer was her life and her name. Nothing more. She was in the middle of nowhere; nobody could hear her agonized sobs. A fragile sparrow came flying down. It landed softly on the ground beside her, examining her with curious eyes. Aurora snuffled and wiped her nose, then reached her hand to the tiny creature. She had seen others like it, bigger though, on the TV set. It was the first time she had seen one with her own eyes, though. Just like with many other things from the world beyond the borders of the house, she didn’t know how people call it.

“Come here, Small Freedom,” she whispered to the sparrow in her language. The sparrow froze on its spot, then tilted its downy brown head. Aurora raised herself slowly from the ground, crouched, and then made an awkward step forward. The bird said something in its indecipherable bird language and flew away. With no more tears left to cry, Aurora felt relieved. She got to her feet and started walking again.

The heat of the afternoon sun and the growing fear within her young heart had made her journey throughout the jungle that much harder. After several more hours, she needed a break. She was still in the vast cornfields, but now she could see small houses in the distance, and trees, lots of them. Aurora chose a random spot and sat down. She felt bad about squashing the thick corn leaves. She gulped water, reached for two dry slices of bread, and had her lunch break. Once her hunger and thirst had been answered, she packed the loaf of bread and the water in her day pack and forced herself to get up and continue.

No matter what happens, don’t stop, she told herself. She was too tired to run, so she decided to walk instead and maintain her energy. The light lunch she had eaten had revived both her stomach and her spirit; she was ready to face the world again.

There was something quite comforting about the vastness that had surrounded her. Having been locked up in a small house for nearly seven-and-a-half-years, being able to see the open horizon seemed like a dream. Without even realizing it, an insecure smile spread across her pale face. The warmth of the sun on her skin, the clear blue sky, the distant flying birds looking at her from high above, the sounds of the small creatures on the flowers at the side of the road, the quiet afternoon wind; it was all so beautiful! But the nothingness that was enveloping her was very different from the nothingness she had created in her mind to feel clean. This nothingness contained life. There were sounds, real sounds; there were fresh sweet summer scents, real scents; this was nature. This was freedom.

The sun shifted its location in the sky, getting ready to set. Aurora had seen numerous sunsets when she was busy working on her front-yard chores: folding dry clothes and hanging wet ones on the clothesline. But these sunsets had been stained. They had been stained with the filth in the house, with the filth in her soul. In the caged, confined world the man and the woman had created for her, all the beautiful things had been stained; all the beautiful things had quickly withered away.

Aurora had a feeling that the upcoming sunset might just be the most wonderful thing her eyes had ever seen. Nonetheless, she didn’t stop; she kept on walking. A distant buzz sound of an engine pierced the peaceful early evening. What if it’s them? The fear had managed to find a way to re-enter her heart. She hid between two tall corn plants, then squatted, not wanting to be seen by whoever it was that was in that vehicle. Aurora had a clear view of the road from her hiding spot. The big car in the distance was driving in her direction. It was a bus. It had been a very long day and she was getting tired, very tired. She just wanted to arrive somewhere safe and fall asleep. As long as it was far away from the man and the woman, she wanted to go there. Any place would do.

Aurora opened her backpack, took Arturo out, and held him tightly. No matter what happened, Arturo would always make her feel better. If he had managed to turn the darkness into nice, friendly darkness so many times in the past, then he could also protect her now, she told herself. With Arturo in her hands, Aurora left her hiding place and walked to the dust road. She waved her little hand at the approaching bus, which seemed to be slowing down, until coming to a full stop just a few feet ahead. She picked up her backpack and ran in its direction. The door of the bus opened, and she climbed the stairs. The driver, a middle-aged, bald, tired-looking man, asked her where to.

“New York,” Aurora mumbled quietly.

“New York?” The bus driver narrowed his small, round eyes. “This bus goes as far as Kansas City. From there, you can take another bus to New York.”

Aurora nodded, opened her backpack, and reached for the stash of cash hidden inside her rolled socks. She took out two notes and handed them over to the driver, hoping it was enough. She had no idea how much money she had or how much she should pay.

The driver furrowed his eyebrows, then took her money. “Here, eleven dollars and fifty cents to the little lady,” he said and gave her back the change.

Aurora nodded shyly and emitted a barely heard “thank you.” The bus was almost full. She was the only non-adult there. A glance at all the questioning eyes which were directed upon her, made her look down. She had been so used to belittle her presence around the man and the woman, that all this sudden attention made her feel not at ease.

She was about to walk away and find a seat, when the driver said, “Where are your parents? You look awfully young to be going to New York all by yourself. Are you another runaway? I’ve had enough of those.” The man sighed; his eyes firmly focused on the road before him.

Aurora swallowed the bothersome lump that had been stuck in her throat and said, “I have no parents. They are dead.”

“That’s what they all say, pfft.” The bus driver rolled his eyes. “And why New York?”

“I have relatives there.” Aurora hoped the man would leave her alone. She just wanted to take her seat and sleep.

“Who let’s such a little girl travel all alone, anyway?” The man seemed to be asking himself more than he was asking her.

“I only look little,” Aurora said, daring to raise her voice a bit, above her usual whisper tone. “I’m actually eleven years old,” she lied.

“I’m sure you are.” He shook his head and mumbled something to himself. “Please take a seat.” He pressed on a button, and the front door of the bus closed. They started driving.

Aurora walked along the narrow aisle, her gaze to the dusty, black, plastic-covered floor. She could feel some eyes being directed at her. She found two free seats, then sat down on the one closest to the window. She placed her backpack on the free seat beside her, hoping that nobody would choose to sit there; she was too tired to answer more questions. Aurora reached for Arturo, took him out of her backpack, and put him in her lap, stroking his stiff brown fur. “Soon, we will both be safe,” she whispered in his ear. “I promise.”

Aurora pulled out the plastic bag in which she’d put the sliced loaf of bread, took one slice, and put some sesame paste on it with a spoon she had stolen from their kitchen. Although she was sick of seeing bread, sick of eating bread, it was the only edible thing she had with her, and she ate with a great appetite. Once she reaches Kansas City, she’ll buy some more food which isn’t bread, she decided. Aurora rested both hands on her full stomach. It hadn’t been so full in years. She observed the people around her from the corner of her eye. The young man who was sitting on the seat in front of her was holding a newspaper and reading it intently. Beside him was a young woman. Her blond head moved from side to side, perfectly synchronized with the bus’s movement. She must have been sleeping. The older couple on the other side of the aisle were talking about things Aurora didn’t understand. They were so quiet, that their voices were just a bit louder than a whisper. They said something about “social security,” and “bank.” Loud snores came from the back end of the bus.

Aurora looked out the window. She recognized the same kind and soft rays of sunlight which would sometimes come to visit her through the rungs of the closed shutters. Although the sun could no longer be seen in the pink-orange-purple colored sky, its friendly rays were still by her side. She couldn’t see them, but she could feel them. They caressed her cheeks with their warmness and promised to come back and visit her, then disappeared in the darkening distant pink horizon beyond the flat countryside landscape. Tears accumulated in her eyes in the presence of the world awaiting her on the other side of the window. It was so beautiful! How could they have held her locked inside for so long? With her eyes closed, Aurora breathed in the scents which came in from the half-open window. Smells, which she had never smelled before. Fresh and sweet. And the wind. The early evening wind had been so kind to her. It wasn’t the same warm wind from when she had been walking alone in the cornfields. It was a colder wind, and much softer. It played with Aurora’s long black braid and tickled her small straight nose. Aurora giggled. The further away the bus was from where she had gotten up, the closer freedom seemed to be; the closer New York seemed to be. It was all part of her well-articulated plan. The story she would be telling people. Her relatives, New York. Oh, she couldn’t wait to see New York! She had a feeling it would even be better than what the man in the song had promised her. The man on the radio, whose name she couldn’t remember, sang that if he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere. The minute Aurora heard this song play on the radio for the first time while she had been cleaning the house, she just knew it had to be New York. That should be the place where she could start over and forget about the wasted first seven years of her life. In New York, she could stop being Aurora and could start being someone else, any person her heart desired.

Her eyelids felt heavy. Even here, on the crowded bus, she felt safe. There was no screaming, no crying, and no blood; only the murmurs of the engine, the turning newspaper pages, and the chatty wind which danced inside the bus. The sky embraced the dark blue colors of the night. Aurora closed her eyes.

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