“Values aren’t buses…they’re not supposed to get you anywhere. They’re supposed to define who you are.”
Lillian Kimura Randall’s first act of disobedience started with Gummy Bears, whipped cream, and a swift kick at her boundaries, but it ended in a dark alley with fire, blood, and the giggles of the damned.
It was 1 a.m. in southeast Washington, D. C. when bullets peppered the dumpster where Lilly cowered in an abandoned warehouse. Her father and another man argued. A fight broke out. A burning barrel tipped over. Cardboard shacks, trash, the scavenged treasures of street sleepers, and the nests of cats and rats all became fuel for the expanding inferno. Caught up in the stampede of creatures escaping, Lilly thought she might die before she ever celebrated her fourteenth birthday.
Smoke, greasy and thick blurred her vision. Her throat tightened and she gagged on the rancid haze. Lilly stumbled, pushed up, and back onto her feet with both knees scraped bloody. She set off again, running until she collided with a wall. Her head bounced off hot brick with the velocity of corn exploding in a popper. The swarm of bodies knocked her down. Dazed, she fought to shake it off. The heat of the fire and sound of gunshots kept her upright and moving.
She used the solid walls to guide her to the door. Desperation blocked out any chance to reason. To survive, she must run. Running meant abandoning her wounded father. Her heart split. The flames made the decision for her. At last, she staggered out of the building and fell onto the sidewalk.
Sirens whined as emergency vehicles arrived. A fireman wrapped her in a blanket, pushed a mask over her face, picked her up, and deposited her with the injured and dead. Several gulps of the oxygen re-energized her. The fog clouding her brain retreated. Propped up onto one elbow she looked around.
Someone called her name. She turned. Hope and fear collided. Could it be her father? Was it the shooter?
The canopy of smoke engulfing the warehouse thinned. Lilly watched the survivors spill out. She braced herself.
The priest with the gun burst clear. His eyes narrowed as he scanned right…then left…and connected with hers. He was coming.
Lilly dropped the oxygen mask. Filthy with soot, she fell in with the walking wounded. She stayed low, weaving her way through the crowd. Small and clever, screened by the fire equipment, she waited, and then dashed across the street to be gobbled up by the darkness.
Run! Run for your life!
Don’t stop until you are home, until you’re safe.
Later she would learn there was no such place as safe.