A month flew by quickly; my remaining time at the orphanage was spent helping out Mr. Fredrick and the other kids prepare for service day. It was a day organized by the orphanage to help the society; kids would go out into the street to help others and in turn get paid for it with good memories in the chip. It was exciting and fun-filled for the children; they got to receive clothes as well as food.
It was going to be my last service day at the orphanage, and I was already feeling the weight of my departure; some kids had come to me to say their goodbyes. They would come to my room late at night to spend the night there; we would play card games and eat junk till dawn. It will be really sad to leave all this behind.
Mr. Fredrick taught me a few things he thought would be necessary for real world. He would call me into his office and go through my plans and when I leave, I could notice him fighting back the urge to tell me to stay, but his hands were tied.
I always wondered how Mr. Fredrick did it; watching the children he loved and took care of leave him one by one. I asked him while we were in his office one day, and he said, “I know they would be great people out there.”
“How can you be so sure?” I asked. I found it amusing for him to have such level of faith in children he might never see for a long time.
“I don’t know. But what I do know is this, I have taught and shown them the importance of goodness and a kind heart,” he replied as he sat down in front of me, our knees touching. He took my hands in his and held them firmly, his calloused palms rough against the back of my hands.
“Mr. Fredrick, how do you deal with the pain?” I asked earnestly. I needed to know his ways, maybe then I could find a way to deal with mine. My eyes were misty with tears as I hung my head, my eyes staring at my sneakers like it was the most fascinating thing ever.
“Son, I don’t have a way I deal with that pain. It hurts me every time to see them go, but I have a responsibility to others as well. I tell myself that I must allow them spread their wings and fly, it is the only way to see them grow.”
I took Mr. Fredrick’s words to heart and told myself every day that I needed to fly, fly far and high above the pain and suffering. As I was going out there to begin my life, I needed to be strong and powerful.
I left the orphanage soon after my eighteenth birthday. It was a small party organized by my brothers and sisters at the orphanage, they were family to me. My friends at school were invited, and few of the kids in the neighborhood, it was also a send-off for their eldest brother - I.
The big hall where the children at the orphanage ate was decorated with balloons and a few party decorations, courtesy of Mr. Fredrick. A small cake with chips, candies and chocolates were displayed for consumption on the table. Music played while the children danced with each other, their echoes of joy putting a smile on my face. I joined everyone to dance, even if it was for the final time.
Mr. Fredrick walked up to me, pulled me away from the sweaty throng of little children as they danced around me. He led me to a corner, far from peering eyes and hugged me. “Happy birthday, Michael,” he said.
“Thanks, Mr. Fredrick.”
He pulled away and gave me his fatherly look which I admire. He sighed and said, “You will be leaving tomorrow.”
I sputtered, the smile dropping from my face. I did not know it would be so soon, it was happening faster than I planned or could possibly wrap my head around.
“Where would I go? What would I do?” I asked hurriedly, different questions going through my mind, different plans falling apart from having little time to implement them. My eyes were wide, my hands slack by my side as I searched Mr. Fredrick’s eyes for answers. He should be able to give me something or at least point me in the right direction.
“I don’t know. My hands are tied, I wish I could help you stay until you get a job at least,” he replied sympathetically.
“I need to get a job, to deal with housing and stuff. Also, to save up for the ticket,” I said excitedly, a little fire burning within me. An idea was already forming in my head, taking control of my earlier fear. I could still do this, I could still map out my exit, I just needed to think.
“Lucky for you, I got you a job,” Mr. Fredrick laughed.
“You got me a job? Are you certain, Mr. Fredrick?” I asked my mind registering that one of my obstacles was over.
“Certainly, I got you a job, but you have to go see the owner tomorrow to finalize it.”
I whooped and hugged him tightly in appreciation, a large smile on my face, my pearly white teeth flashing as my lips stretching with a big smile. “No problem. I would do that tomorrow, thank you so much.” Together we went back to the party, to enjoy the rest even if it was my last.
The next day, I packed my things and walked down the hall, hugging the kids and saying goodbyes. Mr. Fredrick was at the entrance to give his final goodbye, he shook my hand and smiled, his way of saying, “Welcome to the adult world.” I shook his hand with a firm grip, my hands and teary eyes speaking two different things: I was ready to start my adult life, but I was sad to say goodbye to my family.
It had not been easy watching the orphanage door close behind me as I tugged my belongings along the path leading to the park where the choices I made that night now decided my life factor. The park was bustling with activity; the sun was up in the sky, shinning its radiance on everyone who stood under the open sky.
Children ran around with sticks, chasing their peers, their laughter ringing like church bells. My eyes followed this movement with an ache in my chest, it felt uncomfortable. Two young couple held each other while basking in the sun, their mat spread underneath them to provide comfort; an old woman sat on a bench not far from where I sat, her eyes twinkling as she watched her grandchild play, it felt warm and homely. What caught my attention the most was the father and son who played like peers, it made me think of my own father, not that I could remember much from my time with him, but we were never like this pair of father and son.
I took in all the laughter and molded it into the depth of my being; it was a reminder of what I wanted. I had acquired twenty thousand good memories through the course of my childhood, but it would not be enough to solve all my problems. I was not wealthy with good memories, unlike some children like the ones in the park, their faces beaming with laughter. So I needed that job Mr. Fredrick recommended to me, needed a place to stay, food to eat and other necessities. I pulled at my hair to calm down; my head bent low to keep the pressure from building up, my hand trembling where I sat under the shade of a tree, the bark pressing into my back.
Mr. Fredrick said the place I was to go to was opposite the park, I scanned the surroundings, trying to take in everything around me. Across the fountain of a lion standing on its hunches with its mouth opened in a roar as water gushed out of its depths, was a little coffee bar tucked between two bigger shops; a flower shop and a shoe store. I groaned loudly, it was not what I expected when Mr. Fredrick told me about the job, I was expecting something bigger and grander. Mr. Fredrick was quite popular among the people in this part, he could find something more suitable and not a shop that looked like it could go bankrupt anytime.
“Nice try, Mr. Fredrick,” I said as I gathered my things and headed to the shop, my path taking me past the pair of father and son, and the couple; my heart thumped and I rubbed it. I picked up my pace in a bid to get away from the echoes of laughter and safe into the breaking apart building; at least in there I could gather the despair that clung to the wall. I knew I was being dramatic with my flow of thought, it could be nice, but I preferred a glass building with folks wearing fancy clothes and riding fast vehicles.
I got closer to the door, the name of the bar flashing into my eyes. The name of the bar was Chico’s—the owner was probably a Latino. The bar was built with the idea of a comfy place in mind, the entrance was a wooden door, chairs and tables were arranged outside with an umbrella over it. The umbrella was to provide comfort from the sun, people sat under it drinking hot coffee from mugs with their face expressive as they talked, but the customers were few. So far only two people sat outside—two women and a man with a laptop; he seemed to be talking with someone on his laptop, an earpiece was in his ear and his face was animated—he was probably in a conference meeting.
I pushed the front door open and a bell jingled over my head as I walked in with my luggage following me in tow. I guess the bell was to signal that someone had entered the establishment. I looked around, taking in the emptiness in the perfectly lit exterior, a well organized pattern of cushions with side stools, two chairs around a round table. An old man managed the shop alone, his hands pressing buttons with precision on the coffee machine. To one side was a triple tray filled with breads, muffins and acorns.
“That would be fifty good memories, please,” said the man as he handed his customer his order. The man paid by inserting his chip into a memory capsule for recording payment, took his latte with a muffin and walked out.
The old man turned to me and waited for me to place my order, I scanned the menu and decided to get a slice of bread and a cup of coffee as I did not eat before leaving the orphanage.
“That would be twenty good memories, please.” I inserted my chip into memory capsule and watched as it took the right amount and ejected back my chips. “Is there anything else, young man?” the old man asked when I did not leave after taking my order.
“Mr. Fredrick sent me,” I replied. His eyes lit up, and he scanned me from head to toe, his scrutiny of my appearance made me uncomfortable.
“Yes, he told me he found someone for me.”
“I guess that is me,” I said with a nervous cheer. He moved from behind the counter towards me, his eyes found my luggage, and he frowned.
“First, it seems you need a place to stay,” he said with sympathy, and I nodded.
“I am from Mr. Fredrick’s orphanage and I just left today. It would be nice to have a place to stay today,” I commented. I had forgotten I needed a place to stay or I would have had to sleep on the street.
“There is a spare apartment in the building I live in; would that be okay with you?”
“Yes, thank you so much, sir,” I replied gratefully, maybe today was not so bad.
“Call me Pablo,” he said smiling as he shook my hand. Mr. Pablo kept my luggage in the storage room and showed me how to handle the various drink machines his little coffee shop had. After the work hours, we headed to the building he lived in; he introduced me to the owner and helped convince her I was a worthy tenant in her building. I paid the deposit with my memory chip and was given the key to my own small apartment, a floor above Mr. Pablo’s own. The apartment was small but manageable, it had a bed and some furniture, all I needed was to stack the wardrobe with my clothes and it would become a living apartment. I went to bed that night happy that everything was moving well, but sad that I was alone in the room, nobody to suddenly burst in, demanding I take them to the toilet.
I worked with Mr. Pablo for two weeks before I got tired of my job, but I held on because of my vision of leaving Area 2. I continued to work for four months, each day hating the job more. There were hardly any customers in the shop. Every day, I sat in the shop alone, pressing my mobile phone or counting the ceiling; there were times when the coffee shop had rush hour periods, but it was a handful of times in a week. Business was going okay, but for me they were the worst days of my life. My hate began to develop into bad memories.
The pay of the job was little to begin with, but with the increase in negative memories from hating my job, the positive memories were dwindling. Rent took most of it and at the end of the day I was left with nothing to keep for my ticket. I hated being lonely, I hated my job, and I was beginning to hate the apartment I stayed in so much.
A month later, I was in the bar working the same boring routine, there were a handful of people in the shop, drinking their coffee. The bell jingled as someone walked in, he was dressed in fancy suit, his hair perfectly trimmed, one could tell he was very wealthy from the way he carried himself. I was not like that; even Mr. Pablo did not have the expensive suit the man wore.
He walked up to the counter, looking at me straight in the eyes, his stare was intimidating, and I averted my eyes. “I have a job for you,” he said.
“You have a job for me? Who are you?” I asked shakily.
“Meet me at the park’s fountain tonight at nine o’clock,” he replied, dropping a business card on the counter, he turned on his heels and left. I stared at his back speechless, it was a weird meeting, and I was scared, and at the same time curious about the job he had for me. I silently hoped it was better that than Mr. Pablo’s shop. I picked up his card and shoved it into my back pocket as a customer walked up to make an order.