Chapter 1: Mother
I just got home from my shift at a local diner. I head home since I don’t have a social life and I don’t have anywhere else to go. I live in a five-story apartment with a minimum of five houses per floor. Mine is on the fifth floor, just so my luck.
As I pass by all the other floors, you can sum up what kind of neighborhood I live in.
On the first floor, kids are playing everywhere. It may seem rude but these kids are nightmares of our apartment. No one knows how to deal with them, even their parents.
For instance, they poured mighty glue all over my door knob. That shit stings.
On the second floor, it just happened that a casserole came flying outside a window. It is followed by a series of curses and other not-so-good words.
The third floor is the spooky floor. It is occupied, but no one has ever seen its residents. I heard they were relatives. They either leave the house early and come home late or they never really go out. I even thought maybe they are dead in there but there is no foul smell so my intuition is invalid.
The fourth floor is just quiet. Normal people, with a very smiley old lady that likes to water her plants in the morning.
On the fifth floor, I live there alone. It is still unoccupied for the main reason it is too high. Good for me though, quiet. Bad for me, alone, as always.
I was washing my hair when the water ran out. Damn, maybe I forgot to pay the water bills again. I opened my stack of water from my water drum and poured myself a scoop of water so I could finish my bath.
My stomach grumbled and I started the stove for some instant noodles. But for the love of dear Lord, I ran out of gas too. Great, no water, no gas. I’m lucky I’m not dead.
Grabbing my purse, I locked my house and headed to the convenience store with cup noodles stuck in my mind.
I’m Leilah Rivera. I have been living alone since ten when I ran away from home. I have faced many challenges but I might make it short. So, my life is, or was, my father, beat my mom, raped me, and sold my brother. My decision of freeing myself from that toxic life was when Father sold Colby. He was just eight, and I came home with a huge man carrying my crying brother on his shoulders as he handed my father money. Lots of money.
I lived on the streets. Running away from social workers who tried to talk to us about having a future in DSWD and even a chance of finding a new family. I wasn’t interested. I lived by myself, washing dishes for an eatery for living for the early years then attended elementary school. After pursuing myself through high school, I got my apartment, stable and decent work, and a community college to study at. I got everything under control.
After I ate my beloved cup of noodles, I headed home again. I look at the clock to see it’s already ten in the evening. I need to rest or else I’ll be late for my morning work at a small bakery.
When I reached the building there was a woman standing at the gate to the stairways, pulling herself up slowly.
“Leilah... Leilah...” I can hear her whisper to the door.
She is about five feet or so in height, too thin to be healthy, too dirty to be decent. Her hair is a mess and her clothes are scrunchy. She looks like she had just got out of a battlefield. I squinted my eyes for a better look. Holy shit.
The woman looked up with wild wide eyes. Her tears came as she covered her mouth with her hands. She looked shocked, and maybe I do too. My mother is here. My mother found me.
As she takes little steps towards me, using the railing of the balcony as support, my mind spins. How? But before she even reached halfway, she collapsed.
“Mom!” I ran to her.
“Mom.” She’s breathing but unconscious. She might be exhausted. I used all my power to carry her inside. I laid her down on my bed because I don’t have any other place to lay her except on the floor. I scooped water from the drum and grabbed a face towel. I soaked the towel and cleaned her face.
It has been ten years and it has shown on her face. She looks as beautiful as before. Deep brown hair with a white complexion. Her face was small but with round eyes and thick lashes. I have missed her. I left her alone.
She moved and then opened her eyes. “Leilah. It’s you.” She weakly said.
“Yes, mom. It’s me.” I grab her hand and place it on my face.
“Where have you been, child? I was so worried.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Mom.” Tears formed in both of our eyes.
“Hush. Don’t cry. We’re together now. We’ll be safe now.” She smiled and with that, she fell asleep again.
It has been three months since that happened. Whenever I ask Mom about it, she would change the subject, say “I’m fine.“, or doesn’t answer anything at all. It doesn’t solve anything, honestly. But we get by.
“Mom, I’ll go to work. Lock the door, don’t let anyone in. Call me when you need anything.” I know I shouldn’t be the nagging one but it’s hard to leave Mom alone.
“Take care, Leilah.” She’s sitting on the sofa in front of my netbook that I have salvaged from my electrician friend from before. I took one last glance at my mother and then around my small, dark apartment. Everything is fine.
I head straight to school now since my bakery boss is on vacation. It is a thirty-minute walk from my apartment. Sometimes I take a trike but mostly I walk to save. Life is not that good on my side.
My school is just a small-town college. Most of the students came from public schools that can’t afford high-end universities. Me, I attend to survive. A good diploma means a good job to pay off my life alone. But now, my mother is with me so I need to double my efforts.
Being with Mom is amazing, though she won’t go out of the house, it feels good to have someone to come home to. A family. A mother.
The day passed dully. It feels quiet, though there are a lot of students around me, I feel like the peacefulness of the day is not normal. But I shrug it off because I need to work.
When I came in front of the old diner, another 4-hour part-time job, I noticed a black SUV parked obstructing the entrance. Why would people do something stupid?
“Hey Elene, why is that black car in the front door?” I called out to my co-worker in the dishwasher when I entered the back door.
“Don’t have any idea. It’s been there for an hour now.” She answered without even looking up from her pile of dishes.
“Who’s in it?” she shrugged. Maybe she hasn’t been outside the kitchen.
I grabbed my apron, tied my long brown wavy hair in a messy bun then headed out to fetch orders. But as soon as I stepped past the kitchen door, I regretted it. Not far from the left side of the door are six men dressed in black suits. They look like goons in a cartoon with their black shades and rude posture. I bet they own the black SUV.
“Go get their orders or tell them to go. We have been trying to get them out but insisted they are waiting for someone. It has been an hour.” My other co-worker Margi told me.
I gulped. Why does it need to be me, though? But I strode towards them with a smile. “May I take your orders, misters?”
They all looked at me. And for a second, I feel scared for my life for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s because of their smug looks? Or the way they seemed to stiffen when they saw me? Or the creepy half-smirk the guy in front of me did. Then they stood and packed up.
“You won’t take anything?” I blurted out, surprised by their actions. They have been sitting there for an hour then stood up to leave just like that?
The guy who smirked stopped and turned around to face me while the others went out the door. With the smirk still on his face, he lowered his glasses and looked me straight in the eyes.
“We’ll take your mother.”
I was dumbfounded because of that answer. It took me quite a moment to realize its meaning.