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The Long way home...
Jeremy had never used that route before. All his life, he had taken a fixed path from home to school and vice versa, which went past different, but familiar places, Barker’s grocery store, Mr. Tinkle’s bell shop, Ms. Ink’s stationary shop and a few others. Now this construction worker was telling him to take a different and completely unknown path.
“You just go down that alley and when you reach the end, turn left and go straight ahead. You’ll reach Mr. Tinkle’s shop and I’m sure you know your way from there.” The hefty construction worker had said. He had a bristly red moustache and small watery eyes. His round waistline was proof of his dietary habits. After that, he turned around and walked away.
Jeremy walked on until he found the alley. From the outside, it was dark, somber and dismal. When Jeremy saw it the first word that popped into his mind was ‘funereal’.
He looked around uncertainly; half hoping that someone would stop him and give him some new and more helpful direction. When no one came, Jeremy took a deep breath, closed his eyes and plunged into the dark abyss.
His first impression was that it was cold. He opened one eye and warily looked around. The walls were a dark, almost black color and in certain patches, mould grew. There was a gray trashcan, which was surrounded by flies. Broken glass, unidentifiable fruit peels and wrappers littered the muddy ground. A pungent smell hung in the air.
Jeremy had never been in an alley before and he found it a fascinating, albeit gloomy place. He walked slowly and cautiously so as not to step on any broken glass. The smell was overwhelming making him wish that the alley would come to an end.
Suddenly, as he turned a corner, someone ran into Jeremy. The two of them went crashing to the floor and Jeremy felt his head hit the wall.
“Oh my gosh! I am so sorry! Are you all right?’ a voice exclaimed.
Jeremy looked up and saw a boy his age looking down at him with concerned eyes. He extended a hand to him. Jeremy took it and was pulled up. While Jeremy dusted himself, the boy retrieved his book bag and returned it to him.
“Hope your no’ hurt,” the boy asked with an amiable smile.
By choice, Jeremy was not a very friendly boy, but his boy was so straightforward and helpful that one could not help warming up to him.
“I am fine, thank you,” he replied politely.
The boy, despite his attitude, was filthy. He wore tattered clothing and a filthy cap with a barely discernable plaid pattern. Light blue eyes and a lop-sided grin accompanied his round face. It was obvious that he tried to keep clean because his hands and face were clean his comparison to the rest of his appearance.
‘So wot’s a little waif loike you doin’ in a place like this?” He asked, gesturing around him. “Ain’t a safe place.”
“Well the route I normally take is under construction, I had no choice but to use this alley.” Jeremy answered. “Why are you using this alley?” he added, with suspicious eyes.
The boy lifted his cap and tried to flatten his tousled hair. “Well,” he began with a Southern accent, “no offence, pardn’er, but I’m a street kid. I’d know this alley even if it were pitch-black.” He laughed good-naturedly. Jeremy had heard about street children. They were supposed to be rude, malicious and horrid, but this boy was so likeable and jolly. He could not be a street child.
“But you don’t look or talk like a street child.”
The boy laughed again and said, “No, that I don’, but I am one an’ you c’n believe that.” Seeing Jeremy’s disbelief, he added hurriedly, “I am a street child. I don’ act like one because I have a friend who taught me about good manners, and I stuck to ‘em, you know, so I don’ fall in with the wrong group.” He seemed so honest that Jeremy could not help but believe him.
“M’name is Dylan,” the boy extended his hand yet again. “Wot’s yours?”
“Jeremy.” He took Dylan’s hand and shook it.
“So Jeremy should I accompany you down this here alley?” he asked. “Wouldn’ want you to get lost or something.”
Jeremy agreed and the two set off.
Dylan was a very talkative boy. As soon as the two began walking, he asked Jeremy which school he went to. Did he like it? How many children were in his class? What were his studies like? Did he enjoy them?
Most people would have considered these questions to be very probing and inquisitive but when two boys are engaged in such a conversation, no such thing occurs to them. In fact, Jeremy enjoyed it. He was a lonely boy and most of the children in his school did not speak to him. It was nice to meet someone who spoke to him kindly.
He answered all of Dylan’s questions happily and asked a few as well. He asked Dylan how old he was and what kind of sports he enjoyed. It turned out that Dylan was only a year older than Jeremy and enjoyed soccer as well. The two of them enjoyed a lengthy conversation about soccer tactics, when Jeremy asked, “Dylan, where are your parents?”
At that moment they were passing through a shadowy area, so Jeremy did not see Dylan’s face darken, but he could hear him shuffle his feet as he mumbled an answer,
“Jeremy, my parents died in a gang war.” He said in a broken voice. Even in the dark, Jeremy saw him wipe away a tear that had escaped from his eye.
“I…I’m so sorry.” Jeremy gasped.
They walked on in silence. Jeremy was desperate to break the uncomfortable silence. Then Dylan did it for him.
“I suppose this is a shock to you?” he asked quietly. Jeremy nodded. A ghost of a smile touched Dylan’s face. “Sometimes,” he said, and then stopped as he cleared his throat, “Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that they’re gone. I still remember when it happened. We were on our way home from the theatre when we suddenly heard gun shots and then I heard my mother scream as one hit her.” Dylan’s voice became husky as he continued. “My father pulled me aside and covered my eyes. He shoved me into a nearby alley behind a trashcan. Then he went back to my mother. Just then the gang that was shooting came and began to beat him up.”
“When they had gone, I ran to my parents, but I was too late. They were dead.” He said the last three words painfully.
The shock that Jeremy felt was unfathomable. To imagine life without his parents was impossible. Jeremy felt a hard lump form in his throat at the thought of it. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop the flood of hot tears from escaping.
Just then, Jeremy could feel the warmth of the sun hit him and with joy realized that they had exited the alley. He opened his eyes and felt more tears form as his naked eyes became exposed to the sun. He looked around hoping that Dylan would think the water in his eyes came because of the sun, when he realized that he was alone. Dylan had disappeared.
He looked up and down the street searching for his new friend, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then he realized that he was clutching something in his hand. He opened it and found a photograph. Once he had smoothed it out, he saw a picture of Dylan. Behind him were two people. One was a young lady, the other a man. The lady had a sweet smile and had her arms wrapped around Dylan. The man looked like Dylan himself and was playing with his hair.
Jeremy smiled and pocketed the photograph.