Handing Out Hope

Julia Gibson '16

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“Maria!!! You go get me some milk down by the Mini Mart.”

“Why can’t you git it?”

“You will do as I tell you, you ungrateful brat.”

“Yes Nan,” Maria huffs, slamming the door behind her.

It’s a typical Saturday morning in Camden, New Jersey. Pungent smells linger in the musty streets. Old men sit at the street corner puffing their morning cigarettes. Crowds of teenagers push by, stumbling, bumping into people left and right. Girls in mini skirts and high heels, with long red nails, squeak in high-pitched voices:

“I really wa’nt some caffe,” one girl whined while twirling a curl in her hair.

“Ya need it, a’fter how much ya drank last night,” snickered another.

Across the road, another young girl waddles with her huge belly out in the air about to explode, several other young children following after; they dragged with hunger. Out of an apartment door stormed an angry lady, immediately followed by her pathetic husband. They stood in the middle of the street yelling at each other while car horns blared around them.

“I need to get out of here,” Maria murmurs as she steps over a broken bottle and pushes into the store.

She plops the cheapest carton of milk down on the counter.

“Three dowllahs.”

Maria reluctantly hands over the money and lumbers towards “home.”

Turning the corner, she pauses to investigate a large crowd of children scrambling to get closer to a young man holding toys.

Oh great, nother one of dem rich boys try’na be a saint. Why can’t people ‘cept notin gonna change round here.

Maria scrutinizes the boy’s perfectly starched, white shorts and plaid shirt ironed to perfection. She notices his blonde hair perfectly parted like a model stepping out of an expensive catalogue.

While handing a little girl a new bleach blonde Barbie doll, he turns toward Maria. Their eyes lock. Maria stiffens, her feet sinking into the concrete below. His eyes are mesmerizing. New emotions surge, threatening to crack her stiffened body.  A warm smile grows on his face as he turns his attention back to the little kids jumping up on him, trying to get more toys. Maria starts to melt.

“What u doin standing in the middle of the sidewalk, get out of the way!!!” a disgruntled man shouts as he pushes by, nearly knocking Maria down.

Maria snaps out of her daze. She immediately retreats to her house, shaking off the odd encounter between her and this strange boy.

Everything about him seemed unreal and unnatural. He had this smile that shone. She had never seen anyone smile that bright. But his eyes, they were a brilliant blue, unlike any blue Maria had ever seen. There is something in his eyes that she wanted. He does’nt understand, he’s just some rich boy who, after he does his good for the day, will not even give a second thought about the children here today. I have to live it everyday! I open my door to drugs, an gangs, alcohol and disease. What’s the point in having hope when you live in a dump like this.

As much as Maria tried to pull the shade down over those blue eyes, she couldn’t stop the thoughts in her head. What was it about him? She’s seen beautiful white boys before. But she longed for something he had.

*************

As hard as Maria tried, the boy would not leave her mind. Maria tried going out with friends, even getting drunk, but nothing could take her mind off this boy. He remained like graffiti on a park bench.

To make matters worse, every morning he showed up on the same street corner — handing out toys one day, food the next, clothing another. He never quit. And he had something that was contagious to those around him. Stupid people, he’ll leave just like the rest a dem. The more Maria tried to pull away from him, the more she was drawn toward him.

 

Later that night, Maria lay awake on her old mattress, trying not to think. She hates thinking. It only brings bad memories. This was Maria’s nightly challenge: finding little things to distract her mind. She had no TV, no radio, couldn’t afford drugs. Her thoughts kept pounding, making it too loud to sleep. She thought of the fights, the violence, the divorce, and the goodbye. She thought of Nan who cut her down on a constant basis: “You’re gonna be just like ya mutha.” Her thoughts push through the darkness. The blue eyes appear again. I can’t shake this. I’ve got to find out what he’s got. Tomarrow, ill meet him. Tommarrow. Her eyes grew heavy as she drifted off to sleep.

 

Maria wakes up to bustling street sounds. She throws on her torn jeans and a rumpled tee-shirt, rushing so she can’t change her mind. Maria walks her normal route to the Mini Mart, as the heat steams off oily puddles.

And there he is, standing on the corner once again, this time handing out what looked like his last winter coat. The crowd dispersed by the time Maria reaches him. That weird sensation begins to course through Maria’s body, shaking her confidence. Just as she is about to put her head down and walk by him without a word, he calls out:

“Hey, I have got something for you!”

Maria abruptly lifts her head as a blush rises in her cheeks. She snaps:

“Whud you got dat I needs?”

A grin creeps up his face as he reaches behind his back:

“I got you this.” He pulls out a bouquet of flowers and holds them out in front of her.

Maria’s heart flutters, and a slight smile appears on her face. But only for second. She tilts her head defiantly and raises her eyebrows: “Whud I sa’posed ta do with dese.”

“You may do as you please, but every girl deserves flowers.”

Trying to hold her hard edge, Maria blurts out, “Well, ya gunna tell me yo name?”

“James. And yourself?”

“Maria.”

“Well, can I see you again, Maria?”

Just the way James repeated her name made Maria melt inside. He made it seem as though her name carried some great importance. His eyes held steady to hers as he waited.

“I guess so,” Maria faltered.

“How about tonight? I could pick you up at seven.”

“Oh…um ok.”

The two arranged minor details, and Maria started home as the morning light shone a little brighter.

Maria spent all day preparing for her date that night. She painted an extra coat of red nail polish that matched her bright red lipstick, brushed her hair out until there were no bumps, and put on her extra big hoop earrings. James showed up to Maria’s house precisely at seven. Maria looked in the mirror one last time and hurried for the front door so Nan wouldn’t notice. James stood on the steps. His face immediately lit up when he saw Maria’s face pop through the door, “Hey.” He offered Maria his arm, as he escorted her to his car and opened the door.

The date went better than Maria could have ever imagined. James was a perfect gentleman. They two of them went to a nice dinner and after walked around a park close to the restaurant. Although they had just met, Maria felt like she had known James her whole life. The conversation flowed easily, and James’ graciousness kept pushing Maria’s hardness away. Maria fell asleep that night thinking, but this time with a smile spread across her whole face.

Maria and James continued dating. With him, the world did not seem so bad. The more time Maria spent with James the harder it was to keep a wall up between them. Every time he smiled or she looked into his eyes, the wall crumbled. Maria was tired of trying to rebuilt it.

She wanted someone to lean on, but she felt like a glass bottle that’s been kicked and broken so many times that it’s pointless to pick up the pieces. Maria knew James would need to go back to Boston when the summer was over, but she constantly blocked the idea out of her mind. Maria was also aware of the burden James’s parents pressed on him to be the best. On the few occasions his parents called, Maria noticed his shoulders droop under the 500-lb weight of their expectations. She felt herself sag along side him: I’m not what dey lookin for, I won’t eva be.

 

It was late one night, and James had planned their last date to every detail before he left for Boston. The night was beautiful, and they walked quietly, with a tension rising between them. As they turned the corner, James abruptly stopped, pulling Maria back.

“You try’ina give me a heart atta’ck?”

“I’m sorry, but there is something I need to tell you.”

“Well go ahead — get on with it.”

“Do you know where we are?”

“A street corner…?”

“Maria, this is the corner that I was standing on when our eyes first met.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I love you Maria, and it’s killing me to think of going back home tomorrow, knowing that you are still here. Will you please come back home with me to meet my family?” Her eyebrows rose as he quickly adds, “but not as my girlfriend as my fiance.”

James got down on one knee and pulled out a flower. Dangling from the flower was a ring tied around its stem.

“A girl like you also deserves a ring. Maria, will you please spend the rest of your life with me?”

Maria’s heart beats so fast she thought it was going to come up her throat.

“I..I..” Maria stammers. No words would come. Abruptly, she pulls away as James turns ghostly pale. He holds out his arms with open hands, waiting. She can’t look at him. Suddenly, she bolts home.

Maria bursts into her house and slams the door. With her back up against the door, she slides to the ground breaking out into violent sobs that shake her. Why’m I blubbrin? I shud be happy, she repeats over and over. Maria reaches up and runs her fingers through her hair, pulling tight and hoping the harder she pulls the easier her answer will come. Thousands of questions circle through her mind like a record on constant replay. She feels dizzy and weak. I’ll think bout it later, I’ll think bout it later. But, she could’nt stop her mind. Why would his stuck-up parents accept me? What if he leaves, and I just get hurt? How can I possibly change the life I’ve been born into? This is crazy! He’s crazy!

“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know,” Maria shouted to the ceiling hoping that there was a greater power listening to her, but her heart doubted.

Maria woke up the next day, her eyes swollen from crying. She could hardly recognize the girl she saw in the mirror. Tears filled her eyes once more. I’m such an idiot! How could I let go of James.

“Maria!!! Have ya gotten my milk yet?!”

“I’m leaving now,” Maria choked between sniffles.  Ya, same old life.

As Maria yanks open the front door, she notices a small white envelope. Skeptically, she reaches down and sees her name scratched in blue pen. Without breathing, she slowly tears open the edge, pulls out a square of paper and focuses her eyes:

Making a leap of faith can be scary.

Do you know what’s even scarier?

Regret.

There was more. A Jet Blue plane ticket and a shiny ring drops before her feet.

 

 

 

 

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