“She was found in an alley two nights ago. It seems her father killed himself after beating her mother’s horribly. He thought she was asleep the whole time. She ran out and was hiding from him behind a dumpster truck parked in the alley. She thought he would come after her.”
Mami sucked in her breath and looked at the little creature who was hugging a raggedy old cloth doll. It had buttons for eyes and a scarf around its head.
“Poor child,” she whispered. “So how’s her mother doing now?”
“She’s in intensive care. She has a fifty-fifty chance the doctors say.”
The social worker pushed the glasses further up on her nose bridge as if it were about to fall off. “We can’t find any other family member, so the court has committed her to your care if her mother makes a full recovery.”
“Hi baby,” Mami bent over and put her face close to the little girl. “What’s your name?”
The girl looked up and then looked away. “Marissa Jacobs. Can I see my Mommy now?”
“Your Mommy is in the hospital baby. She has to stay there until she gets better okay?”
“I’m Mami and you’re gonna stay with us until that happens.”
Mami extended her chubby hand to Marissa. Marissa looked up into her fat face again and then at her extended hand, and placed her small hand into it.
“Mami gonna take real good care of you Marissa. Come and meet the others.”
The social worker gave Mami a small duffle bag in which Marissa’s clothes were packed.
“Mrs. Foster,” the social worker called after Mami as they walked towards the house. “A psychiatrist will be coming in once a week to counsel Marissa.”
Mami waved her hand without looking back as she spoke to Marissa in low tones.
Carol was the first to meet Marissa. She sat in a rocky chair that Mami sat in every afternoon to rest her weary bones. She eyed Marissa and wondered what her story was and why was she there.
“Marissa this is Carol. Carol, get up out of that chair and come and meet this dear child.”
Carol rolled her eyes and got up out of the chair. Everyone was a ‘dear child’ to Mami.
“What’s up?” Carol said to Marissa.
“I’m glad I saw you Carol. I believe there is an empty bed in your room. It’ll be Marissa’s until she leaves.”
“Until my Mom gets better?” Marissa asked wide-eyed.
“Yes baby, until your Mother gets better.”
As Carol took Marissa inside, Mami sighed as she thought of another troubled soul being brought to her doorsteps.
Carol and Barny loved to go to the Soda Fountain at the corner of East Elm Street every Friday evening. Carol would change from her usual slacks to a pair of jeans and a tee. Barny tried to copy Carol and would wear the same special outfit he set aside for the occasion. They sometimes walked with other children and sometimes they were alone.
On this particular afternoon, they were alone. Barny spoke of the teacher who some of the children in his class played a prank on that day. As he did so, they walked by a well dressed, dark-skinned man, who stood watching every passerby.
“Hey you!” he called to Carol.
Carol stopped and looked at him. Barny suspicious, held onto her hand and urged her to continue walking. He did not know him, but he did not like the look of him. He was sure that he was bad news waiting to happen.
“Do you want to earn some extra money after school?” He called out again, flipping a coin again and again in the air. “You really look as if you could use the help.”
“Come on,” Barny whispered urgently. “The other kids are waiting for us.”
Carol gave him another glance and continued on her way with Barny.
They had had an enjoyable evening eating ice-cream with their friends. Barny had forgotten about the man on the corner and had decided to stay longer with his friends to play video games.
Carol did not mind. She could take care of herself, she thought; after all she was all of thirteen and a half. Her breasts had swelled considerably over the last year and she was looking more like sixteen than the mere thirteen.
She walked back the way she came and saw the same man standing on the street corner. Seeing that she was alone, he wasted no time and this time walked with her.
“Hey, you seem interested in earning some extra money,” he said again.
“What kind of work are you talking about, Mister?” she asked curious about the offering.
He pulled out a card and pushed it in her hand.
“Oh, its entertainment!” he said hurriedly.
“But I don’t know anything about entertainment,” Carol retorted ready to push the card back in the man’s hand.
“You would be trained. Anyway, I see potential in you. You would be a natural. I know, because I’ve trained many. And they are doing very well for me. So call me when you are ready.”
He quickly disappeared from sight.
Carol stuck the card in her pocket and thought about what he had said. The word potential resonated in her mind.
Two weeks later Carol was invited to a party by one of her classmates. She lived on the other side of town. She was from an affluent family whose parents were both doctors with their own thriving private practices. All the girls who were invited were excited and spoke of nothing else. It was to be the main event of the year. They spoke of what they would wear and who would be accompanying them.
For the first time in a long while Carol felt out of place and desired a different life. Her mother had left her in a garbage bin shortly after giving birth to her. No trace of her mother could be found. A social worker checked in on Carol once every year to ensure that she was doing fine. That was the only external interest she had outside of Mami who raised her as if she were her own.
Carol sighed as she had thought again of the upcoming party. The slacks she wore on Friday were the only special clothes she had. Mami had bought her a dress the year before, but she had grown in special places with the onset of puberty. Barny had said that he would take her, but he was in a similar position. Now she needed money. Money that Mami could not give her.
One Friday she got dressed as usual for her Friday evening outing and found the card that slick man had given to her.
For all you personal ex-tertainment needs
Mami had not wanted anyone using her phone, so Carol had to sneak into her room and make the call.
“Hello, Mr. McDermott, are you still hiring for entertainment?” Carol whispered. “I need to make some money quick.”
The man at the other end did not sound like the man she had seen on the street the other day. His voice was deeper and his speech seemed more eloquent that that man on the street.
“If you are really serious, meet me at 392 Trowers Street,” the voice responded to her.
Carol snuck out of Mami’s room and had forgotten to take up the card from the table where she had placed it when she made the phone call. She walked right into Marissa who had been sent for Mami’s slippers.
“Hey Marissa, are you okay?” Carol asked guiltily.
Marissa nodded and fetched the requested item and returned to get them to Mami.
Carol decided that she would not wait on Barny today and instead went quickly through the door before anyone missed her.
It was not hard to find the address she had committed to memory and soon found herself inside the house of that address.
“How old are you little girl?” A fat man with two chins asked her when she was taken to Mr. McDermott.
“Thirteen and a half,” she replied. “I really need this entertainment job to raise some money for myself and my friend,” she explained in earnest.
“Naw, you’re too young! Go home! Go wash some cars or something!”
“Look I’m almost fourteen and I can learn any trick or gimmick real fast. I’ll work every evening after school if I have to,” she pleaded.
The fat man looked at her through half-closed eyes. “Marty, you heard her with her own mouth!”
“Did I force her?”
“No sir, she practically begged you,” Marty said with a wide grin on his face. He was the opposite of Mr. McDermott. He was pencil thin and short.
“Carol,” she said. “My name is Carol.”
“You’ll do exactly as I say, and nobody is to know of this job that you’re doing. You’ll be paid at the end of the week. One hundred dollars a day if you do your work well; and nothing if you cop out on me and try to run away.”
“You won’t regret it sir.”
Both men looked at each other and laughed.
“Marty take her to the training room. And give her a drink. She looks thirsty.”
Carol was taken to another room where she saw the man who had given her the card weeks before.
“Let me pour you a drink little one,” Marty said. He gave her a glass with brown liquid in it.
“Is this Pepsi?” Carol asked as she looked at it.
“Pepsi blend,” Marty explained still smiling.
Carol drank it and was asked to sit down in an armchair. Marty promised to come back with training material for her. As Carol waited she began to feel weak and sleepy. Soon she passed out as the other man looked on.
Three days had passed and there was no sign of Carol. Mami was beside herself with worry. It could mean that she may lose her income as an authorized home of safety. And she would also lose her ‘dear children’.
Mami sat crying as she recounted yet again to police officer Martinez how she had always insisted that when Carol was leaving the house, she was to be accompanied by Barnaby, a sixteen year old resident of the home.
Barny was later questioned, as well as some of the other children of the home. Officer Martinez had even spent time speaking to the group, advising them not to speak to strangers and look out for one another. Posters were printed and distributed in the community and at the school. Everyone was looking for Carol.
Shortly after Officer Martinez left and the children were put to bed, Mami had gone to her room to cry some more. She noticed a strange card on her table with the name Randy McDermott on it. She called Officer Martinez and explained to him what she had found and did not know if it had anything to do with Carol. He promised to look into the information she had provided.
“Mami.” It was Barny.
“Yes dear child,” Mami turned and looked at Barny.
“I remember some weeks ago there was a man that had offered Carol a job. I don’t know if maybe she went back and hooked up with him.”
“Thank you, child. Go back to bed now.”
Mami made sure she provided that titbit of information to Officer Martinez, and silently said a prayer for Carol.