For just a second, our eyes connected.
It was a hot, humid evening and I sat in my air-conditioned Toyota, waiting for the light to change.
She stood on the sidewalk, looking small and without direction – a little too small to be just standing by herself on that busy road in inner city Cleveland.
She ran up to my car and I leaned over to roll down the window. (Yes, my old vehicle proudly requires manual cranking.)
“I’m scared to go home. I’m afraid of my mother. I don’t know what to do.”
By this time, the light had changed and there were cars behind me. I unlocked the door and let her in so that we could talk. I pulled over to clear the way for those waiting patiently behind me.
I told her that we would figure out something but needed to drive around the corner so we could make some phone calls from a quieter and safer place.
I asked her a few questions about her family, brother and sisters, mother and father. She was the youngest of a good-sized group living with the mother. She had a father whom she visited. She did not know his phone number – or his last name. She did know where he lived, however.
When asked about a phone number for her mother or siblings, she was quick to tell me that she did not want to go back there.
Her sister was getting “whooped” and she was afraid of getting it. She’d been hurt by her mother before.
In the next couple of weeks, she would be entering third grade.
After making a call and considering the limited options available to me, I drove her to 2nd District further down on Fulton Road. She agreed to talk to the police and I said I would stay with her while she did.
The conversation was short but the police were kind. They gave the impression that perhaps she had done something wrong and was just afraid of punishment. Possible. But so afraid that she would approach a total stranger for help rather than go home?
The police would have to take her back to her mom to talk about it. This was inevitable, I suppose. I asked them in her presence if they would protect her from being hurt when they went to her house.
They assured me that they would. And that they would check the house for cleanliness, adequate food and furnishings and so on.
I know they will do their best.
But I am still afraid for her.
What if everything looks good enough when they arrive and they leave her there? Will Mom rip into her after they are gone? “NOW look what you’ve done!”
Perhaps Mom is not so bad, just overwhelmed by too many kids and the sweltering heat. Perhaps she just blows up now and then and this child is more fearful than most.
Whose car might she get into next time?
I cannot help but feel that I did not do enough – even though there was nothing more that I could legally do at the time.
And so I will now do the one thing left to me – the most important thing: I will pray.
Please join me.