By Kristopher Paul, The Ivanhoe Sol
Bertha and her brother packed their bags, brought them to the door and said goodbye to their house. They left that afternoon and arrived by early evening. The entire ride lasted little more than half an hour, but there was still unpacking work to be done.
Watching the sun come up in a new town isn’t comforting when you still miss your old one. It may turn out to be even harder when it’s through no fault of yours. Being shuttled from one place to another, dumped off on another relative only to find out that there’s no room for you, and especially for the little brother in tow, but there was nothing they could do. They were only children, and they had no choice but to go back and follow their father from town to town. The last one had been the longest they stayed, but this one was to be even more permanent.
There was work here, a gigantic packing house where their dad work be able to work more of the year, and find other jobs nearby when there wasn’t.
New streets, new markets, new school, and again, new friends to make only to leave behind. Four schools in her first 12 years of life, and this was just another in the long line of them that she would just as soon as forget.
Their first days at the new school weren’t so bad because even though the year had already begun, it was still early, and new friend groups were still being established. That was about the time that Bertha became friends with Olivia.
It was in the week leading up to Halloween and Dia de los Muertos when Bertha decided to disclose her diabolical plan to Olivia. She was going to run away. She schemed a way to scam everyone and get away, with her little brother, and they would go away from all the people who didn’t want them around anyway.
Notes were to be left, fake notes that would throw off their scent and keep all those who may come looking for them, but they wouldn’t be anywhere near where the notes would say they were.
It didn’t matter to her because she was “a little different” according to the whispers from family members.
“She’s just, odd.. I don’t know, something about her…”
She heard them, even when they didn’t think she was around, or knew what they were trying to say.
So, she felt the thing to do was to leave. To run away, and take Xavier, since no one seems to want to take him either. He was only 8, but she knew she could take care of him, she had been since she was 8, making beans and heating up tortillas for the both of them. He would go with her, she was the only one he truly trusted.
Bertha didn’t tell Olivia because she wanted anyone to come looking for them, she told her because she wanted someone to know in the case that she needed someone, someone she could trust, if there was an emergency. Bertha was old enough to know that unexpected events occur. She learned that from the sudden death of her mother. Very bad things could happen when you least expect them, so she felt the need to tell someone their near whereabouts.
“Where are you going to go?” Olivia asked in a worried tone.
“In Laton, there’s this park that goes on both sides of the river, but there’s only water in it sometimes, so it won’t flood, you know, and there’s orchards all around there, so there’ll be food we can eat. So that’s where we’re going to go, but don’t tell anybody, okay?”
There was a moment where she twinged with regret at revealing her plans to another, but she felt it to be the right thing to do, especially when concerning the well being of Xavier. After their mother… she was the next in line to protect him. She was the only one especially concerned with protecting him, and so she knew enough to know that a plan B in place.
Olivia’s face drooped with sadness. Her mouth opened but words didn’t come out. “But, won’t you miss it here?”
“I haven’t been here long enough to miss it.”
“But…” Olivia’s voice trailed off into the autumn air.
The other kids on the playground were unaware of the conversation going on, or not going on between the two friends on the playground.
“How are you going to get there?” she pointed her question at Bertha, without looking at her.
“I’m pretty sure there’s a bus that goes out there.”
“All the way out there?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
“Well, what’s wrong with here?”
“Nothing, it’s just that we just got here, and it’s better if we leave on our own instead of waiting for someone else to make us move somewhere where we don’t want to go.”
“Do you want to go live in the park?”
“No, not really, but it’s better than everyone making us move to somewhere we don’t want to go, with someone who we don’t want to be with because they don’t want us there anyway…” It was Bertha’s turn to let her voice trail off into the chaos on the playground.
“I think I’d be sad if you left.”
“Yeah, I though we were friends, and I’d be sad if my friend left, especially after just getting here.”
“You think I should stay? Me and my brother?”
“Yeah, I think you should stay. It’s nice here, and there are a lot of people who can work and stay here, and not have to leave to other places to work, and other schools to go to.”
Bertha let the words rest in her head. Xavier might not be so comfortable in the park, and then there was the problem of shelter… she hadn’t thought about that. “Okay, I won’t go, yet. We’ll stay, but if it looks like we might have to move again, if there’s even a hint, then I swear, we are gone. Until then, we’ll stay in Ivanhoe.”