Leila skipped along the sidewalk, up the hill, on her way to school. Bumblebees above her, bobbing up and down, following her skipping movements. Tiny white butterflies tried to join in, but are blown out of sync by the warm spring wind. Oblivious to all that, and the danger ahead, Leila enjoyed the loud clicking sound of her pretty new brown shoes on the sidewalk. Passing the apartment complex with the over hanging hedge, as she did everyday, she remembered Grandma saying,
“That hedge is a violation” and that she was going to call the council woman about them.
Leila felt special in her new shoes. Grandma, who was living with them, while Mother was in jail, let her wear pretty shoes to school. Leila missed her mother. No one told her why her mom was in jail, but Grandma said she would be home by fall. It was fun having Grandpa and Grandma living with them. They did fun things like go shoe shopping. The day they bought the shoes she was wearing they were supposed to be shopping for shoes to wear to church but, when they got to the shoe store, Grandma said she could have two pairs. One could be for school. Grandma said school days are special too.
Leila was sorry she was so late for school that the school grounds were empty. It was her shoes’ fault. She didn’t want them to have a smudge, so she had spent extra time polishing them to a shine.
“Hi there cutie” a man’s voice startled Leila.
“Hi” she said hurriedly.
“Kind of late for school, eh?”
“Yeah” she said walking by him. She hadn’t even seen this big man behind the overhanging hedge, growing out of the apartment complex’s yard.
“How ‘bouts a granola bar to give you energy all day?” he said smiling, his big beady eyes shining.
“I already had my honey cheerios this morning” she bleated out, unaware that she had stopped walking. How in the world did a man this big, fit behind that overhanging hedge? Was he hiding she wondered? Then she realized that this was the lesson she had been taught. Don’t speak to strangers. Her mother had taught it, her grandma and grandpa, the police clown that came to school assembly & the African storyteller that came to the library. Here was the lesson, right in front of her.
Suddenly, she was off running the rest of the way up to the school. Her back pack bobbing madly, surprised insects over her head scattering, pretty shoes clicking and clacking, as she ran up the pavement to the front door of the school. She didn’t see the man grab for her, as she shot off. She didn’t see his puzzled look at his hands when he realized he hadn’t got her.
Inside, Leila let the school doors slam behind her with a clang. Once inside, she peered out the door’s window to see if the big man was still there. He was, as if he was still waiting for someone.
“I must see Principal Brownette” she said as she tumbled into the Main Office.
“She’s preparing for announcements” said a frowning secretary, through pursed lips.
“No, I must see her now!” Leila insisted and flew towards the principal’s office, startling all the secretaries.
One of them said, “Now see here, young lady! You’re late and you’re being very ru…”
“A man, Mrs. Brownette” Leila interrupted, as she saw the principal come to her office door, “A man right there! He tried to talk to me!”
“Where?” All the ladies said indignantly, crowding to the front window.
Leila jumped up on one of the chairs by the window and pointed. “Right there!” And sure enough, he was still there by the overhanging hedge. Standing very quietly, not looking like he was hiding, just standing there, looking out on the street. Just then, below the overhanging hedge, barely visible, they could see another latecomer approaching!
Mrs. Brownette flew into action! “Call 911, get me the security man, call Mr. Travels out of his gym class and have them meet me out front. Stay right here, Leila.”
Everyone moved at once. By the time the Principal hit the front door all instructions had been obeyed. Mr. Grove, the security man, was charging around the side of the building responding to his walkie talkie.
Standing on the chair, in the Main Office, Leila’s face was pressed up against the window. The man stopped this next little girl the same way he stopped Leila. The little girl reached out to take the granola bar from the man, as Mrs. Brownette, yelled out her name,
“Sherry! Sherry Allen! Come here this instant!”
Not finding an owner, the granola bar fell to the ground between them. Leila couldn’t believe how fast her principal moved. Mrs. Brownette was the size of Mother, Grandma and Grandpa put together, but by the time she said “…instant!” she was almost at the hedge. The man moved impossibly fast and got away. Mrs. Brownette now had the frightened little girl by the hand, as Mr. Grove, the security man, was ducking way low to the ground going under the overhanging hedge. Mr. Travels, the gym teacher, had arrived on the scene.
As all eyes watched, three policemen appeared around the street side of the hedge with the big tall man between them. The cops had not used their sirens when they got the 911, call and were able to catch the man running away.
“Caught” the ladies said collectively. “Thank you Jesus” they all sighed together.
That day Leila was a heroine. Mrs. Brownette called a special assembly to tell the story. Leila got a chance to stand on the stage, in her pretty new shoes, and talk into the microphone and say how she felt when faced with a potential kidnapper.
It was a great lesson for the day, about not talking to strangers and she was able to teach it to others.