Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: First World Problem( 04/17/14)
By Christina Banks
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Carefully, Isabelle pulled herself through the sliding door on the side of the huge metal container. The smell of refuse clung to her, but there was little she could do about the stench. At least she was dry and warm. That was more than some could say this mornings.
The gate around the complex was still closed, but Isabelle easily squeezed through the narrow opening. She pulled the large jacket tightly around her slender frame like a cloak of invisibility. That’s what she was – completely invisible.
Few people were about at this hour. Most were business executives, already talking on their phones, ready to start another day at the office. Isabelle had been like them once. Always busy. Always rushing.
She kept her eyes down as she shuffled along the sidewalk. A dime winked in the early morning sun. Elated, Isabelle snatched it up and added it to the small collection in her pocket. Only two more and she’d have enough for a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. That would be a treat indeed.
Isabelle took her normal seat at the bus stop, but she wasn’t waiting for a bus. Instead, she became part of the crowd. Invisible to everyone. Her eyes rarely lifted above the shoes of those around her. The one thing she really missed was shoes. New shoes made of leather so soft it felt like a glove on her feet. She pulled her worn sneakers, three sizes too big, further beneath her long coat.
She didn’t leave the bus stop until she’d found three quarters. With a slight bounce in her uneven gate, Isabelle entered a small shop. The man behind the counter was always cross, but she had money today. Money had a way of making her visible, if only for a moment.
With a steaming cup of coffee and a fresh sandwich, Isabelle left the shop and sat down on a bench in the warming sun. She’d only been sitting there five minutes when a group of young people invaded the space. They did not see her in her invisible cloak. She pretended not to notice them as well, until one of them raised his voice.
“Look at what they did.” The young man pointed his meal. “They ruined it. I hate sesame seeds.” He tossed the offensive sandwich into the trash.
The young people hadn’t been gone thirty seconds before Isabelle fished the sandwich from the can. She dusted it off. What a blessing this was. Two sandwiches for one meal.
With her appetite satisfied, Isabelle walked slowly down the street before slumping against the wall of a building for a rest. She spoke to no one, but heard most of the conversations around her. Complaints about the price of gas, the color of a purse, the discomfort of a pair of pumps, the latest antics of some celebrity Isabelle had never heard of, echoed in her ears.
“You’re a sight.” The man’s gentle words almost didn’t register. He crouched down before her and offered a hand.
Isabelle pulled her coat tighter, but the cloak of invisibility was no longer working. The man could see her. Hesitantly, Isabelle raised her gaze to meet his. He didn’t look through her like everyone else. He had kind eyes.
“Have you had something to eat today?”
Isabelle nodded her head. Feeling exposed, she tucked herself into a smaller shape. Only the tips of her worn sneakers hung out under the coat.
The man sat down cross legged in front of her. She wanted to protest. He’d ruin his nice suit sitting on the dirty sidewalk. Hadn’t the executive at the bus stop this morning complained about the price of those suits?
“Do you have a place to stay?”
Isabelle nodded again. As long as the thugs didn’t chase her away again, she’d be spending the night at the shelter. “God takes care of me.”
“Can I at least buy you a new coat?”
She tugged the coat closer, and shook her head. It had been her husband’s long ago, in what seemed like another life. She could never give up the coat.
“What about shoes?”
She studied the tips of her old sneakers. “I like shoes.” She whispered.
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