Maggie didn’t know what woke her up, the insistent boot kicking her backside or her mum’s heavy cold arm across her shoulder.
Two men lifted her mother’s lifeless body from the pallet of filthy rags. The landlord leaned over and shoved a grubby fist in her face. His fetid breath made her gasp.
“It’ll be a tuppence each for you and the brat.”
“Then take your rubbish and go.”
Careful, so as not to disturb the other tenement dwellers crowded into the cellar room, Maggie crawled over to where Bobbie still slept.
“Bobbie,” she whispered.
He opened his soft brown eyes.
“What’s the matter, Maggie?”
The other people began to complain and groan, so Maggie put her hand over his mouth. She gathered their few belongings together in the dim light, then handed him his worn jacket. Maggie saw his eyes grow luminous in the darkness.
Maggie took a deep breath as they exited the door of the tenement house. It was barely dawn, heavy smog hanging over the city like a gray blanket.
“What’s the matter, Maggie?” Bobbie asked again.
“We’re taking a walk.”
“Won’t she be angry?”
“Not at all.”
They set out, Maggie contemplating her plan, and Bobbie with complete trust in his wise, albeit only, ten-year old sister.
By the time they reached the market, Bobbie was whining, the sight and smell of crates of apples and oranges making them feel faint. Maggie found a place for him to rest, gave him their belongings to guard, and set out to beg.
The farmwives didn’t take kindly to a ragged girl standing near their stalls, thinking she was a thief, but in the end, a loaf of bread rolled from a cart.
“Maggie, is our walk over yet?”
“Won’t Mum be worried about where we are?”
“Mum knows where we are.”
Later, in the afternoon...
“Maggie, shouldn’t we go home?”
“We are going home.”
By nightfall, Maggie and Bobbie had come to the outskirts and found shelter in a shed. They were both weak -- the loaf was not enough after months of poor food -- and they curled around each other on gunny sacks. Maggie was exhausted to the bone, but her mind was certain. Her mum knew that the low-fever was going to claim her life, as it had so many workers from the factory, and she had Maggie memorize the name of her sister and the town.
Get Bobbie out, she said. Esther will take you. Join her brood. The more the merrier. Why your father brought us to the city, I’ll never know.
The morning was still gray, but the rain had stopped.
“Let’s go, Bobbie. I need to tell you something.”
“Maybe later. Listen. Do you remember that Sunday School lady? The one who taught us our letters? Told us pretty stories?”
“Yes, about the giant and the big boat?”
“Right. Do you remember about heaven?”
“The place with castles and angels?”
“God will be there.”
“No crying. Streets with gold.”
“We go there when we die.”
“Yes. Mum is walking there right now.”
The morning sun burned off the low clouds. Farms were patchworked across the countryside, stitched together with hedgerows and interspersed with stands of trees. Maggie breathed in the sweet air, glad to be free of the smoke laden air of the city, and she couldn’t help but think of the goodness that lay at the end of this walk, this grief.
“Where are we going, Maggie?”
“To our Aunt Esther’s.”
“I’m very tired.”
“I am, too.”
“Who’s Aunt Esther?”
At lunchtime, Maggie knocked at the door of a farmhouse and was generously given milk, bread, and butter. They slept most of the afternoon afterwards, like the babes they were. They walked until almost dark, again finding shelter in a shed.
“I can’t walk, Maggie.”
“It’s just a little further.”
“I’m too tired.”
Bobbie began to sob. Maggie knelt beside him and wiped the tears from his dirty face.
“It’s just a little further.”
“A few more steps.”
“Think of Mum on her golden streets. We have a new life, too. We have to keep walking.”
Maggie pulled Bobbie up, then stooping over, hoisted him onto her spindly back. He wrapped his arms around her neck.
“This is our own golden street, Bobbie, and we’re walking home.”
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