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The little squeegee kid

 Street Sheet (Canada) 13 December 2019

This Christmas we present an ‘adaptation’ of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic children’s tale of hope, charity and seasonal magic "The Little Match Girl". This story is based on real events. (1322 Words) - By Rodney Graham

The cold wind tore at the exposed skin of the little squeegee kid. She sat huddled on the sidewalk in front of Hudson's Bay Department store on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. Sitting on top of her few belongings, a small backpack and a blanket, she held a little plastic bag containing new lighters she had bought from a marketing company nearby. I have always admired the resourcefulness of youth who end up on the street. A metro bus came hurtling past and she turned her head to avoid the blast of icy wind that swished across her small frame.

'…Would you like to buy a lighter…help me out please?'

No one had bought even one lighter - a bit of change was given though by nervous pedestrians. She had been sitting there for hours. It was now 5 P.M. on Christmas Eve. Everyone was too busy to bother with a street person, or even to notice her, they were far too busy; shopping, dining, and getting ready to the happy family day tomorrow. People see only what they want to see. Believe only what they wish to believe.

Magic was in the air.

As Ashley sat on the sidewalk it was blaringly obvious to her the way passersby avoided eye contact with her. It was more cruel than the biting cold. If it was only a bit less chilling out blushing may have been noticable - if anyone looked…

Christmas Eve parents had their children with them - whole families. Unlike the adults, the children stared. How uncomfortable it made her feel. Even though the younger ones seemed to have sympathy in their eyes - especially the youngest ones - it hurt her more actually, because it just confirmed what she was thinking about society lately.

An elegant mother, tall, rather good looking came walking by, with her three children in tow and their father behind. The boy was about twelve, his sister ten, the youngest a girl about six years of age.

As they passed the younger was nearer to Ashley she slowed and stared.

Sensing some kind of 'danger' the pretty mother grabbed her youngster and pulled her along.

The little girl looked back as her mother practically dragged her along.

Ashley turned her head,  her eyes swelled with tears but she tried hard to suppress her feelings.

A lump knotted in her throat.

She coughed.

Just then a young couple with a purebred Yorkshire Terrier walked by they both stopped and looked at her. She noticed them. She wished they would go away.

They saw the wet lines on her cheeks. The young man came over while his eyes kept focused on her he dropped a two dollar coin into the lap of little Ashley. His girlfriend frowned. She reached into her purse and walked over to her and dropped a five dollar bill. It was the first money she was given for hours.

"Thanks…" she said nervously, her eyes did not make contact with the woman. They couple walked slowly away. They were talking about her. In five minutes they had totally forgotten her. They had walked into a nearby coffee bar and plunked down about twelve bucks on two coffees.

Outside the wind howled. Ashley shivered.

She wiped her eyes with her sleeves.

They didn't return.

The little squeegee kid had slept under a bridge the night before. She hadn't been able to find any other young people the stay with because she was new in town. Social Services wouldn't help her because she refused to be 'processed' (give information about herself) she feared being sent home to Vancouver, where abuse awaited her - and didn't want to go to one of those traumatizing shelters - even the street was better in her mind.

The City of Winnipeg had recently made it illegal to squeegee (wash car windows for money) something that greatly benefits desperate youth all across Canada if they are allowed to do it. Her boyfriend had recently departed - something that often happens in relationships where money and the future looks bleak; love dwindles and friction builds.

The aroma of freshly baked turkey from a nearby upscale restaurant wafted in the air along with the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Numb with cold her eyelids were heavy and she was feeling almost as if she was detached from her body - almost as if she was somewhere else.

The light from the fading sunset shimmering up and down rising skyscrapers. They surrounded her like heartless sentinels of Hades.

'Got to keep warm,' she thought. She flicked a lighter and held it in her palms. Her eyes fell closed.

She awoke sitting in front of a large fireplace. Stockings full of presents were hung from its sides. The warmth embraced her. Stretching her feet towards the fireplace to warm them she suddenly found herself back on the ice-cold sidewalk on Portage Avenue.

She flicked a lighter again. This time she was standing in front of a tall Christmas tree. It had hundreds of lights. It was so warm and cozy - she thought it was in a large mansion. Christmas music rose sweetly up to the high rafters of the room.

She awoke again. It was dark on the street. There was not a soul to be seen. Snow was falling gently. But it was so cold she began to shiver violently. Wrapping the blanket tightly around herself she flicked the lighter again - she was instantly transported to the living room in the great mansion, before her was a kindly looking old woman holding a tray of freshly baked cookies.

'Have a cookie and warm yourself as long as you'd like dear, said the old lady with such a kindly friendly face. The little squeegee kid was so overwhelmed - tears flowed down her face.

'People usually chase me away from their stores, and people usually don't even smile at me when I'm panhandling on the street,' the little squeegee kid told her. 'They usually avoid looking at me at all - they don't want to look me in the eye…I feel so sad. People don't want to admit I exist.'

The little squeegee kid went on to tell all her sorrows and the woman listened, and the others that had been singing in the kitchen came in and listened to her too.

She told them how frustrated she felt that people actually thought she was bad and that she must have done something wrong to be on the street. But she wasn't bad and it made her unhappy that people thought that of her.

'People don't want to admit I exist, I'm so glad you do,' she said. 'People don't realize how hard it is find work without a home or address, without enough resources for young people who are homeless…I mean real resources where kids are helped, not staffed by poverty pimps who do little really - except profit off the misery of us desperate people. Do you know that most runaways are on the street because of their parents? Most kids on the street have been abused in some way. Only a few are rebellious and bad for no reason whatsoever.'

'Did you know that when businesses bully us around and use politicians to pass by-laws against us we are then made even more desperate, and forced to do things we otherwise wouldn't do just to survive?'

The little squeegee kid let it all flow out - for the very first time. For the very first time she was actually listened to. The little squeegee kid went on to tell them about herself and others like her. The more she talked and the more she saw they were listening to her the happier she became. No adults had listened to her before and no adults had understood her, although they pretended they did sometimes.

But her newfound happiness was short-lived, because suddenly she was staring at the empty street again. The little squeegee kid shivered uncontrollably.

Hurriedly lighting the lighter again, she was transported back to the beautiful living room in the big mansion, filled with the aroma of hot chocolate and cookies. A gigantic Christmas tree was in the middle of the room and a big warm fireplace roared away.

Kittens frolicked under the tree, children played in a corner, the sound of laughter could be heard coming from a nearby room - loving relatives drank toasts.

'Don't disappear again!' The little squeegee kid yelled. 'I want to stay here! - I don't want to go back again!..'

In the harsh morning glare she sat on the sidewalk, her back against the store. A lighter was clutched in her small hand, and her eyes were open. A smile was on her face.

'She must have been trying to warm herself,' a policeman said to his partner. 'Call the coroner's office…'

'I wonder what she was looking at,' the other policeman said shaking his head.

No one knew of the beautiful vision she had seen. Neither did they know in what manner she had taken flight into the wonder of the New Year.

Originally published by Street Sheet, Canada. © www.streetnewsservice.org

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