He sat on the train with the trolley sitting across his leg and on the seat beside him. So far he’d been able to avoid the judgmental eyes of the nosy older women, but he couldn’t ignore their snide remarks. At this hour of the day, they seemed to be the only passengers, so he wasn’t even able to leave the carriage for greener pastures.
“Why isn’t he at school?”
“How old is he anyway? He looks like he just started high school.”
He cast his eyes down to his knees. I’m fifteen! – he wanted to shout.
His tattered shoes stared back at him – a reminder of his current predicament. If it hadn’t been for his best friend, he wouldn’t even have clean clothes.
He heard his stop on the speakers and made his move to leave.
“Go to school!” a voice screamed from inside the carriage.
He balled his hands up around the trolley handles until the whites of his knuckles were exposed. Taking a deep breath, he exited the train and pushed back his tears. As the door closed, he stood still to watch the train speed off to its next destination.
He sniffed the moisture back before starting his descent from the platform to the street.
He wouldn’t have to walk for long; she lived right by the station. In fact, her whole apartment space shook every 20 minutes.
He stood at her door, smile spread puffing out his cheeks and revealing the dimples that she used to love. He’d prove to her today that he should be in her life.
Cries echoed from the other side of the door. The sound pierced the walls of the complex, and he wondered if any neighbors had complained yet. The baby had some lungs.
He knocked and waited and waited some more.
When the door opened, a disheveled girl stared back at him. The baby continued to scream in the crib on the other side of the room.
“Are you going to help her?” he asked, worried.
“No,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”
“I… bought you a gift,” he said. “For our daughter.”
“Your dad kicked you out. You’re homeless,” she said with no hint of concern, “How could you afford a stroller?”
“I busked,” he admitted. “Then I sold my guitar.”
“So you think this means you’re a Dad now?”
He bowed his head, “I am a Dad.”
She gave a derisive sniff, “Good for you.”
She snatched the stroller from his hands without a word of thanks and disappeared around the corner. He stood in the doorway, chatting between long silences while she ducked in and out of the room. “Maybe we can go for walks together.” “I’m almost old enough to work. I’ll get a job.” “My friends think they can get me another guitar.”
She ignored him, but when she put the baby into the carriage and grabbed the diaper bag, his spirits rose.
She pushed the carriage to the door. Laden with toys and clothes and bags, it moved slowly.
“Here, Daddy. You can have her.”
There was a wildness in her eyes – a flicker of mania.
“For the afternoon?”
“Forever. I’m done.”
She pushed the carriage out the door. He scrambled to get in front of it to stop her from falling out.
“What are you doing?” he cried.
A slammed door was his only answer.
As his daughter wailed, he looked at her. Her tiny hands, her black hair, and dark skin reminded him of his mother. She was perfect. He lifted her out of the carriage and held her head as he had seen in the movies. With water filling his eyes, he cradled his daughter.
“What now?” he sighed.