I (Allison) am a grade eight student in the Challenge program at Calvin Park Public School. I wrote this story for a project called Challenge for Change which is meant to raise awareness for a global issue. My story is about two girls, one wealthy and one poor, who meet at a homeless shelter. Will their different backgrounds keep them apart, or bring them together?
I wake from a deep sleep in a warm, cozy feather bed. It’s Saturday morning, and I keep my eyes shut to savor the calm a little longer. The sun pours through my open window, bathing me in its glorious warm light. A sizzling sound from below tells me that Mom is hard at work preparing her wonderfully crispy bacon, which she’ll serve to us aside thick, fluffy pancakes. It’s been her Saturday breakfast tradition since before I can remember. Afterward, I might call up my friends and see if they want to go skating at the rink nestled between two groves of trees near my house. It will be a perfect day. I stretch out my legs...and my foot plunges through a hole.
My eyes flutter open and the image of the soft bed disappears from my mind, to be replaced by a poorly sewn, ten-year-old sleeping bag which Allie is crouching on. I can no longer block out the chaos of the crowded room, so I slowly get to my feet and prepare to face another day of the anguish and worry that is my life.
Actually, it turns out that the shelter isn’t as bad as it seems at first glance. Sure, it’s crowded and dirty, but it’s nice to have a warm place to sleep instead of being out in the bitter cold all night. Plus, the food’s all right, and the workers are nice. The owner, Doris, has a hard-to-understand accent, but she seems friendly and energetic. And Maria, one of the volunteers, was really sweet to me.
Who I don’t like is Maria’s daughter–I think her name’s Milli. She’s pretty and blonde and decked out in designer clothes, and from her expression it’s clear that she doesn’t want to be here, that her mom just dragged her along. I caught her staring at me once–like she thought I was weird just because my clothes are ratty and I don’t have a home or go to school. After I caught her, she didn’t turn her head in my direction once the whole afternoon. What a snob. If she had ever lost her dad she’d know how it feels to be in my shoes.
I peer around the room at the thirty or so faces, all thin and gaunt like mine. I’m relieved that Milli isn’t among them. Well, of course not–why would she want to come with her mom to the poorhouse again, and when she could be sleeping in or texting her friends for hours or any of the other things rich girls do? When I’m rolling my eyes at her snobbery, Mom’s voice rises above the chatter, calling me for breakfast.
I’m soon sitting at a table with a wobbly leg, biting into a thin, slightly bland pancake and staring out the window. But the bustling roads with cars whizzing by, driven by normal, happy people, make me feel depressed, so I turn my head and try to focus on Allie’s rapid, random chattering. I don’t understand how she can still be so talkative after all that we’ve been through, but I’m starting to see that we deal with sadness in different ways. I get super quiet, like someone took plastered a piece of duct tape over my mouth, but she rips off any existing pieces of duct tape and becomes louder than ever.
But you can listen to an eight-year-old going on about nothing for only so long, and, depressing or not, my eyes and ears soon wander back to the window. A beat-up sedan is maneuvering through the traffic, trying to make its way into our parking lot. A large stain of raspberry jam on the window in front of me blocks my view of the car’s passengers. But two figures soon emerge from the vehicle and trudge through the snow toward the front door, where Doris greets them with a wide smile and outstretched arms. The perfect head of shiny blonde hair on one of the people is ominous.
And, in just a minute, my worst suspicions are confirmed. Milli saunters into the kitchen, tossing her platinum mane as if she rules over the world–or at least us poor people. Mom and Josh know enough to shrink back in their seats, but Allie bounds up to Milli as if she’s her best friend.
Milli smiles and moves a little closer to Allie, but (and this is to be noted) hides her hands behind her back to avoid touching her. But it doesn’t matter–Allie soon jumps like a kangaroo up to Milli, burying her head in her shoulder and probably slobbering on her pink sweater. I expect Milli to shriek with disgust and drop Allie like she’s a (overly hyperactive) sack of potatoes, but she just grins and pats Allie on the back. Maybe the girl’s all right. I still don’t like her, though.
"What’s your name?" Allie demands, her stubby fingers still clasping Milli’s arm.
"I’m Milli," Milli says. "And you?"
"I’m Allie. And I’m eight years old. Are you a volunteer?"
Milli hesitates. "I suppose. I’m just here with my mom."
"You want to play?"
"Um..." Milli mumbles, chewing on her lip. "Uh, sure. Just wait a moment." She fumbles in her pocket and soon pulls out a thin, sleek cell phone. Despite myself, a rush of longing fills me. Mom had promised me I could have a cell phone on my thirteenth birthday. But of course, that never happened. Just like all the other things I always thought I would get sometime–like the chance to go to high school, a job, a normal life...
Allie apparently envies Milli too, because her eyes widen and she grabs for the phone. "Wow! What games have you got on that thing?"
"Let’s see," Milli says, scrolling through the options.
"I want that one," Allie yells, jabbing a random game.
"Sure," Milli says, "but let’s sit down first." She takes a seat at our table–who ever gave her permission to do that?–and Allie scoots onto the same chair so that she’s almost sitting on Milli’s lap. Milli lets her. Her niceness to Allie is really starting to aggravate me, for some reason. I try to ignore the happy pair, but it’s hard.
And when Allie pumps her fist in the air, shouting and almost toppling over, and Milli pulls her close to her and says "That’s awesome!", I clench my teeth. It takes me a moment to put my finger on the emotion that’s flooding through me, but then I recognize it. Jealousy.
Jealousy that Milli, the maybe-not-so-snobby girl my age, has bonded with my little sister before me. Jealousy that they are playing with the gadget I’ll probably never get to lay a single finger on. And most of all, jealousy that Allie, my little sister, who’s just as dirt-poor as me, gets to enjoy the free, joyful feeling that’s been in seriously short supply since we were evicted.
"Ignore it," my conscience is saying. "Let Allie have her moment of sunshine. She deserves it." I decide to listen to my conscience (usually my best bet) and turn my head back to the stained window, covering my head with my arms to block out the cheery laughs and shrieks from beside me.
Tune in for Chapter 4 coming soon!