H O W A R D   U N I V E R S I T Y

Faces & Voices 5
An Anthology
of Verse and Prose

the Composition
for Honours Class,
Howard University,

E. R. B

Faces & Voices 4


Second Chance
By Juneisha Burrowes

My name is Rita McDyer and for thirty-five years I have lived in convenient locations where the nearest bus-stop was across the street and the grocery store was just around the comer. I raised my three daughters alone, from my humble abode outside Big Al's Chinese store on Fifth and North West. Our furnishings which were quite minimal, simply compromised the rat-bitten brown and yellow sponge that Maggie, my youngest, found in the dumpster back when she was three, and an erstwhile,wooden, grey box. We were all housed under the remains of cardboard boxes graciously donated once a month by our next door neighbor, Big Al.

It is not easy being homeless. Have you ever had the feeling of worthlessness where you feel as though life has robbed you of basic respect from society? Have the deep pangs of inequality and injustice entered your soul, to the point that you doubt your worthiness as a member of the human race? If not, this state of being is simply incomprehensible to you. I ran away from home where violent abuse was the order of the day, at the tender age of sixteen. I worked incessantly, in and out of jobs, in order to gain skills -the very skills that would supposedly lead me away from the clutches of daily exploitation. During this time, I met my Prince Charming who convinced me daily, before moving away, that his beatings were signs of his increasing love for me. I must thank him though, for the gift of three loving daughters, all of whom refuse to judge me because of their status at the very bottom of the social-hierarchal structure. For ten years I had volunteered with various Youth Organizations that provided me with a stipend barely sufficient to give my family their daily dose of nutrients and the clothes on our backs.

I must say that pride is a hell of a thing! My ego prevented me all these years from seeking help. They say that everybody needs assistance at some point and this is a fact that I denied despite the surreptitious feelings of desperation, sprouting from the very core of my being. Then, one day, December ninth, the day that my eldest daughter looked me in the eyes and told me that she wanted to quit school, I felt a cascade of emotions as I realized my failure as a parent. It was at that point that I decided that I must seize control of my life and make firm decisions to save my daughters from pain in theirs. I resolved to interview for a scholarship that would put me through Trade School. After all, to get a well paid job, off the streets that is, I had to acquire the knowledge and the skills. Two weeks after that fateful day, on one cold December morning, I received a call stating that I was indeed eligible and the chosen recipient of the scholarship. I was instructed to go to the Awards Committee Office downtown to collect my check.

Six months after being in Trade School, I got a permanent job as a Technical Director of a new school's Technical Implementation Project. I was competent enough to rent an apartment, get my family off the streets and feed and clothe us. One day, on my way home from work, I noticed that there were four people at the bus stop when I arrived; a slim, greying woman, quietly self-contained in a neat business suit; a young couple, hardly more than teenagers, who tentatively held hands as though not yet quite accustomed to the experience of togetherness; and a schoolboy, slightly bent forward under the weight of a bulging backpack, who made cracking noises with his chewing-gum and complained to no one in particular about the cold weather and the irritating tardiness of the Metrobus system. From time to time, he would step into the street, and scan the direction from which the bus would arrive and audibly express his displeasure in language coarse enough to be offensive whether or not that was his intent.
'You got the time?' he addressed me. The mere fact that I was addressed, not snubbed, but addressed by someone, was enough to bring tears to my eyes. It was, believe it or not, the first time in my life that I was treated like a human being worthy of being 'addressed'. Never in my life, though trite it may seem, had I experienced such untrammeled euphoria. You see, these are all things that some take for granted, but, I was never able to approach a group of persons without being laughed at or scorned. However, these people at the bus stop did not even recognize my presence as different. For once, I was normal- just like them.
Happiness is not a destination but rather it is a journey. My family and I may still have a long way to travel where this is concerned, nevertheless, we are striving daily to improve our situations and maintain our destinies.

      Her heart raced as she briskly walked through the lonely, sparsely lit parking lot. She was caught yet again working late. Usually this would not bother her, since she adored her job. Inside those walls was the only place she felt secure, but outside, where she was forced to face the harsh realities of her life, was where the trouble emerged.
      For a long time in their relationship, Isabel and Brandon were having problems. They hardly agreed on anything. At first, she jocularly commented to her friends that opposites attract. Besides, hadn't they seen his body? But after a while, the joke grew stale and so did their relationship. Isabel decided that she wanted out…
      One night, after gathering much courage, she sat Brandon down and tried explaining how she felt. He was the dominating type, and this, coupled with his short-tempered demeanor, resulted in countless arguments with so many people, especially Isabel. Brandon grew up tough. How could he not? His mother was an addict and his father, abusive. No one knows who started first, but in the end, Brandon ran away, but not before the incidents he witnessed through his parents took a toll on his life. It groomed him to become cold and cynical. His outlook on life was as bleak as his past. Isabel represented the only ray of happiness in his life. And then, it was all over. His own inamorata betrayed him. He could not let her do that. He could not let her go. Isabel walked out on Brandon on that wintry night. It was at that point that he snapped…
      After issuing a restraining order because of his endless midnight calls and untimely visits, Isabel's life was finally falling back into place. The whole ordeal had been tormenting her for almost a year now. The restraining order had stopped Brandon's neurotic behavior until about a week ago.
      Every morning at about three o'clock the phone would ring and whenever Isabel answered it, she would routinely hear heavy breathing and then dial tone. She knew it was Brandon. No one else could be as scary to her. She notified the authorities and they assured her that some sort of action would be taken. They were right…
      While walking through the parking lot, she felt somewhat anxious and perturbed because not long ago she had received a call not unlike the 'anonymous' ones she had been receiving all week prior, except that this time a voice followed the heavy breaths. 
      “I thought you loved me. How could you just turn your back on what we have? You can still have another chance though. We can be together Issy. We will always be together. I’ll take care of you. I won’t let you go.” 
With that, Isabel slammed the phone down.
      Now, replaying that incident in her mind, she wondered if she had made the right decision to leave the building and walk to her car alone. Well, I’m almost there. What could possibly happen in such a short time frame? No sooner had she thought this, than she saw a shadow, but before she could turn around, or better yet, run away, she felt an object hit her in the small of her back.
      She fell to the ground with a loud thud. Surprise, succeeded by pain, then fear; the emotions flooded her mind and flowed through her body. She tried to move, but could not. Not only because of the sharp, throbbing pain from the blow, but also because her attacker was sitting on her back and pinning her down. She screamed out but it was muffled by a hand over her mouth. In all her life she had never felt so afraid, so alone, so helpless. 
      As she lay there, face pressed to the ground, she could see what he used to strike her. A pipe?! she thought, more surprised than anything else. He started whispering to her.
      “I told you I won’t let you leave me. You can’t hide behind the police. I told you that no one else can have you!” he rasped. “ You know you love me!” 
with each sentence, her face was pressed harder onto the concrete as if he thought it would bend to accommodate her. She was afraid but also tired of it all. So mentally and physically exhausted of it. All she could say was 
      “I don’t love you.”
That was all it took.
      She was turned over on her back with much force, but by then Isabel was numb. She stared deep into his eyes, but could find nothing. He was crying but it meant nothing. She just looked at Brandon and at what he had become. 
      Again he sat on her body and stared at her, his sobs growing louder. It was as if he was having an epiphany.
      “You don’t love me,” he said somberly.
Isabel said nothing. She just lay there, staring at him, pitying him. Then she felt his hands wrap around her neck. With eyes fixated on her, Brandon squeezed her neck hard. Isabel started to panic and she looked frantically around to find the pipe; but it was beyond her reach. She knew from looking into his eyes, that there was no returning for him… or her. She vaguely heard sirens in the distance, but she knew she could not make it. For her it was too late. Isabel’s only regret was that the last thing she saw was going to be him. She began to pray, then everything went black….
      When the police arrived, Brandon was found holding Isabel in his arms, rocking her. 
“Shh, she’s sleeping.”
He whispered, with tears streaming down his face. 
“We don’t need you. I’m taking care of her now.”

© 2001 Juneisha Burrowes

© 2001 Howard University.
(First Published in limited print edition, An Anthology of Verse and Prose, by the Composition for Honours Class, Howard University, Spring 2001. Professor E.R. Braithwaite)
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