“Zoey, what are you doing here?”
“I needed to see you. Please, may I come in?”
He sighed heavily. “All right, come in.”
She went inside and after he shut the door, he faced her. He leaned against it, arms folded, looking down at her. She looked so young and reminded him of a waif. He met her a year and a half ago on the streets, dirty, thin and hungry. Her thick long, red hair tumbled in a messy waves about her shoulders, framing her pale, freckly face with those big eyes with their unusual color
Moved by compassion, he stopped and talked to her. At first she was wary of him but he spoke kindly to her, bought her a sandwich and hot chocolate from Starbucks and stayed with her. When she was comfortable with him, she told him her story.
She was eighteen and lived with her mother and step-father. Her step-father was an abusive man. He beat her mother. When Zoey asked her she allowed him to do that to her and why didn’t she kick him out or have him arrested for assault, the reply was, “He’s my husband. I can’t kick him out. Where would he go? And I don’t want the police showing up here. What will the neighbors think?” So, the abuse continued.
He mistreated Zoey, calling her an ugly duckling who would never grow up to be a beautiful swan. Zoey hated him and wished that something bad would happen to him. When she didn’t get her wish and things got worse, she grabbed her belongings and the money she had saved from summer jobs and left. She had no where to go. The rest of the family was in Europe. She found herself wandering the streets, trying to survive as best as she could. It was especially hard when the weather started to get cold. She put cardboard under her to create a layer of insulation between the cold ground and her. And she covered herself with her blanket.
It was hard sleeping at night because she was always mindful that there was danger. Whenever she felt afraid, she would pray. One night, she prayed and asked God to help her. She didn’t want to be on the streets anymore. She wanted to be somewhere safe. The very next day, a handsome stranger approached her. He gave her a roasted chicken sandwich and hot chocolate and asked her questions. After she shared her story with him, he offered to take her to a homeless shelter which was within walking distance from where they were. That was when she realized that God had answered her prayer. After she finished eating the sandwich and drinking the hot chocolate, he took her to the shelter.
It turned out to be a Christian youth shelter. And the woman, Jenna whom the stranger introduced her to was very nice. All Zoey had to do was to show a government issued ID. She was thankful that she had a place to stay for a while. She was looking forward to sleeping in a bed, taking shower and having regular meals again. She turned to the stranger, her eyes filled with tears of gratitude. “Thank you for your kindness.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome, Zoey. I will stop by on Friday to see how you’re doing.”
She looked forward to seeing him again. “What is your name?” she asked him.
“Elijah, like the prophet.”
She was sorry to see him go but Friday was just a few days away. After he left, Jenna took her on a quick tour before helping her to settle in. It was a nice place. She soon made friends with the other youth. Over the next few days, she found out that Elijah’s church hosted regular donation drives and that at the beginning of each month, he himself dropped non-perishable food items, water, toiletries, and other miscellaneous items such as hand sanitizer. His sister, Annette was one of the case managers at the shelter. He asked her to do him a favor and be the case manager for Zoey. She agreed.
True to his promise, after leaving his office, he went directly to the shelter. She was so excited to see him. She told him how happy she was there at the shelter and how everyone was so kind. She told him about the other young people whom she had befriended and how she liked talking to Annette, her case manager. Together they had been working to determine Zoey’s specific needs and develop goals and plans for her to be independent. She was very keen on attending workshops and learning various skills. She was also undergoing counseling because of her family background–the abuse from her step-father.
“I called my mother to tell her that I’m all right. I told her that I was staying at a shelter but I didn’t mention where it was. And she started crying. She said that she thought I was dead.”
“It’s good that you called her.”
“When she stopped crying, she told me that my step-father left her for another woman. I’m not sorry that he’s gone. She’s better off without him.”
They talked for a while longer and then he left, promising to visit again the following Friday. They saw each other every Friday while she was at the shelter. After she left, she moved back in with her mother while holding down a job at a call centre. Her mother got a new job at a manufacturing company and was earning good money. Zoey and Elijah kept in touch. They met for hot chocolate at Starbucks once a week in the evenings after work.
Zoey told her mother about Elijah and she told her to invite him for dinner on Saturday evening. Zoey’s mother took an immediate liking to him. She couldn’t stop thanking him for all he had done for her daughter. “I was so scared that something had happened to her. I blamed myself for her running away. If I hadn’t married that monster, Zoey would have still been at home. I’m glad he left. If he ever shows his face here again, I will call the police on him. I’m so ashamed of myself for allowing the physical and verbal abuse to go on for as long as it did…” She got choked up.
Zoey reached out and gently squeezed her hand. “Let’s not talk about it any more, Mom. Let’s just be thankful that he’s out of our lives and that everything is all right now.”
“Yes, Honey. Let’s put the ugly past behind us and look to a bright future which this handsome young man will be a part of.”
After Elijah left and Zoey and her mother were in the kitchen, cleaning up, the other woman remarked, “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
Zoey didn’t bother to deny it. “Yes,” she said. “Do you mind?”
“Why would I mind?”
“Well, he’s different.”
“You mean he’s African American. That doesn’t matter to me. It’s what’s inside that counts. And from what I can see, he’s a really terrific guy. If it hadn’t been for him, I hate to even think of what could have happened to you.”
“He was God’s answer to my prayers.”
“I wish I had your strong faith.”
“You can pray and ask God for faith, you know.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Mom, I don’t know if Elijah could feel the same way about me.”
“Why not? Because you’re white?”
“I don’t think my race matters to him but my age might.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s just eight years older, Honey. That’s not a big deal.”
“It might be for him.”
“Why don’t you go and see him tomorrow and find out where you stand?”
“What if he doesn’t feel the same way?”
“Then, you will have to accept that and move on. It wouldn’t be easy because he is your first love but it will get better as time goes by.”
“All right. I’ll go and see him tomorrow.”
“Good. Now, let’s finish cleaning up and then we can watch a movie or something.”
And here she was now, facing him, her heart pounding and her body stiff with dread of what the outcome might be. “I–I know that I’m not pretty or African American or–“
“Where’s this coming from.”
“Please let me say what I have to say before I lose my nerve. I know that I’m not pretty or African American or older. What I’m trying to say, Elijah, is–is that I love you and I hope that in spite of these things, you could feel the same way about me.”
For a moment, he just stood there staring at her. His heart was racing too and his arms were no longer folded but at his sides. He could tell that she was in love with him. It was written all over her face. “How could you say that you aren’t pretty? I think you are. And it doesn’t matter to me that you’re not African American like me. God made you one color and He made me another. God who is love expresses that love in different shades. And in His eyes, we are all beautiful.”
His words touched her heart. “And He made me with these freckles.”
“Yes, He did and they add to your beauty.”
He thought she was beautiful. The realization filled her heart with unspeakable joy. “I never liked them. I always thought they made me look like a spotted dog.”
“They are one of the many things I love about you.”
Her breath caught in her throat. “You–you love me?”
“Yes. I do, but your age…”
“I’m only eight years younger than you.”
“Yes, but you look much younger. You look like you’re still in your teens.”
“I know I look young for my age but don’t let that be the reason why you and I can’t be together. Please, Elijah.”
“Does your mother know how you feel about me?”
“Yes. She asked me about it last night after you left and I admitted it.”
“And what was her reaction?”
“It was she who told me to come over here today and tell you how I feel. She doesn’t have any problem with this.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes, Elijah. I’m a hundred percent sure.”
“All right, Zoey.” He reached for her hands and pulled her towards him. Their eyes met for several minutes before he leaned down and kissed her.
Love sees color and embraces it and looks it in the eye and says, “You are precious, just the way you are… You’re beautiful because you’re the way you are, not in spite of it – Adriel Booker