A brutal cold struck against the people huddled at the bus stop, lashing their skin and piercing the threads of their clothing. Just after the bus pulled up, Miriam among them reached for the slick metal handrail and pulled herself up onto the bottom step. Someone pushed her from behind, but not to be helpful. She eased her weighty body into the slurry of people just before the bus moved away.
The air thick with soot and snow coated the windows barely visible in the slivers between the passengers. Oil from last night’s lamp still coated Miriam’s fingertips making it hard for her to hold on to the railing. The bus navigated the bumpy road to the backwater neighborhood where she now lived. The vehicle’s motion tossed her from side to side until she slid into one man, then slammed abruptly against a woman. She murmured a low apology. The muffled thump of a heart softly beat against her own.
At the end of the line, a scattering of collapsing buildings, hills of rubble, and muted light through broken glass welcomed the bus as it disgorged its passengers. A figure in tattered clothes paused to help Miriam step down and then dissolved into the void. Miriam had no coat and only thin layer over thin layer—sweater over sweater under a hooded sweatshirt—protected her from the harsh winds outside. A frayed knit cap over her tangle of curls, the color of night, held the warmth close.
Miriam looked over to see another woman as round as she was ambling slowly, a bag slung over one shoulder.
In this neighborhood, only a few of those born will live through the routine rain of metal and the clawing of hunger, the crunch of small bones, and the bad fortune of being born too small and undeveloped. The survivors will find their ways to a prison cell, or will only leave the confines of a tiny apartment to collect cans along the street to trade for something to eat, or will find moments of comfort in unknown arms and a breath that takes them to an altered state. Only a few will walk the cracked street to its end to find their way to a fate better or worse.
The snow covered the brutally treated fruits of the day’s harvest, those who would not rise again. As she passed, Miriam placed her hand on her belly to still its inhabitant, the owner of the steady beating heart that thrummed against her own.
Reaching the open door of a building a few blocks away, Miriam found the steps and concentrated as she climbed each one, putting out of her mind that there were six flights to ascend. She did not allow herself to worry that she was alone, that someone with evil intent would follow her or wait for her at the top of the stairs, or that the building’s owner might find her there amidst the squatters huddled in each room for warmth.
As Miriam climbed, she softly sang a song of a woman who came before her: The one who makes poor and rich raises up the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.
Miriam reached the top step. The floor groaned as she moved into the hallway. A rectangle of gray light bled into the corridor from a door ajar and a shadow preceded a figure into the hallway from the open room. The gangly figure made its way toward her and she hesitated, waiting for her eyes to adjust. The rhythm deep inside of her slowed. Jose in a threadbare sweater took her into an embrace, pulled her close to him and did not say a word. A moment passed and he took her hand to lead her to a safer place.