The temperature simply would not make up its mind. Not quite freezing and yet warm enough to be a threat. The rain fell relentlessly and the water seemed heavy. Like it wanted to freeze and couldn’t quite get there. Hovering at the freezing level like it was made Yussel think about what the degree was actually. He kept thinking that 273˚ seemed right but that never showed up on the sign at the bank across the street. All it would show was 0˚ or 33˚. That confused him just as it did in science class in school. He never could make sense of a lot that the teacher told him, but he remembered some things. He wished he learned more before the state school told him he had to get out because he was too old. They did not like having to feed him once he got big.
Pushing the shopping cart up under the bridge Yussel looked at the girl riding in it. Ekanta looked into the kind eyes of the man who pushed the cart and smiled. She looked at her swollen belly and wondered how that had happened. She did not understand the word “pregnant” that the doctor at the clinic had used. She did not remember doing anything that would cause her to be so fat. There was a movement inside her that sometimes hurt and sometimes felt good…in a special way.
It was all a mystery to her. How she got here under this bridge, and why her father had not come to get her. All she remembered was getting off the large boat and getting lost in the crowd. That was months ago and she could not figure out why anyone would want to come to this awful country. Home was not that bad and she knew people there. Everyone spoke the same language, not like this Amer-a-ka. No one could understand her and the big man she met under the bridge was nice most of the time but he seemed a little bit, well, confused. Oh, Papa! Please come and get me!
Under the bridge was dry, and with the barrel of burning scrap wood going, it almost seemed warm. There were a whole crowd of animals that had found their way to the campsite. Yussel had a liking for small animals. Dogs and cats mostly, but a few birds and some rabbits made up the biggest part of the crowd. A man pulled up in a van the other night and let about a dozen monkeys and hamsters loose. Every day he would share some of the food he had scrounged for them with the animals and the herd seemed to behave according to the way the big man directed. They circled the cart when it came under the bridge and playfully ran around the big man and jumped in the air to catch the treats he threw. In his scrounging that day he had found a large bag of dried dog food, and several boxes of animal treats. Everyone would get a good meal that night.
They had been staying at the mission about a mile away since the weather had gotten cold, but the last four nights they did not make it there in time to get beds. The colder the weather the more people showed up to get out of it. All they could get the last four days was a couple of blankets and some soup in a cup. Fortunately, there were different people handing out blankets so they had gathered enough to beat back some of the cold.
There had been some sheet metal like they used to make portable buildings in the trash at the lumberyard down the road and Yussel had brought some back and built a three sided building to help the girl get out of the weather. He propped it up with some pieces of pipe and strapped it together with plastic ties and twine he’d scavenged from a construction site. He could have been working there but did not like the way the other workers made fun of him. After the state school he worked for a man that built houses and learned how to work with his hands. There was always, sadly, someone that would call him stupid or retarded and it made him mad. He was not stupid, or retarded. It just took him a little while to understand some things. He was plenty smart. He took care of this little girl after he found her being messed with by those pimps on the stroll. She did not even know what they wanted from her. Yussel knew what they were trying to do, and made them leave her alone. When he got mad, most people ran away from him. Ekanta never felt scared around him. He was the only person who made her feel safe. Him and Papa, but Papa was nowhere to be found.
Ekanta moaned softly and the big man reached into the cart and picked her up. He laid her in the shelter, and he realized that she had wet herself. He got some paper towels out of the cart that were not too dirty and gave it to her to clean herself. She sat up and, suddenly. screamed and held her belly. Breathing hard she implored Yussel to get her some help, but he could not understand her words.
D-jack, the junkie that sometimes stayed under the bridge with them came up to the shed and, after looking at Ekanta, told the big man that she needed a doctor. She was going to have a baby and it looked like it might be soon. He told Yussel what to do, and that he would go and get help.
The baby came about midnight. It seemed funny to Yussel that the animals did not scatter when the girl screamed. They just sat or lay at the entrance to the little building as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The child did not cry or make any fuss. After cleaning him, Ekanta held him and both her and the child smiled at the big man washing the blood off his arms. He smiled back, and went to get them all something to eat.
Standing up from the building Yussel turned to find three men, a cop, a small Indian man holding a picture of a young girl, and D-jack. The junkie explained to the cop about the big man and the girl. The small Indian man slowly peered into the makeshift building and began to cry. Ekanta saw the man and also began to cry, “Papa!” she cried. The cop got on his handheld radio and called for an ambulance.
The street light, which had been burnt out for weeks, suddenly came on and shined brighter than the few other lights on the street. The folks under the bridge, astonished, stared at it in amazement. All of a sudden it began to glimmer and sparkle. From time to time it would flare bright similar to the way traffic signals do after midnight. As the paramedics were loading the girl and the baby into the ambulance they told the cop that if not for the light, they might have drove on. Like a bright star in the sky…it was how they found the spot.