Jophi stopped at a city chapel later that evening after a long, fruitless search. The chapel sat between two tall buildings, with a narrow alley on either side. It was much like the one her and her father used to attend. Hoping to rest here for the night, she tried the front door. Locked. She walked around to the rear of the chapel. The cemetery grew dark in the fading light of day, sending chills down her arms. Jophi tried the back door. Also locked. Jophi slammed her fist against the door. Rats!
She pulled off her backpack and took out the sandwich she’d bought earlier. While she ate, Jophi thought about the ten dollar bill stuffed in her pocket. The only money she had left.
Swallowing the last bite of her sandwich, she turned abruptly at strange sounds coming from the other side of the church. Voices bounced off the brick walls, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She peered around the corner to her right. Two teenage boys towered over a younger boy. One boy, wearing a dirty, blue t-shirt, had his victim pinned against the wall of the church, gripping the young boy’s shirt with both hands. The other, wearing a leather jacket, stood off to the side, curling his hand into a fist. “Pay up, kid.”
“I told you, I don’t have anything!” Blood oozed from a cut on his lip, and his eye looked black and swollen. “Please let me go.”
“Have it your way.” The first teen stepped aside. The other boy pulled a knife out of his pocket and stepped towards the boy.
“No!” Jophi ran to the young boy, blocking his body with hers.
The kid with the knife sneered. “Get out of the way, blondie. This doesn’t concern you.”
“No, I won’t. Why are you attacking him?”
The first boy stepped forward, his hands stuffed in his pockets. “He borrowed some money off us a ways back.” He shrugged. “We’re simply collecting a debt.”
Jophi looked back at the small, thin boy. He couldn’t be more than ten years old. Wearing nothing but rags, the look in his eyes told her that he, too, was all alone.
She returned her attention to the two bullies again. “How much does he owe you?”
They exchanged glances with each other. The first one smirked. “A hundred bucks.”
Jophi pulled the ten dollar bill out of her pocket and extended it to them. “This is all the money I have to offer.”
He snatched the bill from her hands. “That’s only ten bucks, lady. What else you got?”
Jophi hesitated. She had her locket. It was the only thing of value that she hadn’t sold. She reached under her shirt collar and gripped the locket, pulling it over her head. She knew the pain of being alone and couldn’t imagine having to deal with that pain so young.
She offered the locket to the teens. “This should fetch you about fifty bucks or so at any pawn shop. This and the ten dollars are truly all I have.”
With a smirk he yanked the necklace out of her hand. Both boys fled the scene, their laughs echoing behind them.
Jophi turned around, but the boy was gone. “Hey, where’d you go?” She searched up and down the alley, behind boxes, dumpsters, even in the dumpsters, but he there was no sign of him.
Shaking her head she walked back to her spot behind the church. The sun had set, leaving the whole area in darkness. It was too late to go back to the apartment, but sleeping next to a cemetery made her nervous. She pulled out her blanket and pressed herself as close to the church wall as possible. Sleep wouldn’t be easy, but she had to try.
Jophi woke the following morning stiff and sore. The pain of her father’s death hit her like a knife in her soul. How was she going to do this without him? He promised her she wouldn’t be alone, but she was. Alone, hungry, and broke.
Fighting back tears, Jophi stood and stuffed the blanket back in her bag. She pressed her hand against her rumbling stomach, hoping to silence it’s demand for food.
As the sun rose, she looked out over the small cemetery, seeing for the first time the sorry state it had been left in. Weeds covered many of the graves and some of the headstones had lost their anchoring in the ground. A few lay face down, while others faced upwards, as though reminding Heaven who was buried here.
Jophi spent the next half hour or so clearing up the overgrown weeds and righting the tombstones. Once she was done, she picked up her bag and left to continue her search for employment.
“That was a nice thing you did back there.”
Jophi spun. The man behind her was about her age, maybe a little older. He was thin and wore a gray hoodie with black jeans. He adjusted the rectangular glasses on his face, but remained silent.
“Excuse me?” Jophi said.
The man cleared his throat. “That was nice…what you did back at the cemetery.”
“Oh.” Jophi shrugged. “I was just doing what I’d hope someone might do for my father’s grave one day.”
“Still, it was very thoughtful.” He took a step toward her. Jophi stepped back. The man chuckled. “I’m sorry. I know how incredibly suspicious this must seem, my talking to you.”
“Perhaps.” Jophi turned her back to him and continued walking, acutely aware that he was following her. A few minutes later she stopped. “You know, following me is only going to enhance my suspicions.”
“True. But maybe I’m just simply going in the same direction? And if that’s the case, perhaps it may benefit us both if we traveled together.”
Jophi turned to face him. “Travel with a strange man in the middle of a city? You must be crazy.”
He smirked. “I’ve been accused of that once or twice. But I could also be just as lonely as you seem to be.”
Stuffing her hands in her pockets, Jophi looked away. After a few awkward moments the man spoke again.
“Tell you what. Give me . . . thirty minutes. If, after that, you decide I still creep you out, I’ll leave you alone for good. Deal?”
Jophi curled her thumbs behind her backpack straps and watched the strange man. He stood silent. She studied his face. He seemed sincere, but what if he didn’t hold up his end of the deal? What if he wouldn’t leave if she asked? Her hand instinctively flew to where her locket used to be, and the sadness in her soul deepened. It would be good to have a companion, even if only briefly. She would just have to take the risk and trust God to protect her.
Jophi took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Okay. It’s a deal.”
“Great!” He jogged up to her, a wide grin on his face. “My name is Ven, by the way.”
“I’m Jophi.” She resumed her course, while her travelling companion fell in step beside her.
To be continued…HERE
Read part one HERE.