It was cold outside. An icy wind blew over de River, pulling my clothes and hair. Snow flakes began to fall. The street lights made the night a dull grey. Cars passed. When they did, the silence around me became denser for a moment, denser than the wind howling and the knocking of my heart against my rib cage. Sometimes the cars passed me fast. Tires went through holes in the road filled with half-frozen water. The splashes smeared the bottom of my coat.
I kept walking. One feet after the other. The more snow fell, the deeper my feet sank into the soft white, while cold fluid seeped through my shoe seams into my socks.
From time to time my eyes were glued to the screen of a mobile phone. I clutched it tight. It was not mine. I found it. I liked it how the buttons became surrounded by blue light when I pressed the red phone button. I did now know who to call. I did not know anyone nice.
My cheeks prickled from the cold. It seemed the liquid in my eyes had condensed. I was afraid to blink too much. Perhaps my eyelashes would stick together.
Between the engtangled chain of snow flakes I saw a tall building. Light from inside fell over the sidewalk and the snow upon it. I forced one hand out of its fist and opened one door. A wall of warmth hit me in the face, nearly as hot as steam. I tried to breath normally.
There was a woman behind the counter. She nodded friendly. I strolled to a group of low benches, the ones farthest away from the entrance. Across sat an old man with a stick clasped between his legs. I tried casting him an encouraging gaze, but his watery eyes stared past me. It was possible he was looking at the fish tank behind me. Tropical fishes swam around in a tank as large as a living room. I turned my head a bit. The bright, warm colours were fascinating. Water plants waved. Small, silver-coloured fish, their backs decorated with blue stripes. A slowly moving shrimp, orange, easily the size of my head.
Time passed. Minutes. Hours. The fizzing of my limps kept me awake. If I fell asleep, I might never wake again. The amount of people walking in decreased. After a long time the woman behind the counter switched places with another one. The new one had haughty eyes, finding me in the waiting room. In my hands lay the mobile phone. My fingers were not blue or deep red anymore. In the right corner of the phone`s screen the time was displayed, in straight, black digits.
Footsteps approached me, fast and briskly.
‘Excuse me, young lady, but the hospital is no place for the homeless.’
I lifted my head. Tried to raise some pity. But the woman was inexorable.
The woman also talked to the old man. He gave no respons. She shook his shoulder. I left my seat. The moment I pushed the door, the old man rolled on his side. The woman shouted for a doctor.
I hid my chin as deep as possible in the folds of my sjawl. A biting wind clawed open every piece of bare skin on me. Though the wind seemed milder than hours ago. A few blocks down the street I walked into a dead alley. In the far corner behind some trash cans, I sunk against a wall. My back already was so cold I did not feel the cold of the bricks through my coat.
I found courage to send a text.
‘hello’ I started typing, but I deleted it because I did not sound very orignal.
Far off I heard bells chime. Very soon the morning service would start. Perhaps I could attend. It would be warm, they would serve bread and wine and, if I was lucky, free tea and cake afterwards. But first I would finish the text.
‘hi i am yulia i am 14’. Pressing the buttons was harder than I had imagined. I repeatedly forgot to wait for the cursor be done with his blinking and I did not now where to find dots and comma`s. My finger joints felt stiffened and painful, but I clenched my teeth and went on. ‘i ran from the orphanage mr wilson watches when i undress’.
The wind had died, it seemed. Warmth, so joyful that I stopped typing the text for a few seconds, gushed through my ribcage and further, all the way to the tips of my toes.
A hand suddenly laid on my shoulder.
‘Hey Yulia’, a gentle voice said.
I looked up. A girl stood in front of me. She had dark brown hair and wore a white coat that looked like soft carpet. The bright blue of her eyes studied me. Then the girl smiled.
‘Please, follow me’, she said.
The text was not finished yet. I saved it as ‘no-name’ in the conceptbox of the mobile phone.
The girl stretched out her arm to me. And her other arm.
I could not grab them without letting go of the phone. I let it slip next to one of the trash cans. It now calmly rested on a small heap of snow.
My hands touched the girls`. She led me to a rusty flight of stairs, hanging on the other wall of the alley. She placed one feet on the first step, her other foot on the second one and pulled me with her, upstairs, out of the cold slush that numbed my feet. Some hinges above us creaked mechanically. I heard the bells chime louder.
The girl smiled again, her eyes inviting me to follow.
One last time I looked over my shoulder and saw greyish snow, cardboard boxes piled up, the trash cans filled with black, plastic bags, and the mobile phone. The blue light shining from behind the buttons was off. But the red phone button shimmered slightly, indicating the phone was still on.
I continued ascending the stairs.
This story has originally been written in Dutch and was published in a volume of short stories by different authors.