THE DREAM by Eve Gaal
Yesterday’s rain soaked into the grass. Mottled sunshine flooded the hazy air with something stronger than plain old warmth. Unlike other days, he felt something deep inside his weary, over-heated bones. It consisted of something mysterious that melted the memory of the previous evening under the freeway overpass, taking away the chill, replacing it with hope.
Though aware of his dirty, disheveled appearance he vowed to make an effort by talking to the first person he’d meet. It was either New Year’s Day or maybe a few days around that time. The last newspaper he read had a soaked front page but he remembered a New Year’s Day Sale advertised on the back of the classified section. He didn’t have a watch but he remembered revelers making noise after the rain stopped. Today, he hoped for a miracle and the first person he came across was a little girl wearing a plaid jumper and patent leather shoes. Shoot, he thought, worried he would scare her away. The resolution he had made, the rainbows and his newfound determination pushed him cross the street with a small wave and a bold question.
“Hello. What’s in that big bag, little girl?”
She stopped and found a dry spot near the curb to set down a heavy looking, brown paper bag. The dusty, unkempt man stood in front of her but she couldn’t run with the loaded sack. Out of breath, she inhaled, looked at his grizzled face before placing both hands on her hips, exactly like her mother did when commanding attention. With a slight tremor in her squeaky voice she said, “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Get away.”
“I promise I won’t hurt you. Do I look scary?”
The little girl looked him over, shrugged and finally replied. “Guess not, but I’m still not supposed to talk to strangers and you’re a stranger.”
“Okay, but I just wanted to know what’s in your bag. It looks full of things. Maybe you have something in there for me. You see I lost my job and I’m kind of-- hungry.”
“It’s not food,” the little girl replied, hoisting the bag off the curb. “Goodbye.”
“Wait. Can’t you even tell me what’s inside?”
“No. My grandmother gave me this bag full of stuff.” She turned to walk away, but the man moved closer. “Leave me alone. It’s mine.”
“Can I please take a peek? You made me curious.”
“It’s not food!” She repeated, lugging the heavy bag down the sidewalk. “Go away. I am not supposed to talk to you!”
“But you said I’m not scary.” The man stopped in front of the girl, took off his hat and made a sad, pitiful face. “Remember?”
“Yeah, but if you don’t go away I have to tell my mom.”
The man returned the hat to his balding head. “Bye. Hope all your dreams come true.” He stepped aside and began to walk away. Maybe he’d have to talk to someone else about his future.
The little girl stopped in her tracks. Dreams? How in the world did this man know what she had inside the bag? “Wait, wait, wait. What do you know about my grandmother’s dreams?” She pulled the bag closer, making sure the top folded over so he couldn’t see inside. Maybe he was a magic man.
He turned back and pointed to her bag. “I don’t know you little girl, or your grandmother and I certainly don’t know about her dreams,” he said impatiently. “I just thought you might have a snack to share with an old homeless fellow. That’s all.”
“You’re not old,” she declared, still sounding somewhat bossy. “I know old people when I see them. They walk funny-- have short tempers--and false teeth. Grandma’s old but you’re not. Grandma said she’s too old to start over but you can do anything.”
The man smiled and watched her sit down on the curb.
“Bye now,” she said, waving goodbye. Magic or not, she didn’t want him following her home. When he sat down next to her, she wondered if she should run away, leaving the bag behind.
“So what’s the big secret?” He asked mildly.
“What do you mean?” She asked, looking at the cumulous clouds. It was late in the afternoon and she needed to get home. Grandma’s house was a short two blocks to her own home and they knew exactly how long it took to get there. If she strayed off course, either her mother or grandmother would be searching all over the neighborhood. Grandma had strict rules about something called lollygagging. Maybe if she ignored the man he’d disappear.
Up above, she noticed a cloud that looked like a long-eared dog riding a bicycle. Another cloud reminded her of fish jumping out of a pond. These were very big fish with large poufy scales.
“I know it’s none of my business but I just wondered what you were schlepping around in your bag. That’s all.” The man could tell the little girl wanted him to go away but it felt good talking to someone innocent. She seemed fearless because she had never foraged for food by day and didn’t need to search for shelter at night.
Distracted by the clouds and enjoying the afternoon sun made the child forget about safeguarding her sack. “It’s just stuff. Grandma said it was a bag of dreams.”
The man’s eyes twinkled like candles but the little girl continued to stare at the sky. “Her dreams?”
“Yes, grandma says she had many, many dreams that didn’t come true and so she gave them to me.”
The man scooted closer to the bag, hoping to get a look. “Can I see these dreams?”
The clouds dissipated. She stood, dusted off her dress and lifted up her heavy bag. “No way. I have to go.”
“Clarissaaaaaa,” her grandmother’s voice wafted through the neighborhood. Oh, oh, she thought, letting the bag slip to the sidewalk. Now she’ll be in huge trouble for talking to a stranger. Seconds later, a large Oldsmobile stopped in front of her. “Who you talkin’ to, young lady? You get into this here car right now before I give you a whoopin’you’ll never forget.”
“Sorry Grams,” Clarissa said while attempting to pick up the bag. It seemed heavier now and had ripped at one of the corners.
“Just leave that stuff. Give it to that man,” she hollered out the car window. “Come here right now!”
The man removed his hat and bowed. “Good afternoon ma’am. I thought your granddaughter said this bag held your dreams?” He paused, curling his fingers around the brim of the hat before nodding towards the bag. “Being hungry and all I was simply hoping she’d share her lunch. Please don’t be mad at her.”
Clarissa left the bag and opened the passenger door of the vehicle.
Grandma rolled her eyes, turning to make sure Clarissa buckled into her seat. “What you thinkin’ talkin’ to strangers? Your mama called me wonderin’ where you are.”
“Shut up child,” Grandma snapped, while reaching to the back seat for a gift-wrapped box. “Here, Happy New Year,” she said, shoving the box into the hands of the stranger. “It’s not much but maybe it will help. Just two pounds of melting bonbons....”
“Thank you ma’am. Thank you so much,” he said bowing in appreciation. “What about this bag full of your...ah... dreams?”
Grandma waved her arm and began rolling up the window. “They can be your dreams now. I never learned to read.” With that, she took off and drove Clarissa home.
Puzzled, the man looked in the bag. Inside he found various how-to books, cookbooks and business books: A Guide to Candy Making, The A to Z Guide to Starting Your Own Business, The Complete Chocolatier, A Step by Step Guide to Loans and Financing, Artisan Chocolate Fantasies, Turning Cocoa Beans Into Dollars, Chocolate Supplier’s Guide, Business Plans For Dummies and one pamphlet about Creating Sweet Dreams-How to Start Your Own Chocolate Company. Taped into each book was an envelope filled with one hundred dollars cash. Each envelope had a handwritten note: Seed Money.
He sat down on the curb and tore the wrapping paper off the box of chocolates. His eyes glazed over at the wonderful selection and he selected one with sprinkles on top. The creamy nougat inside tasted incredible, as if a rainbow had exploded on his tongue or maybe it felt like a dream had just come true.