No one likes a do-gooder unless they’re one of the people to whom the noble person does good. They see the beneficiary as a superficial, publicity-wanting idiot who is only doing it because of what other people will think of them if they do. That’s what people think of those that truly care, yet it’s often a very unfair description.
On the day that I saw Alyssa waiting by the door of the house, she was fourteen years old and almost thin as she had been as a small child. Her birdlike limbs were only just covered by the raggedy clothes, and as I previously mentioned, she had no coat or shoes. Her hair fell down in rats’ tails, since she didn’t have a shower so couldn’t wash it. In fact, she didn’t even have a home.
Poor as church mice they were, and it had only been six months since the mortgage company evicted them from their homes. Now they were trying to get a better place while living in the back of their car, a five-seater from about ten years before. It wasn’t suited to the lifestyle at all, but it was all they had.
For whom was she waiting? For the person that had offered to give them a home – that’s why she was waiting in the cold and the snow. She had told her mother that she didn’t mind the job a bit and wouldn’t be at all offended if her family didn’t come with her (for there was no parking nearby; the car was in another street and her mother, father and brother were inside it, trying to keep warm), but now she was beginning to regret it. Another teenager would probably have got up and returned to her parents, saying that there had been nothing going, but not Alyssa. She had promised to do this, hadn’t she? So she would do it.
“Alyssa,” I told her softly. She looked up in surprise and I saw that she was blue and white. Blessed lamb, she would freeze to death if she stayed there any longer, for all these poor children were hardier than those such as I, who had lived in comfort for all of our lives. “Alyssa, you can’t stay there. You will freeze, I am telling you.”
“How do you know who I am?” she replied, her voice quiet and weak. She was too proud to admit that she was cold.
“I knew your parents ... once. A very long time ago. I have seen you since then, though, and I know – how things are. You can’t live like this. You are going to freeze. Please, Alyssa, just listen to me.” My voice was soft and persuasive, for I was trying not to scare her. She was just a child.
“You could be trying to steal me away,” she said suspiciously. “Or are you a friend of my mother’s? You said you knew her...”
“A long time ago. She wouldn’t remember me. We were never close.” That was an understatement if I’d ever heard one. Her mother, the last time we saw each other, had basically told me that she never wanted to see me again and I should stay out of her life and the lives of her children. But look where that stubborn pride had got her and her family! Freezing on the streets, living in a car, starving no doubt, to look at her daughter. “You used to do ballet, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” she said, with a wistful smile. “Yes, I did. I used to have free classes as part of a special scheme for underprivileged children, but then the government ran out of money and I had to stop. Well, that was the end of my dancing, for there was no way we could afford it otherwise. It was hard enough to buy food!”
I saw that she was looking uncomfortable so I tried to sound like I understood her, a bit like an uncle who knows your circumstances and doesn’t care, doesn’t feel anything less of you because of it. “It’s all right, you don’t need to worry. I already know.” She nodded and I carried on, encouraged by her response. “I saw you once, walking home from dance in your dance outfit. Did you enjoy it very much?”