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Desperately missing his homeland and sick of moving every few weeks, Orson decides to run away

“Welcome to Brooklyn: Home to Everyone From Everywhere!” read the sign as Orson and his family approached New York City in their beat-up, gray minivan. Most people would have been amazed by the breathtaking sites of the Big Apple, but Orson merely sighed as he glanced over at the Statue of Liberty. Both his parents attempted to muster a smile, but they too were pained as they drove to their temporary apartment.

Orson had first believed that America would be full of opportunity. At least that’s what his parents had told him. But ever since his family had moved to the States, everything had gone wrong for them. Orson’s parents couldn’t maintain jobs for more than a month at a time; they were forced to move across the country every few weeks, and Orson was placed into school after school, never having time to make any sort of friend. Orson had stopped attempting to even talk to any of the kids in school after moving for the eleventh time in a row.

Orson and his family opened the door to their new apartment. They all frowned as they were greeted by a worn-out “WELCOME” mat with mold growing between the letters. Orson was the first to step into the apartment. He stared at the floor, immediately noticing several black burns on the wool carpet. The apartment was full of the stench of smoke, making him cough until he adjusted to the unfamiliar smell. The walls were faded, and as he got closer, his nostrils were assaulted by a foul odor that made even his parents cringe with disgust. Orson had seen some terrible apartments before, but this one definitely took the No. 1 spot on the list of most awful places he had ever had to call home.

Normally, every time they moved, Orson’s mother would have reassured him that everything was going to turn out fine. But this time, she weakly put her hand on his shoulder, walked past him, and dropped onto the couch, passing out from exhaustion. The fifteen-hour drive had definitely taken a toll on the family. Orson’s father groggily placed a blanket and pillow by his wife’s side and turned to Orson.

“Hungry?” he asked.

Orson nodded, just as his stomach loudly rumbled in agreement. Orson and his father left his mom on the couch and took to the streets of New York in search of food. It turned dark as Orson and his dad walked. Orson barely took notice of the shining skyscrapers, the blaring horns, or the people shouting. Instead, he was daydreaming of a life where he and his family were happy and comfortable. A life where Orson could make friends at school and have a home that didn’t have cigarette burns and sickly stenches. But Orson was brought back to reality as his dad nudged him, pointing out a convenience store. There, they purchased enough food and snacks for the rest of the week and headed back to their apartment.

Orson and his dad crept back into their room with the groceries. They found Orson’s mother still fast asleep on the couch. Orson’s dad pulled snacks out of the bags and beckoned Orson to take a bag of chips, but Orson shook his head. He had lost his appetite upon being snapped back from his perfect, imaginary world.

“No, I think I’m just going to go to bed,” Orson mumbled. He turned from his father and began to walk toward the bedrooms.

“I know how you feel,” his father suddenly said to him.

Orson stopped mid-stride. He turned around and looked his father straight in the eyes.

“How would you know how I feel?” Orson blurted. His words came out cold and harsh. “Do you know how it feels to be the outsider everywhere you go? Do you know how it feels when every time you finally think you’ve found a friend, you’re forced to let go? Do you? Because that’s what I feel every day. Every time you can’t keep a job. Every time we move. That’s how I feel.” Orson turned and pushed the door of his room open. He slammed it shut and threw himself onto the bed.

Even through the door, Orson heard his father sigh a heavy sigh, turn off the lights, and go to bed. Orson sat up in his bed and looked out the window. His sudden outburst of emotion had surprised even him. Orson began to contemplate what he would say to his father in the morning. As he thought, the lights of the city gleamed into his room. He began gazing down at the people roaming the streets. Many walked in groups, several walked alone, but almost all of them moved with purpose, as though they knew just what they were doing and where they were going.

“All those people down there have a place in the world,” he whispered to himself. “So why shouldn’t I?”

Orson quickly slid out of bed and planted his feet on the floor. He quietly creaked open his door and slipped into the living room. Orson tiptoed toward the kitchen counter and snatched the bag full of food. He then emptied the snacks and a few other necessities into his backpack. Suddenly, he heard movement and froze. He directed his gaze toward his mother. He had completely forgotten about her. Luckily, she was still asleep, but it was clear she was disturbed by the noise Orson was making. She yawned and stretched her arms. As she slowly sat up, Orson hurried back into his room. He glanced frantically around for an escape route.

Unfortunately, the window seemed to be the only option. He pushed it open with some difficulty and slung his bag onto his back. He took a deep breath and stepped onto the bars of the fire escape.

“Ohhh, no . . .” Orson groaned as he looked over the edge of the railing. One wrong move, and he would fall off the edge and get flattened like a pancake on the hard, cold concrete. Firmly gripping the rusted rails of the fire escape, he took a step down, causing a disturbing creaking noise that vibrated through the entire staircase. Suddenly, a wave of blustery wind hit Orson’s skin, causing his hairs to stand on edge. Orson stumbled down the steps. He attempted to recover, but faltered as the wind continued to blow against his bony structure. With each gust, the gravity of the situation became clearer in his mind. He was more than thirty stories up in the air on a precarious set of century-old stairs that felt like they could collapse at any second. Orson choked on a mixture of cold air and nerves and began coughing.

As Orson looked back at his open apartment window, he felt the wind begin to calm. He shook his head. If his family had to move away one more time, he would break. As he looked out at the city skyline, he became even more determined to begin his odyssey. After reassuring himself, Orson began steadily descending, one intentional step at a time.

After a few floors, Orson felt at ease. He began finessing his way down the steps, smoothly coordinating his hands and feet to remain steady. A few minutes later, he had arrived at the bottom. He hopped off and, for the first time, absorbed the beauty of the city night. The violent wind from up high had turned into a crisp, gentle breeze. The air was slightly damp and tickled the edge of Orson’s hair. He took note of that sensation to mark the beginning of his new life.

*          *          *

There was no particular destination Orson had in mind. His only thought was to walk. Walk until he was away. Away from his past, away from his anger, away from all his worries. He wanted a fresh start. A clean slate. A new life where he belonged somewhere. Orson’s walk became a jog, then a sprint away from everything he hated. He spotted a subway stop and quickly bolted down the stairs. Orson stepped onto the nearest train and took a seat.

He looked around, realizing he was all alone. As the train started, Orson closed his eyes. He would get some sleep, then get off whenever he decided to wake up. Finally, Orson felt at peace. He was free of anxiety, with no more worries. He quietly sighed, then passed out.

Suddenly, a picture began to emerge in Orson’s mind. It was fuzzy at first, but somehow Orson felt a connection with it. Gradually, the picture became clearer: it was his home. Not the dirty apartment—that would never be home to him—but his old home, the country where he had lived for years. He recognized the abundance of luxuriant flowers and trees bathing in the rays of the sun. The warmth of the scenery was almost tangible. Behind the flowers, there was a group of kids playing. They laughed and smiled and ran, without a care in the world. Orson would give anything to go back to the way things used to be. He was happy then.

Yes, he had the same outline as Orson, as well as a similar body— but this couldn’t be him. This boy was a lost boy in a big world. A boy that was afraid and full of regret and guilt.

Just as suddenly, the picture vanished, and Orson was brought back to the dirty subway car. Slowly, he began shaking his head. He grabbed his backpack and pulled out a picture frame. He looked into the picture. The flowers, the trees, the kids—it was all the same. He touched the picture as if it would bring him back to his home. Orson’s expression softened as he continued to gaze at it. Tears began streaming down his face as he loosened his grip on the frame. If he was to start a new life, he couldn’t have any memories of his past one. He threw it to the ground and began smashing the picture with his shoes. With each pound to the ground, Orson felt a stab in his heart as if his soul were connected to it. The subway slowed and Orson ran out, leaving the picture behind.

He ran until he was out of breath and panting profusely. Orson examined his surroundings and found that he was standing by the Brooklyn Bridge. He walked to the edge of the water and sat down. He looked down into the water, finding his own reflection staring back at him. Yes, he had the same outline as Orson, as well as a similar body—but this couldn’t be him. This boy was a lost boy in a big world. A boy that was afraid and full of regret and guilt. No, this couldn’t be him. But it was. He had lost sight of his purpose in life. He was afraid of what the world would do to him. He regretted running from the only people who loved him. And he felt guilty for everything he had done to his parents, to everyone else in his life.

Then he heard two voices. They called him: “Orson!”

He looked back. It was his parents. At that moment, he broke down. Tears began streaming down his face as he looked at the faces of his mother and father. How could he have been so selfish? He had people who loved him, who cared for him, and he had been willing to let that all go for a new life. He had tried to run from his whole life, his whole past. But the fact was, he couldn’t run from his past. Orson wanted so badly to change his future, he hadn’t thought of his present, the position he was in now, how his actions would change the people he loved the most.

Orson stared as the image of his parents faded away into the night sky. Seeing them had just been his imagination, but at that moment, he made his decision. He slung his bag behind his back and walked back to the subway. He stepped down the stairs and waited. As the train arrived, he stepped in. Shattered glass and a piece of paper sat in the middle of the subway car. He flipped the paper over, finding his picture. Once again he stared at it, but this time not in anger but in happiness. For the first time, he embraced the picture as a piece of his past rather than an unattainable part of his present. Orson slipped the picture back into his bag and sat down.

Soon after, it was his stop. He quietly got off the subway and walked back to his apartment. He looked up at his floor to find the window of his room closed. Orson went through the main entrance to the apartment building and took the elevator up to his floor. He got off and finally was at his door. Thoughts and emotions ran through Orson’s head as he held up his hand to knock. He timidly tapped the door in a rhythmic pattern. No one answered for a few moments. Orson’s stomach sank as he thought of the possibility that his parents didn’t want him back.

The door creaked open. His parents were there. Orson looked into their eyes and tried to choke out words but failed to do so. Instead, he ran into their arms and began crying. Orson’s parents held him tightly, tears also streaming from their eyes. No words were spoken, and they didn’t need to be, for Orson’s emotions spoke for themselves. Orson’s parents took him into his room and laid him onto his bed. His parents sat down with him, and together they looked out the window at the city skyline.

Timothy D. Cho
Timothy D. Cho, 12
Knoxville, TN