The alley is dark, with only a sliver of street light illuminating it’s only entrance. It’s damp from the rainy season. Water gathers into pools atop heaps of neglected trash spilling from various dumpsters arranged side by side, emitting odors of rot and mold. A small stream runs down the middle of cracked and aged asphalt towards a drain in the center.

I hear the sound that lead me back here again. Closer this time, but still a tiny whimper. Soft, scared, helpless. Hidden somewhere behind the mountain of rotting trash.

Even with timid steps, I can hear the splashing of my footsteps as my too new and now too filthy flats soak up the contaminated puddles.

The wind nips as I hug my arms over my bare shoulders trying to stuff the anxious feelings in my stomach further down. It doesn’t occur to me to call out to the noise, only that I must find it.

A quick glance behind me confirms that, not only the alley, but the adjacent street is deserted. It’s odd considering we are nestled in the underbelly of the city, where even on a Tuesday the streets are crawling with young and old, rich and poor alike, all looking for a good time in some form or another.

Still hugging myself, I swallow down the anxiety bubbling in my throat like a premonition as I approach the end of the accumulation of waste. Rounding the corner, I locate the sound.

With her back against the wall and her head on her knees, she hugs herself, rocking slightly to each side. Her auburn hair, not unlike my own, is unbrushed, falling shamelessly to her feet and dipping into the refuse she hunkers in. She let’s out another whine, unaware of my presence. Her grocery bag full of clothes lay open next to her, not shielding the contents from the drippings of leftover rain falling from the fire escape overhead.

I close the distance between us with a final unsure step and slowly crouch down to her level. Her subtle cries cease and shoulders stiffen, still unmoving to face me.
“What do you want?” she barks at me with a tone implicit that I’ve hurt her before.
I wince at the harshness of her words, confused, as I only just approached her to help.
I manage to stammer, “I… I just.. uh.. just wanted to-” I’m cut short. It all happens so fast.

Her head snapping up. Her long, slim, filthy fingers reaching out.

It took a moment to process what was happening. It was only when I tried to breathe that I realized she had grasped my throat, with a force so strong she seemed intent on crushing it.
It’s when our eyes meet that horror takes hold of me. The vile reflection staring back is haunting.
My eyes.
My face.
My unkempt hair, matted to the sides of my cheeks.
Dirt smearing the freckles across my nose.
My skin, unwashed.
All of it, filthy.

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