A Short Story on the Power of Words
“…been spotted. Young female at 5’8, wearing black pants and red shirt, no shoes. Headed toward Tide’s Inn Restaurant and Hotel on Green Water Road…”
Cyrus Evans walked through the entrance of the restaurant, letting the wooden doors with their glistening gold trim close behind him softly. His radio, clipped to the back of his belt, buzzed with static for a moment, then went mute. The restaurant was silent, considering there wasn’t a customer left. They’d all been evacuated quietly and quickly, due to the fact that a certain individual had been found once again.
Miya Nolan was a 13-year-old kid who, for the past week, had been popping up all over town. She hadn’t really committed any crimes, per say; she didn’t injure, break and entry, or steal from anyone. The only thing she could really be accused of was disturbing the peace or running from the police… Or being insane.
So far, she’d climbed onto a gas station rooftop and three housetops, broken several things in different places (all by accident, witnesses claimed) and been the cause of four long police chases. She had outrun the scent dogs, too, completely disappearing. Cyrus had been chosen to try and negotiate with the girl, who had finally shown up at a fancy restaurant. He didn’t care to talk to her – surely there could have been someone else who could have done this job. Maybe someone who was trained in dealing with kids?
But his bosses insisted. How hard can it be? Talk her into coming peacefully. If she tries to run, grab her. There was no one else available. Cyrus shrugged and walked away, knowing it was useless to argue. They had made their decision.
For a moment, he thought perhaps the others had made a mistake – he didn’t see anyone in here. A step further into the restaurant proved he wasn’t alone.
Miya Nolan, with her hair a tangled mess and her clothes dirty and torn, sat on the fancy carpeted steps that led to the balcony of the restaurant. She was looking downward, fingering an invisible image into the plush carpet. She started humming softly; unaware that anyone was in the room. Cyrus listened closely to her hum, recognizing the sad, slow tune and tried to see what she was doing.
He wondered if he should wait for her to notice him, or if he should announce his presence first. While trying to decide, he observed her a little more. Her feet were bare, filthy and calloused. Where the clothes were torn, she had blood-crusted scratches and welts. Her arms had bruises, as did the right side of her face, just behind her chin. She had long eyelashes, straight jet-black hair and a gentle expression to her countenance. Her body frame was lanky and skinny; Cyrus assumed it was because of a lack of food for the past week that the girl appeared so anorexic.
He took a step closer and coughed lightly. Miya jumped, snapping her head up to look around, and then rose to her feet at the sight of him. He stepped back cautiously, putting up his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” he soothed.
The girl cocked her head slightly at him and crouched down on the steps, waiting for him to move. “You have been watching me?” she stated clearly, but with a questioning tone. She stared at him curiously through her bright green eyes.
Cyrus nodded hesitantly. “Just for a moment,” he replied. “What are you doing?”
She shrugged, a dejected look falling over her face. “Nobody’s doing anything,” she said, tracing the carpet again. Cyrus frowned. Okay, then… He walked toward her slowly. Her bright green eyes seemed as if they would look right through him. “You’re a cop,” she pronounced, tilting her head a little, as if to get a better view of him. She bristled and watched him slip nearer, holding up his hand as he did so. “I just want to sit down with you,” he reassured her. When he had settled on a step just below, he saw her shoulders relax again.
“My name’s Cyrus,” he said cheerfully. “And yeah, I’m with the police. Your name is Miya, isn’t it?”
The girl began humming again, this time swaying in time to the song. Cyrus tried to catch her eye. “Miya?” he said her name softly, as if saying it too loud might scare her. “Miya.” She kept singing and didn’t look at him. Cyrus waved his hand close to her and she moved away, glancing nervously at him.
“Miya, are you okay?” he asked, slightly uncertain. The girl frowned for a moment – then shook her head, giving him a small smile. “I am not Miya.”
“You’re not?” Cyrus said, surprised. “Then, who are you?”
Miya smiled. “I am nobody,” she replied.
“Nobody,” Cyrus repeated, folding his hands and frowning. Miya nodded, still smiling and rocking to the beat of her song. “And your name is Cyrus?” she said curiously. Confused, he tried to keep the conversation going. “Yeah.”
Miya bobbed her head. “It’s a good name. Did you know it means ‘of the sun’? Or it could mean ‘lord’, too. It’s Persian.”
“Oh,” Cyrus stated, bewildered by her sudden, small speech of knowledge. “No… I didn’t know.”
Miya nodded and continued daydreaming, smoothing over the carpet to draw again. Geez, this is so awkward, Cyrus thought. He took off his hat and ran a hand through his think sandy-blond hair, irritated. “So, uh… can I ask you some questions?”
A few strands of her black hair fell across her face as she looked at him with inquisitiveness. She listened closely, taking a break from drawing her indiscernible illustrations on the carpet. She waited, and Cyrus coughed in unease.
“Well, first off – why don’t you tell me where your shoes went?”
Miya shook her head, silent for a moment. “Nobody gave the shoes to a homeless man. He needed them a lot more.” Cyrus had trouble making sense of her explanation, but he nodded to her as if he understood. Nobody gave them to a homeless man? It took him another moment, before he realized that the girl was referring to herself as ‘Nobody.’
“But… you’ve been running all over town. Look at your feet – don’t they hurt? Shouldn’t you have kept your shoes?”
Miya smiled and shook her head, touching the side of her foot. “There are more shoes at home. The man needed them more – he had no bottoms to his shoes. Just newspaper and dirt.”
“Why haven’t you gone home and gotten more shoes, then?”
Miya shrugged. “Nobody will,” she replied. “Just have to find it. I have to find a high place.”
“A high place,” Miya explained, as if she were talking to another child; “So that I can see where the house is: ‘Cept I have to find it before dark. Da will get angry if I’m not…” Her words trailed off softly, and she shuddered, as if a sudden chill had taken hold.
“I could help you get home,” Cyrus offered. Miya looked at him thoughtfully and asked, “Would it be in a police car?”
When he nodded, the girl smiled stiffly and shook her head. “My Da said that being in a police car is bad.” She stared at thin air as she thought for a moment.
“It’s not bad if we’re just trying to help you get home,” Cyrus said slowly. “The people who break the law get put in the car so we can take them to jail.”
Miya frowned and her head hung a little. She spoke after a silent moment passed between them. “I… I ran from the other police.” She looked over at Cyrus, her clear green eyes showing worry. “Does that mean I have to go to jail?” Cyrus reached out to touch her hand, shaking his head. She flinched, moving a couple inches away.
“I don’t think you’ll be going to jail, Miya,” Cyrus replied, with a little irony lining his tone. “But why were you running from the police? Did something happen?”
Miya’s face transformed from worry to dread – or fear. Cyrus couldn’t discern which. When she looked away and didn’t respond for a while, Cyrus tried to prod the story out of her. He already knew part of the story, from a cashier in the grocery store, where the whole thing started.
Miya and her father had been shopping and the cashier had been the one to check them out. Miya tried to strike up a conversation with the cashier numerous times, asking different questions; but the father kept telling her to shut up, be quiet, and calling her “dumb” and “idiot”. When Miya pressed on, the father raised his hand as if he was going to slap her. Backing away, she tripped over a large stand of spaghetti sauce jars, which fell over with her and broke. The father yanked her out of the mess and snapped at her; he kept acting as if he was going to hit her, until she broke free of his grip and ran toward the exit. The manager came out to calm Miya’s father down, but the father marched away, leaving everything behind.
At the time, the store’s exit doors had been malfunctioning, so they didn’t open when Miya tried to leave. She saw her father coming and threw herself through the thin sheet of glass; then ran off before anyone could stop her. So dumb, Cyrus had initially thought. But looking at the kid now… something just didn’t seem right. The girl had mental problems. “I broke a window,” Miya whispered, breaking the cop from his thoughts.
“I know,” Cyrus said softly. “Can you tell me why?”
“My Da got angry. I broke a bunch of spaghetti sauces. He was going to punish me again,” she said. “He doesn’t like it when I talk to other people.”
At this last revelation, Miya began to cover her mouth with one hand and her body unconsciously started to curl into a protective ball. Her words turned into whispers, soft and frightened. Cyrus could see her fingernails were bitten to the quick, and her hands slightly shook. These were signs of constant anxiety and fear. Cyrus didn’t doubt that there was some abuse at home.
“But Nobody likes to talk to people,” Miya said, through her curled fingers. “Can’t help it. People are interesting and Nobody doesn’t talk to them much.”
“Don’t you go to school? Talk to friends?” He was getting used to the girl talking in a second-person sense.
Miya shook her head and absentmindedly ran her fingers through her dark, tangled hair. “Da keeps me at home. Nobody doesn’t have friends…” She hesitated. “Well, I have my dog. He’s a boxer named Alexander. He plays with me, but he always chews up my stuff. Da hates it when he does that; he says he doesn’t buy me things to make Alexander sick.” Her face turned into a frown and shrugged. “I never saw him get sick, though. Do dogs get sick if they eat cotton fuzz?” She turned to Cyrus in question.
“Uh… I had a cat that would throw up fur balls on my bed. I’ve never had a dog, so I don’t know… I guess he probably would, or… it would get digested.” Cyrus stuttered. The girl grinned. “Fur balls?”
Cyrus smiled. “Yeah, he would go under my blankets while I was sleeping and just hack up a big, wet blob of his fur, dirt and mucus and stuff. It’s gross, really.”
Miya smiled. “I think it would be kinda funny.”
Cyrus’s radio buzzed with static and a few muffled words. They would be coming in soon, to come get her. He had to do something, or she would freak out when they came in. The chase would start all over again.
“Miya,” Cyrus started.
“I’m not Miya.”
“Okay… uh, can I ask why you think you’re Nobody?”
The girl-called-Nobody frowned, laying her head on her knees and drew on the carpet again. “It’s what Da says. I’m nothing, nobody… I’m a worthless, brainless heap of bones that he has to feed and pay for.” She was quiet for moment, and her hand came up to trace a thin scar that lined her hairline. Her eyes were downcast and she wouldn’t look at Cyrus anymore. “I’m not Miya anymore. I’m just Nobody.”
Cyrus didn’t know what to say. Inside, he was infuriated – both with the girl’s father for being so cruel; then for his own cynical, condemnatory view of her situation. He berated himself for it. How could I be so awfully judgmental? Why? Cyrus wanted to bang his head on the wall.
Miya stared at him as he was in deep thought, and he could feel her eyes watching his emotions. He glanced at her and smiled grimly.
“You’re angry,” Miya said, once again letting her voice sink into a whisper. Cyrus chuckled hoarsely and shook his head in denial, but she wouldn’t have it. “Yeah, you are. Nobody’s Da gets that look in his eyes when he wants to punish me.”
“Does your Da hit you, Miya?”
“I’m not Miya,” she said firmly, turning her head away. Cyrus knew the answer. “That’s what some of the bruises are on your body. And the scar on your forehead,” he stated.
Miya didn’t answer. She was shaking, though. “Da said if I ever told anyone, he would kill me,” she murmured fearfully. She gave him a glance, her hands trembling again as they lowered from her mouth. “I don’t want to go back.”
“He’s not going to get to you,” Cyrus reassured the girl resolutely. He sat on the step next to her and lightly laid a hand on her head. “He’s not going to call you nobody anymore or threaten to kill you. We’ll find a place where you can be Miya again.”
Miya turned her head away from him, tears reflecting the deep loneliness and fear in her eyes. “Da says I’m-”
“It’s not true,” Cyrus interrupted. “Everybody is somebody. They should be able to talk to people when they want to, and go to school and have friends. No one should be mistreated or be called a Nobody.” He paused, waiting for a reply. Miya sat perfectly still, eyes closed and listening. She didn’t say anything, although a silent tear dripped onto the fancy carpet between her feet. Cyrus looked around.
At the doors, there were three people standing, waiting on him. His chief motioned for him to wrap it up, and Cyrus signaled for two minutes more, mouthing the words.
Gently stroking the dark hair away from her face, he spoke softly; “Miya?” Her eyes fluttered open, blinking away tears and glancing at him.
Cyrus stared back thoughtfully. “I know you’re scared of the police, but will you trust me? I can help you find a good place to stay, where your father won’t be able to hurt you.”
“I won’t go to jail?” she whispered.
“No. You haven’t done anything wrong,” the cop promised. Miya sat up and blinked, thinking about it. Cyrus lightly turned her face his way and wiped the remaining tears away with his fingers. “You are somebody. You are a sweet, gentle and beautiful young lady named Miya. If you want to get away from him, you can tell the police about your father and they will make sure he doesn’t hurt you again. We’ll find a good place for you to stay. You can make friends and talk to people when you want.. but you have to let me and other people help you.” The cop paused, to see if she understood. Miya stared at him uncertainly. Standing up, he held out a hand. Miya took in a deep breath. “Will you be there?” She asked warily.
He smiled. “I can’t promise that, but I can try to be a friend,” he offered. Miya’s expression turned from stunned to utter delight in all of three seconds. Her eyes glowed and a smile appeared out of pure contentment. “Okay,” she agreed, taking his hand. That was simple enough, Cyrus thought with a smile.
“So what’s your name?” Cyrus asked, leading her toward the door, where the others waited. “I am Miya,” was her happy reply.
“Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ~ Mark Twain
What kind words have you said today?