June hurriedly got ready for work. It was early morning, but she felt neither tired nor sleepy. She quickly made her husband sandwiches, wrapped them in foil, and put them on the table. Harold worked in a car service, and they didn’t provide lunches, so he had to take something with him every time. June herself worked as a cook in the canteen. Her workplace was far from home, and she got up two hours earlier than her husband, so the early wakes didn’t bother her.
It was drizzling rain outside, and June pulled down the umbrella that lay on the top shelf in the hallway. The umbrella slipped out of her hands and fell to the floor. June froze, then peeked into the bathroom. Thankfully, her husband wasn’t awake. June smiled, thinking of what a klutz she was, and carefully slipped out the door.
Sitting in the bus, the woman looked at the waking city and thought about her life. She was almost 30, happily married, and only one thing saddened her: she and her husband had no children. She wished so much to have a baby, and it did not matter whether it was a boy or a girl. During the four years of marriage, June had consulted many doctors, but they only threw up their hands and said that everything was fine with her.
The bus came to the necessary stop, and the woman interrupted her sad thoughts and went out onto the streets. She had only to go through the park behind which the canteen was located. Taking a few steps down the alley, June stopped in bewilderment. A little girl was sitting on a wet bench, crying. She was wearing a thin jacket, shivering from the cold. Her wet hair stuck to her face, and tears flowed down her cheeks mixed with raindrops.
June approached the child and cautiously asked, “Hi, why are you sitting here alone?”
“My mum kicked me out,” the girl sobbed.
“What do you mean, she kicked you out?” wondered June. It didn’t seem plausible to her; surely nobody could throw their own child out in the rain.
“She was asleep, and I wanted to eat. I woke her up, and that was it. My mother screamed and threw me out. I slept under the stairs first, and then I came here.”
“And what’s your name?” Kayla answered the girl.
“What am I supposed to do with you, Kayla?” June thought, then glanced at her watch. “Alright, let’s go. Where do you live? Is it far from here?”
“No, it’s not far,” the girl waved her hand vaguely.
They went in the direction Kayla had pointed, and in five minutes, they were standing in front of the apartment. June pressed the doorbell, but no one came to open the door for a long time. But at last, the door was opened by a sleepy woman in a dirty, stretched-out robe. Her long unwashed, unbrushed hair was framing her wrinkled, swollen face. She looked at June with surprise, then turned a blank stare at Kayla, and without understanding anything, stepped aside, inviting June in.
June crossed the threshold in silence. There was an unimaginable smell in the apartment that immediately made June feel nauseous. There were rags and bottles on the dirty floor, and a layer of dust on the sideboard indicated that no one had cleaned the place in a long time. Confused, June looked around and noticed a picture on the sideboard. To her great surprise, she realized she had seen it before. The same picture had been in her husband’s photo album, only it had been cropped unevenly, and only her husband was in the remaining fragment. But on this photo, there was a young, beautiful woman standing next to Harold, and June hardly recognized the owner of the apartment in her.
June turned around and looked puzzled at this unkempt woman who was looking at her questioningly. June remembered why she was here and pulled herself together. “Your daughter sits in the park and cries, sleeps under the stairs in the entryway, and you do not care? Aren’t you ashamed? How is it possible to act like this with a little child?”
“Don’t tell me what to do. Go bring up your own kids and stay out of mine,” the woman turned abruptly to her daughter.
“Where have you been, you little brat? And I’ll show you how to disgrace your mother.” The girl briskly scurried into the next room and closed the door behind her. The mother came up and started pounding on it with her fist, shouting curses and swearing.
June realized that there was nothing more for her to do here, so she turned around and left.
All day she was tormented by thoughts of the girl, of the picture, and of that unkempt woman who evidently had something in common with her husband. In the evening, June, holding out the cropped photo to Harold, asked, “Who was next to you?”
“I have told you once about Goldie. Well, she and I had been dating for a long time, and we were going to get married. But she met someone else and left me a few days before we broke up. She found out she was pregnant, but she got rid of the pregnancy because of another man. Despite all my persuasion, I left town to get over her. Then I met you, and we moved here together. As you can see, I have nothing to hide. But why do you ask?”
“You know, a strange thing happened to me today,” June answered and told her husband about the girl and her mother.
Harold listened carefully to his wife, then asked, “How old is the girl?”
“Six,” June answered.
And he thought, “Yes, she could be my daughter.”
June told Harold exactly where the girl and her mother were living and went to bed. She felt tired, broken down, and also had a bad headache. She hardly fell asleep, and when she awoke at half-past two in the morning, she noticed that the light in the kitchen was on. Silently, she went over and peeked through the ajar door. Harold was sitting at the table, thinking about something.
The next day, Harold rang the doorbell of his former lover. The door was opened by Kayla, the little girl. She stood looking at the strange man who was smiling at her for some reason. “Hello, are you Kayla? Where’s your mother?”
The girl turned and ran to the back of the apartment. “Mum, there’s someone here to see you.”
The swollen face of a woman looked out of the room. Harold looked and hardly recognized Goldie, the woman he had once loved so much. “You, what do you want? Why did you come? Nobody called you here,” she said with anger and surprise at the same time.
Harold went into the apartment without waiting for an invitation, hardly breathing in the stinking air of these walls. “Dory, I need to know the truth. Kayla judging by her age could be my daughter, is that true?”
The woman swayed with a hiccup and looked up at Harold. “Lend me some money, will you? Well, I really need it. You haven’t paid me alimony, and I feed her, I dress her. I never took a penny from you. At least give me $50 now.”
“Why did you lie to me? You said you got rid of the baby.”
“I wanted to, but Jad said he wanted this baby, would be a father to him. And then he changed his mind and left me. When Kayla was three months old, he said he didn’t want to raise another man’s child. I tried to come back to you, but you left town. I want to do a DNA test. If Kayla really is my daughter, I’ll take her. Take her now because she’s getting in the way. I’m sick of it already. I have to feed her, I have to dress her. Sometimes I can’t even buy myself a beer because she needs something. Give me some money, Harold.”
At that moment, Kayla approached the man hesitantly. “Are you my daddy?” The girl looked at him without blinking.
“Yes, Kayla, I’m probably your daddy. I want to take you with me. Are you okay with that?”
The girl looked fearfully toward her mother and asked quietly, “I agree, as long as you don’t fight.”
Harold sighed heavily and said in a changed voice, “No, Kayla, I swear. I have never hit a child or a woman.”
The girl smiled. Harold stroked her wavy head and went out. He had to think about everything and come up with a plan of further action.
Already on the stairs, Goldie caught up with him. “Harold, maybe have some more money? Can I borrow a little?”
Harold held out some more bills. Goldie’s eyes lit up with anticipation, and a nasty smile spread across her face. Harold could not stand it and went back to the apartment.
Kayla was still standing in the middle of the hallway, with a sadness in her eyes. “Get dressed. Come with me now,” Harold said. And only one thought rattled in his head: “That’s my daughter. I have no right to leave her here even for a minute longer.”
Half an hour later, Kayla crossed the threshold of Harold’s apartment. She immediately recognized the woman who had recently taken her home, and June stood looking at her, not believing it was all true.
When the bus had fed, Kayla was playing in the room with the cat. June asked her husband, “Do you seriously believe you did the right thing? You don’t know anything about her.”
“I’ll find out soon enough. Of course, I did the right thing. You saw her living there with Goldie. It’s unbearable.”
June turned and went into the kitchen. She sat there, crying, not even trying to contain her emotions. “Why is this happening to her? She really wanted children, but she couldn’t have them. But she would have cherished her baby like the apple of her eye. Now they have Kyla. How is she going to treat her? What if she could not treat her properly, like a mother? A wave of burning resentment against her husband, against Goldie, against life, came over June. At that time, she felt someone stroking her head. June thought it was her husband, but when she looked up, she saw Kyla.
“Is something hurting you, or did you bump into something?”
“I cry a lot when I bump, too. Do you want me to tell you a good fairy tale? I know a good one.”
June sobbed and held the girl close to her. A year passed. Harold did the DNA test but only to have less trouble with the adoption. The couple decided right away that, in any case, regardless of the result, Kyla would stay with them, and they would fight for her. June sincerely loved her adopted daughter. They gave each other all of their unspent love and tenderness. Every day, Harold became more and more accustomed to the status of a father and that Kyla was his real daughter.
And soon, the unexpected happened. Since the morning, June felt bad. She even wanted to stay home, but eventually, she went to work. After working for a few hours, the woman felt very faint, and then she abruptly collapsed in the arms of her colleagues who ran up. The faint was long-lasting, and when June woke up, she realized she was in the hospital.
“What’s the matter with me, doctor?” June had never fainted before, and the certain malaise seriously frightened her.
“We’ve done some tests. The picture will be clear very soon. But meanwhile, you’ll have to stay with us. Your relatives will be here soon. Don’t worry.”
Soon after, the doctor left. Harold and Kayla entered the room. The girl immediately rushed to June and bombarded her with questions about what was wrong with her.
“Nothing, Kayla. It’s all right. I just need to rest,” June said.
At this time, the doctor returned. “Well, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant? You shouldn’t joke with your health like that. The diagnosis is simple: you’re pregnant, and there are no other problems in your body. So, there is absolutely no reason to stay here.”
June sat up abruptly on the bed. “What? What did you say, doctor? Am I pregnant?”
“Harold, what is he saying?” But it was true. June’s dream had come true. She gave birth to a strong, healthy boy. Kayla helped her foster mother with everything. June could not even imagine how she would cope with everything herself if it were not for her older daughter.
And then, little Camilla was born. There was no limit to Harold and June’s joy. Now, their family was big, friendly, and happy. And June was sure that this happiness had come to her house one day, along with the poor little girl with the kind, big soul.
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