The narrow alley was hot and dusty. It carried the smell of distant spices and the sour stench of humanity on its acrid wind.
But Dali didn’t care.
He had broken free of home and work.
He had run, weaving in and out between market stalls, hawkers, and brightly draped women selling fried foods and pineapples and mangoes, run until he was lost enough that no one would find him.
He was supposed to be collecting wood to sell along the street with little papery matchbooks.
Instead, he had escaped with the pictures that danced through his mind. He had escaped and now he needed to help the pictures escape.
On his travels through the bustling market, he had come upon a book and a pen. Now, having found a shaded corner down an unknown passage, he sat on a ledge and pulled them out. Flipping past the first pages, pages that had been filled with foreign words, he found a clean sheet and began to draw.
The pictures spilled out of his mind filling the white with red ink.
A horn honked loudly, shattering the scene. The memory faded.
Dali looked up quickly, jarred back to reality from his dusty dreams.
Snow was falling softly but the downtown traffic cut through it, a staccato through white noise.
Dali inched forward, glancing in the rearview mirror at the woman who had honked. She was looking away now, her mind elsewhere. She nudged her large, black SUV forward, creeping across the space that Dali had just vacated.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dali saw a streak of colour moving between the snowflakes behind his car. He recognized a younger version of himself in that furtive movement.
The thud was so quiet it was almost swallowed by the blanketing effect of the weather and the crunching of tires. His breath catching, Dali threw his car into park and flung open his door, motioning at the woman behind him to stop.
He didn’t notice her look of confusion. He was looking for the child.
As he arrived at the narrow space between his back bumper and the SUV’s front bumper, he looked down. There, in the grey and black stained snow lay the small, skinny body of a boy. He was breathing, his eyes were open but the look in them was wild, scared.
“Are you ok?”
The boy nodded and took Dali’s outstretched hand, straightening his brightly coloured jacket with his other hand as he stood up.
Dali stayed with the boy while the police were called and was there to translate for them when they called the boy’s mother. One look at the boy and he decided to wait longer while they checked him for injuries, while they filed their report, while they waited for the mother to arrive.
She didn’t seem to be coming.
Afternoon was wearing on and the sky was darkening. For lack of anything better to say, Dali smiled at the boy and introduced himself. “I’m Dali.”
The boy frowned. “Dali? What kind of name is that?”
Dali chuckled. “Good question. That’s what they called me when I was a kid and it just stuck. Dali was a famous painter.”
“No. In Spain.”
“Oh. How long have you been in America?”
“Over twenty years now. A long time.”
“My mom, too. She never wanted to move here but her parents died and her brother brought her here. But that was a long time ago, too, before I was born.”
“I saw you, before the lady hit you, I saw you darting between cars. Where were you going?”
Dali nodded, remembering how he felt at that age when he was sneaking away to draw instead of selling firewood and matches.
A yellow leaf floated on the air, its brightness caught for a moment in the light from the street lamps overhead.
Dali watched as the boy’s eyes followed it. “I have to go,” he whispered, looking at Dali hopefully.
Dali nodded again and the boy’s eyes brightened. It was the light of hope Dali thought later as he stood on the street corner, still watching the place where the darkness of the alleyway had swallowed the boy.
As he waited for the mother to arrive, Dali thought about his life, about the boy and his mother and, through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.
Word count: 741
Written for the Speakeasy #154 at Yeah Write. This week’s prompt was a short video and the line, “through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned,” which had to appear at the end of the submission. For full details of the challenge, please click on the badge above.