A gentle breeze swept over a small neighborhood in Brooklyn. The sun shined over the New York City skyline, like any other spring day. It started with my little brother toddling around our apartment.
“Ish, Ish, Ish, Ish.” I don’t know why someone would name their child Ish, but my name was Burtch, and that wasn’t any better.
I rolled out of bed and put on my glasses, and I was off. The house was empty except for me and Ish, which gave me no choice but to take him with me. Home life was never easy. There was always a bill overdue and our electricity wasn’t very stable. There were cracks in the paint, and after my mom left, I hadn’t had a single friend over. You would think that we would be living with another relative, but the only one still alive was my mom’s mom. She lived in California and only visited once a year. She was now too old and frail to travel. Part of me was used to this, but I knew Ish deserved better.
I tiptoed out the door and held my hand over Ish’s big mouth. I never grew up like the other kids nearby. My mom had left a while ago, and left me with newborn Ish. She left in the night, didn’t tell us where she was going, and we never knew why. I thought that she would come home one night, but to this day she still hasn’t. Once you opened the front door to our house, your ears were clogged by police sirens and the sound of loud piercing screams from the family next door. When my mom was there, it was always a lot easier to manage.
With Ish and my school bag in my arms I headed outside. Ish tried to run out of my grip, but I knew better than to let him go. I held him tight to my chest, my heart pounding and Ish kicking me with all his might. It had been the same way every morning since the day Ish was born. My pace quickened as I saw what was up ahead. The guys.
Ever since I was Ish’s age they would torment me. Then I had my mom to stand up for me, but now she wasn’t there to fend for us. I dodged the next corner and ran with Ish the rest of the way to school. It didn’t really feel like I could face them alone. I was small, skinny, and pale; they were huge and muscular, always on guard waiting to attack. I dropped Ish off at the preschool center. He gave me a kiss, and with a smile on his face, ran off. Now I had to face the walk to school.
The next few blocks were filled with broken glass, and the smell of smoke wafted through the air. It felt like my every move was being watched. With each step I could hear the faint sound of laughter getting louder and louder.
I walked into the hallway and kids pushed and shoved me as they walked by. I was the weird kid at my school. The one who was in the school band, answered every question right and I thought that was what everyone wanted. My mom always said, “Your education is the most important thing.” I tried to live up to that standard, but I never was good enough. Each time I got a perfect test score it didn’t feel perfect. I was confused, because I didn’t even know what I wanted. I was top of my class, but kids still passed me and looked at me like I was nothing. I was just that kid, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape from it.
I walked into classroom 5A with my shoulders hunched and head hanging low. I took my seat next to a small window while Ms. Crow went on about writers’ craft. Once we were dismissed, I went to the library.
The library had been my second home since I entered middle school. There were shelves full of thousands of books, all categorized and placed in different sections. Scattered around the room there were little reading nooks, and all I wanted to do was stay in there for hours. I scanned each shelf and grabbed as many books as I could carry and went to check them out. There were very few kids who liked the library as much as I did. At the moment it was just me and the librarian, which in some ways made it nicer. It was quiet and there were no kids around to stare and judge me. I curled up on a small chair and picked a book out of my pile. The cover was blank, and I flipped through the pages– only to find a note written with the same neat, cursive handwriting as mine. The same handwriting that I had recognized through all of my childhood.
My mom left without leaving a note, but if she could bother to just write the word Run, it meant something. A wave of shock overcame me as I looked and realized that this was her handwriting. Just seeing it brought me back to when she would hold my hand and check on me every night to make sure I was okay. I could just feel her presence in the room. I couldn’t see her, but she was there watching me from wherever she was in the world now. My mind raced as I thought of Ish and how he never had a real mother. I was sure that this wasn’t a joke, but I was also sure that she would never leave me, but I was wrong. My breath started slipping, and suddenly someone’s hands were wrapped around my throat. Mr. March, the librarian, was behind the counter and couldn’t see what was going on. I looked up to see just another kid in my class. I wrestled my way out of the clutch on my throat, grabbed the small book and ran. This suddenly didn’t feel like teasing anymore, because it hurt all of me. My insides ached and my face was still purple from the impact of the hands that had just been around me.
I ran, tears dripping down my face, my legs aching and burning but I couldn’t stop running. I knew my mom too well. She didn’t want to leave us, but she felt like she had to.
My legs came to a halt and I bent down, panting, my eyes bloodshot red, and it felt like the whole world was spinning at full speed around me. My head felt this strange sensation, and my body was not in my control anymore. I was drifting and drifting away…
I woke up to find myself in a hospital bed. Where’s Ish? And then I saw him. His little smile was gone and he had gone quiet. Three people marched in the room and tried to grab Ish from his seat.
“Where are you taking him?” I asked, but they ignored me and grabbed Ish tight around his little arms.
Once he was out of the room he started to cry. Small tears dripped down his face, and now I was the one who had gone quiet.
The pain in my head was now sharper and stronger than before, I was helpless. I had let Ish go and didn’t even put up a fight. It felt like my fault, it was my fault.
Doctors came and went talking, whispering, sometimes even shouting but my ears still rang with the sound of Ish’s screams. I had no options layed out for me and my future. School had got me nowhere but stuck in my own head and I had to just wait. The digital clock in the room kept flashing bright lights and I just had to wait for child services to come and take me next just like Ish.
A figure came into the room. Her face was scared and frigid all at once. She was very thin and her hair was the color of straw, just like my own. Her shoes were torn, and her pants were covered with patches of dirt and grime. Her ears were too big for her head and her mouth was shaped with an almost perfect curve on the upper lip.
“Run,” she said, and then without another word, she gave me the slightest kiss on the cheek and left.
I discreetly slipped out of bed and felt all the blood rush down from my head. The air was still and I was able to take off the IV that had been placed in my arm. In my hospital gown, I tiptoed out of the small room and worked my way through each bustling hospital corridor. Once I had made my way down to the exit, I had to get past a bunch of security. I made my way around a metal detector and went into the large swirling doors. Once I was outside I realized exactly where Ish had gone.
I took off sprinting, jumping past cars going through streets, and then I saw him. Waiting at the bus stop for me. I didn’t care how he had escaped those other people, but he was alone. There was a large cut on his forehead, and when he saw me he came running. I embraced him in my arms, and decided that it was time to tell him the truth. “Ish, I’m sorry, but we can’t stay here much longer.”
“I know Burth Burth, we are not safe here anymore,” Ish replied.
Ish climbed up onto my back and I ran. I ran past mountains and fields and skyscrapers. We were never going to stop because no one could stop us.
Night creeped up on us and my stomach grumbled. I laid Ish down on a patch of grass and he instantly fell asleep. At the break of dawn I woke Ish up, and we were off again. In the distance I could see a small village, and with Ish now running and the sun shining; my aching hunger was pushed aside by a sense of joy– because Ish was here with me, away from child services, the dangers of Brooklyn, and he was safe.
After another night on the run, the village up ahead was closer than ever. My bare feet followed the path of a wet cobblestone road, and I decided that this was where we would call home for the coming years. Education was important, but not as important as Ish. He was my everything from the day he was born to the day that I die. It would always be Ish and I forever.