The Coldest Day of the Year
By Kat Kovalevska
Anabelle lay on her bed. Her journal was open in front of her, but she hadn’t written anything. She used to spend hours every day scribbling in the pages of her journal or typing away on her laptop, but now she often sat down to write, only to stare at an empty page.
Anabelle got up and looked out the window of her high-rise building. Much of the city could be seen from her ninth-story room: the skyscrapers of the business district, the park with the skating rink, and, of course, the lake. The lake was the heart of the city and Anabelle’s favorite spot.
It was January, two weeks into the new year, and the streets were covered in thick layers of snow. Last night, it had finally stopped snowing. Since the beginning of the new semester, most days of school had been canceled due to heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures.
However, Anabelle had still been given homework to do in science, history, and English. The first two had been easy. As for English, she had an essay to write: “A Recent Lesson and How It’s Changed Me.”
Dumb assignment. What was a recent lesson in her life? She couldn’t think of anything, let alone put it into words. She had attempted to start the essay several times but hadn’t written anything of substance.
Since school had been canceled, Anabelle had barely left home. But this morning, looking outside, she felt like taking a walk along the lake and through the snow-covered streets. Winter days were short—only a few hours of light, and then it got dark again. Mom and Dad were at work; they wouldn’t know about her going out into the freezing cold.
Anabelle donned her thick coat, wool scarf, boots, and a hat, then left the building. She walked up to the lake and watched the ice as it glided through the water. The rink was empty save for a few people. Anabelle hurried further. The snow hadn’t been shuffled off the streets; it went up to her ankles in many places.
She kept trudging. She soon reached an area where she had rarely been. The buildings were smaller—many had only four or five stories. There were no high-rise apartment complexes here.
Anabelle stopped by a church. In and of itself, it was nondescript. It was built with ochre bricks; a rose window was above the entrance. It had narrow, tall windows and a gable roof with a cross on the ridge. What caught her attention was the line of people waiting outside. It looked like one of those soup-kitchen charities was set up by the entrance. These people had gathered to get hot meals; many of them looked homeless. She had forgotten that this area had a large homeless population. That had to be awful—staying out on the streets in the cold, especially at night.
Several people were serving the meals. One of them was a girl that looked Anabelle’s age. Their eyes met, and the girl came up to her.
“Hey,” the girl said and smiled. “I saw you looking. Do you want to join?”
Anabelle didn’t know what to say. Just because she was looking at what was happening didn’t mean she wanted to participate. But, on the other hand, why not? The other option was to go to the mall to get warm and get something to eat—and then head back home.
Anabelle agreed, and they walked into the church together. The girl, who said her name was Laura, showed Anabelle the food preparation area. Two women, fellow volunteers, were cooking on portable stoves. Two large pots were situated on a table.
Laura grabbed a pot filled with soup. “We need to take these out. You can take the one with rice and beans.”
Anabelle carried out the other pot, then began giving out meals. It was peculiar to be around people who were without a home or otherwise disadvantaged. Some of them smelled bad or had no teeth. Even though Anabelle liked serving the meals, it was still work. It wasn’t long before she got tired.
“I don’t think I can do this for much longer,” she said to Laura.
“I get it. I think I’ll stop as well. Been here since morning.”
They walked back into the church.
“So have you been doing this for a long time—helping the underprivileged?” Anabelle asked.
“For quite a while now. I spend most of my free time doing that.”
“That’s awesome. I liked it too. But, to be honest, I was disgusted by the homeless people. I think maybe after a while, I could get used to them, though. How did you find them the first time you volunteered here?”
“I was OK with being around them. Largely because I used to be homeless myself.”
Anabelle stared at her in disbelief. Laura was wearing what looked like expensive clothing. Her hair and skin were clean, and she looked perfectly healthy. It was hard to imagine that she had once been living on the streets, that she used to be like these disheveled people that reeked of alcohol and other nasty things. At the same time, Anabelle was curious.
“Are you hungry?” Anabelle asked. “Do you know that place in the mall by the lake where you can get pancakes?”
“No, I’ve never been there. I live in a different neighborhood. But yes, I am hungry.”
“Do you want to go there? But, if we do, I’d like to learn about your story. I hope you don’t mind telling me.”
They walked to the mall. The pancake café was on the third floor. They sat at a table by the window—Anabelle liked the view from this particular table.
“I like coming here and looking at the lake,” Anabelle said. “It’s, like, my favorite part of the city. So, you said you’d tell me about your past homeless situation.”
“That was my life when I was twelve. Both my parents were abusive. I was badly beaten, often starved, and sometimes locked in the apartment for hours on end. I thought it’d change. But it got worse. Seemed like I had no choice but to run away. Being on the streets seemed safer than staying with them.
“So I did. I went to the place next to the warehouses—that’s where the homeless tents are. I befriended some folks, and they let me sleep in their tent. That continued for a while. Whenever they’d get food, they’d give some to me.
“Many of them went to the church to get meals. I never did because I was too young. I was afraid I’d attract attention and then be forced to go back to my parents. But then one day, I got too hungry, and going to the church seemed like the only option. I went there and stood in line. Of course, they noticed that I was a child and all by myself, and so they informed the services.
“I had no choice but to tell them the truth. But I wasn’t sent back home. They deemed my parents unfit. That’s how I ended up in foster care. Now I’m staying with an elderly couple. They’re nice people that have fostered many kids and teens over the years. They have a good apartment. I have a spacious room and get fed regularly.”
“It’s good that you’re doing better. But do you know why your parents did that to you?”
“Mom had mental issues. I made them worse. She couldn’t handle taking care of a child. From when I was very young, I remember being blamed for sleepless nights and her not having time for herself. She’d also tell me how costly it was to have a kid. I always knew I was unwanted. And Dad was always abusive. She was unable to leave him because of me. Another reason why she resented me.”
“Wow. That’s heartbreaking to hear. And you started volunteering at the church because you used to be homeless?”
“Yes and no. Like I said, I was in foster care and doing much better when it came to my living circumstances. But I was also deeply depressed. Mostly because I had time to think. Before that, it was all about survival. Having foster parents was good, but I kept thinking that it couldn’t replace the love I never got from my real parents.
“Eventually, I came back to the church. I thought that maybe this was the place where I could find answers. Church people had ultimately saved me from being homeless, and I liked the idea that the creator of the universe loved me and valued me, even if my parents didn’t.”
“Is that what Christianity teaches?”
“Yes. The people at the church told me that I am God’s child first and foremost. He also gave me a purpose. Thinking that way was life-changing. I was no longer desperate for the love I never got from my parents. According to Christianity, the love of humans is limited, but God’s love has no limits or conditions.”
“And the volunteering?”
“One of the lessons that the church people taught me was to give if I wanted to receive. They kept on saying that giving love to others would help me better understand God's own love for me—and for all of us. They quoted the Gospel of Luke: Give and it will be given to you.
“This was what was wrong with the world, what was wrong with my parents: Everybody was way too selfish. I was selfish too. So I began volunteering. I did the soup kitchen. I helped out at animal shelters. I grew my hair long, cut it off, and donated it. It was difficult—spending my time doing charity work rather than the usual kid stuff. But it was so rewarding. And my life began to change. Good things randomly started happening to me. I couldn’t explain it at first. But then I could—what I had given others was coming back to me. Give and it will be given to you became my mantra.”
“That’s awesome. Your story’s so unbelievable and inspiring. You know, I left home today because I was bored. I thought I’d just take a walk. I didn’t expect to meet someone like you.”
“Life is unpredictable, what can I say?” Laura said and laughed.
Anabelle looked outside. While they had been eating and talking, it had gotten dark. The streetlights had switched on, making the snow look yellow. They left the mall and walked until they reached the high-rise building.
“That’s where I live,” Anabelle said, pointing at it. For a moment, she considered the homeless people. They’d be staying in tents while she’d be spending the night in her warm room. But she had made their day a little better by giving out meals.
“Are you coming back to the church?” Laura asked. “I have a feeling you want to.”
“Yes. I do. I can come on Saturday. Will you be there?”
“I can be there on Saturday morning. I’ll see you there.”
Anabelle hugged Laura goodbye. She then hurried into the building and up the stairs. Mom and Dad would be back soon. When they arrived, she’d hug them too and tell them that she was lucky to have them. From the window of her room, Anabelle looked outside at the lake, the skyscrapers, and the park.
She then observed the journal on her bed and the laptop on her desk. For the first time in weeks, she had a desire to write. Anabelle sat down at her desk and turned on the laptop. She then began her essay:
Very recently, I met a girl named Laura. She taught me that giving is receiving. She’s someone who’s had a lot of pain in her life. She deals with it by helping people in need. We’re all broken in some way. And sometimes the best path to healing is being of service to others.
Kat Kovalevska writes to transport readers to new places, introduce them to compelling characters and lead them through intriguing plots. She lives in London, England.
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4/10/2022 04:28:32 pm
Beautiful story! Amazing job, Kat ! Congratulations!
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