Book 4 of the Zak Bates Eco-adventure series
Prologue (rough draft of a work-in-progress. Due out December 2020)
It was close to eleven at night when Chitra Bandara started her long trek home from her office. Most nights, she would have already comfortably nuzzled up in her bed by this time, but tonight she had stayed late with a client then remained at her office for some much needed catching up on the endless stream of paperwork.
Her rational mind told her it was crazy to be walking home. She’d get home quicker, taking a subway or even a bus and certainly much safer, but she wanted to walk, needed to walk to clear her head. Otherwise, she’d be up hours lying in bed, her mind racing through all the clients whose paperwork she’d just devoted hours to complete. Besides, she enjoyed strolling through Harlem, her home for over twenty years, and she was prepared to deal with any unexpected visitors. She firmly believed in the adage, one of her Christian friends once told her. Trust in God and tie your camel. Her form of tying her camel was keeping a can of mace in her pocketbook along with a pocket-size security alarm that would deafen anyone who tried to mess with her as well as alerting her surroundings to the attack.
No, this will be a quiet, uneventful walk through the neighborhood that I serve in my role as a therapist, she thought, and I’ll arise in the morning much more restful for it. That future almost came true, but then she heard a sound that she could not ignore.
As a practicing Buddhist, she believed that all the creatures on earth were precious. In fact, all life was precious. So, the sound that arose as she passed the dark alley caused her to pause, at first merely out of curiosity and then with a need to investigate. But not before she pulled the can of mace and alarm from her pocketbook and held one in each hand.
The alarm also had a bright flashlight, which she now turned on as she took a few tentative steps towards the sound, then paused to listen. Had it been her imagination playing tricks on her? She cocked her head to one side to hear better, but all her ears picked up was the constant sound of traffic in the distance. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Still nothing. She was about to turn to resume her journey home when she heard it again.
Was it an injured animal? The city was filled with feral dogs and cats, not to mention an assortment of rodents, but no, it didn’t sound quite like that. Another long silence followed with only traffic noise in the background. Chitra looked around. All seemed safe enough, the can of mace warming in her hand. She took a few more steps in the direction of the sound and was again rewarded with another cry. Something was not a happy camper for sure.
She ambled down the alley towards the dark form of a dumpster from which the sound appeared to be coming. She stood in front of the dumpster and shined the light around its base, but only saw paper and other debris that hadn’t made it into the garbage container. Nothing that would cause such a sound. She was about to turn to leave when she heard it again. It’s coming from inside, she thought. It sounds like a…but no, it couldn’t be. She returned the can of mace to her pocketbook and slowly slid the rusted door open. A wave of foul smells assaulted her nose, and then a much clearer sound that was unmistakable this time. Someone had somehow, against all sense of humanity and compassion, thrown away a baby.
Chitra peered into the dumpster and shined her light around, and there, just a couple of feet from her lay a newborn infant partially wrapped in a stained, worn blanket. Chitra straightened up long enough to remove her jacket, then reached back into the dumpster and picked up the wiggling form. As she wrapped the coat around the baby, she noticed it was a girl. She held the small form to her chest in an attempt to provide her with some additional warmth and looked around once more, confirming that she was indeed all alone.
Now, what do I do? She wondered even though she knew there was only one answer. Take the baby home with her and sort out everything in the morning. “Don’t worry, little thing. You’re in good hands now. Have faith. All will be okay.” As she gazed down into the deep pools of the baby’s eyes, she felt a connection that was unmistakable. In that brief moment in the middle of a dingy alleyway, she’d just fallen in love with this tiny spirit.
By the time they arrived home, Chitra had decided to call the child Faith at least until someone told her differently. It turned out, the name stuck since no one came forth to claim her. So too did that bond of unconditional love as Chitra later adopted her.