Girl, move on, I say to myself when I get a moment. Sixteen is soon enough to start a life beyond the shit ass streets. I'm not made up of big dreams - just a desert, packed with sand and alive with winds that circle through you. My desert will dry this ice on my back in no time.
Once the light turns green, I'll be up, and the car passengers will shake their heads, unable to understand how I walk in these shoes, like sponges, soaked into my skin. They will only see my soles are bared in the rain. Poor girl, they comment to carpoolers who do not care enough to look out the rain-streamed car windows.
I'm the person people look through; girl on the street, up to no good. They don't look into my eyes burning like the desert sun, my eyes looking beyond the street lights, following in the same direction as their own.
The streets run through me as if I am the passage in time you must drive through to get beyond the black clouds sucking out the saneness in your mind, these streets nothing but potholes, deep enough to bury secrets.
"Do you need a ride?" asks, Jim, a familiar man in a Mustang GT-decked out cherry red, silver sparkling rims - as if he knows where I want to go. I look for his eyes behind his black shades, but they are just black holes, ready to suck me into some empty vacuum. Not again, I tell myself. Not even if you're hungry.
Squealing to the curb a little ahead of my bench, he jumps out, all smiles and beer breath, flipping off the people now stuck in traffic all because he wants me. Street lights reflect off his sunglasses like alien eyes, his shiny black suit shaking rain as he opens the passenger door. "I'm a gentleman, don't you know that yet?" His smile is a flash of gold and black holes he talks through. He stretches out his arm and bows in my direction, like some sick knight offering to take me from myself.
"I'm all right tonight. I'll just get your car soaking wet," I yell out, putting on my own street smile, using my tongue as I laugh in Jim's direction.
"I'll take you somewhere beyond that park bench. Find you some action."
Jim and men like him, I'll leave behind once I leave this place - men who see a girl alone on the street, staring into the downpour, showing skin in torn jeans, sucking on matted hair, knees scabbed, muttering love songs, men compelled to pull over on a Friday afternoon and become something more than a salesman traveling the rain puddled streets looking for love.
"No, thanks, Jim. I like it in the rain today." I can sleep in the rain, have sex in the rain, forget most things in the rain.
"I'm having desert dreams." My flesh painted golden orange, body swimming underneath sand.
Jim speeds off, cramped in the traffic jam, alone.
I am alone - by choice. Not lonely, only a lone person, with a need to move on and beyond the wet skies of Seattle, the love pushin' Jims. Give me a trailer in the sand, skies burning it into place, yucca trees raising their arms to a God who is blinded by unceasing sunlight.
Can He see me through this rain?
I've tried to let God know I'm coming home to him soon. Every chance I get, I spray my street name to show God I'm here. CHAKKA is the name I spray on the store fronts that block out trespassers with steel bars on the windows and sensor alarms. Everywhere, I've gone in this town, CHAKKA's also been there - ferry boats that crawl through the bay, taking tourists on trips to Vancouver, taking CHAKKA with them. I move on in my own way.
Tagger, cops call me, chasing me down, cuffing my hands behind my back and throwing me in their car, sirens off, just for carving my name on the skyscrapers growing above these streets. No compensation for my time having to listen to them first scream morality into my face and then give me a number I can call for homeless girls like myself. "You'll die this way," they say, taking the cuffs off and leaving me at my park bench - still hungry, still on the streets without enough money to even think about a phone call. The cops know they can't hold me down; they can only imprison my body with their blindness while my name lives on in bold blood red oils - CHAKKA traveling with the speed of freight trains while I sleep in parks at night.
I gave myself the name CHAKKA when I was five. Cave girl, my friends called me, looking more prehistoric as my front teeth pushed forward, teeth the size of an adult's. I am the bridge between animal and civilized human. My words were grunts because no one was home to listen to complete sentences. I cut off a girl's hair in school for trying to talk like me - animal nature; brought home old men from the playground who needed a bath - civilized human.
CHAKKA's the privileged one. She lives beyond me, on ferry boats traveling the bay, swimming deep in the ocean with migrating whales, free to see the world with her beauty. I see her wave to me sometimes from the park as I cross the street, smoking a cigarette. I watch her dance on the grass mounds, between couples napping, enjoying the sunshine that rarely visits Seattle. CHAKKA laughs like a child in the wind as I make my midnight plans with street men, corporate bosses, and female tourists wanting to get to know me better.
I sometimes follow her to railroad yards and watch her work her magic. CHAKKA drips paint in my hair as she uses oil colors to spread her rose colored scrawl on Amtraks that travel around the country. I follow her to the railroad tracks and ask, "Where are we going?" Carefully outlining her letters with deep black, she turns and smiles at me, all teeth and long curly hair. "Mexico, where it's wild desert." She leaves her work wet and dripping in the rain, not waiting for her name to dry.
Just writing the name makes the travel real for me. She makes the future seem like something possible. Mexico-tanned plated sand dunes and landscapes painted in rusted deserted car shells; people who became lost on their journey south, dry land with sun to crack wrinkles on my face.
Jim pulls up to the curb and shines his brights on me. Mexico fades into headlights. I can't see beyond the drops of rain falling before my eyes. Jim tries to pin me down this way. Shine a spotlight, and she's all yours. I don't even blink.
"Come on, Shirley. Let me buy you dinner. Here, take my coat." His fake leather trench coat smothers me with its cigarette smell.
"I don't wear nothing that ain't mine," I say, pulling the coat tighter. And my name's not Shirley a voice screams out in my sudden silence, but Jim has already ushered his Shirley into his car, pulling into the traffic with his hand on her thigh.
"I'm getting your car seat wet."
"Just the way I like it." He might have smiled as he turned to look below my neckline, the car rushing forward, hitting its brakes as it closes in on the nearest bumper.
"Where we going?" I ask, wanting him to say down south, where the Aztecs once wore gold on their naked bodies.
"To the Space Needle," Jim says. "Make me feel like a god with you up there," Jim says. "Five hundred feet higher than I've ever been."
The elevator shoots us into the sky; I smile at my feet quickly leaving the ground. Jim presses his back against the elevator wall although we're the only two in the cannister. Eyes closed, he smiles and sweats, muttering a prayer. I pull out my paint brush and sweep CHAKKA's tag onto the carpeted walls, the oils dripping against the pressure of our rise to the top. I want to bring her with me, to help me fly from here.
"You should thank me for scaring that tour guide out of here," Jimmy says, reaching out to pull me closer to him. "Why do you have to paint yourself tonight?"
I turn and look at him, this man who calls me a woman. "Can't forget who I am."
"Let me remind you," he whispers, as his hand strokes my lower back. "You're a goddess to me, sweetheart. I could give you more in life than that street bench." His hands move up my back, fingers slightly grazing my spine.
"That bench is my home." The place I sleep, the place I dream.
"There's more to life than a street home." He pulls me against his chest and kisses my neck, his hands caressing my shoulders. "Just come with me," the request he makes every time he takes me out. Wine her, dine her, bind her and she's yours, Jim seems to think.
If you come home with Jim, and meet the 20 or so other street girls younger than me, he'll give you enough heroin to forget your fragile identity and abuse you often enough to scare you into staying with him.
I always tell him, "I've got my own dreams. Thanks, anyway," and say it polite enough so he's not offended. The man has his own animal style that can turn on you in a second of indiscretion.
He's accepted my answer for a few weeks now; but time will one day run out on his offer or his sweet temper used to keep me interested.
A smell of lavender slowly fills the elevator, circling around my head, and I know CHAKKA's here, helping me to keep my mind straight for the next hour. "God, you smell so good, Shirley." He smells CHAKKA, caresses her, wants her to come home with him and make him rich.
As the elevator doors open, I run out into the gift store lobby and head for the platform surrounding the view of the city. Jim runs to catch up, thinking I'm running from him for good. If I were smart, I would, but I still have to eat tonight.
CHAKKA flies through the mist that falls on the city and smiles at me. Come with me, into the sky, she taunts, taking my hand, gently pulling me to the railing. To the clouds.
As Jim catches up to me, cigarette dangling from his lips, I want to ask him if he sees her in the sunset-a floating apparition in the clouds, but he is too busy searching me out - the girl he called Bella in front of the tourists. He now wants me as an older southern belle, not Shirley, a young girl's name.I put on the southern accent like a change in lipstick.
Through the plexiglass used to block suicide missions or homicides, CHAKKA floats in her freedom above the ground.
"Where you going, CHAKKA?" I call to her, aloud, running along the glass, trying to keep up with her flight.
To the desert over these mountains. Come with me. CHAKKA melts through the glass and into my body, her heart beating quickly, speeding up the rhythm of my own lagging beat. I'm always a step behind.
But, he is there - pulling on me, holding me tightly by the arm, and she disappears quickly, my spirit wanderer too strong to hold back. Disgusted, I turn to the man who holds both my wrists and look him full in the eye. "What do you really want, Jim? Just look at me."
He laughs. His eyes trace my dreadlock hair, soiled flannel shirt, and follow the buttons down to my jeans-torn at the knees, muddied from wear-white slip-ons with my big toe poking out. I am just a young girl he found on the street.
"You know, kid, it's your charm. You have a glow about you, like you're going places," Jim says, putting his index finger through my beltloop.
Like CHAKKA. Going places beyond rain drenched streets and unpredictable tempers fom men who see through you.
"It's not me you see, Jim. It's her. It's the name in red."
He gently grabs me by the back of the neck and puts my cheek next to his and looks at our reflection in the glass. "Ah, yeah, it's CHAKKA. I know the name. I know who you are." Jim turns and looks at my reflection in the glass and laughs softly to himself while turning back to look in my eyes. "I see you."
Jim must be blinded by CHAKKA. He can only see her long flowing hair and almond shaped eyes delving into his, laughter crawling sweetly into his ear like a goddess's whisper.
"It's your essence," Jim says, his exclamation sounding like a snake's hiss. "It's that spirit that captures my full attention."
I look into the blackness of the night and smell lavendar, feel CHAKKA's body move through mine, her legs pumping with the will to move on. I'm still here, CHAKKA says, her voice like sugar in my thoughts. Let's go back to those desert dreams.
"Take me home," I yell, pushing Jim away before he completely has me bared in public.
Stumbling backwards, Jim's face spreads hatred. "Back to the park bench?" He laughs. "Is that your home?"
"Home is where I call it." I button up my blouse and throw his jacket to the ground, hearing its fake crunch as I use it as my welcome mat home.
I push Jim aside as the elevator doors open and let me in.
"I know where to find you. This doesn't end just because you say it does," Jim says, moving closer to the elevator doors now closing on his face like a metal curtain.
I am alone.
As I feel the elevator drop back down to the street, I smile at the tag I made, the name that is always within me, the spirit I've been able to hold onto.
Rain continues to pound into my ears and soaks me to the bone as I sit on the bench, but I don't care.
I can again feel the sun as the desert drips into my veins and makes me smile. Someday, I'll go there and dance in the sun.
Noel Ace tells us she is a high school English teacher, and also a writer. She is currently working on developing one of her short stories, "Soul Tattooed," into a novel. She also co-facilitate a Creative Writing workshop and belongs to a Writer's Critique group. Writing is her passion, she says. She strives to give a voice to those people she feels are ignored in our society.