“No,” the man said, before he slammed the door in my face. Anger boiled inside me, like red-hot firey rage but I didn’t do anything. Momma had said not to, but people were being mean. I made a face at the closed door and sprinted back to where my mother and brother were sitting, waiting for me.
“Momma he said no, momma how are we going to eat today?” I asked, worried. My stomach growled. Ever since Papa had left us, we had been so poor. We couldn’t afford food or our house. Now we lived in a cardboard box, but momma always says we have each other and that’s what matters. But the little monster inside of me that I called hunger did not agree. “I want food momma, momma please.”
“Ella, take a breath,” my brother, Max said. “We’ve just got to wait a little longer, OK?”
“I can’t wait a little longer,” I cried, the monster was going to consume me–already my fingers shook, my arms felt weak, my skinny legs had trouble holding me up. And on top of all that, the Hunger Monster roared inside of me–growling and groaning and grumbling. “I’m sorry hunger monster,” I whispered, “I can’t feed you right now.”
I saw my mothers heart break from the outside, so obvious I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like inside. “How dare they say no to a ten year old, what mean people they are.” tears streamed down her face and landed on her tattered skirt. “We just need food, how hard is that for them to give?” She got up and stormed off, leaving a trail of footprints behind her in the dust.
I didn’t know it, but that was the last day I would see my mother. Whether she died the day after, whether she just ran far away because she was ashamed of us, I don’t know. But at ten years old with just my thirteen year old brother to console me and a hunger monster consuming my stomach, it was the saddest day of my entire life.
I got my first job at the age of thirteen in a factory. Of course, I told them I was sixteen, and Max told them he was my dad, and then I had a job where I made pipes. My job involved a lot of fire and steel and while it was fun I worked the night shift and made very little money. I worked with a lot of people who were a lot older than me, many of whom were remarkably creepy, many of whom I hoped I would never see again. The job wasn’t much but it was something, and in two years Max and I had enough money that we could actually move into an apartment on the outskirts of Philidelphia. Both of us worked all the time, neither of us had been to school since we were five, but we were scraping by and that was all that mattered. I learned to fend for myself–to protect me, at all costs, against large scary men and evil women. I toiled away at my factory job, and I had no friends, no family, nothing. All I had was Max.
Then The Day happened, the day when everything changed. It started with a knock on our door.
“Hello, my name is Meryl. I work for the FBI and I need a um… Ella Smith?” I only heard the words, Max had opened the door, but I quickly scampered into the bathroom and locked the door to the only hiding place in our tiny apartment. “You must be Max. Don’t worry, you guys aren’t in trouble. We just want to talk to your sister and maybe see about… a job opportunity.” at the word job, I unlocked the door to the bathroom a tiny bit, very slowly. There was a long silence. I tucked my knees up to my chest and tried not to breathe, swiping a finger through the short blonde hair that sat in a mop on top of my head.
“El?” Max called, out of the silence. “Ella?”
I panicked. I quickly looked around, flushed the toilet, washed my hands for no reason and walked confidently out of the bathroom… Or as confidently as you can walk if you’re walking out of the bathroom. “Yeah, hi. What’s up?”
I looked out the door and found that there was not one, not two, but twenty-one FBI agents, eleven of them with rifles, all of them with hand guns and twenty with bullet proof vests. The woman in the middle, the only one without a bullet proof vest, was short and pale with black hair and a pinstriped skirt suit. She looked incredibly official and she scared me more than any of the people with guns.
“We need you to come with us,” she said, forcefully. “We hear you’re a fighter and a fantastic liar and I think we have an opening for someone like that.”
Another long silence.
“We want you to go undercover. How well do you speak Spanish?”