Story Submitted by Catherine B.
Holidays were coming up and, for the first time I had no plans. All my regular travelling friends were busy. So I called a neighbour who ran a travel agency and asked if he had any good travel deals going.
“I’ll go anywhere,” I told him, “as long as it’s warm and far from home.”
“I’ll get back to you,” he said.
That evening he phoned back.
“I have good news and bad news,” he said.
“What’s the good news?”
“I can get you a flight to Chicago for a tenner!”
Wow, I thought, Chicago!
I had been in the U.S. before, in New York. My Aunt Mary Jo lived there. She had lived there since she was a teenager and had become more New Yorker than the New Yorkers themselves. She’d greeted me with the immortal words.
“Gee I didn’t expect anyone well dressed.”
She then went on to explain to me what an elevator was and to demonstrate how to press the buttons. On the street she showed me how to hail a cab and explained that you could pay the driver and he’d take you anywhere you wanted to go. Over dinner she explained the wonders of the salt cellar and informed me that it had been invented by New Yorkers to save time! She ended my visit by telling me that New York was the only city in the entire Universe worth visiting, and warned me never to go to Chicago as it was, “a dump in the boondocks.”
So… I was definitely going to Chicago.
“What’s the bad news,” I asked my travel agent neighbour.
“The flight leaves at 9 in the morning.”
I didn’t care. I was going.
It was only when I was on the plane, looking down at the Atlantic Ocean that I began to wonder what I’d do when I got to Chicago and where I would stay. I had a cousin living there, but I didn’t think I could just phone from the airport and invite myself to his house, especially as I had only met him once before when I was a child. But I wasn’t concerned, I was well used to basic travel. I never had enough money for flights and hotels but I’d travelled all over Europe, hitchhiking, sleeping under haystacks, camping or staying in Youth Hostels. I knew they didn’t have Youth Hostels in the U.S but they did have the Y.W.C.A so I decided that I’d stay there.
We landed in Chicago in the late afternoon, I took a bus into the city, found my way to the Y.W.C.A. and booked in. And you know how it is after a long flight, you don’t know whether you want to stand up or sit down. But I knew that I needed some air and maybe something to eat so I went out.
As I walked down the street I noticed that all the shops had protective grills on the windows and there were a lot of pawn shops and tattoo parlours and neon signs saying “Girls Girls Girls” with arrows pointing to dubious doorways. I reckoned that I wasn’t in the fanciest part of town. But I wasn’t worried, after all I’d hitched-hiked from Istanbul to Dublin. Next thing I saw this little black girl no more than 7 or 8 sitting on a stoop. She had tiny plaits all over her head tied with tiny pink bows and she wore a faded pink dress. As I approached she stood in in front of me, hands on her hips blocking my way.
“Where are you from Ma’am?” she demanded.
“I’m from Dublin, Ireland.”
“Well I reckon you ain’t from hereabouts.”
“I only arrived in Chicago this evening.”
“Where you lookin’ to go?”
“Well I thought I might get something to eat.”
“This is no place for a nice white lady like you to be walkin’ around Ma’am… this is a baaaad part of town.”
I felt a small palpitation…maybe I wasn’t as safe as I thought.
“But I’ll make sure you’re safe.” She said and she took me by the hand and led me down the street.
She brought me to a down-at-heel diner and marched me up to the counter. “Harry,” she said to the waiter. “I look after this lady. She’s just arrived in Chicago. And if any of them Bean Jumper gang come in, don’t let them near her.”
“Yes Ma’am,” said Harry.
And off she went.
Aaaaw! Isn’t that sweet, I thought and didn’t expect to see her again. I ordered a burger and fries. None of the Bean Jumper gang came in but, as I finished my coffee, I realised that now it was dark outside. And, whatever about feeling safe in daylight, I wasn’t so sure I felt safe in the dark in this “baaad” part of town.
I was gathering my courage to leave when the little girl burst in the door. “Ready Ma’aam?” she asked.
And she took my hand once again and walked me back down the street greeting the several shady looking characters we passed by name. She led me up the steps of the Y.W.C.A. and said goodbye at the door. Then she ran down the steps, off up the street and into the night.
And I didn’t even know her name!
But since then I always think of her as the Angel of Chicago.