“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
–Joshua 1:8-9 (NLT)
Ellie Ellison had been invited into the Bread of Life women’s shelter, only to learn that it had been closed to new guests by the city. While they would re-open as a faith-based shelter, she was told by the administrator that they needed time to raise funds first.
The city’s action had really come as a surprise. The mayor was running for reelection, and he wanted to offer a new incentive for the tourist traffic in Phoenix, which always slowed down tremendously during the summer. He had issued a new directive from his office. It was no secret that this package was designed for small businesses, and it greatly upset the homeless population.
Brenda Cook told Ellie that until they raised enough funds to be solvent, both sides would have to send people to other shelters.
“I’m sorry,” she had said. “I know you’ve traveled a long way, but we can’t take you in right now.”
Sighing in frustration, Ellie whined, “Where will I go now?”
Brenda responded in a clipped tone. “The mayor’s actions have created a crisis. All the shelters in Phoenix are overcrowded right now. What we can do, however, is take you to the Sleep Inn. It’s a motel down the street, and it rents week to week. We’ll give you a voucher to cover your first week, but there’s not much else we can do. If I weren’t so busy I’d take you myself, but if you’ll wait there a minute, one of the girls will walk you over.”
Ellie felt like saying she couldn’t really go anywhere because of her blindness, but she bit her tongue instead.
About 15 minutes later, a young woman with a Southern accent greeted her.
“Hi, my name’s Sarah. I’m in a manual wheelchair, so we’ll have to go slow. But if that’s okay, you can just grab onto the back and I’ll take you over.”
“I really don’t have much choice,” Ellie retorted. “Can you at least describe the area as we walk?”
“I’ll do my best,” Sarah answered as they set off, “but I’ve actually never done this before. Our place is pretty depressing, and quite desolate. But if the mayor has his way, he’ll change that.”
“What about all us poor people?” Ellie asked.
“Girl,” Sarah laughed bitterly, “I see you’re new to this whole game. I’ve been here for 5 years now, and the business district doesn’t want anything to do with our kind. They think we’re all lazy, but they’ll never completely get rid of us.”
“Why is that?” Ellie wondered.
“Where have you been?” Sarah exclaimed in the same bitter tone. “Look at the most important advantage. You don’t have to sleep in a cold doorway, because Phoenix is a good place to spend the winter.”
“Okay,” Ellie prompted, “as you can tell I’m totally green, so tell me everything you know.”
“Even with the cutbacks,” Sarah replied, “there are still a few soup kitchens left. There’s a place where you can get breakfast, but that won’t do us any good. There is also a dining room run by the Catholic church where you can get a hot lunch or dinner.”
“Thanks,” Ellie muttered in a tired voice, “I’m starving after that long bus ride, but how do I get there?”
“You just go out the lobby door and turn left. Then, follow your nose or the crowd, whichever is easiest.”
Ellie laughed, and Sarah stopped her chair a few minutes later.
“Where are we now?” Ellie asked.
“Right across the street from the motel.”
“Okay.” Ellie got her cane out of her purse. “I’ll find it on my own.”
“Oh, no you won’t!” Sarah’s voice was kind but firm. “Bren sent me over here, and you’ll listen to me. I’m not going anywhere. Let me give you some friendly advice. This is a high crime area, so whether you like it or not, we need to stick together.”
“I don’t need friends!” Ellie shot back coldly. “You’re just an acquaintance.”
“In that case, I have some questions for you. Who else but a friend would guide you to a safe place to rest, while describing things that may benefit you on the way?”
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Ellie found that she wanted to soften, but she just couldn’t do it. She felt so awkward and out of place, and she was afraid to allow the walls that she had erected with such care to topple down.
“You only came over here because Brenda asked you to,” she sneered.
Sarah cut in angrily. “No, there’s more to it than that. And just so you know,” she continued in a condescending tone, “the money for your room came out of Brenda’s pocket. So no matter what you say, she is definitely your friend too.”
Unfolding her cane with pride, Ellie snapped, “Well, you can tell her for me that I intend to pay her back.”
“I will,” said Sarah, trying another tactic, “but you don’t have to run from us.”
“Who says I’m running, anyway? And who appointed you to be the local psychiatrist for the homeless?”
“You asked me to tell you everything I know, but can we at least get out of the cold?”
Walking across the street, Sarah continued as though nothing had happened. “This motel is no palace, but at least you’ll have a roof over your head. The building needs paint, and some of the windows are broken. But rumor has it that the owners are selling out cheap to some church group that wants to fix it up.”
“If that’s true,” Ellie reflected, “I wonder if they’ll end up tearing it down.”
“That’s what everybody wants to know,” Sarah replied. Then she sighed in frustration. “I forgot to tell you there are steps here, and there’s no ramp for my chair, so we’ll have to go around the long way.”
When Sarah and Ellie finally reached the back door, they passed through a narrow hallway and emerged into the lobby. Here Ellie was ushered to an empty front desk. After what seemed like an eternity, Sarah rang the bell. When the clerk finally came out, Sarah thought he looked almost annoyed.
“Yeah, what you want?” he spat.
“She’d like a room,” Sarah blurted out, motioning to Ellie.
“I can speak for myself,” Ellie growled. “I’m not deaf.”
“I guess she told you,” the man grinned. “I’ve got a room upstairs. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” Ellie replied. “As long as I know where the stepps are, I’ll be fine.”
“how long you want it fer?”
“Well then,” the man breathed out, “we’ll need the money up front. You cain’t trust nobody around here.”
“Here,” Sarah interrupted, handing him the voucher. “Bread of Life will cover the cost.”
Immediately, the man’s attitude changed, and he sounded almost jovial. “I’ll show you to your room!”
Before Ellie could say another word, the man grabbed her arm, propelling her towards the staircase. Looking back, he called to Sarah, “We’ll be right back, missy!”
All at once, Ellie ran into something. Wriggling free of his grasp, Ellie stood still, with her hands on her hips.
“Sorry. I don’t know nothin’ about this guiding stuff. Never done it before.”
“That’s why you should have asked me first. You don’t just grab somebody.”
Then Ellie reached out and touched the object she had encountered. She realized that it was a piano, and she grabbed the man’s elbow.
To Be Continued …
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