Rock Island Angel

Rock Island Angel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Rock Island Angel

Nothing is as frightening as ignorance in action.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“What if I forget my solo?” I said, practicing my ballet steps for the umpteenth time.

“Everyone has a guardian angel, Susie.” Mom winked. “Your angel will guide your feet.”

“Oh, Mom, you’re just saying that to make me feel better.” Still, I squeezed my eyes tight and tried to imagine what my angel would be like, probably graceful and light, dressed in white, with fluffy wings, and a halo. Oh, how I wanted to believe it was true.

Just like I’d wanted to believe that I would be the next Margot Fonteyn. She had been magical in the Nutcracker Suite. I was spellbound as the lights in the theater dimmed, the music swelled, and the curtain went up. From that moment, I dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina. So the next year, when I turned five, Mom enrolled me in Miss Daphne’s School of Dance.

Finally, after ten years of classes, Miss Daphne took me aside and said, “Susan, this will be your last recital with our studio. It’s time you moved on to more serious lessons.”

More serious lessons? Me? I was thrilled, of course, but it would mean traveling into the windy city of Chicago. That was almost an hour from our sleepy town of Tinley Park, so I’d have to take the train. To quell my nerves, Dad went along the first few times to show me the ropes. By the third trip, I was feeling quite grown-up, so I stated boldly, “You don’t have to ride with me today. I can go by myself.”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure if I want my little girl alone in the big city.”

“Aw, Dad, I’m not a baby anymore,” I said as the train’s whistle blew. “I’m fifteen now!”

My dad yelled out, “Be careful,” as I hopped aboard and waved good-bye.

I easily found the dance studio and quickly changed into my black leotard, pink tights, and toe shoes. I stared at my reflection in the mirror as I drew my hair into a bun. See, Dad, I told you I wasn’t a baby. I danced and got lost in the piano music, until, tap, tap, tap, Madame Bender clacked her cane against the wooden floor.

“That will be all for today. Allez-vous en—quickly now, go change.”

With my head held high, I walked out of the studio; I was on my way to becoming the prima ballerina I’d always dreamed of. I made it about a block before I realized how dark it was. Suddenly the city was a spooky place, with lots of murky alleys and streets that all looked the same. My eyes darted from one street sign to the next. I wondered where the confident girl of this morning had gone. I tucked my fear inside my warm down jacket as I raced for LaSalle Street. It couldn’t be much farther now!

Finally, I spotted the familiar sign “Rock Island Railroad” above the doors of the cavernous building. I just about cried as I hurried over to the ticket counter.

“One way to Tinley Park,” I said in a small voice.

“That will be a dollar twenty-five.”

I reached for the fare nestled safely in the bottom of my dance bag and gasped. My bag! Oh no, I must have left it at the studio! The ticket clerk drummed his fingers on the counter. I quickly stepped out of line, the red heat of embarrassment warming my cheeks.

Now what? It was dark outside. No way did I want to run all the way back to Wabash Avenue. Besides, I knew Madame Bender would be long gone. She’d rushed us all out of class. “Vite, vite, cheries,” she’d said, herding us out the door. She rushed me so much I’d left without my bag. An announcement crackled over the public address system, “The six fifteen to Tinley Park will be boarding on track three in fifteen minutes; fifteen minutes to boarding time.”

My stomach somersaulted. That’s my train! Throngs of people pushed around me in a rush to catch their trains. Then a terrible thought hit me. What if this was the last train of the night? I raced for the stairs. Should I just board and hope the conductor would let me slide? My temples throbbed as I plunked down on a bench and cried.

“What’s the problem here, dearie?”

Startled, I looked up, swiping the tears from my eyes. A rumpled old man with bushy white hair sat down beside me. I shrank back. Never talk to strangers. Hadn’t my parents always told me that? But I was desperate, and his deep blue eyes sparkled with compassion.

“I left my money at the dance studio, and my train is leaving soon. I don’t even have change to call my parents, and we live way out in the suburbs.” My chest heaved as I struggled to choke out the words between sobs.

“That ain’t no problem. Let’s just go over and get you a ticket. You’ll be home in no time.”

I wiped away the last of my tears as I studied the old man. His coat was shabby and his shoes had holes in them. It didn’t look like he could afford a cup of coffee, let alone a train ticket. He looked like a street person—one of those poor homeless souls who huddled under the stairs and panhandled coins just to survive.

“C’mon, darlin’, you can still make the train,” he gestured with a gnarled hand.

What if he just wanted to lure me away from the crowds and then kidnap me?

Nah, he looked harmless. And those kind eyes. I felt safe, almost as if I were with my grandpop.

“Okay,” I sniffled. True to his word, he shuffled up to the ticket counter.

“Where to, young lady?” he asked me, a crooked smile lighting his face.

“Tinley Park.”

He turned to the agent. “One way to Tinley Park, please.”

“That’ll be a dollar twenty-five,” the agent barked. He punched a button and sent the ticket shooting out of the slot.

The old man wheezed as he reached into the worn pocket of his trousers. I figured his hand would come up empty, then I’d be sunk. I stared intently, willing the money to appear. He slowly pulled out coin after coin, counting each one before sliding them under the window.

He turned and handed me the ticket. “Here you go, honey.” His blue eyes shimmered, and I felt warm all over. “Now get on that train and get home safe.”

I tucked the ticket safely into my pocket, trembling with relief. “I don’t know how to thank you mister. . . .” I looked up. He was gone! I turned in a slow circle, searching the station, but he was nowhere to be seen.

With hardly a moment to spare, I collapsed onto a seat on the train, then it hit me. Mom was right. I really did have a guardian angel. He wasn’t anything like I’d imagined. No fluffy wings or halo. And definitely not dressed in white. But he was there for me just when I needed him.

Susan A. Karas

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