It was midnight, and the streets were empty, but something was lurking in the dark. The two of them walked down a long road and thought no one else was around. To their great surprise, as they drew near the town gate, there arose loud shouts.
“Aaahh! It’s the Hunchback of the Dump and his look-alike bride! Run for your lives!” one man said in a mocking voice.
The townspeople erupted into a pandemonium of cheers and were having a roaring good time taunting those pitiful human beings.
As the couple continued their long walk home, the children pelted them with rocks, eggs, and all kinds of things. Tears streamed down the woman’s cheeks. She looked at her husband for comfort, but he turned his face away, hiding his tears.
They continued to walk in silence.
Theo and Mary were born with disfigured faces and deformities, which made them the subject of daily mockery in their small town, a quiet farming community. Theo, the husband, was hunchbacked and limped when he walked. He had big eyes, crooked teeth, and a large nose that looked like a giant tomato. Mary, his wife, had big teeth and a hump on her back. Her cheeks were round, and she had a mass of scars, including one that ran from her forehead down to her left chin.
They lived in a dilapidated shack next to the landfill. Cardboard covered the holes in the walls. Their bed was an old stain-covered mattress they found in the dump. To cook their meals, they used an old and rusty portable gas stove, and for light at night, they used gas lamps. To make enough money to survive, they rummaged through the landfill or people’s trash cans. They took aluminum cans, glass, plastic containers, cardboard boxes, and cartons, sold these things at the recycling center, and bought what little food they could buy with their money. Almost every day, they went to bed half hungry.
One night, while Mary was standing in front of the hot stove preparing their meal, she closed her eyes for a moment and wished for baked bread and hot food on the table. Images of roasted chicken kept intruding her mind as her thoughts about food became intense, and she could almost taste the warm, buttered bread. She opened her eyes, feeling that maybe, just maybe, if she could close them long enough, her wish would come true when she opened them. Realizing she was acting ridiculous, she snapped back to reality.
“I wish one day we could have a decent meal like those chicken thighs, wings, and legs we see in the window display at the restaurant next to the recycling center instead of this steamed cabbage we eat every day,” she said loud enough for her husband to hear while rubbing her tummy. “Even those juicy hamburgers and French fries would do. And a nice cold drink, too. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.”
Theo chuckled, rolled his eyes, and said, “You never know, Mary. I might surprise you one day and give you not just the chicken thighs, wings, or legs but the whole chicken. Then I’ll add a nice roast beef with it. For you, the sky is the limit!”
Mary smiled. Her eyes were gleaming with hope. “I was kidding, Theo. I am not complaining. I am happy. Even though we have little, we still eat. Some people are wealthy and could eat anything they want, but they’re not happy. They’re alone. Some people are homeless, but at least we have a roof over our heads. I don’t care what people say about us. For me, we are the luckiest people in the universe because we have each other.”
“I love you so much, Mary. You always know what to say to make me feel better. You always find the positive in everything,” said Theo, putting his arm around his wife’s shoulder.
They sat down to eat, and even though there was not much food on the table, they ate their dinner. The steamed cabbage never tasted so good. They lived a simple life, yet they were happy living together.
One night, as Mary and Theo were coming home from selling their goods at the recycling center, they saw the townspeople gathered around their tiny shack. Theo’s heart was pounding in his chest. He knew something was wrong. They hid in the bushes and listened to what the townspeople were saying.
They saw a young man standing in front of everyone, shouting. “How long do we let these kinds of people remain here and be a disgrace to the whole town? Let’s get rid of them. They’re freaks! They don’t belong here with us. We need to clean up our neighborhood, and we should start with these hideous creatures,” the man said as if Theo and Mary were animals.
Mary heard the townspeople cheering and applauding, and she could not help weeping behind her hands. They meant no harm to the townspeople. They were quiet people, worked hard, and didn’t bother anyone. Why would they be angry with them?
“What are we going to do, Theo?” Mary whispered as tears fell from her eyes.
Theo sighed before he answered. “It’s clear we are not safe here anymore, Mary. I don’t know what they will do if they find us hiding here. I am afraid we have no choice but to leave.”
“Where should we go?”
“We should go as far away from here and from people as we can go. We need to find a place where we don’t have to worry about anyone hurting us again. Don’t worry, Mary. In time, we will find a safe place for us, and we will build a world of our own. God will protect and guide us.” Theo choked as he tried the best he could to hide the pain and sadness he was feeling.
Meanwhile, the townspeople built a campfire in front of Theo and Mary’s tiny shack, and they even brought food and drinks as if it was a celebration. They sat around the campfire, roasted marshmallows, and told spooky stories while the children held hands to sing and danced in a circle around them. Then the townspeople waited for Theo and Mary’s return.
As the night progressed, many soon grew bored and went home. A few people stayed behind and waited.
And they waited.
After waiting for what seemed like forever, they got tired and decided to get a good night’s rest. They all agreed to return first thing in the morning to demolish Theo and Mary’s tiny house, and they would do it with or without consent or permission from anyone. Everyone laughed, and they all left, leaving garbage everywhere.
Theo and Mary, who were still hiding in the bushes, heard everything the people had said. They sat in the dark and waited for everyone to leave, and as soon as they were out of sight, Theo and Mary went into their house and packed a few of their things. They pushed the wooden cart, and they didn’t stop walking until they disappeared into the darkness.
Mary took one final look at the town and the life they were leaving behind. She let out a frustrated sigh, and she asked her husband, “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, Mary. I truly don’t know.” Theo paused, and sadness crept across his face. He shook his head in desperation, not knowing what lay ahead.
For the first time in his life, he was frightened!
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