It was nearly ten years ago. I was almost thirteen, and I'd run away from a school back east and was heading out west to become a bullfighter. I'd sold most of my clothes and jewelry and hoarded a Christmas windfall from Uncle Roger to get together enough money to buy a coach ticket to Albuquerque. I planned on hitching the rest of the way to Mexico. But somehow I'd forgotten entirely about food. By the time I reached Chicago, my stomach was flat against my spine and gasping for breath. I saw the sign saying Traveler's Aid Society and decided I was in luck. I'd just go up to it and ask for a loan. The woman at the desk -actually she probably wasn't more then my age now, though she seemed older to my young eyes and wore her hair in a severe style that gave her a Librarian Look -- disillusioned me about that immediately. She said they didn’t dole out money like that, they were really only a reference organization, and if I’d answer a few questions she’d be able to tell me which charity I might be eligible for. She was very kind. I liked her at once. I started answering her questions and the next thing I knew I’d blurted out the whole story. She listened attentively. She listened with out making any “listening” faces, but I felt she was on my side. It was the first time I’d felt that about any grownup.
“Oh dear,” she said sadly at the end, shaking her head. “I’m afraid it’s a cut and dried case. You’re a runaway. The worst kind. Underage. Our rules are especially strict for underage runaways. We simply hold on to them and wire the Traveler’s Aid in the town they’ve run away from, and they provide the fare for the return and get it back later from the parents or guardians – but listen, don’t go!” she called out to me suddenly as I started backing away, “I’d like to help you, I really would,” she said. She leaned over the counter. “Why shouldn’t you be a bullfighter if you want to be? I’m sick to death of standing here day after day, sending people back to places they hate, places they’ve run away from. I just can’t bear it any longer. I mean, who are we to know what’s what anyway? Look, here’s a dollar. Go over to the soda fountain and have something to eat. I’ll check the timetables of the trains going west from Union Station and we’ll figure out your next move when you get back.”
When I returned she said “Quick. Here’s fifteen dollars, it’s all I’ve got on me, Your train leaves in half an hour from Union Station and you’ve just got time to make it. I’ll help you get a taxi. We’ve got a priority and they let us jump the line.”
She left the booth and went over to pick up my bag. Then I saw what it was. She was lame. She had an ugly brace on her leg and she hobbled badly. I looked at it and looked away quickly. But not quickly enough.
“The blind leading the blind,” she said casually, acknowledging the fact, as I followed the grotesquely hobbling figure out of the station.
“But I don’t even know your name,” I said suddenly, leaning forward in the taxi. “How shall I pay you back?”
“You don’t have to pay me back,” she answered. “Good luck to you. You’re running for my life.” She slammed the cab door shut, and turning swiftly, hobbled away.
And that was why they didn't pick me up until Albuquerque.
I stood still in the middle of the station and made the porter put my bags down. So now I’d got to the bottom of it. I’d come full-circle and suddenly lost my space-urge. The dash to California seemed so utterly puerile now. Now called for something entirely different. Now called for something drastically un-running away. Now called for---what? Suddenly I had it! Now called for becoming a librarian! In that way I would be laying the ghost once and for all.
Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado