The flames leapt up all around him. He couldn’t see any of the buildings or street signs he had grown so accustomed to in his short seven years of life, which meant that he couldn’t navigate very well at all. Clueless, sweating, nearly blind, and barefoot, he darted wherever he could down the road. Ignoring the screams and hollers of “save my baby” and “water over here!”, he ran. He ran as fast as he could. No one in the stupid town had ever helped him. He wasn’t going to risk his life for any of them.
He ran over to St. Michaels Church, the first building he could see clearly in the flames. He hated the stupid church. When he was at the stupid orphanage, they named him Michael just because he showed up near it, not even on its steps! Just near it! They didn’t care about him or what his name was. They just wanted something so they didn’t have to call him, “Hey boy,” which they ended up doing anyway.
He darted inside, hoping to get away from the heat that pounded away at his body causing him to drip with sweat. “Stupid church,” he muttered. His bitterness welled up in him as he thudded his feet inside the supposedly holy building the stupid orphanage dragged him to every Sunday...that is, until he ran away last year. Food was harder. Rain was awful when it rained. Other than that, running away was the best, and probably only real decision he’d ever made in his life, especially since no one bothered to drag him back there.
It was less consumed with flames inside than anywhere else he had tried to take shelter in. He’d consider that a positive for now. He walked about a bit and tried to find a little nook or the like that could hide in, where perhaps he’d be safe. He found a small closet full of various brooms, mops and cleaning supplies along with a bucket of questionable content. He made a face at the yuck that it contained as he leaned his back against the door of the closet. “Maybe, I’ll be safe in here…” he muttered aloud. Exhausted, and with an empty stomach...again, he went to sleep.
A bright light shone in his eyes but it wasn’t from the fire. It was soft and warm like morning light. He opened his eyes. It was just that, only he wasn’t in the broom closet from before. There were big pots of pottery all around him, and the walls were different than before. Had he been moved? Was he saved while sleeping? But then why would they put him in a small room full of pots? He soon heard a woman and man arguing, but they certainly weren’t arguing in English. He had never heard such a language before. Soon enough, a woman burst into the small room he was lying in. Tattered clothes and barefoot with his hair full of soot, he must have been a poor sight. She gasped at the little boy, then made a little sound with her teeth and her tongue, and then shook her head with a chuckle as she spoke to someone he couldn’t see. A man joined by her side. They were an older couple, each with that bluish-gray tint coming into their hair, and they were both round like the pictures he had seen of Mr. and Mrs. Claus on store gift cards before they beat him out of there for stealing bottles of pop.
They were talking to him. They appeared to be asking him something as the woman reached out a hand to him. Her fingers weren’t wrinkled like other people he’d seen with grayed hair, but were chubby and smooth. They were also covered in white powder. He didn’t know what it was. He didn’t know who they were. He didn’t know what he should do.
She reached out her hand more insistently, repeating her previous statement or request that he couldn’t understand. He wondered if he was in trouble.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t understand.” He hoped his sweet demeanor and his politeness would get him out of any trouble. The woman seemed troubled. The man seemed angry. The boy didn’t understand.
“Did you bring me here?” he asked, hoping to diffuse the situation.
The man began yelling furiously at the woman who began yelling furiously back, repeatedly gesturing to the young boy. He had absolutely no idea why they were yelling or what they were saying. He turned and looked around the small room. There was no escape. The two were blocking his only exit. He crossed his arms and huffed in annoyance. How long were they going to keep him here? He hadn’t had dinner last night and he was hungry!
The man shook his fist at the woman and she spat back at him until he crossed his arms, seemingly in defeat. The woman kissed him on the cheek. That seemed odd. The woman then scooped the boy up in her big arms and was off with him. Where was this crazy woman taking him? Soon enough he was dropped in a bucket of very, very cold water! She began scrubbing at him and taking off his clothes. What was she thinking?! He shouted and howled at the cold water but she thumped him each time each time he did until he was silent and as complacent as an angered, hungry, seven year old could be.
When all was said and done with, he was cleaned, with brushed hair, and strange new clothes on. They were swirly and draped over his body. She then immediately put the boy to work. He was handed handfuls of gooey gummy stuff and shown how to work it according to her instructions. Normally he’d complain, but she thumped him each time he spoke so eventually he just stopped. Plus, the gooey stuffed smelled like food, so he was holding out hope that she was going to let him eat it. His stomach grumbling and not being allowed to talk was beginning to wear on his patience, but after a small while, he was given some fresh, warm bread with a loving pat on his head. That was a loving pat, wasn’t it? That was new, but it was nice. He ate the bread happily and then resumed his work helping the woman. He only rarely saw the man who came into the cooking area, took some of the bread, and disappeared into another room. He was fed again three times throughout the day various foods he had never had before with only little he recognized and even then they were given to him in unfamiliar ways. The day continued on like this until it was dark and then the man and woman took him to their home. It was very unlike the orphanage, and very small, but it had a little fire place that the man poked at a short while until it was warm and toasty. “The fire…” he mumbled, but then he was struck again. The woman said something to him, but he didn’t understand it, and then they all went to bed.
The next few days progressed like this. Was he not allowed to talk? Was that worth the free food, the pats on the head, the clothes and a place to sleep? He wasn’t sure. The bread each morning was so delicious, and he was so enjoying not having to go hungry on a regular basis. In the course of about a week he saw them get into at least three big arguments, but other than that, they were incredibly loving and kind. They seemed very strange to him, but they were taking care of him, and they weren’t calling him Michael, not that he got a chance to even tell them his stupid name.
Suddenly, he dropped a dish. “Damnit!” he shouted. She thumped him again and he was already angry about dropping the stupid dish so he looked up at her with a glare. She spoke something to him again. “I don’t understand you!” he shouted. She said it again, this time, without thumping him first. “Speak English,” he muttered. She spoke again. He tried to ignore her and go back to work. He knew his duties by now. He didn’t need her thumping him. He’d be quiet. But she grabbed his hand and repeated herself. Maybe he was supposed to listen?
“Is est toto bono,” she repeated.
“Is est toto bono?” he asked. She immediately picked him up and swung him around. He had no idea what he said but he knew that it was what she said, and that lit a light up in his head. It wasn’t that he was allowed to talk. She was trying to teach him her language! She called in the man from before, which by now he realized that they were husband and wife. He helped her in the back making the bread and her husband sold it. She shouted something to him excitedly and he grabbed her by the head and kissed her a big kiss on her lips. Soon the two of them were back to work, beckoning him to rejoin his tasks as well. It was if the strange celebratory moment had never even happened, but he was happy that it seemed to bring her some happiness. He thought the same words to himself in his head over and over again so that he might use them again in the future. He wondered how he was going to pick up on the rest of an entire language this way, but for now, it was clear to him that their priority was the business, so he stuck to his duties until it was time to return home.
That night they each sat in a circle in front of the fireplace. The woman pointed to herself and said, “Glaucia”. The man pointed to himself and said, “Caelius”. Then they pointed at him. He wasn’t Michael. He hated that name. He didn’t know what else to do so he pointed at the woman and said, “Glaucia”. Then he pointed at the man and said, “Caelius”. They seemed only partially satisfied. The pointed at him again. He shrugged. The woman began talking to her husband again. No. Glaucia began talking to Caelius. He was going to have to pick up their language in order to talk to them. He listened carefully to every word. He didn’t know what he was going to do after that, or how that was going to help him, but he did it nonetheless.
“Bah!” said Glaucia, but Caelius scolded her firmly. She thought for a moment and said, “Horatius?”
Caelius stroked his chin and nodded. Then he pointed to the boy. “Marcus Horatius,” he stated. Well that was a mouthful. Caelius nudged him slightly with what appeared to be his attempt at encouraging.
“Marcus Horace.” Wait. That didn’t sound right. Glaucia laughed. “Marcus Horeeshus.” That was definitely not right.
“Marcus Horatius.” Caelius nodded.
“Marcus Horatius.” He couldn’t say for sure if it was better than Michael, but at least he wasn’t named after the cupboard they found him in. He didn’t want something like that held over him for the rest of his life. His life… He had a life now. His life was baking bread with Glaucia and coming to sleep by the fireplace. He wasn’t going to starve anymore. He...he had a home