Chapter 3: Onward
One hot day a few weeks later, Martina saw a car parked in front of a bar. Inside was a small girl. Because of the heat, Martina knew that the little girl could easily get heat stroke and die.
Martina tried the car doors, but they were locked. The windows were up, so she was unable to unlock the doors. She motioned to the little girl to open the door, but the little girl shook her head no, probably because she had learned in school not to trust strangers.
Fortunately, near the bar was a soft-drink machine. Martina bought a cold soft drink, and then she held it up for the little girl to see. The little girl then opened the door and Martina opened the soft drink and gave it to her.
The little girl was sweating, and she quickly gulped some of the cold soft drink.
“Where are your parents?” Martina asked.
“My daddy is inside the bar,” the little girl said. “He said that he just wanted a quick one.”
“What does he look like?” Martina asked.
“He’s big and fat,” the little girl said.
“What color hair does he have?” Martina asked.
“Black,” the little girl said.
Martina went inside the bar, and located the little girl’s father quickly. He was easy to find; the bar was never crowded at that time of day.
Martina walked over to him, “Excuse me, sir. Your little girl is outside in the car and waiting for you. It is dangerous for her to be in the car alone on such a hot day.”
“Mind your own business, bitch,” the little girl’s father said.
Martina went back outside and wrote down the license plate of the car the little girl was in, and then she asked the little girl, “Does your father come here often?”
“All the time,” the little girl replied.
“Does he get drunk a lot?” Martina asked.
“All the time,” the little girl replied.
“You must hate it when he gets drunk,” Martina said.
“No,” the little girl said. “He’s mean when he doesn’t have anything to drink. I like him a lot better when he’s drunk.”
“Do any social workers come to your house?” Martina asked.
“Yes,” the little girl said. “Sometimes they take me away from my daddy for a few weeks, but he always gets me back.”
“If you could have anything you want, what would it be?” Martina asked.
“The same thing my mommy wants: my family to have a steady paycheck that isn’t drunk up every week.”
“Does your mommy live with you and your daddy?”
Meanwhile, inside the bar the bartender, who had not known that a little girl was alone in a car outside his bar, was talking to the little girl’s father earnestly about how much trouble the father could get into if he were charged with child neglect, and especially if, God forbid, the little girl should get heat stroke and die.
The little girl’s father chugged his beer and went outside. He saw Martina and ordered her to get away from his car and his little girl.
Martina slowly walked backwards away from the car, facing the little girl’s father, and she asked him, “If you could have anything you want, what would it be?”
“A never-ending supply of beer,” he replied before getting in his car and driving away.
Martina was able to find out his name and address by using the license plate number of the car and by talking to the bartender.
The next evening, the little girl’s father had a pleasant surprise.
A truck pulled up to his home, and a deliveryman got out and delivered a couple of cases of beer to the little girl’s father, explaining that it was a paid-for gift.
Every day after that, a truck pulled up to his trailer and delivered a couple of cases of beer.
Meanwhile, the little girl’s mother was having her own pleasant surprises. Once a week, when her husband was sleeping off a hangover, a delivery was made directly to her: a money order written out to her. The name of whoever had sent the gift was not on the money order. It was not for a great amount of money, but it was enough to pay the bills and buy groceries with something left over.
The little girl’s mother was very happy. Finally, she did not have to worry about her husband drinking up most of his paycheck.
The little girl’s father was in beer heaven, and he made the most of it. He did not go to work anymore because he had what he valued most. He simply stayed home and drank and watched TV until he passed out. He repeated this routine daily and often twice daily.
In six months, he had a case of cirrhosis of the liver — a case that should have been that of a much older alcoholic. He didn’t see a doctor until months later, and by then he had destroyed his liver, and he died soon after the diagnosis was made.
The little girl and her mother were secretly relieved that he had died, but they had sad faces at the funeral.
The money orders continued for a year longer, and an anonymous note that came with one of the money orders just after the funeral announced that the money orders would be for smaller and smaller amounts until a year was over and then the money orders would stop coming. That gave the mother time to get a job and start making her own money.
Years later, the little girl, now grown up, talked about how much her daddy had loved her and how good a daddy he had been, but the mother knew and remembered how relieved the little girl had been when her daddy died.
Not years later, but soon after the alcoholic father had died, Martina read in the city newspapers about a man named Mr. Smith who had stopped a rape. He explained, “I had parked my car and was walking the rest of the way to work when I heard a young girl screaming in the alley. I ran into the alley and saw a man wrestling the girl to the ground. She was screaming, and she was fighting him. Apparently, he had grabbed her and carried her into the alley. I ran to the man and pulled him off the girl. He ran away, and I called 911.”
A police spokesman explained that because of the descriptions provided by Mr. Smith and the girl, who was 14 years old and had been walking to school, the attacker had been arrested and had admitted that he wanted to have sex with the girl. Charges had been filed.
A few months later, the man was convicted of attempted rape and sent to prison.
In interviews following the rescue, Mr. Smith said, “I just did what anyone would do.”
Martina thought, You did what anyone would do? No. Rapists would not act the way you did. I frequently hear about rescues from fires. I frequently hear about rescues from burning cars. I frequently hear about rescues from drowning. I seldom hear about someone stopping a rape. The heroes when it comes to dealing with rape are often anonymous: prosecutors, doctors and nurses who gather evidence in a hospital, police officers who dig up evidence, forensic scientists, rape counselors, 911 and other emergency-line operators, self-defense teachers, and guys who know that No means No, Stop means Stop, and Don’t means Don’t. And once in a while someone like Mr. Smith becomes a hero.
In the interviews, Mr. Smith said, “I am not a hero.”
Martina thought, Heroes are like that. They do heroic actions, and then they deny that they did anything heroic. Heroes will say that it feels good saving a life or doing a good deed. At most, a hero will say that it feels good to be able to help someone else. Heroes tend to be humble about their heroism. Some people deserve recognition and more than recognition.
Some good things did happen to Mr. Smith as a result of the publicity. He received many, many thanks from many, many women — young women, mothers, and grandmothers — and from a few men. The family members of the girl he had rescued were especially thankful.
He also received a letter containing a few hundred dollars in bills and a thank-you card. The hand-printed note in the thank-you card said, “Thanks. We need more heroes like you.” He tried to send it back to the return address with a note explaining that all he had wanted to do was to help someone, but the letter he mailed came back to him with a notation saying, “No such address.” Martina had used a fake address when she mailed the letter.
Late one evening as the evening turned into night, shortly after leaving a subway Martina heard a sound coming from an alley. The sound was that of a child crying “Mommy! Mommy!” Martina kept on walking. She quickly reached a well-lighted, safe area, and then she used her cell phone to call 911.