Chapter Four

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The next block passes agonizingly slow, and when I find the brick building with a green door I walk past it so no one follows behind me or suspects my actions. Now that I know where the building is, it will be easier to sneak in surreptitiously. In a circular motion, I follow the crowd to the end of the block, cross the street, then cross again at the end of that block. Now I can see the building I'm heading to again, just yards ahead of me. I recognize this area as the newly renovated part of the city, usually where government officials and the economically privileged reside. I gradually step to the right so I am on the inner edge of the sidewalk, farthest from the street and closest to the brick building's entrance.

Just three more doors away...

Just two...

Here I go...

I quickly throw open the door, step in, and slam it shut behind me. When I turn around, I recognize the place as one of the newly renovated apartments. It looks like someone lives here, according to the clothes that lay scattered around on the leather furniture and the condensed glass of water on the steel counter. Maybe it's my mother's, I think hopefully. I carefully walk through the living room, passing a large, expensive television set, and stare down the hallway located at the end of the room; it branches off to a couple other corridors. This must be a comfortable place to live, as it's the exact opposite of my grandmother's home: spacious and containing many rooms. Does my mother work for the government? I don't know how I'd handle that if I found out.

"Mom?" I inquire softly. Nothing stirs. The only thing I can hear is the whirring air conditioner, hidden underneath the plaster walls. "Mom?" No reply. I begin to wonder if I'm in the right place, then fear buzzes in my chest. What if I'm in the apartment of a random government worker? What would happen to me if I were caught? I consider leaving and retiring to my grandmother's house, but stubborn determination begs me to stay and look around for a few more moments. I slowly creep down the hallway, listening for any noises that might betray someone who's spying on me. My dull, white shoes don't make a sound on the tile underfoot until I reach the very end of the hall. The floor beneath my feet feels weaker and makes a creaking sound.

Curious, I bend down and run my hand over the tile. After a few seconds of scrutiny, I realize that a square section of the floor is uneven and sticks up slightly higher than the rest. Nearly giggling with excitement, I dig my fingernails into the crack surrounding the square door. The section comes loose after a few hard tugs, and it flaps open like a trap door. The opening it creates is about five feet long on every side, and inside it I can detect a damp staircase, leading down into darkness. An old, musty smell-like that of old books- wafts towards me, tickling my nostrils.

"Wow," I whisper, the blank space in front of me swallowing up my voice. Other than the sewer system, I don't know of any other structures built beneath the city. These stairs must lead to a very secretive place. My mother's definitely not a government employee... I pause, take a breath, then place my foot on the first steel stair step. Trepidation courses through me from head to foot but I ignore it, just as I had ignored the urge to return to my grandmother. I'm here now: there's no going back. Just as I move to place another foot on the next step, I hear a noise that causes me to jump ten feet into the air then dash into the nearest bedroom: the opening of the front door.

I rush around a plush, luxurious bed and hide against the side of it, out of view from anyone who may be in the hallway. I can't hear what's going on outside of this room: all I can hear is my own heartbeat. I pray the visitor can't hear it as well. Minutes pass, as well as many failed attempts to breathe deeply. Please, please, please don't find me, I beg silently. Biting my lip, I stick my head up and look over the bed. Nothing. Maybe it's my mother, I think hopefully. Maybe this is her house and she just came home, hoping I'd turned up.

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