Copyright © 2013 C.L. Mannarino
All rights reserved.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who loved to run. Every day, she put on her loose green shirt and cut-off jean shorts, slid her blue sneakers onto her feet, and jogged out the door of her house to make a long, winding circle around her neighborhood. She passed her neighbors and friends, other joggers, and people just strolling in the park. She saw houses that towered to the sky in one district and mobile homes that crowded the highways in another, but at the end of her jog, no matter what she saw, she always came back to her house feeling refreshed.
One day, she noticed something that struck her as being odd. Two giant yellow mechanical cranes sat in the lot where the mobile homes were placed. She jogged home, but didn’t think of it anymore. When she went on her jog the next morning, the mobile home lot had changed again, only this time there were fewer homes in the lot and a few people with tears in their eyes standing behind the yellow cranes. She turned away, but not before she saw the suitcases that stood by the feet of the people crying. On the third morning, even more of the homes had gone and a new group of people stood behind the cranes. They also had suitcases at their feet, but these people spoke in hard voices and shook their heads at the emptying lot that had once been full of mobile homes.
The woman stopped jogging and walked up to the group of angry people. “Excuse me, but what’s going on? Where are all the mobile homes?”
A man with glasses and work boots turned to her, his arms crossed over his chest. “They’ve been displaced. The town counsel has decided that we can’t keep our homes here anymore because this lot could be used to build apartments. When we told them we had nowhere else to put them, they towed them all away, just like they’ll do again tomorrow morning.”
The woman’s jaw fell in shock. “That’s horrible! Isn’t there anything someone can do?”
Glasses Man turned to the woman standing next to him, who had a large red purse dangling from her arm and tears in her eyes. “I think they’ve pretty much made up their minds. It’s not fair, though. We’re members of this town. Our children go to school here. Where are we supposed to go? They never told us that.”
The jogging woman went home and sat down at the table with her sister, who shared the house with her. “Did you know that the town has decided to take the mobile homes away from the lot they’ve been sitting in?”
Her sister, a woman with curly hair who always wore dresses, blinked at her with confusion. “How come?”
“To build apartments.”
“Well, where are the homes going to go?”
The jogging woman shrugged. “They don’t have an answer for that.” She took her sister’s hand. “I do know one thing, though. They need a place to stay and that lot is all they have. There are plenty of homes in this town. The people living in those mobile homes have as much right to live in that lot as anyone else.”
Her sister stared. “What are you going to do?”
The woman stood up. “I’m going to find a way to help them stay.”
The next morning, instead of going on her run, the woman went around her neighborhood with a clipboard and asked anyone who would open their doors to sign a petition protesting the removal of the homes. At first, people didn’t sign. They asked her a great many questions and eyed the board, but didn’t take the pen. When she explained how the people of the mobile homes had nowhere else to go and asked them to consider what it would feel like to be taken from your home so that someone else could live there, they began to listen. Some of the people she spoke to had children who went to school with the kids in the mobile homes. Others had friends living there, or knew people who worked in town and lived in the homes.
Mostly, people had no idea that the homes were being removed from the lot at all, even though the town was only made up of a few hundred people.
When the woman had finished her round of the neighborhood, she had over one hundred fifty signatures. Smiling, she made her way back to the lot and almost cried out when she saw that only four mobile homes remained.
“Where have the rest of them gone?” she asked the young couple sitting on the suitcases at the edge of the road.
The young lady looked up from under her sunhat. “As far as we know, they’re at the edge of town. Some people came over here with suits and shining cars and told us we had to leave once all the homes were gone.”
The woman pursed her lips and held out her hand to the couple. “Come on. We’re going to protest this. They can’t just take your homes away to build more stuff.”
Armed with the young couple and a bounty of signatures from around the town, the woman marched to the edge of town. There, she found the groups of people she’d seen on her previous jogs–the one’s who’d been crying, the ones who’d been angry, Glasses Man and Red Purse Woman–all standing around their homes and scratching their heads as they tried to figure out what to do.
The woman marched up to the lot of them and held out her sheets. “I have in my hand over one hundred fifty signatures from around town. These are the petitions of your neighbors and friends, all of whom agree that you have a right to stay here and not have the town kick your homes off of that lot.”
Glasses Man gave her a sad smile. “Thanks, miss. But it’s going to take a lot more than signatures to get us free from this mess.” A few onlookers nodded and turned their heads to the ground.
The woman lowered the sheet and stared Glasses Man in the eye. “Then come with me. All of you. Come with me to town hall and we’ll march in there and demand that they hear your case. You want to keep your homes here, don’t you?”
A few people looked up and nodded.
“You want to have the right not to have your homes moved without your permission, without fearing that the town will kick you out just because they want to put an apartment in your place, don’t you?”
More nods appeared and people began to move closer so that she could see the hope and determination in their eyes.
The woman smiled. “Then let’s go. The town deserves to hear your voice.”
With the jogging woman at the lead, the group of mobile home owners walked back into town and through the front doors of Town Hall. At first, no one paid them any attention, but when twenty people filled the lobby and approached the front desk, the receptionists began to whisper to each other.
“Can I help you?” a man with a blue jacket asked when the jogging woman approached his desk.
The woman put the sheet of signatures in front of him. “We’d like to speak to whoever’s in charge of removing the mobile homes from town.”
Blue Jacket blinked. “That would be the Mayor. Do you mind waiting in the meeting room?”
The woman smiled. “Only if my friends can come, too,” she said, pointing to Glasses Man, Red Purse Woman, and the Young Couple.
“Sure, but everyone else needs to wait outside.”
The woman and her friends sat in a meeting room off the lobby at a long table with lots of wooden chairs and a big blue rug underfoot. The wait lasted fifteen, thirty, forty-five minutes before Glasses Man stood up and said, “I’m leaving.”
Just as he did, the door opened and a woman in a grey suit walked in, a small smile on her face. “But I’ve only just arrived,” she said as everyone jumped.
“You’re the Mayor?” Red Purse Woman asked.
Grey Suit nodded and sat down at the head of the table beside the jogging woman. “And you’re the people who want to talk to me about the mobile homes.”
The jogger woman nodded and leaned forward, presenting her signature sheet. “We don’t think it’s fair that you didn’t get the consent of the people living in those homes before you decided to get rid of them. And when you did make that decision, you didn’t give them a place to go.”
The Mayor studied the signatures and then turned to the jogging woman’s friends. “You’re the people representing your group.”
The mobile home friends nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
The Mayor sat back. “Tell me what you have to say.”
The Glasses Man went first. He talked about how he didn’t have anywhere to go until he moved to town, and then he’d met so many friends and found work that he wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Red Purse Woman went next, talking about how her family had been part of the town and when they left, she had to move to the mobile home lot because she didn’t have someplace else to go. She’d made great friends in town, but the lot was her home. The Young Couple said the same, that this was the best they could afford and no other town had been good enough to give them a chance to try to make a life. By the end of the meeting, the jogging woman had tears in her eyes and the Mayor had a smile on her face.
For a moment, the Mayor went quiet and the rest of the room held its breath as it waited to hear what she had to say. When she finally leaned forward, she looked everyone in the eye.
“Thank you for telling me your stories. It’s clear to me that you all have something within this town that means a lot to you and you wouldn’t have had any of it if it weren’t for that mobile home lot. You’re right, too. That lot is your home. It wasn’t fair of me to go in and think I could just take it away from you.”
The jogging woman sat up straighter. “Does that mean they can stay?”
The Mayor smiled at her and then at everyone else at the table. “Yes. That means they can stay.”
A great whoop went up in the room. Glasses Man and Red Purse Woman hugged, while the Young Couple Cried and the jogging woman jumped from her chair to dance around the place. Outside, they told everyone the good news and a cheer spread from one side of the crowd to the other.
Everyone went back to the lot and watched as the cranes brought the mobile homes back to their proper places. A few relieved owners struck up their instruments and called for a big picnic to celebrate their stay, and the jogging woman sat among her new friends as they sang and ate and hugged their homes in happiness.
As the sun sank on the horizon, the jogging woman hugged Glasses Man, Red Purse Woman, and the Young Couple goodnight.
“Thank you for everything. We’re so grateful that you helped us,” Red Purse Woman said.
The jogging woman smiled. “Thank you for letting me. But also, thank yourselves. It’s because of your voices that the Mayor learned these stories about the mobile home lot. It’s because of you all that she decided to let you stay. You should be proud of yourselves.”
The four friends looked at each other and nodded. “We are,” the Young Couple said as they hugged.
The jogging woman went home that night feeling happier than she had in a long time. When she went jogging the next day, she waved at all of the friends she made and breathed a great sight of relief to see the homes were still there.