January 12

Dear Diary,
Fue tan horrible! Today many things happened. I told Papa that I could not wait any longer for Lucero to show up, that I must try to look for her. More of the street children returned for food, but they still would not say anything about Lucero. Then, finally, little Jorge whispered something to me: he said that Lucero was sick and hiding. He said that boys from another neighborhood had led an attack and beaten up many children—including Lucero. Now everyone was waiting until after dark to come into the streets, for fear the boys would come back. But the bakery was closed by then, which is why we had not seen them.

“Why did they come?” I asked, my heart beating hard.

“To steal whatever we have. These boys are very mean. They will beat anyone, even girls,” he said. “Lucero made me promise to tell no one where she is.”

“I saw you filling your pockets,” I told him.

He nodded. ” I have been taking food to her from your bakery. She’s too afraid and hurt to walk all this way.”

So Papa and I followed Jorge down the streets as night came. Poor Papa! He must have been so tired, to miss his sleep and go looking for a little girl instead. But his face was very serious and he carried a big piece of wood in one hand. My Papa has strong arms from kneading and baking bread all these years! Still, I was frightened as we ran after Jorge into the narrow, dirty, alleys where the children live. There was trash and it smelled terrible. Skinny dogs barked at us and ran away in fear, pobrecitos! Poor things!

Finally, we climbed up to a large, flat roof. There were cardboard boxes and plastic sheets everywhere; beneath them were old, dirty mattresses and some thin blankets. Maybe five or six children were huddled together, talking softly or lying curled up, as if they hurt. Some half-empty bottles stood nearby.

“This is where we hide until we feel better,” Jorge said. He led us to a big cardboard packing box; inside were some newspapers and a pink blanket. Tucked into a corner was a shadow with hair: Lucero.

I called her name and kneeled down, but tears were running from my eyes and I could not see into the shadow. Papa dropped his stick, bent over, and crept in. I heard him murmur, then he scraped Lucero out of the box like a snail out of its shell. She had bruises all over her arms and legs and her face was swollen. Her clothes were torn and had dark stains on them, like blood.

Papa held her in his arms like a baby who weighed nothing. He looked around the roof. “Niños,” he said, “Come with us to the bakery. I will lock the courtyard and you will be safe. I will give you food and medicine. Come now.”

The children looked at us. One or two nodded. Jorge repeated Papa’s offer. “I know these people. You know them. They will help. Come with us, por favor.

Papa walked across the roof, holding Lucero. It was only a short jump to the next building, and the one after that, and then a stairway down. Just before he jumped, he glanced at a skinny boy holding one arm, as if it were broken.

“You too, Sandro,” he said. “You must come, too. Pronto!

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