By John Thomas Tuft

Once upon a time, on a lovely Saturday autumn morning, I stepped out of my hotel in Center City, Philadelphia, turned left and headed for Rittenhouse Square. “Mister, hey Mister!” I looked around for the source of this small, shrill voice. “Mister. Down here. Hey, Mister. Whatcha doin’? Where ya goin’?” I looked down. There among the ever more common collection of homeless humans sat a waifish girl of about 9, lanky brown hair below her shoulders, wearing the simple, broadcloth smock of the Plain People. “Mama says I ain’t to be talking to strangers, but you ain’t no stranger, are you Mister!?” Before I could answer she rushed on, “Name’s Sarah. Pleased to meet ya.” She extended her hand and when I gingerly took it, she grabbed on, and hopped up to stand beside me. “I’m just tryin’ to do believen, that’s all.”

“What…well, um…,” I searched for my grown up words. “You wanna help?” she asked. “Every Saturday Momma and me come into the city to the market over yonder,” she indicated the quaint square a block away, where vendors in stalls hawked produce, canned and baked goods, and arts and crafts. “Help you sell?” I asked. “No, goofus. Mama’s got Sally and Robert and Hannah and Drexel to help her.” She looked up at me, saying slowly, carefully as if to a child, “Do-you-want-to-help-me,” then a sweep of her arm,    “give them fudge?” From somewhere she produced a shoebox lined with wax paper and overflowing with squares of heaven. “You give the homeless people fudge?” She sighed at my question, tilted her head to one side, rolled her eyes. “Fallen angels. Didn’t your Mama teach you right?”

“Sarah…right?” She nodded so I pushed on, ever more aware of the agitation of some of those sitting on the plastic bags nearby. “Sarah, does your mother know you’re here?” She shrugged. “She says I’m always in her heart. Didn’t your Mama teach you that?” She took a bite of fudge.  “I’m just trying to do believen, that’s all.” A gentleman in a ragged jacket, sores on his grimy hands, approached and made an elegant bow. “Sarah, may I have another?” She giggled. “Sure, Mr. Reepicheep. Then I’ll go get you some coffee.” She handed me the box of sweet treasure and fearlessly skipped toward the ever present Dunkin’ Donuts shop on the corner.

I felt a tug on my sleeve and turned around. “She’s one of us,” said a small woman dressed in an old housecoat and wrapped in a much too large pea coat. She tucked some loose strands of frizzy hair underneath a watch cap. “Calls me the White Witch.” She smiled before continuing, “My husband was Navy, 22 years. We lost everything in ought 8. He was a proud man, but that was too much for him.” She turned away to hide her trembling lip. A large man in stained fatigues stepped forward and belched in my face. “She calls us fallen angels. Huh!” he snorted. “You be nice to my new friend, Aslan” Sarah called as she returned, balancing two trays of steaming cups of coffee. “Here, pass these out,” the half pint commanded the shaggy figure.

I watched as her disciples tended to each other, sipping the hot coffee and nibbling the lifeblood of fudge. Sarah planted herself in front of me again. “Mama says it ain’t polite to stare but there’s no excuse for not noticing. Mama says we’re all just angels trying to find our way home.” She stared at me with eyes that saw right through me. “I think Mama might like you.” She pointed a finger at me, “Mind you, I said might!” She put her small, cool hand in mine. “You’ll tell her won’t you?” I was confused. “Tell her? Tell her what? Your mother?” She nodded with such a solemnness that I felt a holy breeze pass between us. Without another word she handed me the box of fudge, turned and disappeared back around the corner, with all of Narnia following behind.

I found myself in front of a small booth in Rittenhouse Square. Families from the surrounding neighborhoods were enjoying the sunshine. The woman behind the table looked at me with a curious expression. “Where did you get that?” I looked down dumbly at the shoebox of fudge. “Sarah gave it to..” Before I could finish, she gasped, and dropped the tin of candy buckeyes she held, scattering them all to kingdom come. “What did you say?” Her eyes looked wild, afraid. I held up the box. “Sarah said her Mama…” The woman yelped in pain, loss, wonder. “I’m Sarah’s Mama. My Sarah’s been gone a year now. Her little heart gave out. She used to come with me…” She couldn’t finish and turned away.

I sat on a bench the rest of the afternoon. Sipping coffee. Nibbling on fudge. Wondering if all any of us are doing is tryin’ to do believen.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.