Keep in mind–this is a draft…
Pepe lived in a one-room house with his grandmother. They were poor, but they loved one another very much. Every morning, Pepe helped his grandmother clean the home of a wealthy family. Sometimes the Senora gave them old clothes, towels, or sheets her family no longer needed. From these Pepe and his grandmother made new clothes for themselves, a beautiful patchwork quilt for their bed, and dozens of charming rag dolls.
In the afternoon, Pepe and his grandmother often went to the beach to sell their homemade dolls to the tourists. Sometimes Pepe was allowed to play with the other boys on the beach. Sometimes he was not. “Always remember,” Grandmother would say, “you are not a street boy.” Pepe knew his grandmother did not approve of the boys who roamed the street, causing mischief and sometimes stealing from tourists or vendors in the market. But all the street boys were not like that. Pepe often saw other boys his age selling things they had made on the beach. “Street boys are not so very different from me,” Pepe thought to himself. But Grandmother disagreed. “You have a home to come back to, and someone who loves you,” she told Pepe. “You do not drift from place to place like a weed in the sea.”
Sunday was Pepe’s favorite day. After church, Grandmother took Pepe to the public garden. Hand in hand they strolled down the cobbled paths, breathing in the fragrant perfume of the beautiful flowers. Grandmother could name them all: zinnias, ginger lilies, orchids, ixoras, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and plumbago. As they walked home from the garden, the sea breeze washed over the boardwalk, leaving a soft, salty kiss on their cheeks. Pepe squeezed his grandmother’s hand and felt like the luckiest boy in the world.
Then, one Sunday morning, Grandmother did not wake up. Pepe slipped out of bed and started his chores. After he had swept the front yard, Pepe tried once more to wake his grandmother. Realizing something was wrong, Pepe ran next door to get help from a neighbor. Senora Clemencia came back with Pepe and told him his beloved grandmother had passed during the night.
After the funeral, all the ladies in black went away. Pepe sat on the bed he had shared with his grandmother, unsure what to do.
“Rest now,” said Senora Clemencia. “I have sent a telegram. Someone will come for you soon.” Senora Clemencia helped Pepe crawl under the colorful quilt. She gently brushed a tear from his cheek, then kissed him and went away.
Pepe waited three days and three nights, but no one came for him. On the fourth day, the landlord unlocked the door with his key. Pepe was curled up on the bed. In his arms he cradled the last rag doll he and his grandmother had made.
“You have to leave now,” said the landlord. “I have a new family waiting to move in.”
“But I have nowhere to go,” said Pepe, his small body trembling with fear.
“That is not my problem,” said the landlord. “I let you and your grandmother live here, even though you were behind on the rent. The furniture must stay, but you may take whatever belongings you can carry.”
Pepe looked down at the quilt he had made with his grandmother. He stood up and began to fold it carefully. “Where will I go?” Pepe whispered to himself.
The landlord cleared his throat and avoided Pepe’s tear-filled eyes. “Some boys live under the bridge. Perhaps you could join them.”
Pepe rolled the folded up quilt and tucked it under his thin arm. Before leaving the only home he had ever known, Pepe grabbed the one other thing he could carry: his grandmother’s sewing basket. Inside it he placed the last rag doll. As Pepe stepped out into the yard, the landlord reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. “Here,” he said. Pepe somberly thanked the landlord and put the coins inside the basket. Then he crossed the yard he had always swept so carefully and headed down the street.
All day long Pepe walked through town, his heart heavy and cold as stone. He passed by the beach where he and his grandmother used to sell their dolls. He went to the market and used the landlord’s coins to buy something to eat. The market was as busy and loud as ever. No one except Pepe seemed to notice that his grandmother was gone.
Finally the sun began to sink toward the sea. The vendors packed up their unsold wares and drifted away. Pepe didn’t know where to go. He saw a group of street boys hauling plastic bags filled with empty cans. Pepe walked slowly so they wouldn’t notice him, and followed the street boys home.
At the bottom of a steep, trash-strewn embankment was a miserable shantytown. Pepe carefully picked his way down the slope and wandered through the maze of tents and boxes and rubbish. A fire was burning in a large pit underneath the concrete bridge. Several boys were roasting fish over the open flames. Smaller boys counted bottles and cans. Two older boys were stick-fighting while others cheered them on. The boss boy sat by the fire, supervising everything while balancing himself on his chair’s hind legs. “Who are you?” he called out as Pepe crept closer to the fire.
“I’m Pepe.” A sound like the rustling of cane leaves swept past Pepe as his name was whispered from one boy to the next.
“What do you want with us, Pepe?”
“I…need a place to stay,” said Pepe, desperate and humble.
The boss boy looked at Pepe for a moment, sizing him up. “What can you do?”
“Do?” asked Pepe.
“You can’t stay here for free, you know.” The boss boy tipped his chair forward in order to explain. “You got to have a job—a skill—some way to contribute to our little family. I’m Primo. I make push cars out of tin cans.” A small boy rushed forward and proudly displayed one of Primo’s cars made from bits of aluminum.
Pepe thought for a moment. He looked down at the basket hanging from his hand. “I can sew,” he said softly.
“Sew? You can make clothes?” Primo jumped up, enthused.
Pepe looked around and noticed that all the children wore clothes that were dirty, torn, and either too large or too small. He shook his head, sorry to disappoint the boss boy. “Not for people.”
Primo scoffed. “Not for people? Who else wears clothes?”
The other children laughed and waited to hear Pepe’s reply. With his cheeks burning, Pepe stooped to open his grandmother’s basket. He took out the little rag doll and held it up for Primo to see.
“You make clothes for dolls?” asked Primo. Some of the other boys snickered, but most of the children drew closer, hoping to get a better look at Pepe’s doll. “My grandmother and I sold these dolls in the market, and to tourists on the beach,” Pepe explained.
Primo nodded and folded his arms across his chest. He narrowed his eyes and stared at Pepe, trying to guess the value of a boy who could sew. At last he said, “Welcome to the family, Pepe!”
One of the smaller boys came up and touched Pepe’s arm. “I’m Melky. You can sleep with me,” he said softly. “I have a big piece of cardboard all to myself.” Melky took Pepe’s hand and led him over to the lean-to where he and several other boys slept. On the dusty ground lay a flattened cardboard box. “See?” said the boy proudly. “It’s big enough for both of us!”
Pepe managed to smile, but inside his heart was twisting with pain. How could he lay his grandmother’s beautiful quilt on the filthy ground?
“I—I have to go,” Pepe said suddenly, afraid his tears would slip out and shame him before Primo and the other boys.
“Go where?” asked Melky.
Pepe could not answer. He didn’t have a destination. He only knew he could not stay with the street boys under the bridge.
“Think you’re better than us?” taunted Primo. He puffed up his chest and clenched his fists, his chin poked out by pride. Pepe shook his head and stepped back, clutching his grandmother’s sewing basket. Through the dingy t-shirt he could almost count Primo’s ribs.
“N-no. I just…I mean, I—” Pepe didn’t know what to say. He could hear his grandmother’s voice reminding him over and over, “You are not a street boy. You do not drift from place to place like a weed in the sea.”
Pepe slowly backed away from the gang of boys. His eyes fell on the smallest boy, Melky, and to him Pepe gave the last rag doll. Then he turned and fled without saying another word.
Primo spat on the ground as Pepe ran away. “He’ll be back,” the boss boy said with a sneer.
Pepe climbed up the embankment and ran through the empty streets, almost blinded by his tears. How could this have happened to him? How could he have nowhere to go, and no one to care for him? Pepe ran until he could go no further and collapsed onto the cement curb. He buried his face in his arms and wept…