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Maya enters a junkyard after dark and spends the night there. The next morning she wakes to find that there is a whole commune of runaways, from all races, staying in the junkyard. Most of them are about her age, and they support themselves by doing odd jobs. Bootsie, the leader of the commune, holds all the money, which is used to buy necessities. On weekends the runaways go to the home of Lee Arthur, who belongs to the commune but is not a runaway, in order to bathe and iron clothes.
Having few options, Maya decides to join the commune of runaways. Within a month, she is taught how to drive, to curse, and to dance. She even enters a local dance competition with a Mexican boy as her partner and wins second prize. For the first time in years, Maya feels that she has real friends. As a result, she loses some of her insecurities.
Eventually Maya decides to go home to Vivian. When she contacts her mother to ask for a ticket home, Vivian does not even know that she has run away; but she agrees to help Maya. When she says good-bye to her commune friends, Maya feels sad, but she knows it is better to return to her mother in San Francisco. When she arrives, she is "leaner than usual, fairly unkempt and with no luggage."
Maya’s brief stint with freedom and independence changes her completely. As a junkyard runaway, she develops confidence and self-esteem. Her peers, a "raggle taggle" mix of different races and cultures, initiate her into the "brotherhood of man" by teaching her new things and by accepting her as she is. For most of her life Maya has seen herself as "outside the pale of the human race," but in the junkyard she feels that she belongs. As a result, she loses her sense of insecurity. Maya, however, wants a better life for herself than what the junkyard commune can offer. As a result, she contacts Vivian and asks for help in getting back to San Francisco.
The fact that Vivian did not even know that Maya had run away proves once again what poor parents that Bailey and Vivian really are. Daddy Bailey did not even bother to let Maya’s mother know that her daughter was missing; and Vivian has obviously gone for more than a month without trying to contact or check on her daughter.