Orphan Survival Stories Index |
"It is really cold tonight," I thought as I pulled on the pieces of plastic and cardboard I was using as bed covers for the night.
Still, I shivered and I shook for hours and hours as I lay inside that large green, rusty garbage dumpster behind one of the restaurants at the Southgate Plaza Shopping Center, in Jacksonville, Florida. I was a big boy now. I had turned 12 years old several weeks before and could already smoke a whole pack of cigarettes by myself without choking or coughing, just like a grown up man.
"God, it's cold this time!" I said aloud.
I heard my voice echo off the sides of the dumpster and it sounded very neat to me.
"HELLOOOOOO," I said so I could hear my own echo again. "God bless America, land that I love," I sang as loud as I could.
"I sound pretty darn good," I thought as I continued to sing aloud. "Stand beside her and guide her, from the land to the land of the land."
”GOD! It’s really cold," I said again.
I dug a hole further down through the garbage and began to cover myself with food and hundreds of cartons, which had been thrown away during the day. All of a sudden, I heard something scratching inside the dumpster.
"OH GOD, I hope that's not another big rat!" I thought.
A large rat had bitten me several weeks earlier over on Riverside Avenue when I had slept in a dumpster behind the large, red brick church.
I took out my package of matches, struck one and held it forward. Sitting directly in front of me was a large, black cat with big, green, shiny eyes. He flipped his tail several times and just sat there looking at me.
"MEOW," he said.
"Are you hungry?" I asked.
I reached over and found the container which held four, half-eaten tacos. I’d found them when I first arrived at the dumpster. Carefully, I unwrapped the tacos and removed bits of hamburger. I laid the meat out on a cardboard box next to me. The cat slowly moved over and began to eat the meat. I finished off the lettuce, tomato and cheese, and threw away the taco shells, because they had coffee grounds all over the outside. Then I reached up, closed the dumpster lid and lied down trying to keep myself warm. The cat moved over next to me and curled up by my neck. I began to pet his back and he started making a sound like he had a little motor inside him.
"Do you like me?" I asked.
"I like you too," I said as I hugged him real hard.
"WHO'S IN THERE?" hollered someone from outside of the dumpster.
The lid slowly opened and I saw a large, black man standing there with a gun in his hand.
"What you do in there?" he asked me, shaking the gun around.
"I was just sleeping, sir," I said.
"Where you live?"
"I live in the orphanage over on Spring Park Road by San Diego."
"Why ain't you there then? You a runaway?" he asked.
I lowered my head and remained very silent. He raised his flashlight from the ground and shone it onto the dumpster.
"Let me sees your face," said the black man.
I covered my eyes and raised my head.
"Moves your hand, boy," he ordered.
I lowered my hand and looked directly at the light.
"How comes you got a black eye? he asked.
I said nothing.
"How long you been coming outs here anyway?"
Still I said nothing.
"You all alone in there?" he questioned.
"No, sir. There's a black cat in here with me," I replied. "He's my friend.”
"You leave that damn cat in there and youse get out here real slow like."
I reached over and picked up the only friend I had in the world, held him in my arms and began to climb out of the large garbage can.
"You dont's listen very well, do you boy?"
I continued climbing out of the dumpster with the large black cat in my arms. When I reached the ground, I hugged the cat and turned to face the large, black man holding the gun.
"You sure stink," he said, waving his hand about his nose. "How long since you had a bath?"
"I washed yesterday at the gas station.”
He waved his gun to the side and told me to get in his old pickup truck.
"I gotta keep my cat. He's my friend."
"Put him in the truck," he ordered with a strange smile on his face.
He placed the gun in his pocket and climbed into the old truck. He reached over and pushed open the passenger door so the cat and I could enter. I climbed in and off we drove. About half an hour later, we arrived at old house located somewhere in Jacksonville. God only knows where. I had never been to the black part of town, so I had no idea where I was. When we walked in the house, he pointed at a woman, and asked her to get him a towel and some soap. He took me by the arm, led me into the bathroom and told me to get in the tub to take a bath.
"That don't means no gas station washing," he said, pointing at me with his finger.
I sat the cat down on the floor, and the woman came in with a towel and laid it down on the toilet. I took a hot bath and washed very well with real soap. When I was all done, I dressed, picked up my cat and walked back to the front room. The couch and chair were full of holes and the windows had sheets for curtains. I remember that part very well, 'cause I had never seen anything like that before.
"Have him take his shirt off, Bill," said the woman.
"Take off your shirt," ordered the man.
I sat the cat down on the couch, stood up and began to remove my dirty shirt.
"Turns around," said the woman spinning her finger at me in a twirling motion.
I turned slowly around and stood with my back toward them.
"You right. Someone done got this boy," said the woman.
"Who done got you?" asked the large man.
I just stood there with my head down, looking at the black cat, which had laid down in one of the large holes in the couch.
"Who do this to you, boy?" asked the woman.
I stood there silently and did not want to answer any questions. I knew very well what they were talking about. Two weeks before, I had been caught eating a box of raisins. We boys had taken it out of the orphanage pantry, while washing dishes from the dining room. Mrs. Winters, the head matron, had beaten me on the breezeway porch with a stalk of bamboo, because I would not tell her who took the raisins out of the locked pantry. The black man walked over to me and placed his large hand on the back of my neck.
"You hungry, boy? he asked.
"No, sir. I had some tacos earlier tonight.”
"You gonna eat anyway."
We walked into the small kitchen and sat down at the table, which only had two chairs. I do not exactly know what it was that I ate that night and I do not know if I ever want to know. However, it was hot, it was good and it did not have coffee grounds stuck all over it. I stayed the night with the man and his wife. I slept on that couch with the big, old holes in it, and it felt warm and good. The next day, the man drove the cat and me back to the dumpster at Southgate Plaza. He handed me four whole dollars and a bag full of corn bread.
"This kind of life is better than the orphanage?" he asked.
I opened the truck door, picked up my black cat and I said not a word. I closed the door behind me and turned around to face him. I stood there kissing my cat on the back of his neck as the man shook his head and drove away.