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WELCOME HOME



I watched as the big black police car entered the front gates of the Children's Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida. I stood up so I could see over the numerous azalea bushes, which lined the rock roadway. I watched the automobile as it passed me by. I stood on my tiptoes trying to look in its windows.

The car turned to the left of the grass circle and slowly drove passed the nursery building. It came to rest in front of the dining room screened-in porch. Two police officers got out of the front of the car and stood for several minutes taking to one another. One of them waved at the building window and then he walked around the car, opened the trunk and took over two small suitcases. Mrs. Winters, the head matron, came walking out of the office door and began talking with them. The passenger door opened again and out stepped a young boy about ten.

It's Carl. He's back. Hes supposed to be dead, I thought.

I ran as fast as I could to tell the rest of the boys in our dormitory that Carl had been brought back to the home. Within minutes, the front porch of our dormitory was lined with young boys all looking toward the dining room.

Carl had left the orphanage several months previous. We were not sure if he went back to his real home or if he had been adopted. We never knew much about that sort of thing. One minute, a kid was there and the next minute he just seemed to disappear, sometimes, never to be heard from again. We were always told they were sent off to the big prison for kids. That was the orphanage's way of keeping us scared so we would not do anything wrong.

Someone had heard Charity, the black cook, tell one of the children that Carl had run away, from his new home and hid in the swamps of Louisiana. After two days of looking for him the search was called off and it was reported that the alligators probably got him. Two of the men said they wanted to keep searching, at least until dark. Not hearing the sound of boat motors, Carl, on his stomach, had come down to the waters edge to get a drink, when he was spotted by one of the men. Carl had been eaten up by mosquitoes. After wrapping Carl in a blanket he was taken to the hospital. Several days later he was handed over to the police.

All at once, the police car began driving away. We watched as it exited through the back gates of the orphanage. We stood totally silent as Mrs. Winters came walking toward our dormitory, constantly pushing Carl, ahead of her as she walked. It was not hard to see that Carl had been crying for a long time. His eyes were red and his face looked swollen.

"Hi Carl," said one of the boys as they walked up onto the porch.

"DID I TELL YOU TO SPEAK!" yelled Mrs. Winters as she grabbed the boy up by his hair.

"No ma'am, Mrs. Winters," screamed the boy.

"Then keep your damn mouth shut!" she ordered.

We stood our backs against the wall, as the two of them made it to the front door, which led into the television room. No one said another word.

"Well, I see that they brought the little bastard back," said Mr. Henderson, who had just come down the back staircase.

"Have one of the boys scrub him down, and then put him in the room with Jerigan and Smith," said Mrs. Winters.

After Carl had been bathed with bleach, and Comet cleanser, he was sent to his room. I walked down the hallway several different times to go to the bathroom. As I passed his room, I would look in the doorway to check up on him. I did not want to talk to him as long as he was crying. He never looked up and never moved a muscle. He just sat like a statute on the side of his bed, his eyes looking down at the floor. He continually rocked himself back and forth.

"DINNER TIME!" yelled Mr. Henderson.

I waited at the bottom of the stairs for several minutes for Carl to come down.

"CARL, its dinner time! Come and line up!" I hollered.

"That little bastard hasn't come down yet?" asked Mr. Henderson.

"I think he's washing up in the bathroom," I said, trying to give Carl a little more time.

Mr. Henderson started running up the staircase taking two steps at a time.

"CARL! CARL!" yelled the tall thin man.

"Get your damn ass out here right this minute!" said Mr. Henderson.

All at once, I heard something hit the wall. I heard Carl scream out and the next thing I knew, the boy was being dragged down the stairs by the neck of his shirt. He was kicking and screaming the entire time. Mr. Henderson was slapping him in the face with all his might as he pulled Carl along. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, the boy was thrown to the floor.

"MARCH, GOD DAMN IT!" Mr. Henderson yelled out to the boys who were already lined up on the front porch.

"You two get your ass up to your room. You can forget about any supper," he told us.

"But I didn't do anything," I told him.

"Do you want some of what he just got?

"No sir, Mr. Henderson.

He walked out the doorway, slamming the screen door behind him. I reached down and helped Carl get to his feet.

"We outta kill him," Carl said.

"Shhhh," I said. as I put my finger to my mouth.

I put my arm around his shoulder as we walked up the stairway to our room.

"Welcome back home, Carl," I whispered.



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