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THE WALLET



At 14 years of age, the Duval County Juvenile Court allowed me to take a room at a boarding house over on Market Street. They had already sent me to the Florida School for Boys Reform School for 11 months, because I constantly ran away from the Children's Home Society Orphanage.

It was sort of lonely in my room. There was nothing in the room, except a bed and a large dresser. I only had one other pair of pants and one other shirt. That sure didn't take up much space in that big, old, long dresser drawer.

Every night after I got off work, I walked down to the Krystal and bought myself one hamburger, and one French fry. Then I walked back to my room and ate it all by myself. I always drank water from the bathroom at the end of the hallway. I did not make enough money on my payday to have Coca Colas with my meal at nighttime. I would sit looking out the window, just wondering how people who lived in this strange, outside world went about making friends.

"Does everyone who works a job just go home, sit down and look out the window, until they go to bed?" I wondered.

"How do people make enough money to buy games and cars, and things like that?" I said aloud to myself.

I made $48 a week. I paid the landlady $25 a week for rent. That left me with $23. I ate breakfast and supper at the Krystal, which costs me $2 a day. That left me with $9. I got a ride to work with this older man that I worked with. He charged me $1 a day for a ride to and from work. That left me with $4 and I used most of that to help feed people who lived on the street. Many weeks, I ran out of money and went hungry myself.

On Thursday morning, I walked down to the corner where the man was to pick me up for work, but he never showed up to get me. I went back to my room and stayed there all day. On Friday morning, he did not show up again. I had the landlady call my work and tell them that no one came to get me. They told her that the man was sick and I need not worry about my job, that I could come in on Monday.

I sat in my room another day worried about what I was going to do for money for the next week. I ate nothing on Thursday or Friday. My stomach was really hurting badly. I took the last of my change and headed toward the Krystal to get some supper. As I walked along, I saw something lying on the sidewalk. It was a brown, alligator wallet. I picked it up and looked all around. No one seemed to notice that I had it. I stuck it inside my shirt and walked back to my room.

I sat down on my bed and looked inside the billfold. There were many pictures, a driver’s license and a whole bunch of $1 bills. I took out the money and counted it out on my bed. There was $42 in $1 bills, plus one penny from being $2 in change.

"I sure do need this money real bad," I thought.

I was scared and didn't now what to do. I needed the money real bad. I took the wallet, put the money back inside and hid it underneath my mattress. Then I walked down to the Krystal, where I fed myself with what change I had left.

Late that night, I removed the wallet from its hiding place. I took out the money and laid it on my bed. I took all the pictures out of the wallet and carefully looked at each and every one of them. I then took them over to the dresser and lined them up around the frame of the mirror. I lied down on my bed and just stared at the pictures. I was hoping that I would get the feeling of what it was like to have a family of my own, but that feeling never came.

The next day, I took all the change from the wallet and went to the Krystal to eat. When I got back to my room, I removed $25 from the wallet, which I gave to the landlady for my next week’s rent. The more money I spent, the more afraid I became. That night, I sat alone in my room knowing that there was no turning back. Somehow, I had to get rid of the wallet.

After dark, I left my room and walked toward the downtown area. I looked down the various alleys to see if I could find a large dumpster to hide the wallet. Each time that I tried to throw the wallet away, there was something inside of me that would stop me.

"What is he gonna do without all his pictures?" I kept thinking. "You gotta do it now, cause you took and stole all the money," I argued with myself.

Back and forth, my feelings flared. I just could not bring myself to throw the wallet away. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not throw away those pictures.

"Wait a minute!" I thought. "I'll tell him I found the wallet and that there was no money in it."

I walked to the telephone booth and looked up the name that was on the driver’s license. Sure enough, there it was - the same name and address that was on the license. I put the dime in the slot and started to dial the number. Each time I tried to dial the number, I hung up. My heart beat so fast in my chest that I could hardly breathe. Finally, I forced myself to dial the number.

"Hello," said a woman at the other end.

"My name is Roger and I found this here wallet without no money in it," I said.

"Hold on please," she instructed.

I heard her call out to someone and then the phone went silent. I started to hang up when a man's voice spoke.

"Thank God you found my wallet," said the man.

"It didn't have no money in it," I repeated.

"I don't care about the money. Where are you? I'll come to you at once," he said.

I told him I was at the phone booth next door to the Florida Theatre. He asked me to wait for him, that he would be there in 30 minutes. I nervously waited for him to arrive. A little while later, a long, black car pulled up to the curb and a tall man in a suit jumped out of the back seat.

"Are you the fellow that found my wallet?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," I said as I held it out to him.

"There wasn't no money in it."

He began to rummage through the wallet as fast as he could. Pictures were falling all over the sidewalk. He acted as though he was trying to tear the wallet apart.

"Thank God!" he said as he held up a small white folder.

I watched him as he opened the small white plastic paper.

"Do you know what this is, son?" he asked as he held the paper toward me.

"Yes, sir. It's a stamp for a letter," I said.

"Its' not just a stamp, boy. It's a stamp that is worth almost $3,000!" he exclaimed.

I reached down and began to pick up the pictures, which had fallen to the ground.

"Is there anything that you need?" asked the man.

"Is there a reward?" I asked.

"That goes without saying," said the man.

The man walked back over to the big, black car and opened the front door. A minute later, he came back with a handful of bills.

"There's about $75 here. Is there anything else you need?" he asked.

"I was hungry when I… " I started to say.

The man placed his hand over my lips.

"I don't need to hear any more. Is there anything else you need?" he asked again.

I shook my head telling him, "no."

The man took me in his long, black car and dropped me off in front of the boarding house. I went back to work on Monday morning. When I got off work, the landlady called me into her room. When I walked in, she handed me a receipt. She told me that a man had come by earlier that morning and had paid my room rent for the next two months.

On Friday when I got off work, I went down to the Krystal and bought as many bags of donuts and Krystal burgers as I could carry. I took them down to Bay Street where all the bums hung out. I sat against the wall of the Trailways bus station eating donuts and burgers with them. I did the same thing on Saturday and then again on Sunday. There was no way I could undo what I had done. All that I could do now was to try to make sure I returned the $44 as best I could.



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