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HOW IT ALL BEGINS



My head was still sore where Mrs. Winters, the head matron, had hit me numerous times with her Bible. All I did was ask the Sunday school teacher where babies came from.

Ronnie and I were instructed to go out to the bus until Sunday school was over. I was sent for asking “dumb questions," and Ronnie was sent for laughing.

The two of us ran to the bus and as I started to walk up the small, metal stairs I stopped.

"You want to run away with me again?" I asked him.

He shrugged his shoulders and he did not say a word.

"We got money," I told him. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the nickel that the orphanage had given me to put in the collection plate.

Ronnie reached in his pocket, and he too pulled out a nickel. We smiled, and back down the bus stairs we went. The two of us left the orphanage bus, and headed down some unknown Jacksonville City street.

We walked around for hours looking at the many wonderful things the world, outside the orphanage, had to offer. As the hours passed, we began to wonder what we were going to do when darkness fell. How we were going to eat, and where we were going to sleep. It was now evening, and more than seven hours had passed since we left Swain Memorial Methodist Church. We were really hungry and I was cold.

"Maybe we can ask somebody for money. Everyone who lives out here has lots of money. They have nice houses to live in and real pretty cars," said Ronnie.

"Sir, do you have lots of money?" I asked a passing man.

He stopped, looked at us, and then he walked away. All at once he stopped and tuned around. "What do you boys need money for?"

"We need buy food to eat," said Ronnie.

"Where do you boys live?"

I pointed down a side street and just stood there not saying a word.

"Are your parents working?" he asked.

"Yea, they’re both at work," I told him.

The man grabbed the two of us by the arm and walked us into a small store several doors down. He grabbed several candy bars from a cardboard box, and two bags of peanuts. We watched him in disbelief, as he went over and paid the clerk. The man handed us each a candy bar and a bag of salted peanuts, patted each of us on the head, and out the door he walked.

"Do you have any money? I sure would like a funny book," yelled Ronnie at another man who came walking into the store.

Sure enough, he talked the man into buying us each a comic book.

"This is great!" I screamed with excitement, as we walked out of the store eating our candy and hugging our free comic book prize.

For several more hours, we walked around asking for money. Here and there we would get a nickel, or a dime from a passing stranger.

As the hours passed, it got much colder and very windy. The people seemed to disappear, a few at a time. The ones left were ragged and acted real mean towards us when we asked them for money. Several times we tried to open car doors. We needed to get inside and warm ourselves, but all of them locked. Slowly, we made our way to Park Street where we found shelter, in the bushes, at a local park near Five Points. By now, it was very dark and we were getting scared.

"Hey Ronnie, there's a man on that bench over there. Go see if he will give us money for food," I told him.

Without hesitation, he flew out of the bushes and headed straight for the man. I watched as they talked for more than fifteen minutes. He would sit down on the bench next to the man, and then he would jump up. Then he would sit down again, and then he would jump up again. He kept doing that over, and over.

"Come here," I yelled at him.

He waved at the man, and then began running towards me as fast as he could. We he stopped he stood there unable to talk. He just stood there breathing very hard.

"Did he give you any money? What did he say?" I questioned.

"He said he'll give us money so we can eat, if I wiggle his thing back and forth."

"What thing?"

"The thing he uses the bathroom with."

"Why can't he wiggle it all by himself and still give us some money." I whispered to little Ronnie.

"He won't. I done ask him," he replied.

"Well, I ain't going to touch nobody’s thing. That's a nasty thing."

"I know, but we gotta get some nickels and dimes,” Ronnie said.

"What you want to do?"

"Well, it ain't a real big deal."

"What ain't big deal?"

"His thing, it ain’t real big, and it's all wrinkly like. He showed it to me with his matches. I seen it."

"Are you going to touch it for money?" I asked.

"You want me too?"

“I don’t think we should do something bad like that. Do you?” I said.

"I’m going to ask him how much he's gonna give us. OK?"

Once again, Ronnie was gone in a flash. I had just turned eight and he was a much faster runner than I was. Boy could that six-year-old kid run.

I lay there in the shadows watching them by the little bit of moonlight, which would appear, now and then as the clouds moved slowly over-head. I waited, and I waited, and I waited. The two of them talked for what seemed to be half the night.

"ROGER, screamed Ronnie."

I jumped when I heard his voice. I had fallen asleep and I was confused and did not know where I was.

"ROGER, HE IS HURTING ME," I heard again.

I jumped up and ran as fast as I could toward the park bench. As I came to a sliding stop on the sidewalk, I saw that the man was forcing Ronnie's head into his lap.

"I'm going to call Mother Winters," I yelled at the man.

The man did not stop what he was doing. I could hear Ronnie choking and trying to breathe.

I pushed the back of the park bench as hard as I could. The bench fell over backwards, spilling the man and Ronnie onto the ground. Ronnie jumped up and began running down the sidewalk toward the bushes. When I looked down, I saw the man's pants lying at my feet. I grabbed his pants, and off I ran to catch up with Ronnie.

"Run, Ronnie, Run," I yelled at him, as I passed him by.

The two of us ran for what seemed to be miles before we stopped. He and I stood, shivering, behind the old red brick church and tried to rest. I took the man's pants and I wrapped them around Ronnie to keep him warm. He and I fell asleep and did not wake up until early the next morning.

After we got ourselves together, we headed down the street to who-knows-where.

Still carrying the man's pants, I began wadding them in a ball so that I could throw them in a garbage can that we saw ahead of us. All at once, I felt a hard knot. I stopped and rolled the pants out onto the ground. In the back pocket, I found a billfold. Ronnie watched as I opened the wallet and looked inside.

”There must be a million dollars in there," screamed Ronnie.

I could not believe my eyes as I looked at row, after row, after row of green dollar bills. Ronnie was jumping all over the place. After calming him down, I put the wallet inside my shirt, picked up the pants, and threw them into the garbage can. Several blocks down the street, I saw a big metal mailbox. I took the money out of the billfold and stuck it in my front pocket. I threw the man's wallet in the mail slot and off we walked.

Several blocks later, we decided to go into a restaurant and buy something to eat. Ronnie and I sat down at the table and waited to be served.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" said the waitress.

"We want lots of food, and we don't want no eggplant or okra, like at the orphanage," said Ronnie.

The waitress stood there looking a little puzzled.

"Tell me what you want," she said, with a disgusted look on her face.

"I would like to have some coffee, like Mother Winters has. And lots of sugar too," I replied.

"Aren’t you too young for coffee?" she inquired.

"I got money. Lots of money." I reached into my pocket and laid the large stack of bills on the tabletop.

"I want to eat everything on that page, right there," Ronnie told her, as he pointed to the food items shown on the back of the menu.

The waitress dropped her hands to her sides, turned around, and walked into the kitchen. Several minutes later a large man, dressed in a dirty, white uniform came walking toward us.

"What do you boys want?"

"I want all the food on that page, right there," Ronnie told him.

"Where did you boys get all that money," the cook asked, as he pointed at the large bills.

"My dad is rich. He's real rich," I said, in a very authoritarian voice.

"Yea, just because we live in the orphanage doesn’t mean we can't be rich," yelled Ronnie.

The man said not a word. He turned around and walked away.

I was surprised when the waitress returned, bringing each of us each a cup of coffee.

"And lots of sugar," hollered Ronnie.

The waitress turned around and walked back down the aisle, shaking her head the entire time.

The two of us ate until we could eat no more. We had no idea that such wonderful foods even existed on the face of this earth. The two of us sat there for almost an hour, laughing and drinking coffee.

I looked up at Ronnie and I asked, "Did you ever touch that man's thing?"

When I looked up, the waitress was looking directly at me.

"Let me have those two whole pies, and put them in a bag," Ronnie instructed the woman, as he pointed at the glass case, located on the end of the counter.

The woman just stood there, continually staring at me.

"Joe, call the police," said the waitress.

The cook walked over, picked up the black telephone, and began dialing.

I picked up the money and I handed the woman a twenty-dollar bill. Slowly, she backed up to the cash register and made it open. When she looked away I slid part of the money off the table, folded it in half, and stuck it in my sock.

Several minutes later, the police arrived, and questioned us for more than fifteen minutes. Neither of us would say who we were, or where we were from. When the police officers ask us to stand up, I reached out and picked up the remaining money off the table. The officer quickly reached out and took it from my hand.

As the two of us were marched down the aisle of the restaurant Ronnie was yelling, "I want my two pies in a bag. I want my two pies."

As I passed the waitress I stuck out my tongue out at her. She in return, did the same thing to me.



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