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OUR FRIENDS-THE POLICE



Here I was again, a runaway with nothing to call my own, and facing the long night ahead. Then, straight ahead looming in the twilight, I saw it. Shabby, falling down, no glass in the windows, boards missing here and there, but it had a door. Hey, looked like a good place to sleep for the night. I walked around the abandoned house and entered through the opening, which at one time must have had a door. I smiled and was glad to have found shelter before dark. A young boy living on the streets has to be careful, you know. I had newfound freedom that I enjoyed, but needed protection by hiding out, being ever watchful not to be seen, and at all costs, avoiding the orphanage matron and the police. For a boy who had run away many times, always looking for a place “somewhere over the rainbow,” I was rather sure that I still had not found it.

It was dark inside and smelled of piss, rotten garbage, and vomit. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light and when they did, it hit home. This was one God-awful filthy place. What I had smelled was indeed on the floor, along with roaches, rats, and moldy rotten "whatever" lumps here and there. However, it still served me well for the moment. I figured I could maybe clean it up fairly good. After all, at the orphanage I was known as the best toilet cleaner ever to grace the place.

I walked around the room taking it all in, sizing it all up, and feeling proud of myself for my discovery. All of a sudden, from somewhere deep within the darkness, I heard the far away murmur of voices. I was not alone!

“Maybe it was a ghost. Maybe someone lives here after all,” I thought.

I began to inch down the darkened hallway, thinking I could sneak up on them and have a look.

“Best be real cautious,” I kept thinking. I had learned early on not to trust anybody; grownups just were not good people.

I followed the hallway, stepping around tin cans, old wooden planks, and hundreds of beer bottles. The further I got into the old house the more terrified I became. I might not be able to escape, which scared me even more. As I moved forward, the voices were getting louder and louder with every step.

I crept up to a doorway and peeked in. I saw four men drinking and smoking cigarettes. Without warning, a hand grabbed the back of my shirt and propelled into the room. I raised my hands as though I were ready to fight.

"Hey, boys, look here what we got. Caught the little shit hiding by the door spying on us. Guess we should teach him what we do to spies."

"Hey, it's that little bastard from down by the bus station. What are you doing here? You follow us here?"

I put my hands down when I recognized two of the men.

"You know this kid?" asked the man who had grabbed me in the hallway

"We know him. He ran down to the liquor store for us a couple of times to get us some wine. One of them damn farts from the orphanage over on the Southside."

"What's the matter boy, cat got your tongue?”

"I ain't no bastard. I just ain’t got no place to live,” I replied.

"Hey, hear that! He ain’t got no place to go. Let him stay here. He can fetch water and clean the damn place up. You got any other uses?"

They all began to laugh, point at me, and shake their heads.

"Something smells bad, like something dead," I blurted out.

"Well, dip shit, it’s that damn dog over there in the corner; been dead for two days. You do not like the smell, then that is your first job. Get your little ass over there and tote that dog outside."

I looked over in the corner and saw the dead dog. Its coat was all covered in crusting blood.

"I can't carry no dog that big."

They all laughed, waved their hands in the air, and promptly turned their backs on me. I stood there for five minutes, ignored by everyone. I finally walked over and took a seat in the corner, trying to make my body as small as possible. For hours they sat drinking and smoking. Several of them walked over and pissed on the wall in the corner of the room every now and then.

The orphanage was bad, but not like this. It was hard to believe people lived like this.

They smelled so bad that I held my nose when they came near me. Their hair was shiny and matted, as if it had grease in it. Some of them had sores, and every one of them was continually scratching. They scratched their heads, their arms, their legs, and even between their legs.

I stayed for about two weeks, just hanging out and trying to stay out of their way. I cleaned up the house as best I could, but it didn’t do any good. Every day the living room filled up with cans and bottles. When I would sit down to rest, someone would throw a bottle against the wall to break it, and then make me clean it up. As there was no electricity, gas, or water, one of my daily jobs was to haul five-gallon buckets of water from the spigot behind the paint store.

There was no food in the house, and what food they did bring home was stolen. I was terribly hungry most of the time, but I dared not ask for much of anything.

I stole what I could when they were not looking, but I was not very successful. Someone always seemed to miss what little food I had taken.

They would sneer and threaten me. Several times they made to listen to a five-minute speech about what they did to “little bastards” who stole from them. Eleven-year-old boys, especially those from an orphanage, do not have much smarts, but it always seemed strange to me they had money for liquor and cigarettes, but never for food.

In the time I was there, all they really wanted to do was sit around drinking, smoking, cussing and telling dirty jokes. So, I fetched the water, and went to the liquor store for liquor or cigarettes. I never let my guard down and I stayed away from them as much as I could. I felt much safer that way.

Deep down in my gut I knew these were bad people, and I knew that I should not be here. But, even this was better than the orphanage. Here I was at least somebody who got to work and go get stuff for them. Back at the orphanage, I was nobody, nobody at all.

I had pretty well gotten use to the routine, and felt more comfortable being able to stay there. However, soon it was all going to come crashing down on me. It was a terrible night, in a horrible place, with the cruelest people I have ever known.

About two a.m. I suddenly woke up, and all hell was breaking loose around me. People were screaming and yelling; there were flashlight beams bouncing off bodies, walls, the ceiling, and the floor.

A hand grabbed the back of my shirt, taking some of my skin with it. The front of my shirt strangled me like a noose. I was yanked first one way and then another; then hit over and, over, with a flashlight. Someone kicked me in the stomach, the back, and then threw to the floor like a rag doll.

All around me people were screaming and yelling as if they were being beaten to death. The sound of bones crushing was loud enough to be heard above the cries for help.

I felt a hand grab my leg and I realized that I was being drug out of the room. Down the hallway I slid, and then was being shoved down the stairs. My head, back, arms, and ribs, felt every blow as I bounced off each stair like a rubber ball.

"I thought policemen were supposed to be our friends!" I yelled, as I was body-slammed down the stairs.

"Shut up you little tramp," was the only reply.

At the bottom of the stairs, the kicks and hitting began again. I curled up tight to protect myself from the blows, but it did no good. The police officer seemed enraged and he just kept hitting me over, and over, and over. I was sure that I was going to die before he stopped beating me.

Then it was over as quickly as it had started. They just stopped. The police came and the police went. They arrested no one and they helped no one. They just left us for dead, like that dog in the corner of the room I had seen only weeks before.

I stumbled around in the darkness going first in one direction, then another, always led by the sounds of crying, and the gasps of pain.

I started a small fire from the newspapers that had been stacked in the corner. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw tons of blood all over the walls and floor.

Most of them, women included, had been beaten senseless. Many of them had bloody noses, gashes on their heads, and numerous cuts and bruises. I looked at my arms and then ran my hands over my head. I felt the whelps rising on my head, and I hurt so badly. I was numb all over and could not cry. At that very moment, I felt nothing.

In the orphanage they told me that I was a nothing, but I did not know what it really felt like to be “a nothing” until now.

I knew the cops were not my friends, but I didn't know they hated people so much, especially boys.

I went over to one of the men and asked, "Why did they do that?"

His only reply was, "It's what you get when you're a bum, kid. That is life on the streets. Get out of here right now and go back where you came from. If you're smart, you won't come around here again."

I walked downstairs and into the living room, and picked up a bag of potato chips. I took them, but, for the first time, I was not hungry. I just held on to them for dear life, for they were all I had to carry away from that place.

I walked to a corner drug store and asked the man if I could use his telephone. He looked at me, but never asked about why I was bleeding. He allowed me use the phone, but he made no effort to help me. He just simply turned his back and walked away.

I called for an ambulance to help the people in the house. I waited, and waited, but no help ever came.

I walked out of the store and stood motionless on the street corner. I began to eat the chips before someone came along and took them away from me. I looked up at the stars and wondered why the world was such a shitty place.

“A shitty place,” I kept saying to myself, over, and over.

I guess I was no longer innocent to the cruelty. It was not just the orphanage; it was everywhere, from everybody.

Slowly, I began walking south toward the orphanage. When I got back, they saw that I had been severely beaten. Nevertheless, they beat the hell out of me again. It made no difference to me anyway. Whether it was the orphanage or the streets; I had learned that bastards come in all sizes and shapes, and that the cops, who were supposed to be the good guys, were as just bad as the bums.



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