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WHEN THE ROLL



It was Sunday Morning and I had been missing from the orphanage for almost three days. I had run away with two other boys, but we separated when the police chased us through the Five Points area of Jacksonville, Florida. By the time darkness fell, it became impossible for me to find the other two boys.

I climbed into the thick bushes at the park and tried to stay as warm as I could. The temperature was in the high forties, but still I shivered all night. I was so thankful when the morning sun shone on my face. As I had not eaten for two days, I began to travel up and down the alleyways in search of food. Trying to find scraps in the restaurant garbage cans, while trying to avoid the police, was a very hard feat for a seven-year-old to accomplish.

At last I found a garbage can that had several whole heads of cabbage. I peeled off the slimly outer layer and began to eat the crunchy core.

"When the roll (When the roll) is called up yonder. When the roll is called up yonder I'll be there," went the singing, as the large, red brick church door opened on Park Street.

"I like that song. It's pretty," I said aloud.

I broke the cabbage into small leafy pieces and stuffed as much as I could in my two front pockets. Then I headed across the street to the church. I stood out front listening to the song being sung, even though it was somewhat muffled. Slowly and carefully, I walked up to the large wooden door and cracked it open.

"When the roll (When the roll) is called up yonder. When the roll is called up yonder I'll be there," sang the beautiful voices.

I placed my ear against the crack and listened. I had never heard that song before but I sure liked it. Though I did not know the song, I knew they were singing about heaven and they would be on the roll call in heaven one day.

I placed my eye to the crack and peered inside. I looked at the people all dressed up in their fancy clothes. All the men were wearing dark suits; the women were in pretty, long dresses and great big hats with lots of decorations on them.

"I wonder if I'll be on the roll call," I thought to myself.

I looked down to see the tears in my pants. My legs were scarred from running through the bushes, and my ankles were dirty and bleeding. I looked behind myself and saw all the new fancy cars belonging to the church members.

"I ain't never going to be on the roll call," I thought.

Just at that moment, the large, wooden door opened, hitting me in the head and knocking me backwards onto the cement steps.

"What are you doing here, boy?" yelled the large man.

"I was just listening to the roll call song."

"You had best leave before I call the police," said the man, as he slammed the door closed.

I got up on my hands and knees, and began to pick up the pieces of cabbage, which had fallen when knocked backwards. Before I could retrieve all the pieces, the door once again opened.

"Didn't I tell you to get out of here?" said the man.

"I'm just getting my food and I'll go real fast. Really I will," I responded.

The next thing I knew the man reached out, grabbed me by the neck, and squeezed as hard as he could. I tied to pull away but I could not break his grip.

"You dirty little tramp," he said, as he threw me to the concrete.

I ran across the fifteen-foot sidewalk and stopped in the street. I turned around and watch as hundreds of people began filing out of the church. I watched the man's face as he smiled at each person and shook everyone's hand. Occasionally he would look over and give me a dirty look.

"How can he be so good to them and so mean to me?" I thought to myself.

I stood there until every person had walked out of the church. The man looked at me and locked one of the doors. I stood there watching him as he began to sing, "When the roll is called up yonder. When the roll is called up youn...." the door shut and I could no longer hear the man singing.

I pulled a large piece of cabbage out of my pocket and began to eat it. As I walked down Park Street, I sang, "When the roll is called up yonder. When the roll is called up yonder I won't be there."



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