"STORIES FROM THE STREET"
ROGER DEAN KISER, author
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When daylight arrived, it was necessary for me to stay off the main streets of Jacksonville, mainly because the police were looking for me. On this morning it was raining very hard, making it difficult for me to move from one location to another. My nights were generally spent in the parks, and during the daytime I would move to one of several abandoned red brick buildings, located on Riverside Avenue, along the banks of the St. Johns River.
I walked through the knee-high weeds and entered the old building from the east side. Stepping over large wooden planks and empty boxes, I began to shake my hands, trying to sling some of the water off myself. I was soaked to the bone. I started to unbutton my shirt when I heard someone talking at the other end of the building. I quickly ducked down behind one of the many wooden posts, which held the old structure upright.
"This is my hideout. What are you doing in here?" I thought to myself, as I once again began to listen.
"Well, I don't know what we are going to do!" screamed a man's voice.
All at once, a baby began to cry.
With eyes opened wide, I stretched my neck around the side of the large post, to see if I could tell what was happening at the other end of the building. The only light coming in the building was from the outside. There were many windows, but they were way high up. A few were broken, but most were dirty, blocking whatever light might come in. It was very hard for me to see anything.
"Shut the little bastard up, or I'll wring its damn neck," said the man.
"Please, don't hurt my baby," said a woman's voice.
Slowly, on my hands and knees, I moved along the dirty floor making my way toward the sounds. The baby cried, and it cried, and it cried. It just would not stop. I stopped and hid behind a stack of old tires when I thought that I was about thirty feet from where they might be hiding. All at once, a flock of pigeons flew across from one rafter to another causing me to jump.
"Whose there?" yelled out the man, as he stood up.
Carefully, I stood up and faced in his direction.
"What you doing in here?" he asked.
"I'm here a lot when I need a place to stay."
"Shut that God damn baby up!" screamed the man to the girl sitting at his feet.
"Why you in here with a baby? Ain't you got a place to live?" I questioned.
"My baby was just born last night," said the young girl.
"You had a baby in here?"
She nodded her head, telling me, "yes."
"Ain't people supposed to go to the hospital to have a baby?"
The man sat back down on the dirty floor. No one said a word.
I walked over and stood there looking at the woman who was holding the baby in her arms. All at once she pulled up her tee shirt, exposing her large breasts.
"God! I ain't never seen girls?titties that big before. They look like they might bust, they’re so big," I thought to myself.
The woman took the baby and began to nurse it. Even when feeding, the baby kept making funny sounds. Sort of like a puppy makes when it is scratching and cannot get a flea to stop biting.
"Well, we have got to get out of here. Feed the damn thing and throw it in the damn river," said the man.
The girl reached down and kissed the baby on the top of its head.
"He can't really mean that. Nobody would throw a little baby in the river. Would they?" I thought.
I stood there for more than five minutes. Neither of them said another word to me. Finally, I turned around, walked back to my end of the building, and sat down in the corner. Now and then I would hear the man yell at the girl, and then all would become quiet once more.
It must have been half an hour before the baby began to cry again. Once again, the man began to scream trying to shut the baby up. The next thing I knew the man was walking toward me holding the baby in his arms. It was screaming at the top of its lungs. He kept walking closer and closer to where I was sitting. Then he stopped directly in front of me, and just stood there staring into my eyes. Quickly, he turned and walked out the side door of the building. I stood up and walked to the opening, hoping to see what he was doing. All at once, someone grabbed me on the shoulder. When I spun around, I saw the girl was gasping for air and unable to breathe. I began slapping her on the back until she caught her breath.
"He's going to kill my baby."
I looked out the large opening and saw the man standing at the edge of the river, but I did not see the baby in his arms. I ran toward him as fast as I could. When I reached him, I saw the baby lying on the ground beside him. Out of breath, I sat down on the ground and opened the dirty towel wrapped around the child.
I took off my undershirt and used spit trying to clean the dried blood off the baby's face and arms. It looked so helpless.
Though only eleven-years-old, I had run away from the orphanage many times in the last five years. Traveling the streets, and back alleys of Jacksonville, Florida, I had learned much about survival. I knew that one had to be very careful, and they had best not get anyone mad at them.
I sat there wondering. Should I tell the man I would call the Police if he tried to throw the baby into the river?
"Surely he would beat me, or try to choke me to death like one queer guy tried to do several weeks before," I thought.
"If you don't want it, can I have it?" I asked the man.
"That little baby."
"What would you do with a God damn baby?" he asked.
"I'll take it back to the orphanage with me. It is better to be in the orphanage, than to be dead. Right?" I blurted out.
I could hardly believe those words came out of my mouth. As bad as the orphanage was, I realized looking in that baby’s face, that being dead was far worse than being molested, mistreated, and going hungry.
The man stood there looking out over the river. I looked up and saw the girl walking toward him. She walked up behind him, placed her arms around his waist, and the two of them just stood there, silently.
I stood, picked the baby up off the ground, and waited for the man to reply.
Slowly, I began to walk backwards into the tall weeds.
"Don't you say anything about where that baby came from, you hear?" said the man.
I watched the two of them, as I continued to walk backwards. When I reached the sidewalk, more than two hundred yards away, neither one of them had even turned around to look at me.
I carried the baby to the city park over by Five Points. I sat on the bench for about an hour, rocking the baby back and forth. Soon it began to cry, and I could not get it to stop. I took the baby into a local store, and asked one of the women if she had something that I could feed it.
As the word spread that I had found the baby lying in the park, a large crowd began to gather. Within ten or fifteen minutes, there were people everywhere. While everyone was looking at the baby, I filled my pockets with candy bars and penny candy; then I slipped out the door, and back out into the world I traveled.