Once school started; it was getting harder and harder, to get all the way over to grandma Bertha’s to shower, wash my clothes and raid her pantry.
And it had been more than three weeks now since I was able to get in touch with Sand; Momma had been coming up to the bus stop with her in the mornings, looking for me.
My clothes were starting to smell and a few girls at Skyline High School were starting to tease me. I tried to rinse the clothes in the tub with the water from the bucket, but I was ‘high sprung’ as Momma called me; and I had run out of deodorant. Rinsing the clothes in plain water was not enough to get the musk out of them.
I had to walk all the way to James Madison High School to catch the bus for Skyline, which caused me to sweat out my already musky clothes before the day even got started. I really tried to avoid everyone but a girl named Jackie and her friends made sure that no one sat next to me on the bus, which was fine with me!
They would start in on me as soon as I was within ear shot. “She need to wash her stanking ass, is what she needs to do” I would hear come across the bus stop where everyone was standing waiting for the bus.
“She think she so cute, but she be stinking” some girl would yell. I was so embarrassed! I never looked in their direction to know which girl said what.
Once I got to Skyline, I would go to the rest room off of the gym; it had less traffic in the early morning.
I used the restroom sink to wash up, so as not to use all of my water at the house. Once I finished my wash up, I rushed off to the cafeteria to get my free breakfast before classes started.
By now the only real food I was getting was breakfast and lunch at school and an after school snack each day at the YMCA and their free lunches on Saturdays.
I would sit and act like I was reading my school book while I ate. Each day I noticed that Miss Tina, a lady that worked at the YMCA, would watch me while I ate my food. After about a week, she walked over to me, “What are you reading” the voice asked? She scared me so bad I jumped.
I looked up at her “nothing” I said. She smiled. “You come in every day, but I never see you doing any homework, don’t you have homework” she asked? I shook my head up and down “yes.” “Let me see your school assignment” she demanded with a smile.
I pulled my papers out and watched her as she looked at them. “Ok, now let me see your work for this”, she shook the papers as she talked. “Dang” I thought. “I don’t have them with me, but I can bring them tomorrow” I offered. “Then I can do it tonight and bring it back tomorrow” I thought.
She looked at me and smiled; she then tilted her head to the side and looked me in my eyes. “I need for you to bring me your homework every day, okay” she stared, as she waited for a response. I looked at my lap, “okay”.
Everyday Miss Tina sat with me and we did my homework together. She never asked me any personal questions that would let her know I was in trouble; and I never told her I was homeless. I did not want to go to juvenile jail or worse, be sent back home.
The YMCA after-school snack program helped, but I still needed more food by the end of the evenings.
I had worn out my welcome at the corner store. The store clerk lady was older and wore a really old wig that never seemed to be brushed right. I wanted to pull out my brush and brush it for her every time I saw her. “Your hair is your crown and glory” I could hear Momma saying.
She knew I had been stealing food; so now every time I came in the store, she followed me around. I could no longer eat from the store whenever she was working, like today. My stomach grumbled and growled, as I walked away from the window at the grocery store.
I started walking up the street away from the neighborhood towards 2nd Avenue. I made a left on 2nd Avenue and kept walking. Soon I smelled East Texas Hot Links in the air! I made the left onto Oakland Avenue to get to the restaurant and went inside.
It was a small place with about six tables to sit and eat inside. It had a long cafeteria style display window that the links sat in, along with other soul food in metal trays. I sat around and waited for someone to leave their uneaten food on the table, but everyone kept picking up their uneaten food and throwing it in the trash can.
After a while, one of the employees came out from the back and pulled the trash bag from the can and headed back behind the counter to the back, to throw the bag away. I quickly got up, walked out the front door and ran around to the back of the restaurant. The boy had just tossed the bag into the dumpster by the time I made it to the back and peeked around the corner. He stopped, lit a cigarette and smoked it halfway, flicked it to the ground and went back inside.
I quickly ran over, picked up the cigarette and took several puffs and clipped it out; I then rolled it inside my sock cuff for later. My head swooshed for a second as I stood and walked over to the dumpster. I raised the lid and looked inside and pulled out the plastic trash bag that sat on top and looked inside it; there was lots of food that their customers had not finished eating and thrown away.
I closed the bag, threw it over my shoulder and took off running back to 2nd Avenue, making my way back to the house. I was excited! I had not had East Texas Hot Links since the last time Corn took us all, it was one of Momma’s favorite places to eat.
You could get them hot or mild; they sat in the display case in metal pans, linked together like the cartoon sausages. They were drenched in a thin greasy sauce that was served with saltine crackers to scoop the sauce and eat with the links. They were the best!
Once I made it back to the house, I went straight to the kitchen and placed the bag on the counter. I grabbed my plate, cup and fork from the sink and placed it on the other counter. I opened the bag and started looking through the food that the customers had thrown away.
I pulled out the larger pieces of links that still had a lot of sausage inside of their casing; I could not tell if the smaller pieces had been chewed or not, so I left them in the bag. I found as many fries and crackers that I could find that were not too nasty looking and I placed them perfectly on my plate. I took the trash bag out the back door and hid it on the side of the porch; I would take it to a dumpster tomorrow.
I got a cup of water from the water bucket and took my plate and fork and sat at my table in my room, which was the living room and bowed my head; “Dear Merciful Father, I truly thank You Lord for the food that I am about to receive, for the nourishment of my body, You gave Your only begotten Son that I might live, in Jesus name I pray… Amen”.
I ate until my stomach hurt. As I fell asleep full on the mattress, I wasn’t as scared as yesterday… I had a plan! I would figure out when all of the restaurants threw away their food.