Calvin and the Voice
“We got something to eat Mamma?”
“Don’t think so”.
“I am hungry”.
“Don’t keep on so I am tired”
“But Mamma I need some food”
She reached for her purse looking in each compartment.
“Here, go get some chicken and fries”.
The boy put on his grubby parka, it was too big but warm, streaked where he wiped his nose on the sleeves. Out of the door he walked along the passage way smelling the apartments, all the normal smells he had grown up with. Stairwell, rubbish piled up, nothing different here, damp and cold outside, dangerous, got to keep eyes open.
“Hello Calvin” said a boy.
The six teenagers spread out around Calvin, too late to run.
“What are you doing out here Calvin?”
“Just looking around”
“You don’t just look around Calvin, you stay in the warm, and you only come out when you are going to get something”.
“Got any money Calvin?”
The fear in the boy was real.
“Look you got to understand” he started to explain.
“Calvin, come on, you don’t want us to shake you we might catch a disease or get fleas.”
“It’s not fair” he said.
“Just hand it over.”
The boy took the two notes from his pocket looking at them, feeling the hunger. A hand reached out and snatched the money.
“See you around Calvin.”
The boy watched as the youths walked up towards the sidewalk, cold and damp all around him, his world had just ended. Tears were running down his face, where do I go, they know I have got nothing, why take my money. Pains in his stomach, despair filling his being.
“Don’t cry boy!”
“They stole my money, I got nothing to eat”.
“Oh, you want food!”
“Yeh” Calvin looked around but there was nobody there.
Again the voice “Let’s go down Main Street.”
“But I ain’t got no money.”
“Never know what’s about.”
A light rain had started putting a shine on the cars but a chill inside the boy. Why not he thought, but who is talking, oh well, nothing to lose.
Lights shone out from an eating house, fried chicken, hamburgers, pizza, the thought of food made him feel unwell.
“Let’s go round the back alley.”
Thru into an area where deliveries were made, dustbins, dumpsters and cardboard boxes were piled up just as filthy as the tenement block.
“You want food?”
“Knock on one of the doors ask if they have any work.”
Calvin walked up to a big metal door, water running down it a hesitation.
He banged on the door. Standing, waiting,
“Do it again.”
He hit the door.
“What!” The door had flown open.
“Got any work.” The man looked at the scrawny dirty boy.
“Get outa here” the door slammed shut.
Calvin stood frozen to the spot.
“Try next door.”
A similar scenario developed with matching consequences.
“This ain’t going to work.”
“Yes it will” replied the Voice “Try again.”
Another metal door, it looked daunting. Knock on the door!
He banged on the door. Then he hit it again.
“What do you want?” Clavin looked at the man
“Got any work?”
The man stood considering.
“I just want some food” Calvin pleaded.
“Ok, empty these rubbish cans outside in to the containers.”
Six heavy cans were dragged outside one at a time and then emptied, they were very heavy.
“Take your coat off.”
“Here stand on this box, wash these trays.”
Pieces of food were attached to the tins which Calvin scraped off and ate before plunging them into hot water, he would have licked them clean if nobody had been around, but what food he got from them tasted good. The grime from his hands and arms was soon washed away as he scraped and scrubbed, two hours later the cooking utensils were all washed and put away.
“Here you are kid, sit here.”
“Thank you sir” a huge plate of food was placed before him. Where to start, it was probably all the left over’s from the day but he set his mind and started eating, munching his way thru it with a large cup of coffee, this was a delight. When he had finished he turned to the owner.
“Excuse me sir.”
“Could I do some work tomorrow!”
“Well, to be honest you smell a mite.”
“Oh!” The disappointment was huge.
“Well we shall see.”
“Yes sir.” Calvin walked out of the rear door.
The door slammed, he heard the heavy bolts going across.
“Did you eat?” asked the Voice.
“Yeh I am so full I could explode.”
“Good. Going back tomorrow?”
“I asked, he said I smelled bad.”
“When did you have a bath last?”
“A bath?” there was a pause. “Don’t know.”
“When you get home run a bath”
“You have clean clothes?”
“Right when you run the bath put all your clothes in to it.”
“Not my jacket!” Calvin said in astonishment.
“Yes jacket and trainers.” replied the Voice.
“What do I wear?”
“Are the radiators on?”
“Put your clothes on the radiators, should be dry by morning.”
“Have a bath every couple of days.”
“Every couple of days!” there was shock in his voice. “Yes and wash your clothes.”
Calvin trudged home, his stomach hurt, he couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten this amount. Why did he have to get in the bath? The apartment was empty nothing unusual in that, his mother went out late for work and her medicine. Music from downstairs, a couple were arguing, just background noise. He stood looking at the bath remembering the good food, work, and the words.
Oh well. He put the plug in and then turned on a flow of water. Soap, have we got any, no, none here, the kitchen, what have we got, washing powder. I suppose that will do. He sprinkled powder into the filling bath, putting his hand in. Ouch that was hot, turn that tap off turn on the other. Take off his clothes check the pockets, nothing in them. Oh well can’t just look at it. Into the bath went his clothes, all of them including the ones lying around in his room plus the two pairs of trainers.
He tested the water not too hot, just standing, looking I’ll get a cold standing here. He climbed in, turning off the cold water, pushing the clothe’s under, bubbles had appeared in large numbers as the washing powder dissolved. Dunking his head underwater this feels nice and warm pushing the clothes around, the water was getting darker as the soap suds and hot water started to have an affect first on Calvin and then on his clothes.
He moved up and down the bath acting like a rotorvator on his clothes, squeezing and rubbing just like his mother some times did with her clothes. The skin on his fingers started to go wrinkly from washing in the restaurant and also now being in the bath. He climbed out dripping on the floor, looking at the clothes, he reached in and pulled the plug. Where is a towel, none in this room, what’s in his mother’s room, no, no, some in this draw, he stood rubbing all over then wrapped the towel around, it was then he realized he didn’t have any clothes to wear having put them all into the bath.
The bath had emptied but clothes were still draining, he lifted up the two pairs of trainers and wedged them over the taps, water ran from them. Next he lifted the parka it was really heavy, water poured from it. What do I do get a coat hanger, yeh, where, mothers room, here we are. Calvin returned to the bath, god this is heavy, lifting it up, he hung it on the window handle. Ok water was running into the bath, good. Now squeeze out some socks, didn’t know I had so many, spread them over a radiator, clothes were removed and laid around the remaining hot pipes and radiators, a hot fug filled the rooms.
Well, tomorrow they will be dry, hopefully. He opened his eyes, nice and warm, damp though and the windows were covered in condensation. Reaching down he scratched his legs, bed bugs, they get everywhere, he was soon up and walking about. Calvin checked his clothes, some socks were dry, that’s good, pants and vest, yes! clean clothes, now I can get dressed. The trainers are still damp, put two on to the radiator. Should I open a window? no, some one will break in.
“Mamma! Mamma!” The room was empty his mother had still not come in. Into the kitchen, nothing in the breadbin, no cereals, milk, fridge empty. The front door opened.
“Baby I am really tired baby.”
“Mamma got any food.”
“Food baby, food? No baby, mamma didn’t make much money and I had to buy my medicine, you know I need my medicine baby.”
“Yes Mamma.” A huge feeling of disappointment filled him.
“And my cigarettes baby”
“Phew, what is this damp, open a window!”
“What have you been up to child!” clothes were everywhere. “Tidy this room up, bathrooms a mess.I am so tired, going to bed.”
He started to collect his clothes and take them to his room, one pair of trainers was dry, but the jacket was still damp. Calvin put it onto the radiator, then splashed some water around the bath, that’s better. What to do, can’t go out without a jacket, just have to wait.
Walking down the stairs a rat ran across his path, just a rat. He took a look around outside, no threats about. Out in daylight, just a grubby mess, graffiti not very good, rubbish bins, abandoned cars with wheels missing.
“Don’t you go to school?” the Voice was back.
“Sometimes” replied Clavin.
“They make me sit at the back of the classroom, on my own.”
“But you had a bath, and have clean clothes.”
“Didn’t dry them all and Mamma wasn’t home till late.”
“Had breakfast?” asked the Voice
“No, I’m hungry.”
“Let’s go back to the restaurant.”
A few streets away they entered the back alley, there was the man dragging rubbish out.
“Mister” Calvin called out
“Yes kid!” the man stopped dragginf the rubbish and turned towards him.
“It’s me” replied Calvin
“Oh Yeh, well you see” began the man
“I’ve had a bath and washed my clothes”
“Have you?” he moved towards Calvin, sniffing as he approached.
“Yeh you have” he paused for a moment “ok kid, get this rubbish out.”
“Yes sir” grinned Calvin as he started to drag at the bins, lifting them was really difficult. One bin had a large piece of meat on top which caught Calvin’s eye. He lifted the meat to his mouth.
“What are you doing kid?” the man had seen his action.
“It’s just a piece of meat.”
“Rubbish is not for eating kid, have you eaten?”
The man disappeared into the kitchen returning a few moments later with a plate of food and a mug of milk.
“Eat this” he said and watched as Calvin began tucking in.
“Thank you sir”.
Calvin felt really good with some food inside, all the rubbish had gone and he was at the sink scraping the cooking trays, knives and forks were shining. Two days running he had eaten. The afternoon rush had eased off in the restaurant they had a machine for plates and cups.
“You hungry kid?”
“Here you go”
“Thank you sir”
“Can you come back at eight?”
“See you then”
Friday night came along, Calvin had worked three evenings in the restaurant, a good feeling filled his being. A full stomach was a wonderful effect and some hard work was good for his body.
“Here you are kid” the man was offering him ten dollars.
Calvin looked at the ten dollars. “What’s that?”
“You’ve worked hard, you deserve it.”
“Thank you sir”
“There’s a job here for you if you want it.”
“Sure, yes sir!”
He was in a good mood walking home, ten dollars in his pocket, buy some food for home he probably wasn’t concentrating on the dangers.
“Hello Calvin.” The youths had him surrounded.
“What have you got Calvin?” They closed in towards him.
They turned facing the noise and Calvin was running, he had relaxed his guard and nearly paid the price. He could hear feet pounding on the sidewalk behind, up the stoop in thru the door, climb, climb the stairs, here’s the door, in safe.
“Hello baby” his mother greeted him.
“Why are you running?”
“Some boys they chased me.”
“They try to steal from me.”
“You got some money, baby?” his mothers eyes lit up.
“Just a little Mamma, thought I would buy some food and milk Mamma”.
“But baby you know I gotta go out to work. If I have a little medicine I look really good, I feel good, get more Johns, turn more tricks, then we will have some real money baby.”
“But Mamma” he pleaded
“Please baby you know I need it”
“Yes Mamma” sighed Calvin the ten dollars was handed over.
“Oh baby you saved my life”
“Yes Mamma” he was deflated.
Each day he went in to work, at least he was eating. Felt better in himself, and then Friday, some money. Twenty dollars, a fortune, he had never seen so much money. He asked for it to be split into fives, just in case, one note in each of four pockets. Into the grocery store some bread, milk and jam a little something to eat in the morning. Then home, his mother had left for work, it was very late, safer at that time. Every morning he had some food to start the day, food in his stomach, putting on some weight, he felt good. A tin box he had found was ideal for hiding money in under the floor boards. Occasionally his mother had a good night bringing in food and enough to pay some rent, but there was always money owing getting worse every week.
“You been to school Calvin?”
He looked at the floor.
“Calvin! you been to school?”
“Well Mamma, no!”
“You gotta go some time or they come and take you.”
He had been dreading this moment, his job was good, regular food and money, keeping himself clean, the man insisted on that. Lots of hard work was good, lifting trash cans, why school! Walking to work head bowed.
“What are you worried about?” the Voice asked him
“Mamma says I gotta go to school.”
“They come and get me if I don’t.”
“Yep, that’s true”
“Why don’t you, you know, go there Calvin?” the Voice suggested
Calvin thought. “I know, I’ll go for a couple of hours in the morning, then work afterwards that will do!”
“Good idea, see you can solve it.”
A smile returned to his face, once registered the day was his own. It was difficult opening his locker it had been hit and kicked so many times but he got it open, books, what use were they, still, keep quiet. Calvin sat at his place at the back of the classroom, as far away from other pupils as possible.
“Morning Calvin!” it was his teacher.
“Nice to see you”
“Why haven’t you been here?” the teacher asked
“Mamma’s not been well”
“His Mamma’s a hooker” one of the boys sneered.
“Hey Calvin you don’t stink” someone else sniggered.
“Silence! one more outburst and there will be detention” the teacher had had enough.
A quiet descended on the room. They pick on me if I smell , they pick on me if I don’t smell, why can’t they leave me alone. The lesson started. Who wants to know about Greek people living on mountains and stuff, if they were immortal why ain’t they still here, just stories. Then arithmetic, keep getting the sums wrong, how many men want to dig a hole. Who cares! Now was the time, off to work, the real world, he sneaked out of school, still plenty of time.
“Hey Calvin” the man was looking at him
“You go to school?” he asked
“I been this morning” Calvin replied
“You need some learning, how to count your wages”
“They talk about Greek guys” he replied
The man laughed, “Yeh I didn’t get that Greek stuff, but you gotta learn some things or you get taken, people steal from you” he said
“Take the rubbish out”
Calvin picked up the two cans, when he had started he could barely drag one out at a time and lifting them had been agony, but now he was filling out, his parka which had been more like an over coat fitted like a jacket now, he was growing, this was good. Each Friday some money, hidden under the floor boards, he had kept his guard up, making sure he avoided the groups of youths who scavenged for prey, life was pretty good.
“Baby, you got any money?” his mother looked ill.
“Why is that Mamma!”
“I, I haven’t had any medicine for a while” she said
“Mamma, are you an addict?”
“No baby, no I can stop any time”
He touched her arms, they were skeletal, just skin and bones.
“Are you eating Mamma?” Calvin was concerned
“Yeh, sure baby, I just need some stuff.”
His head slumped forward, from one pocket a five and then another.
“Is this enough?” he asked
“Thank you baby, you’re a life saver” Her eyes were bright. “I’ll get dressed now”
She was wasting away, a great sadness surrounded him.
“You have got the cares of the world” observed the Voice
“Mamma is an addict” sighed Calvin
“Nothing you can do” the Voice said
“She’s gonna die”
“Not right away”
“No, but she is ill”
“Some things you can change, some you can’t” the Voice said
“Suppose so” Calvin mused
He carried on to work got to get the essential’s right first. School wasn’t too bad, learning a little, some things were fun, reading funny stories. Better than that Greek stuff. Even arithmetic was getting so he understood some of it.
“Calvin!” the man called
“I got an inspector coming round next week, Wednesday and Thursday, so don’t come in, you are under age.”
“Yes sir” Calvins face fell.
The man saw it “Don’t look so worried Calvin, Friday is fine, come to work then”
“Thank you sir” relief flooded through him
“You work hard, that’s good” the man said
Eyes all around, watching, danger everywhere when you are a victim, bullies knew how to find him. Need some new trainers, lot more walking, school, work, home. Yeh home, all clear, no gangs here, filth lying around, crunch on the cockroaches. They are all over the building. Up the stairs past grease streaked walls into the apartment.
“Mamma,Mamma!” Strange she is normally in “Mamma!”
Not in her room. Kitchen! He stopped by his room, heart pounding, no, please no. The tin was laying upside down, a piece of floorboard beside it.
“No Mamma!” The anger deep inside, tears welled up. “How could you do it?”
“Here you are kid.” The twenty dollars was proffered.
Calvin looked at it “But I didn’t work two days”
“You would’ve done!” the man replied
“But you couldn’t!”
“So it wasn’t your fault”
“Thank you sir” Calvin hesitated “Hmm, could you do me a favor sir?”
“Could you look after five dollars for me?”
“Sure. I’ll put it in the safe.”
“Do you know where I can buy some trainers?”
“This time of night?” the man sounded surprised
“Let’s see, two blocks south there’s a mart, they sell all sorts.”
“Thanks, goodnight sir.”
Eyes looking all around watching for danger. Along the sidewalk towards some lights. Must be around here, yes, there it is. No one hanging around, any movement in the shadows, no, a dash to the entrance and in to safety.
“Yes kid, what do you want?”
The man looked at him suspiciously, running in suddenly.
“I got money.” He showed the two fives.
“Size? don’t know.”
He had always put on whatever his mother had brought home.
“Take one off” Calvin did as he was told.
“Six” the storekeeper looked at him “These tight?”
He dissapeared and returned with some trainers “A seven, try them.”
His trainers didn’t stink, a bit of a surprise.
“Here you go, two pairs of socks and the trainers, ten bucks” the shopkeeper watched as Calvin handed over the money, and put on the new trainers.
“Better?” he asked
“Yes sir” replied Calvin
“Do you wanna throw these?”
“Yes sir, and can I have a loaf of bread?” He had some change in his pocket and still five dollars. He looked out into the gloom.
“We don’t have much trouble here kid”
“No?” Calvin asked
He walked out heading into the shadows, it felt good, nice comfortable shoes, no pinching. Some bread and jam for breakfast, which he put in the fridge, he went into his mother’s room, she was asleep, the handbag, nothing, purse, some change, it had all gone, plus what she had earned last night. Time for school, he walked out of the door and down the corridor his mind on his mother, what could he do for her, not much chance of change what she was doing, along street festooned with rubbish, around the corner into the play area when he bumped into some one he waited for the normal response.
“So, ok” he replied
He walked on, sorry Calvin, that’s not what they normally said, times are changing.
“Do you want the five bucks kid?”
“No sir, can I leave ten with you” he asked
“I might have to charge you bank fees” the man chuckled
“Sorry” replied Calvin
“Only joking you, ok kid?” the man replied
A stroll home, head down.
“Not that bad surely” the Voice was back
“Mamma stole all my money, the rents not paid, we could be thrown out”
“Could you pay some rent?” it asked
“Some” replied Calvin
“I am sure they would settle for some money”
“Yeh?” he asked
“Difficult Calvin” the Voice agreed
“You can’t help your mother, only look after yourself, make sure you are ok” the Voice advised
“Yeh, I suppose so”
“She is a drug addict, you cannot change her” the Voice sounded sad
“No, no you are right” he admitted.
“Calvin! Calvin, you have got a job, hand over the money!”
He had been so lost in his own thoughts, they had appeared from nowhere.
“Money Calvin, give!” the boy grasped Calvin’s coat.
“Give!” he repeated
The fist swung in a fast arc, making contact with the youth’s head, he sprawled on the floor not moving.
“You’ve killed him!” one of the others stammered
“Perhaps I have, perhaps I haven’t.”
Calvin turned and walked home.
(c) Michael Douglas Bosc