The youth looked up and down the windswept street furtively, as though he were about to commit some dastardly act. No one was about, at least, no one appeared to be about. He moved over to the can and began foraging in it for the dregs of someone’s milkshake, the last bite of a Big Mac, a stale crust of bread. He was cold, he was frightened, but most of all he was hungry. The hunger was all-consuming, it ate away at his belly like a rat gnawing at his flesh.
He cast his mind back to an earlier time, a time when, if he hadn’t been happy, at least he hadn’t been hungry. His Mamma had earned good money in New York, working the fancy clubs and the big hotels, sleeping with white businessmen who’d flown in from out of town for some convention or business meeting. She’d been a high class whore at one time, his Mamma, as much as a whore could be high class. She’d had a white pimp, that was unusual for black whores, for any whores. Almost all the pimps in the Big Apple were black. “Niggers”, she’d called them, “lowlife niggers”. She’d hated them. He hated them too, niggers, hated them more than he could express in words. But if he hated niggers, he hated white people more, all white people, and with good reason. In all his fourteen years, he’d never met a good one.
Sure, he’d seen them on TV, all smiles, dressed in fancy suits with perfect white teeth. He’d seen the politicians too: the white liberals who claimed to like black people so much. The ones who said the government must spend more on welfare, build more schools for black kids, give them better housing, invest in the future to stop them becoming alienated. But the only reason they ever did this was out of self-interest. They didn’t want the blacks rising up in the ghettos, rioting on the streets, mugging their old folk. It was all appeasement, either of the blacks to keep them off their backs, or of their own consciences.
He thought of Mamma’s pimp, he’d been a Jew as well as white. It was bad enough being white, but Jewish as well. The Jews were the worst whites of all, every black person knew that. They were the greatest liberals, the most ardent advocates of welfare, and bussing, but when it came down to basics, the bottom line was that they were all on the take. All these thoughts and more went through his mind as he scavenged through the trash, his nose long since accustomed to the disgusting smell, his taste buds deadened by months of feeding off the slowly rotting leftovers of other people’s meals.
At the bottom of the can, he found a Colonel Sanders’ box; it was half full. Tearing it out he wrenched back the lid, pulled out a half eaten leg of chicken and began gnawing at it. It was still warm, even though it had must have been in there hours and all sorts of rubbish and filth had been dumped on top of it. Or perhaps it was only his imagination. Whatever, he became so engrossed in sating his hunger that he failed to see the two young white men walking towards him.
It wasn’t until they were on top of him that he looked up; judging them to be two middle class students on their way home, he turned his head away and carried on eating.
The men walked up to him and stopped either side; they were both smartly dressed, one in a two piece suit, the other in a leather jacket.
“Hey, what have we here?” said the man in the suit, “looks like one of our jungle friends is having a picnic.”
The youth froze, he realised at once that these two were trouble, and that trouble with a capital ’T’ was coming his way. He was too weak to run so tried to ignore them and continued eating his scavenged meal, hoping they would just call him a few names then move on. But they had no intention of ignoring him.
“Hey, is that what your Momma made you?” said the man in the suit.
“Yuk,” said his companion, with mock indignation, “this nigger’s eatin’ out of a trash can.”
The youth held up the chicken box and took a step forward, but both men kept pace with him.
“Hey, where d’you think you’re goin’?” said the man in the leather jacket.
“Please, mister, I don’t want any trouble.”
“Neither do we, sonny boy, jus’ wanna see what your Momma fix you for supper.”
“Yeah,” sniggered his friend, “you got the chicken, but where’s the watermelon?”
Both men laughed, and the youth, tried to pull away, but the man in leather reached out and grabbed him by his tatty coat.
“Please,” he yelped.
Suddenly they were upon him; grabbing an arm apiece, they pulled him up onto the sidewalk and backed him up against the wall. The man in leather drew a knife from his trouser pocket, flicked it open and held it against the youth’s throat.
“Shut the fuck up, nigger, or you’re dead now.”
Trembling with fear, the youth whimpered, “Please, mister.”
“I said shut the fuck up, you dig?”
He whimpered again.
“What you think you’re doin’, eatin’ out of trash cans?”
“Yeah, you’re lowerin’ the tone of the neighbourhood; don’t you know there’s decent folks lives round here?”
“White folks?” asked the man in leather, mocking a Negro accent.
“Well, they’d have to be white; niggers ain’t decent folks,” said the man in the suit.
The youth felt the blade tighten against his throat until it pricked the skin. “Please don’t kill me, mister, I ain’t done nothin’ t’you.”
“Why shouldn’t I kill yer?” said the man holding the knife.
“I can’t think of one good reason,” said his partner.
The voice was loud, emphatic, confident. The man with the knife tore it away; both men turned towards the stranger. He was slightly built, fair-haired, probably no more than twenty-four or twenty-five, but, although he hadn’t shaved for two or three days, his face bore the look of authority; one could imagine that he was an undercover cop, or a security agent who’d just come off a long shift.
The two thugs were immediately hesitant, then one of them made a quick assessment of the stranger and said to him, “Hey, we havin’ some fun with this street trash; you wanna join in?”
The stranger came closer, “Fun,” he said, “you call that fun?”
“Please mister,” the youth said, “they gonna kill me.”
“Kill ya? Ah heck!” said the man in leather.
“No they’re not, son.” Suddenly the stranger drew a gun and pointed it at the youth’s tormentors, “All right you two, put your hands up.”
Their mouths dropped open simultaneously, “Hey man, steady, we only havin’ some fun.”
“Fun? Is that what you call it?”
“Hey, no harm done, all right?”
They backed off, visibly scared like the spineless cowards they were.
“You think it’s fun to terrorise someone who can’t fight back?”
Suddenly, the man in the leather jacket turned and ran; his partner hesitated only for an instant before turning on his heels and following him.
“That’s right, run,” called the stranger, “run like the wind. Run like the Devil himself is behind you.”
The youth was still standing up against the wall, breathing heavily, realising he’d been perhaps seconds from death when this blond avenger had stepped out of the shadows and saved his life. The stranger held up the gun barrel to the sodium light, admiring it like a gunslinger of old, then put the weapon back in its holster. He smiled reassuringly at the youth, then bent down and picked up the fried chicken box. Holding it out to him he said, “This yours, son?”
He nodded like the frightened child he was, but made no move towards the box. The stranger sensed his unease, withdrew the box and smelt it. "You gonna eat this?"
The youth nodded again.
“Hell, that’s poison! You take that out the can?”
“Yeah,” he managed to speak at last.
The stranger nodded, “I know, I’ve seen you around the past few weeks. You livin’ on the street?”
“Some,” he said.
“Where’s your family?”
“Ain’t got no family. No more.”
The stranger shook his head sadly, “No one love you?”
This sounded a strange question; the youth was not sure what to make of it. Seeing this, the stranger asked him again, “You got no one to care about you?”
“There’s someone cares, even for you. You know what his name is?”
The youth was beginning to regain his composure and managed to shake his head.
“Jesus, that’s what his name is. You heard of him?”
“Sure,” he was feeling very confident now; he’d thought for a second that he’d been rescued from two potential killers only to fall into the hands of a weirdo. This guy was obviously some kind of Jesus freak. He was just about to thank the stranger and move away when his rescuer said, “I guess you must really hate white people; I guess they must always have treat you bad. Am I right?”
“I d-don’t hate them,” he stuttered.
“But they always give you a raw deal, huh? Like those...” he nodded in the direction of the departed thugs, “but they’re not all like that, white people - I’m not. We don’t all hate black folks” He held out his hand and after only a moment’s hesitation, the youth shook it.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Well, Leroy,” he indicated the stinking box of chicken which he still held in his other hand, “I think we can dispense with this, can’t we?”
He threw it contemptuously into the trash can, “What say we get you some proper food?”
“I, I d-dunno.”
“Well, I only live a few blocks from here, and I got some chicken in the ice box, only take a few minutes to cook.”
“Then after you’ve eaten you can meet some friends of mine from the Martin Luther King Church. You heard of Dr Martin Luther King?”
The youth indicated that he had.
“He was a great man, Dr King, he did a lot for black people, lot for white people too.”
“Your friends black?” asked the youth, curiously.
The stranger nodded, “A lot of them, ’specially from my church.”
“You go to a black church?” he asked.
The stranger laughed, “There are no black churches, nor white ones. Didn’t you know: God’s colour blind!” He smiled disarmingly and laughed; Leroy couldn’t help laughing with him.
“You a preacher?” he asked.
“Then why you carry a gun?”
“I used to be in the army; served in Germany. Only got out two years ago.”
“You ever use it? You ever kill anyone?”
“Sometimes soldiers have to kill,” he said, “it’s not that they want to. Come on, my car’s just up the block.” He began leading the youth to his auto, and, for the first time in his life, Leroy began to think that maybe not all white people were bad. He’d heard a lot about Christians, white Christians as well as black ones; he remembered learning in school, the few times he’d been to school, that years ago, during the days of Imperialism, many white Christians had gone to Africa to spread the gospel. That was Jesus wasn’t it, the gospel? Leroy wasn’t quite sure what a gospel was, but he knew it was something to do with Jesus. This guy was obviously mixed up in something like that.
“Was Jesus white, mister?” he asked.
The stranger laughed, “You can ask my friends later,” he said, “they don’t care what colour he is.”
“Isn’t he dead?”
“Jesus is the Son of God; the Son of God can’t ever die.”
“Didn’t they kill him?”
“The Jews? Yes, but he rose to show the world that love can conquer death. My friends’ll tell you all about that later, but first we gotta get you something to eat.”
They were approaching the car when Leroy asked, “Why do so many white people hate black people, mister?”
He stopped, turned and looked the youngster in the eye, “It’s difficult to even begin to imagine what makes some people tick. It may be that they’re just plain evil. I see racism every day at work; it’s rampant in the army, but I was always taught by my parents never to judge a book by its cover, nor to judge a man by the colour of his skin. I’ve never treated any black person any differently to the way I treat white people. Anyone who comes to my apartment, whatever the colour of his or her skin, is always treated exactly the same by me. I want you to understand that, Leroy.”
“Yes sir,” the youth said, almost in awe. There was something about this man that instilled instant respect. Not only that, he trusted him, although he’d only just met him, there was an air not just of sincerity, but of goodness about him, and it made Leroy feel good too.
They reached the car and his new friend unlocked the door for him. “Don’t you worry about a thing, kiddo,” he said, ”we’ll get you something to eat, and in the mornin’ we’ll sort you out with the church housing department, you can go stay with some of my Baptist friends from the Martin Luther King Church.” He smiled reassuringly.
As he climbed into the car, Leroy looked round and said, “Hey, mister, I don’t even know your name.”
He smiled again as he walked round to the driver’s door, “Jeff”, he replied.
Leroy slammed the car door behind him and said under his breath, “Jeff, you may be white, but you one cool dude.”
The blond man sat behind the wheel, patted his belly with his left hand and said, “Know something, Leroy, I’m as hungry as you; I think instead of chicken I’m gonna fix us one of my special casseroles.”
“Sounds good,” smiled Leroy.
“Sure is, it’s my own recipe.”
He held up his hand, and smiling again, Leroy slapped it playfully, Negro fashion.
“Right on, man!” said Jeff.
Leroy laughed. “Hey, you cool.”
The white man smiled the smile of contentment, and starting the engine, Jeffrey Dahmer drove off with his prize into the Milwaukee night.
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