Dumpster diving and begging for change is not for everyone. It’s a tough life where success hangs on a half eaten burger still in the paper wrapping or from someone gracious enough to toss a bill into the hat instead of the useless pennies that no one wants.
Neeko and Trotter are homeless. They are not brothers by blood but by necessity.
Neeko cannot hear.
Trotter cannot speak.
Both children of bad circumstances.
Left to fend for themselves on the harsh city streets of reality.
They need each other, And have had a strange bond since the day the pastor introduced them to each other at the soup kitchen.
Neeko is a wiry boy that stands over 6 feet tall and weighs maybe 129 pounds….if he is soaking wet with all his clothes on, which happens quite often when you live in a home made of cardboard. Deaf since birth. He was abandoned by whoever his parents were.
Trotter stands at 5foot 5 inches and has a much more shapely physique than his counterpart. He is pushing 300 pounds. His possessions are always with him inside the tattered backpack that was found behind the sporting goods store. He has not spoken since his grandparents passed away. They cared for him. Now he cares for himself.
The pastor looks up from behind the serving line to make sure everyone is behaving. He notices that today’s lunch crowd is unusually smaller than normal.
“Must be the warm weather.” He thinks as he hands the homeless lady her tray.
She thanked him and moved down the line grumbling something under her breath.
He surveys the room and notices on one end of the room sits Neeko, the deaf boy who never misses a meal.
“That boy could eat a horse and not gain a pound.” He chucked and thinks to himself.
On the other end of the room sits Trotter, the quiet boy with the suspicious eyes darting back and forth.
He looks at one. And then back at the other, and wonders how long either of them will make it by themselves. He knows their stories well.
One alone since birth. The other alone from death.
Maybe together they might have a chance.
He figures his best bet is to talk to Trotter first.
“Trotter, my son, how are you today? Have you gotten enough to eat?” He asks as he places his gentle hand on his shoulder.
Trotter looks over his shoulder, gives the priest the “ok” symbol with his thumb and forefinger, then pats his belly and smiles.
“I would like to introduce you to someone today, Trotter. I think you will like him and will give you someone to hang out with.”
Trotter puts his spoon down.
He sighs. And then begins with hand gestures.
-points to himself
-then shakes his index finger back and forth
-then puts a hand on his heart
-then point to everyone in the room.
“I know you don’t like anyone in here. But you need a friend. Will you just trust me?”
He stares at the priest for a minute. Then nods his head in approval.
Neeko is finished with his meal. He sits in forever silence and enjoys this peaceful time. He feels the hair on his neck stand up. That can only mean one thing….someone is coming up behind him.
He jumps up from his chair, picks it up from the backrest and spins around to meet his attackers.
The leg of the chair is stopped in mid air by a big hand. He stands, eyes wide open, looking at the pastor, who had his two hands covering his mouth.
He looks around and down from the chair he is wielding, and sees a smiling fat kid holding the leg of the chair. The fat kid moves his eyebrows up and down and continues to smile.
Neeko brings the chair down to the ground and starts to laugh.
The pastor looks up to the heavens and says,
“Thank you, Lord.” To no one in particular, then motions Trotter and Neeko to sit.
He sits in front of them both. He speaks to Trotter, he uses sign language for Neeko and says,
“I would like you boys to watch out for each other. Being alone in this city is dangerous. You would stand a better chance together….what do you say?”
Trotter looks at Neeko…..
Neeko looks at Trotter….they both look at the pastor….
And burped loudly in unison.
And laughed some more.
The pastor closed his eyes, sighed, said a small prayer, opened his eyes, smiled, and got up and walked away.
After the boys finished laughing,
Trotter pulled out a pen and paper from his backpack and wrote his name on the paper with the pen.
He pointed at the name and then at himself and nodded. Then handed the pen to Neeko.
Neeko wrote his name, turned the paper toward Trotter, pointed at it, then at himself, smiled and stuck out his hand.
Trotter grabbed his hand and shook.
They sat for a minute to gauge the newly found friendship.
Then Neeko got up and motioned for Trotter to follow.
The pastor looked up from greeting other patrons just in time to see the 2 boys leaving together. He smiled as he watched their shadows fade out into the sunlight.
Neeko led Trotter out of the soup kitchen and into streets of the city.
Cars sped by on the busy streets. Taxicab drivers honk their horns and weaved in and out of traffic. People whisk by them on their way to wherever they had to go. Policemen on street duty listen to the squawks on their radios.
Neeko hears none of it. He can only imagine what sounds fill the world.
He feels the anxiousness in his surroundings but cannot amplify it.
He stops and looks at Trotter, whose eyes are darting back and forth with the commotion of the city. He looks uncomfortable and uneasy.
Neeko taps him on the shoulder and looks at him with a quizzical look. He points at him and then makes the ok symbol with his thumb and index finger.
“Are you ok?” Is the hand question that is asked.
Trotter shakes his head back and forth. Then points at himself and makes a gesture like he is drinking something. Then holds his hand straight out, palm down. It is trembling and he can’t keep it steady.
Neeko nods his head up and down, holds up 2 fingers and writes a square in the air and returns the drinking gesture.
“I understand. 2 blocks away we can get something to drink.”
They round the corner and travel 2 blocks north.
The city park is their destination.
They get to the first water fountain. Trotter sets down his backpack and opens up one of the pockets and takes out a pill bottle.
He pops out 2 tablets and looks at Neeko who has a concerned look. He hands the bottle to him so he can have a look.
With shaky hands he places the pills in his mouth and drinks from the fountain.
Neeko looks at the bottle. It is a prescription for Xanax from the free clinic.
Trotter wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and motions for Neeko to sit down.
Neeko shakes his head back and forth and at the same time points down. Then points at a shaded tree about hundred yards away.
Trotter nods and picks up his backpack.
They reach their rest stop and sit down just as the breeze picks up and rustles the leaves.
It is a calming sound for Trotter. Neeko can only watch the leaves shudder and move on the branches.
They sit and stare at each other.
Finally, Neeko hand gestures a question.
He makes a puzzled look on his face, pointed at Trotter, shook his index finger back and forth, and then tapped his middle two fingers against his thumb as he mouthed the words,
“Why you no talk?”
Trotter just stared through him for a minute….trying to gauge the trust factor of someone he just met.
He broke the stare.
Reached into his backpack and pulled out a pen and paper and wrote down a few sentences.
Before he handed it to him he pointed at his neck and looked up.
Revealing a 6 inch scar across his windpipe.
Neeko’s eyes widen. He took the note and read it.
This is what happened the last time I talked…..no talking…no pain.
He looked up from the note and stared into Trotter’s eyes.
Then Neeko reached down, untucked his shirt and pulled it up just past his belly revealing 4 scars.
He put his shirt back down and made a stabbing motion with his right fist…four times, shrugged and gave him a half smile.
Trotter reached back into his backpack and pulled out a brown paper bag. He reached in and pulled out 2 sticks of red licorice and handed one to Neeko.
Trotter returned the shrug along with a real smile and took a tug off the licorice and began to happily chew it.
For the first time, in a long time, each boy felt comfortable in their own scarred skin.
Surviving on the streets is learned the hard way.
Neeko and Trotter are still learning.
The 2 boys are relaxing under the tree in the park. They are both amazed that not only do they have similar disabilities in common (1 can’t talk, 1 can’t hear), but they also have pasts in common (scars from knife wounds).
Neeko is watching a dog catching a frisbee thrown by its owner. When out of the corner of his eye, he sees Trotter frantically trying to open his backpack.
He looks over and much to his surprise, he sees Trotter take out a cell phone, flip it open, sigh, and hit a few keys on the number pad.
Trotter looks up and sees Neeko staring at him with big eyes. He pauses for a second and motions like he is wadding up a piece of paper and tosses it, then puts his thumb to his ear with his pinkie toward his mouth.
Implying-“This is a throwaway phone.”
Neeko taps on his own temple and shrugs-“Why?”
Trotter gets his pen and paper and writes for a minute or 2 then hands it to Neeko.
‘ I work sometimes for “the hangman”. He calls. I do what he asks. He pays me. Nothing bad. I am just a watcher. I gotta go.’
Neeko shakes his head back and forth-“He’s bad”
Trotter nods and runs his thumb against his fingers making the money sign. He then picks up the pen and paper and writes and address and a time on it, and writes, ‘meet me here at this time.’
He then puts the pen and paper back into his backpack, pulls out the rest of the licorice and 2 half eaten pieces of chicken wrapped in old foil and hands them to Neeko. Then picks up his backpack, waves goodbye and trots off out of the park and around the corner.
Neeko looks at the address and the time and thinks,
“Why does he want me to meet him there at midnight? People like us don’t belong there at any time….”
He notices it will be dark soon and decides he better find a place to rest for a while. He needs to be alert as the night drags on.
It’s the hardest time to survive.
Trotter arrives at the Hangman’s apartment a little after dark.
He climbs up the fire escape, per instructions, and knocks on the window as he was asked to.
The shades are pulled back and the window opens. Before Trotter can climb in, he is yanked in and onto the floor.
The Hangman shuts the window loudly, closes the blinds quickly, and starts berating Trotter.
“GOD DAMN IT TROTTER! I TOLD YOU BEFORE DARK YOU FUCKING MUTE!” And kicks him with his boot.
“I PAY YOU, I FEED YOU, I GAVE YOU A PHONE! WHEN I SAY BEFORE DARK I MEAN BEFORE DARK!”
He picks Trotter up by the collar and sets him in a chair, which is no easy task with Trotter being over 300 pounds.
Trotter just sits there and takes it.
The Hangman sits opposite Trotter, lights up a joint and takes a big hit.
He exhales and rubs his hand over his head, smiles, then calmly speaks.
“I like you, Trotter. No back talk….not any talk.” He says and then laughs heartily.
“Did you get your priest feast at the shelter today?” He asks.
Trotter nods, “yes”
“Good. Since your late, I don’t have time to feed your fat ass.” He says as he puts the joint down and returns to filling the clip for his 9 mm.
He snaps the clip into the butt of the gun and clicks the hammer and holds it in front of Trotter’s face.
“Can I trust you to do something important?…..my life fucking depends on it.” He says as he peers at Trotter from behind the hammer of the weapon.
Trotter frowns and gives him a nonchalant nod for yes.
The Hangman sets down the gun and pulls out a wad of cash from his pants.
“I will pay you….$45….to watch for me….but not for police this time. I need you to watch for Rasta.”
Trotter’s eyes got big and his heart began to race. Rasta was the man who gave Trotter the 6 inch scar across his neck.
“I know you know him. So it should be an easy job for you to spot him. I am going to give you a walkie talkie….I know you don’t talkie…but you can walkie. I want you to hide in the alley directly across the street. When you see him…hit this button. It will make a noise to alert me. I’m taking over his business. He just don’t know it yet.”
He then hands Trotter the walkie talkie and counts out the $45 dollars. He begins to hand it to him then yanks it back and smacks him across the face with his free hand.
“When Rasta is taken care of….you will get paid…not before…you think I am fucking stupid enough to give some homeless fuck, money BEFORE the job is done? Take your walkie talkie and go to the alley and wait. When you see him, hit the button. Then wait some more. When he is dead. You get paid. Got it?”
Trotter was holding back tears from the stinging in his face, but showing weakness was not an option. Getting paid for watching was easier than what others had to do for money.
He nodded yes and headed back out the window, down the fire escape and into the alley across the street to wait.
He crouches between an overfilled dumpster and strewn around boxes.
The walkie talkie made a sound and the Hangman’s voice came through it
“Are you there and ready?”
Trotter hit the button once to acknowledge.
“Good. Just sit there and fucking wait until you see him”
Trotter was good at sitting quietly in alleys and dark places. Living on the city streets was no cakewalk. He learned early on to stay as invisible as possible at night if he planned on surviving it.
He had only been there a few minutes when from behind him he felt the barrel of a gun press up against his skull and the hammer being pulled back.
Trotter closed his eyes and tensed up.
The voice from behind him was familiar.
“Ay, Mon. Da fat boy is watching for da hangman. I taught I kill da fat boy an ere e is. You watching for me I bet. Too bad I be watching longer den you. Han me da radio. Yo days watching for da hangman are dun.” Rasta says quietly from the darkness behind the gun.
Trotter holds up the radio and hands it behind him.
As he lets go, Rasta pulls the gun away from Trotter’s head, turns it around, and knocks him out with the butt of the gun.
As he was losing consciousness, one thought went through his head-
“I hope Neeko is having a better night than this.”
Finding a place to rest in a city that never sleeps is no easy task.
Police sirens are always blaring. The streets are full of tourists, business folk, pickpockets, drug addicts, and all other shades of society.
The homeless stick out like sore thumbs in a society where style and appearances are more important
than lending a hand to the less fortunate.
Neeko walks down the crowded streets looking for a place to rest before he has to meet Trotter later in the evening.
Being deaf has its advantages.
He can’t hear-
-the people who look down on him, and talk about him as they pass by.
-the angry arguments about fender benders, or taken parking spaces
-the people talking to police about being mugged by some dirty homeless kid
-the sex offenders offering money for a trick.
All he hears is silence….but he feels the pain all around him.
He tries to walk through it and complete his goal of finding a safe place to sleep.
His norm is to stay close to the main traffic of the people, the neon signs, and the noise that makes the city attractive to all the tourists. There is usually a high concentration of police presence and they tend to help when any sort of ruckus breaks out.
He just needs to find a spot…that is not another homeless person’s spot.
He made that mistake before and has 4 knife wound scars to prove it.
The homeless “society” is very protective of the spaces that they believe are theirs.
Neeko has no space of his own. He has survived by taking chances.
He walks down 3 different alleys between blocks before he finds one that might work.
He checks it out and it has no visible signs of habitation. It’s just another alley off the busy street between a bar and a flea bag, by the hour motel.
Next to the fire escape there is a big enough box to use for shelter. It used to hold a electric stove. It blends in with the thrown away scenery well. He should be able to rest here until his meet up with his friend.
He opens up the flaps to be sure it’s empty.
An alley cat jumps out and scratches him on the face, startling him.
He watches the cat scamper down the alley. checks his face with his palm for bleeding and then gets in and closes the flaps above him and begins to drift off…..
He is dreaming. He is walking through a desert….alone…withstanding a silence that, even for him, is deafeningly loud. He feels a rumble and sees the earth is splitting open underneath his feet….but he can’t move.
He is startled awake by his box being shaken and opened.
A large, old homeless woman begins to poke him with a broken off broom handle and yelling at him-
“ARE YOU MY CAT? YOU SMELL LIKE MY CAT!”
Neeko is trying to understand what she is saying by watching her mouth but it is dark and the light from the street isn’t sufficient enough to help.
He tries to get up and she pushes him back in and holds the handle to his throat.
“MY CAT GET TOUR TONGUE? WHERE IS HE? WHY ARE YOU IN MY HOME? WHERE’S MY PICTURE FRAME?”
Neeko shakes his head and points to his ears. Trying to tell her he can’t hear.
“YOU THINK I HAVE BIG EARS? HOW ABOUT I SHOW YOU BIG HANDS, MR. SPOT STEALER!”
She pulls the broom handle off his throat and whacks him across the head with it. Then with speed he has never experienced, she yanks him out of the box and hurls him into the side of the dumpster.
She then takes off what is left of her right shoe and begins to hit him with it.
He tries to scream but only muffled squeak comes out.
Between the lashes, he manages to reach into his jacket and pull out the chicken pieces wrapped in old foil and hold them out in front of himself.
The old homeless woman stops the beating and looks at the foil and sniffs it with her nostrils. The neon lights across the street from the alley catch her wrinkled, street life living worn face enough now where he can see her clearly.
She puts what is left of her right shoe back on, relaxes and smiles as she takes the foil package out of his hands and speaks.
“Sweet boy…you cooked the kitty for me as a present. I don’t know how you did it but I thank you….I kept trying to trick the kitty into being dinner but each time I tried to take a bite of him, he scratched me something fierce….sweet boy..”
She said as she took a bite then continued, “mmmm…tastes like chicken…..NOW GET OUT OF MY SPOT BEFORE I CALL THE FBI!!”
He scoots himself up the side of the dumpster while holding his head, as it was beginning to throb, and carefully walked around the old woman and back out into the chaos of the city streets.
She had already forgotten his presence and was carefully dissecting each small sliver of meat that hung to the bones of the small piece of chicken.
He looked into the window of the 24 hour check cashing business across the street from his encounter and noticed the clock inside read 11:14.
He walks up the street to a block where the foot traffic is not as heavy, leans up against a dark wall to gather his composure and calm down a bit and thinks,
“I hope Trotter is having a better night than this.”
Trotter pulls his head up from the ground. There is a knot on the back of his head from the gun butt that Rasta struck him with. He rubs it and checks for blood but there is none. He sits for a minute to gather his senses and decides he needs to check on the hangman. He did after all hit the button on his walkie talkie before he handed it over.
There were no signs of police and the apartment looked quiet. He headed up the fire escape and reached the window where he normally met him.
He knocked on the window the same way he did before.
The hangman spoke from behind the glass in a low, dry voice.
Was all he said.
Trotter opened the window and climbed under the blind. After entering, he looked up to see the hangman tied to the chair with a gaping wound in his chest.
Rasta sat in the recliner and smiled at the returning occupant.
“You got da big balls…fat boy…not only did u alert dis piece if crap but you come back afta I knock you out. Big…brass..balls.”
Trotter looked at him without emotion and made a few gestures.
He pointed at the dying man in the chair, then pointed to himself, then made the money sign by running his thumb against his first 2 fingers.
Rasta chuckled and shook his head then spoke,
“You come back for what is owed to ya? I like dat….Dats why I am here, too, mon. Tell me….what he owe you….”
Trotter put up his right hand and made a four then changed it to a five.
Rasta watched the child stare at him emotionless, seemingly without fear. Then looked at the hangman tied to the chair and shook his head.
He got up out of the recliner, walked over to the hangman and slapped him upside the head….HARD.
“Dis boy watches for you and you pay him $45? You steal from me and won’t pay him enuff to watch da grass grow? Dis is bad karma….bad karma, mon. Sit down boy.”
Trotter continues to stare at him and doesn’t move.
“I SAY SIT DOWN….BOY!”
Trotter does not take his eyes off Rasta, and slowly sits down exactly where he stands.
Rasta reveals a sly smile and begins to reach into his jacket pocket.
Neeko nears the address that Trotter had requested they meet at.
The closer he gets, the more uncomfortable he gets.
Big, long limousines line the streets. Men in expensive tuxedos, women in fancy evening gowns.
Walking through the crowd that smells of expensive perfume, cigars, and alcohol looking like the homeless child that he is.
He hides in the bushes just away from the address and awaits Trotter, still wondering what the heck he is doing here.
The time is 11:32
Rasta pulls his revolver out of his jacket. The chrome barrel glistens in the dim apartment light. He smiles as he turns it over in his hand. Then rests it on the table.
He reaches in again and pulls out a wad of cash.
He pulls out $45 and tosses it to Trotter.
“Dis is wot e owe you.”
Trotter glances at the money but does not pick it up.
Rasta’s sly smile gets larger. He goes back to the cash wad and picks out some more bills. Then walks over to Trotter and kneels in front of him and speaks,
“And dis is what a watcher dat works for me get. U take it. Is for having brass balls. If u want to work u come see me. Der be no more work fo da hangman…..only fo Rasta. Now go, I got to finish MY bidness.”
Trotter took the money from Rasta and picked up the $45 from the floor. He then stood up and backed his way to the window and climbed out without taking his eyes off Rasta.
Before he was completely out of the window he nodded to Rasta.
Rasta nodded back without the smile. A chill ran up his back and the hairs in his neck stood up. He shook it off and turned to the hangman to finish his business…..after he knew Trotter was out of the way.
Neeko spotted Trotter coming across the street. He came out from the bushes and met him.
They both looked at each other and almost at the same time pointed at the other and gave each other a concerned look.
Neeko had scratch marks from the cat and bruises from the old woman on him. Trotter just looked ragged and dazed.
Each shook there head, more or less confirming to the other that it was just another day on the streets.
Trotter led Neeko to the back of the enormous building and knocked on a service door at the back.
An old man in a janitors uniform answers the knock and looked at the 2 boys.
“Damn, quiet boy, you look like you been put through the ringer. Who’s your friend?”
Trotter pulled out his pad and pencil and wrote-
The janitor read the note and said,
“Well ain’t you just 2 peas in a pod….we don’t have much time before it starts. I’ve got new, clean clothes that were donated earlier today…probably some that would fit you both. Lets get you 2 to the back dressing room showers. But be quick…there is not much time.”
The janitor led them to a back dressing room and let them go through the donated clothes and got them in the showers. They probably had not had one in weeks.
When they came out they looked like different people.
The janitor looked at them, smiled and said to Trotter,
“I put an extra chair in your spot under the stage. It’s ready to go. Enjoy, young one.”
Neeko just watched. He wasn’t used to people being nice to him. He followed Trotter under the stage and sat down. He looked at him and frustratingly tapped Trotter and put his hands out and made a stern face.
Seemingly to say,
“Ok…what the hell is going on?”
Trotter pulled out his pad and started writing again. When he finished he handed it to Neeko-
The janitor used to be homeless. He likes to help when he can. He knows I like to come here because he brought me here when I felt like giving up. He lets me come sometimes. Tonight is special because its a midnight session. Just wait.
Neeko read the note. Before he could reply he felt a ruckus in his body caused by all the movement upstairs.
Neeko looked at Trotter in frustration and motioned
He pointed at himself
Shook his index finger
Pointed at his ears
“I CAN’T HEAR”
Trotter smiled and motioned back-
Shook his index finger
Pointed at his ears
Closed his eyes and pointed at his heart.
Neeko made a quizzical look then closed his eyes as the show was about to start.
He was startled by the initial vibrations that were sent through his body.
The sound waves awakened every part of their being.
As the movement continued the typically emotionless boys were both brought to tears…of joy.
2 homeless boys surviving endless nights and hungry days…..but finding inner peace with timeless music.
They will live to fight another day in the city.