The rain was heavily pouring down in most areas in California in the wee hours. There were not so many people moving around and you could tell that the majority of them had been asleep, especially being on a weekend. Accompanying the rain was a strong wind as well as cold. This made it difficult for persons on the streets to get even a shred of comfort or even sleep. “I might have to relocate to another place if this rain persists. But then, where would I go to and I have lived here for the most part of my life.” Salk thought to himself while standing alongside a corridor which was at least covered and he, together with other homeless people were not being rained on. Salk had barely been asleep that night as there were not so many places in Fresno, California where he could put his beddings and have a sound sleep. Most of the buildings which had roofed corridors on the outside had security guards who would chase the street people as they were assumed to be potential thieves. It had been raining throughout the day and Salk’s beddings were wet.
On this morning, he had successfully managed to convince the security guard outside the building they were currently standing on to allow them until the rain stopped and then they would sort themselves out. Salk knew just how to maneuver his way out by taking advantage of the situation. He told himself “These people think that I am being good to them for the sake of being good….I will make sure that they pay me when this is all over.” Whenever Salk did a favor to his fellow street men, he would consider it a debt that they should all pay him. For instance, he would remind them of how he helped them when they were needy and in return, they would give him, let’s say, ‘bread’ for that day.
Still, on this fateful day, a young boy, 14-years-old on the other side of the street stands alone outside a building where most of the rainwater is stagnating. The boy looks troubled and innocent upon first sight. “Why the hell did I ran away from home to come to this place? Where will I be sleeping? Will I always be alone? Am I going to die out of this cold?” Robbie was thinking to himself since at this moment and time he did not see any hope. He remained there until the rainfall reduced at about 8.00 a.m. in the morning. “I am so hungry and I could use some coffee right now with this cold but I don’t see any restaurant of food center which is open” he silently spoke to himself. Robbie looked around as far as his eyes could stretch. He says a group of around 10 people who stood outside a corridor on the other side of the street. “Poor people,” he thought, “They must be homeless” Robby contemplated after reasoning out that they must not be having homes since it had been raining all night. In addition, he draws his conclusions based on their looks. They seemed malnourished, tired, and wore torn clothes. “Anyway, it is called life. Why am I even pitying them in the first place and I am going to be one of them sooner if not soonest” Robbie said to himself as he decided to take a walk around Fresno and see if he will luckily find a place where he can take breakfast.
Salk spotted Robbie walking and recognized that the child’s face was not familiar to him. He thought that maybe Robbie was lost as it was unusual for a 14-year-old to be hovering in the streets unaccompanied and what’s more, on such weather. At one point, Robbie stopped a woman who seemed to be in her late twenties and who was presumably going to work: “good morning ma’am, do you know any place around here where I could take breakfast? I am new in this place.” Looking at the boy, seemed shocked since Robbie had been rained on and given that he was standing outside a building where water stagnated, his shoes were also wet. Nevertheless, there was not much she could do but decided to direct him to another path to check whether there was a café which was open. All the while, Salk was watching Robbie and the woman but pretending that he was not looking at them. “Oh! I am never wrong. I knew this minor was new to this place. I could use this opportunity and pretend that I can help him. He might be coming from a rich family and I can manage to convince him to ‘con’ his parents” Salk murmured slowly as he headed towards the direction where Robbie was headed. He walked faster and managed to be a few steps behind him.
“This street is dangerous especially for young kids like you. You should take care of who you talk to. But of course, you should not be afraid of harmless men like me,” uttered Salk in a teasing voice. At first, Robbie did not want to respond but an unusual force compelled him to. Turning around, Robbie seemed scared. He could not help wondering why a man who wore dirty clothes would say that he was not dangerous. Salt was white with brown hair, sunken eyes, a slightly hunched posture, and with some wrinkles on the face. He measured 140 lb and 5’10” in height and his physique was skinny-fat since he was malnourished a lot of time. When Robbie turned around, Salk stretched his hand to greet and introduce himself: “They call me Salk around here, and i am at your disposal in case you need any assistance. I know every place in this town.” Robbie looked surprised at first but as naive as he was, believed that Salk was concerned about his safety. He told him that he was new to this place and was looking for a place where he could eat breakfast. Salk led them to one of the restaurants which he knew. They both asked for coffee and sandwich as they got to know each other. “I am popular for being good to people in this town. I am homeless but I believe my situation will change for the better someday. The streets have been my home for as long as I can remember, I recall that I came here when I was 10 years old. I had run away from home after my mother rejected me. Robbie was pleased with Salk’s openness and he decided to tell him that he had run away from his foster parents who abused him and was in Fresno to look for fun and learn how to survive on the streets. Salk offered to protect Robbie with his life and be there for him always just as a father would be for his child. However, at the back of his mind, Salk knew that all he wanted was to use Robbie to meet his needs. On the other hand, Robbie was a vulnerable child and would be exploited by anyone who had bad intentions. That day, Robbie paid the meal they had taken using the credit card he had stolen from his parents. It did not rain that night and Salk invited Robbie to his sleeping section as they were now familiar with each other.
Salk lured Robbie into giving him the credit card, indicating that it was safer with him. He also asked for its password which Robbie provided willingly unaware of the old man’s intentions. “I will use all the money in this credit card to make myself happy and lie to this kid that it was stolen,” Salk spoke to himself. He used all the credit to purchase cigarettes, psychedelics, and marijuana which would last him for a while. Normally, it would be expected that Salk would buy food and perhaps, some new clothes but Salk lived in day-to-day situations. Robbie saw Salk as his ‘father figure’ since he was the nearest parental figure.
Since Salk knew what he meant to Robb he introduced him to petty theft. “Helping ourselves with other people’s riches is all we can do to survive around her child.” Salk had informed Robbie who had nothing to do than obey his master even though he knew that it was wrong. Salk taught Robbie how to sneak into shops, restaurants, supermarkets, and other places without being seen and stealing items without necessarily being caught. Stealing was part of their daily lives. Robbie had mastered the skill of not being caught as he had learned from his supposed ‘father,’ Salk. Salk was the mastermind behind the places they would try to invade every day and sent Robbie to places where he knew he was most likely to be spotted. “You are a minor. Unlike me, if you get caught, they can easily let you go. As for me, they would send me to jail and I would rather be here,” Salk used to convince Robbie. Robbie heeds Salk’s words so much that even when he managed to steal something, let’s food, he would take all of it to Salk who would give him a small share that did not satisfy him. When Salk managed to steal and Robbie did not, he would not share with him. Many times they went hungry and they were malnourished since even the sustenance they got was never balanced.
There was a time when Salk and Robbie had not gotten anything to eat from their “hustle” and had gone hungry for four days. However, they still had to keep on trying or else they would die. That day Salk was high on psychedelics and could not reason normally. He was actually telling Robbie that he was dining in a big hotel while in the real sense he was hungry just like Robbie. To save himself, Robbie targeted to attack a nearby diner. Deciding that the food was worth the threat of getting caught, Robbie pulled himself up onto his feet with the ripped up brown bag blanket falling off of his legs and in front of him, bound for the diner. He looks down and brushes off the dust on his jeans to be just-about clean for his liking. Continuing his gaze to the floor, he begins to pace to Dick’s Diner that’s down a couple of blocks. While peering around the corner he glimpses up at the sign and begins to pick up his pace in excitement. Once he sees the door he leans up against it with his shoulder, expecting to pass through, but then… Dong! The door smacks him in the face, only for him to conveniently catch sight of the “Open Door” sign at eye level. Embarrassed, he steps back and opens the door to speed walk through it, hoping that no one saw.
“Okay… All I need to do is walk in there, grab the food, and run out. Hopefully, some people are there to get the staff’s attention, rather than me,” he said to himself. The diner was a large hadron collider (LHC) on its own. The store looks like a normal ’50s themed diner, except this one was exceptionally cleaner than any other he’s been in, with each crease in between the white tiled floor looking as if it was sanitized to every inch. Rubbing his arm that’s greatly sore, he looks to the right and catches eyes with a smiling woman behind an unpopulated counter, seemingly the waitress, in a thick white shirt that had cuffs that looks like flowing gauze of freshly picked cotton. The color scheme of her clothes matched the stores as well: a simple red and white. “Hey hun, take a seat wherever you feel like. I’ll get to you in a sec, I just gotta grab a steak from the back.” She said faster paced as she waved in his general direction and turned to the staff door behind her and goes in.
Immediately, he went back to staring at the floor and scuffed to the first counter seat in front of him and plopped his butt on the glossy, red seat. His mind was elsewhere after he embarrassed himself with his own lack of self-awareness. The waitress began to mince beyond the staff doors threshold and turns around to tell them “Maybe in the freezer, that’s where you usually keep those things, right?” She didn’t want to have to help her partner in the back room, so she continued to turn in the already chosen direction and brought the steak to the customer on the other side of the restaurant. Trotting to the opposite side of the counter from Robbie, she begins a conversation with “Was that not your momma behind you a moment ago?” The waitress’s name was Emelia but had told Robbie to call her Ila who was somewhere between 30-40 years. On that day, Ila and Robbie got to know each other, at least to some level and Ila told him that he was free to visit her twice a day. From hence, Robbie would go to the diner bi-daily and she would buy him a meal whenever she could.
Ila was playing the motherly role to Robbie, assisting him with finances and food whenever she could. Also, she would coach him generally about life and with time when she got to know that Robbie was just an innocent child who had been manipulated into theft, Ila tried to slowly talk him out of the practice. Robbie had come to realize that with Salk, he was heading to the wrong path. “I am bound to become a very bad criminal if I continue being loyal to Salk. All he cares is himself because when he has something he does not share it with me,” Robbie had realized. Additionally, it was clear that the person who wished him well and tried to instill morality into him was Ila. Robbie decided that he would not engage in stealing anymore. After all, he had Emelia who used to give her food. Nevertheless, he did not stop talking to Salk and he still respected him. He enjoyed the stories they made together as well. On the other hand, Salk was sensing something was up with Robbie since he had stopped engaging in petty theft and was still surviving. He felt that Robbie had gotten greener pastures and did not inform him while he should. “I must find out why this boy has changed and no longer obeys my orders,” Salk promised himself.
One evening when Robbie visited Emelia at the diner, Salk decided to follow him and see what he was up to. He saw Robbie enter the diner on one of the tables and a woman came carrying food, sat next to him, and they started dining. To Salk, they seemed familiar with each other. After a while, Salk decided to enter the diner while the two were conversing and walked towards them. “So this is the place where you have coming all along? This is the place that has made you become unroyal to me Robbie? Huh?” asked Salk. He seemed furious and Robbie did not know what to do at that time. “Who is this man Robbie?” asked Emelia in a harsh tone. Judging by the looks, Ila knew that Salk was a street person especially because of the way he was dressed. Robbie tried to calm Salk down but he was angry and began talking rudely to both of them. “I know you chose this woman over me. I know she is the reason why you stopped accompanying me to our daily hustles. If it were not for me Robbie, you’d probably be dead by now since you had no idea on how to survive on the streets. Now you have the guts to abandon me, the man who has acted like your father since you came to this place.” The words that came out of his mouth were humiliating since Robbie never meant to disrespect Salk. He just didn’t want to be on the wrong side anymore. When Emelia began to speak, Salk silenced her and publicly said that he knew that she was having sex with Robbie and paying him with food. He told Ila that she Robbie told him that they were they would have intercourse at the back of the diner in the evening when there were no customers. Salk’s words shocked Emelia and she decided to call the security guards to throw him out of the restaurant since his words had no basis. All this while, Robbie was surprised by Salk’s change of personality and lacked words to tell the man who he had for long considered a ‘father figure.’ He did not believe that Salk was capable of making such false accusations against him and Ila just because he decided he would not continue stealing to survive in the streets. Before the security guards came for him, Salk told Robbie that he was no longer welcome in his place and that he would throw away all his items on the streets since he decided to side with Emelia. “I don’t ever want to see you again in my life. You better pray that I do not meet you on the streets because you will not like what I will do to you. You better ask that woman who has become your God to house you.”
Robbie felt threatened and his view of the world changed at that point. He now knew that Salk enjoyed controlling him and now that he changed his way of life, the man could no longer take it and did not want to see him. Salk was also selfish and considered himself an important person while he was not. It was all clear to Robbie that many people are frightened of losing power no matter how little it is. Additionally, he learned that not all people want the best for you and others pretend to care while they are not. On the other hand, Emelia was shocked at Salk’s lies yet he did not even know her. She learned that there might actually be more vulnerable people out there who are manipulated into evil things just as Robbie had been lured to engage in theft. After learning that Salk is the man who was pretentiously acting as Robbie’s father figure, she now came to understand that some people can indeed hide their true personality.
Despite this, Robbie felt hopeless without Salk, at least now he does, and Salk knew it. He felt safe with him as his mentor for the streets, knowing the stories he’s told, his shaggy appearance, and then the way he talks. He had a raspy, yet soothing voice that calmed the minds of the people around him, but once you get him angry (or drunk) his voice is as powerful as the essence of a black Baptist pastor.