Tag Archives: welfare

The Trash Collector

16 Dec

catador de lixo

 

Bernie struggled as he pushed his home made trash cart up a slight incline to get to a particularly enticing pile of rubble he saw while scouting the neighborhood the day before. He looked up and saw three vultures circling over an abandoned soccer field. He loved birds and felt a special kinship with vultures.

Bernie arrived at the recently demolished house. He wasted no time looking for the most valuable materials. He was lucky if there was any of the metal rebar left behind but the demolition crews usually kept that for themselves. If they were in a real hurry, though, they sometimes left behind even copper piping and wiring. This was a jackpot for Bernie. No chance this time. Bernie noticed that the pile had already been rummaged. Crack heads probably.

Though a lot of the best stuff had already been taken, Bernie still saw a lot of good stuff. As he mined the pile he found a little, locked metal box. He didn´t think anything of it and threw it into his cart.

Later that night after a hardy dinner of rice, beans and today, a little chicken, he told his wife Sandra of the day´s haul and they went outside to pick over it and see just what he had scored that day.

“What´s this?” his wife asked.

“Oh, that little box? I found it at that demo a few blocks up. I don´t think there is much weight there. Ain´t gonna be worth much” he said.

“Aren´t you curious about what´s inside?” she asked.

“No” he answered with a grunt as he threw some pieces over into another pile.

“You think you can get it open?” she asked.

“Yeah, probably” he answered.

“Then open it” she said.

“Not now. Ain´t gonna make us any money opening boxes. Let´s separate this stuff. Trucks coming tomorrow for a pick up. You know if we ain´t ready, he ain´t stopping” he said, now getting a little annoyed.

She set it aside. She went back to separating. When they were finally satisfied with the night´s separating they made their way to the house. Later that night, Bernie´s wife woke up. She had a strong feeling that she had to do something but couldn´t figure out what. She went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Then she remembered the box. She went out in her pajamas to retrieve it.

She realized that it would be more difficult to open than she thought, so she slipped it under the bed and forgot about it.

A few months past and financial difficulties starting to tear the small family apart. Even though they owned the tiny piece of land and the shack they lived in, they hadn´t been able to pay property taxes for a long time. The government was threatening to take their property away. To make matters worse, their land was on the projected path of a new highway so the government had extra interest in seizing the property.

Things got to the point where Bernie was ready to bolt. He had family in the North East and there was a government program that was giving free money away. This was very enticing. He would practically be given what he currently earned for his backbreaking toil and he would be close to old friends and relatives. Besides, his wife was really starting to get on him about their financial woes. He had nothing to lose. The government was going to take his house anyway. Might as well let them pay him to do nothing, he thought.

One night when Bernie was sure his wife was asleep he gathered a few meager belongings and went to the local bus terminal. He bought one, one way trip to Bahia, his home state.

Sandra woke up that morning and did not need to think too hard to figure out what had happened. Bernie was gone and so were his things. They really did not have much so it was all the more apparent. A single tear ran down her face when she said out loud, “Stop it! It´s over”

She now would have to work even harder without Bernie around. She bent down to get her shoes from under the bed. As she felt for her shoes her hand brushed upon the metal box that she had put there months ago. She decided that she would take it to the locksmith on her rounds looking for recyclables.

Sandra arrived at the locksmith “Pedro, can you open this for me?”

“How much you gonna pay me?” Pedro said with a playful smile. He always had a thing for Sandra.

“I´ll split with you whatever is in the box” she answered.

“How about you just have dinner with me, my treat” he played.

“Well, Pedro, as of today, I am a single woman. I just might take you up on that” she played back.

“Deal” Pedro said with a smile.

Pedro pulled out some rusty tools and went to work on the tiny lock. In no time it was open. “Ain´t nothing in here, Sandra. Just some papers”

Sandra looked in the box. He was right. Just some papers. But something gave Sandra a feeling that they weren´t just any papers. They looked official.

“Thanks Pedro” she said as she carefully put the box on the trash cart.

“How about our dinner?” Pedro said this time more shy than playful.

“I´ll come back and we can work out the details” she said.

Sandra thought of all the people she could show the papers to. Who did she know who would know what they were? Then she thought of Marcos. He was an attorney who always separated his recyclables from his trash just for her and Bernie. He was a nice person. He would help. His office was in his house so she knew he´d be there.

She rang the buzzer. “How can I help you?” a voice asked through the intercom.

“Is Marcos in?” Sandra asked.

“One moment” the voice said.

The door popped open. It was Marcos´s secretary. “Come in please. Marcos said he has a few moments to spare”

“Thank you” Sandra said.

With the box tucked under her arm, Sandra entered Marcos´s office.

“Hello, Sandra! How are you? Would you care for a coffee?” he asked.

“No thank you. How are you?” she asked back.

“I am spectacular as always, my dear. How can I help you today?” Marcos asked.

Sandra told her short story about the box and asked if he could give an opinion as to what the contents were. She handed over the box.

Marcos´s eyes opened very wide and for a moment Sandra thought they would fall out of his head.

“What is it Marcos?” she asked.

“These are gold certificates, Sandra. And many of them” he told her. Sandra had a confused look on her face so Marcos added “this is a lot of money here!”

Sandra went blank. She could only muster the question, “How much?”

“This first one is for 10,000 DOLLARS! United States dollars. And there are a stack of them!”

A small smile flashed across Sandra´s face. She pinched off a few of the certificates and handed them to Marcos. “You have always been kind to me. Take these” she said.

“No, you don´t….” Marcos started.

“I insist and if you don´t take them I will rip them up and throw them in your waste bin” she said with a smile.

“Well, if you insist” Marcos said, Sandra´s smile was so contagious he could not help but do so himself.

Sandra carefully put the box back onto the trash cart and started to make her way back home. She could not help but to think how her life was going to change. She thought of the freedom this money would afford her. Her mind flashed to Bernie but she quelled that in an instant. Good riddance. He showed his true character when he walked out that door.

She made one stop on her way home.

“Pedro” she called.

From the back of the cramped shack she heard “Yes dear? Come to accept my proposal?” he said jokingly.

“Yes. I have. And I´m paying”

 

Man on a ledge

10 Dec

ledge

 

 

 

“I`m so tired” Larry moaned.

“That’s odd” Jan said lazily.

“Why’s that?” Larry asked.

“Because you don’t do anything” she answered not even having the energy to lift her eyes off the tips of her fingernails.

“I do plenty!” he said, slightly peeved.

“Like what?” she yawned.

Larry started to open his mouth to speak but not a thought came to his head. He closed his mouth again. He really didn’t do anything. He never had. He was even too lazy to breast feed when he was an infant and here he was, 35 years old, no job, renting a tiny apartment paid for by the government and without a hobby.

“I’m waiting” Jan said unable to hide the boredom in her voice.

Larry felt a slight panic in his chest. Up to this point he had never evaluated his life, not even for a moment. He was closer to animal than to human in the survivalist way he conducted his life. Food, shelter, sleep, television. Those were the only necessities he required. He couldn’t believe what he was feeling. He couldn`t believe he was feeling. When you are accustomed to leading a life as profound a loser as Larry, you don’t feel much. That is the only way to move forward in these circumstances.

“Just wait right here” Larry said to Jan.

“Ok” Jan almost whispered without an ounce of curiosity as to where Larry was going.

Larry undid the four locks of his third floor apartment. He made his way to the staircase. He took a deep breath before opening the heavy metal door. He made his way up the six flights of stairs that led to the tenth floor. At the ninth floor, he noticed that the light was burned out and he walked the rest of the way in complete darkness. When he reached the door that gives access to the roof he paused. He pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket. As he lit his cigarette in the dark he marveled at the pale illumination the lighter gave off.  He took a long drag of the cigarette and opened the door.

The light was blinding because of the darkness he had just spent the last few moments in. The air was so warm that the wind was hot. It felt like the exhaust of a tractor trailer being blown on his face. He stood there just feeling the hot wind and letting his cigarette burn down.  He did this for so long a time that the cigarette had burned down to the filter and reached his fingers. The pain felt so good to Larry at that moment.

He made his way to the ledge and looked down.  He couldn’t help but feel like a failure. Everybody who had come into contact with him had been let down at some point. He stepped up onto the waist high wall. He felt unbalanced on the wall but he was strangely unafraid. Then he heard a scratching in the gravel that covered the rooftop. It was the stray cat that hangs around the building and whom Larry would give food on a daily basis. It too jumped up on the wall. It started to rub its head on Larry`s head.

Larry bent over to pick up the cat and he immediately burst into tears. This sudden eruption of emotion was just what it took to topple his already precarious balance.  In thirty five years Larry had avoiding killing anything. That day he succeeded in killing two.