Thirteen Nights – After the Crusade
Author of Thirteen Days
Wednesday, March 10, 2004 – Out of the Frying Pan
"They're waitin' f'r ya," a nervous, high-pitched voice announced, "Folla me."
A moment later and I was set upright, my footie pajama clad feet hitting chilled linoleum that stung the bottoms of my feet. It was only at this point that I realized I was wearing pajamas and I supposed that my Jamaican caregiver must have put them on me before sending me away with my captors again.
Cramped from being bound and lying for so very long, I was aching all over and stiff with cold, it was too much for me. My knees buckled, and I started to crumple. Steely fingers immediately snapped around my arms on either side, jacking me up.
"Cum from 'avin' too soun' av sleep, i'll warrant." Said Segal in a tone of voice suggesting he was addressing someone deeply concerned with my welfare.
"I see he has no shoes!" a woman's voice said sharply, "And what on earth is on his feet anyway?"
"Well... well... well..." Doc began to stammer nervously.
Segal cut him off with lightning speed "Naw, naw shoes, not duds either. 'e's jist in 'is pajamas. We didn't dare..."
A man's voice asked, "Didn't you bring any of his things along with him, a coat perhaps?"
"Oh, naw!" replied Segal, sounding shocked at the question. "We couldn't take de time for dat either. we jist lef everythin' behind."
"Left everything behind?" I thought to myself, "Yeah, behind in the truck waiting for these two villainous men to return and pawn it."
I could believe that they were standing there, bold as you please, lying to, as far as I knew, at least two warmhearted people who cared that I was in need of shoes and warm clothes. A sudden flash of burning rage swept over me, overcoming my dread of my two kidnappers.
"I must report their lie at once to my two new benefactors!" I reasoned to myself, "And would not such caring people protect me against punishment by these criminals?"
Swiftly I drew in my breath and began, "But they—" was as far as I got before the two hands that held tightly to my arms squeezed mercilessly.
From behind came a jab into my plastic armor which had I not been wearing would have caught me in my ribs just under my left arm. Despite the protection of my armor the blow was hard enough to silence me as surely as if a rag had been rammed down my throat. Further, the blanket had deadened my feeble attempt to such a degree that apparently no one else in the room heard so much as a squeak from me.
After several awkward seconds of silence, "Well," the woman said, "aren't you going to remover the cover so we can see him?"
"Beggin' yisser pardon, madam," Segal said, "But we'd as soon be gone before dat 'appens."
The man grunted, "As you wish," followed by what I thought might have been a yawn before he continued, "so as all transactions are now concluded, there appears to be no further reason for you to remain. Cho here will see you out?"
As I listened to the footsteps as the two mean and the one called Cho left the room, I waited hopefully to be released form the blanket cocoon; and I waited; and waited. However, no one came over to remove the blanket, and all around me was only silence.
"Has the kindly man and woman stepped out for a moment?"
The question appeared in my mind followed by, "Perhaps they had gone out with the others, which explained why I had not heard their footsteps leaving." I continued to stand motionless, straining to hear even the slightest sound all the while still pondering, "But they would return soon!" of that I was certain, for anyone with such tender feeling would know how dreadful it is was for me to be tied up. Such sympathetic hearts would not want me to wait a moment longer than necessary, but more time did pass, and at last I heard footsteps entered the room. A single set of footsteps. "Who is there?" I wanted to ask but did not dare incase the men were not really gone.
"Get that thing off of him Cho, so we can have a look at what we got." the man said, his voice coming from the same direction it had come from before.
"And do be quick about it," added the voice of the woman. "We might yet get a minute or two of sleep before morning."
"Had the two of them been there all along doing nothing to relieve me of my misery? Why?" I thought, "Were both of them perhaps crippled and unable to move? And why were the fingers of the person now known to be Cho trembling as they struggled to undo the tight knot in the rope tied around me?"
"Come. Come, don't be all night about it, Cho!" the woman said impatiently, and Cho's fingers trembled even more, thus becoming clumsier than ever.
But at last, the knot came undone; the rope slid to the floor and the blanket was dragged off me from behind. Now, what I had wanted so earnestly was happening at last. The grim van, then boat, the truck rides were over, I was being released from the blanket tomb and would be allowed to see again.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to my surroundings, but only a few, because the room I found myself in was deep in shadows. What light there was came form two small lamps that glowed weakly on the walls to my left and right. Tiny tongues of light licked feebly at a barren metal desk, two unforgiving straight-backed metal chairs, and an older girl, as much a skeleton as the chair she stood beside, distinguished ownership of a long, thin, sallow face, a hunched back, and one leg vastly shorted than the other. Her hair hung like greased straw from her head in large clumps and draped over one side of her face.
But what was of greater importance to me was the man and woman, both in bathrobes of some dreary dark color, planted in front of the desk, arms folded, silently staring at me. These must be the two benevolent people who cared that I was without shoes and a coat. Nevertheless, if I had not been certain that these were the two very same people, I might have had some difficulty in believing it.
Maybe it was odd that I had the thoughts that I had just then but this is how my brain was working at the time. "Was it possible that any of the words could have found their way through the woman's lips, now compressed into a cruel, hard line, or any tender looks have come from those glaring, cold eyes? Moreover, what could I ascertain of her nose and chin that appeared sharp enough to crack stone? As for the general facial setting in which there objects were located, why it was so shriveled that any warm blood visiting there must surely have long since departed. Even the pink ribbon decorating the curler cap that crowned this vision, was so limp and ejected, one might think that having allowed itself to be placed there, it now deeply regretted the error."
The man who stood beside her was remarkably short and squat, barely reaching her shoulder. His face, in keeping with the rest of him, was likewise short and squat, with nothing about it close to resembling any human face I had ever seen before.
Was that bulbous shaped item compressed and spread across his face actually a nose? If so, then what was stretched almost form ear to ear like a rubber band must have been the mouth, though his lips were so thin as to be nearly non-existent. As for a chin, he owned nothing that could be properly described as that either, for a wide expanse of flabby, nearly transparent white flesh descended straight from his mouth making it appear that there was no neck joining his head to his body. Over all these items were a pair of black beady eyes, half shaded with one thick, suspicious eyebrow that stretched across the mans forehead as though a fuzzy black caterpillar had just died there. If the face of this man could have been compared to anything, it would have had to be that of a bullfrog, although in any beauty contest, the frog would have surely come of the winner.
Still, whatever their appearances, these were the two who had taken pity on my condition, should I not try to show them how grateful I am? Somehow, I managed to produce a trembling smile.
The smile was not returned.
Instead, although his head never turned so much as a fraction of an inch and his eyes remained fixed on me, the man now spoke, but it was to the woman beside him. "And what is your opinion, Mrs. Wriggle?"
The woman, Mrs. Wriggle, likewise kept her staring eyes fastened on me as she replied. "No doubt, I am sorry to say, the same as yours, Mr. Wriggle. Not good for much, reeks of old piss and is dripping on the floor. Of course, considering the terms of the transaction..." she allowed her voice to trail off there at the end.
"Exactly!" said Mr. Wriggle. Then his eyes narrowed even further, a scowl distorted his face ever more, "Do you know where you are, boy?"
The tone of the words left no doubt that a smile was no longer required, wanted or of any value. It left my face in an instant as I shook his head. "You've been brought to the `Banachelli Orphanage for Boys' where you will be schooled, fed, and clothed, and..." He attempted to cover his nose with his fat but small hand, "bathed!" His eyes darted up and down my thin urine soaked frame with abhorrence. "For all of these blessings you will be expected to earn your keep." Mr. Wriggle paused to let this information settle in before continuing.
"We are Nihau and Rubella Wriggle, proprietors of this institution. We desire you to now take particular notice of the fact that we are not going to ask your name now. Further, we are never going to ask your name." After a short pause he added, "Would you care to know why?"
By now I could not have uttered a word, for my tongue was frozen to the roof of my mouth and I was barely able to nod my head.
Mr. Wriggle took a deep breath and began to cough violently. He wheezed as he took in another breath and coughed again; spittle flew from his mouth with each cough.
Clearing his throat several times, he then continued, "We-are-never-going-to-ask-your-name," said Mr. Wriggle, drawing the words out as appearing to relish saying each one. His eyebrow folded in the middle to form an arrow pointing down at his bulbous nose, "We are not going to ask your name, boy," he repeated, "because we don't want to know what it is. We are never going to want to know what it is. Nor do we want to know anything about you. Not who you are, nor where you come from. None of that matters to us, for as far as we are concurred, you have no past, NONE!" He barked out that last word so forcefully that it sent him into another coughing spasm.
"All we care about is what you are right now, and forever after, and that's a Banachelli boy. Cho, will you study the list and refresh our memories on who's been crossed out lately?"
"Yes, Mr. Wriggle. At once, Mr. Wriggle!" One foot dragging, Cho limped hurriedly to the desk. There she pulled out a drawer and lifting out a shabby dark green notebook. Clumsy from her eagerness to carry out the mans order, she was finally able to find the right place in the notebook and run a shaking finger down a page, then the finger stopped. "Here's Ron. He's crossed out."
"Ah yes, Ron," said Mr. Wriggle. "Well, that will do. No need to go further. Unless you have an objection my pet?" he said to Mr. Wriggle.
"None at all," she yawned. "Ron's as good as any."
"Your name, then," said Mr. Wriggle, directing his attention back to me, "is from now on to be Ron." He paused only for a moment to clear his throat before adding, "And as every boy here bares the last name of Banachelli, you will likewise. Now repeat after me—Ron Banachelli."
"R-R-Ron B-b-Banachelli," I stammered.
"Again!" snapped Mr. Wriggle. "You'd better
do better than that."
"R-Ron B-Banachelli," I repeated, feeling a lump beginning to form in my throat.
Mrs. Wriggle's eyes flared. "It wont do, Mr. Wriggle."
Mr. Wriggle's mouth tightened around his teeth. "AGAIN!" he spat out allowing spittle to fly toward me.
I spotted Cho's eyes looking earnestly at me from behind the Wriggles. I swallowed hard.
"Ron Banachelli," I said slowly and carefully.
"That's right!" said Mr. Wriggle. "Ron Banachelli! Anyone asks you, that is what you tell them--Ron Banachelli. No remembering any names you used to have. The day you do and we hear about it will be the day you will wish you had never been brought here too us."
What was he talking about? I already wished I had never been brought here.
"And remember this well, the one you trust the most might be just the one you can trust the least not to come running right to us. Others have learned that to their sorrow." Mr. Wriggle said before turning to Mrs. Wriggle and asking, "Now my pet, have you anything you wish to add?"
Mrs. Wriggle puckered her face as if she were sucking on a lemon, "Just mind him well, Ron Banachelli. Mind him well!" this menacing warning from Mrs. Wriggle hardly needed the accompanying flaring of her eyes to chill me to the marrow of my bones.
"Cho, you can take him to his bed, you know which one," Mrs. Wriggle said.
"Oh yes! Oh yes!" Cho replied eagerly. "Numba' nineteen... I know which one." She said never lifting her eyes from the floor.
"And you'll see he has clothes by his bed before rising bell?" Said Mr. Wriggle, more by way of a command than a request.
"Oh yes, I'll see to dat, Mr. Wriggle. Yes, I'll see to dat!" said Cho, so anxiously to please that one word stepped right on the heels of the next. Beckoning to me, she half ran, half walked to the door, her one foot dragging along the floor.
"And see that he is washed! His very presence is offensive!" Mr. Wriggle commanded just as Cho reached for the doorknob.
"Yes, Mrs. Wriggle! I will do dat now!" Cho replied almost seeming to bow.
By now, it was certainly clear to me that I need no longer be concerned with producing any smiles or showing any form of gratitude for being out of the company of my captors. Shivering with cold, for I was after all still clad in a soaked diaper and pajama sleeper, now standing in a small puddle at my feet on the icy cold linoleum, and so paralyzed from fright I could barely move one leg after the other, as I trailed after Cho. With every step I took, I could feel on my back the piercing eyes of the couple who were the proprietors of the Banachelli Orphanage for Boy's, the kindly caring, sympathetic, tender, warm-hearted Rubella and Nihau.
Directly outside the door, Cho stood with a small flashlight beaming from one shaking hand. Although the flashlight produced only the barest of fluttering lights, it was enough to tell me that we were in a hallway as cold and bleak as the room we had just left, which had featured dingy brown linoleum and walls of a sickly faded olive green. A network of cracks and stains from grime and greases were a cheerless reminder that a large number of years had passed since a coat of paint had visited the walls, or received any other attention. One stark, unpainted, wooden bench sat directly across from the door appeared to be the only furnishing in the room.
"Where you sit and wait if yer called," Cho said under her breath, her eyes darting nervously from side to side. It appeared that it was necessary to conjure up for me the picture of a trembling Banachelli boy sitting there stiffly, in mortal fear as he awaited an audience with Mr. and Mrs. Wriggle.
Then I saw what might have been considered a second article of furnishing. It was a portrait hanging on the wall across from the bench.
"Dat's them watchin' you whilst yer waitin'," Cho pronounced solemnly.
It was indeed a portrait of "them," and if it were possible to make the subjects appear any worse than they were in person, the artist seemed to have managed it. However, what he also managed to do was provide them with the kind of eyes that, while fixed, seemed to follow the viewer no matter where he or she stood—or sat. Therefore, it seemed that whether on the bench or off it in the hallway, a Banachelli boy was never out of sight of the proprietors of the Banachelli Orphanage for Boys. I felt the eyes boring into the back of my head with every step as Cho led me toward the narrow, steep stairs rising precipitously up the right-hand wall.
Just before we reached the stairs however, Cho turned left unexpectedly, leading me through a set of double doors. And I then felt another shock, for the deadly painted eyes of Nihau and Rubella Wriggle were once again staring at us! It was yet another portrait of the two, larger and uglier than the first, looming on the wall as if to gargoyles magically imprisoned on canvas. The light from the two small wall lamps set on either side flicked over their likeness, making them even more ghastly, as if they were thought to be necessary.
Instead of staring at one solitary bench, however, the eyes now kept guard over a cavernous room featuring on vary long table, seemingly made up of several tables drawn together, with wooden benches drawn up to it. The end of the table opposite the portrait was laden with precariously tilting piles of mismatched pottery bowls, rows of tin cups in varied sizes and conditions, and a tangled heap of spoons, mostly bent, and none looking to have come from a matching set.
The whole unappetizing dining scene was enhanced by the thick smell of over boiled cabbage mingled with that of disinfectant soap. Remaining stale smells were provided by a row of jackets in assorted sizes—all well worn, some to the point of being little better than rags—hanging from rusty nails in an uneven row down one wall.
"Where you get fed," Announced Cho.
A curious note of pride suddenly appearing in her voice, as if a boy should somehow be impressed by the room and by actually being allowed to eat in it. Then she waved a hand in the direction of a tall cabinet looming in the shadows of one corner of the room, and added with an important air, "and do everything else as well."
All I could think was that the "everything else" must be yet another horror. However, Cho chose to say nothing further about it, and I was left to guess what it was as we left the room and entered yet another. Pictures of the two owners, at least, did not grace this one.
Cho opened another door I had not noticed at first. It was surprisingly small, no more then four feet tall and two feet wide. Ducking and squeezing through the little door, I followed Cho.
"Mess," reported Cho and oddly enough, I had not caught the fact that she had said "Mess" instead of "Kitchen". I supposed upon seeing the iron stove and great black pots and pans dangled from the walls and ceiling made it clean enough to me what room we were now in.
We did not linger long which made me glad because the smells in this room were so bad that it was all I could do to keep myself from vomiting. I was relieved when, once again, Cho waved a hand, this time in the direction of an open door by the stove, leading off into darkness.
"Toggery," She said. The room was particularly darker then anywhere we had been so far. I looked around the room as I shuffled my feet along behind Cho. The room was made up of two very large and deep sinks that were dingy with filth and soap residue. Just above the sink was yet another painting of Nihau and Rubella Wriggle only much smaller. They both seemed to be dressed in fine clothes as if they were going to some kind of storybook ball. Cho pointed up over our heads to a network of cords stretching in nearly every direction. "For drying." She said and for half a minute, I imagined countless boys hanging by clothespins from these cords to dry after bathing. If I were not so scared, I am sure I would have laughed at my mental image.
In one corner of the room was an old wooden table with stacks of what I thought to have once been white sheets but now looked more like dingy gray rags.
"Ya ever work in one?" Cho asked.
"Worked in one?" I thought to myself, "Was she being serious?"
"I... I d-don't th-think I know w-what it is... exactly." I stammered.
Cho shrugged. "You'd know if'n you had. Ain't a surprise if you ain't—wearin' a fancy bit of pajamuers like the ones you gots on. Well, you'll find out `bout it soon `nough." Cho stared at my feet, "I ain't never seen pajamuers wath covered yer feet too." She scratched her head and shrugged her shoulders as if dismissing me as an oddity.
Already shivering from the cold, my body gave a violent shudder. A grim bench in the hall, a foreboding cabinet in a dismal dining hall, and now something with the ominous name of "Toggery" that I was to know about soon enough.
She pointed to a corner of the room, "O'er there," she said sounding more like she was giving a command then anything else.
Cho walked over to me, took me by the shoulder and with surprising strength pushed me over to the corner of the room. In the floor, I could see a drain and I surmised that she meant for me to shower here.
Cho turned me around to face her; she studied the pajamas I was wearing for a moment, then took hold of the zipper, just below my chin and began to pull it down. Without thinking I reacted quickly by grabbed her hand.
"W-what are y-you d-d-d-doing?" I said fearfully.
"Gonna wash ya!" she said with a puzzled look on her face.
"N-no! I-I-I c-can d-do it m-mys-self!" I said earnestly.
"No you can't!" a strong look came into her eyes, not unlike that of Mr. and Mrs. Wriggle. She took my arms and placed them down at my side. "Tis' my job, I must d'it!"
She gave a slight tug down on my arms as if this would force them to stay in place.
"B-but I-I am a b-b-boy!" my voice cracked as the lump I had felt in my throat earlier reappeared with a vengeance.
"Don't much matter!" She said and pulled the zipper all the way down to my left knee.
I felt my face flush brilliant red and I shivered as the cold air hit the wet skin of my stomach. I wanted to re-voice my protest of this treatment but something in me wouldn't allow me too. Waves of fear were flowing through my little partially frozen body and I found himself wishing I were again blindfolded like I had been back on the boat with the Jamaican lady who had cleaned me up and diapered me.
With a swift motion, she managed to pull the pajamas down to my ankles. My whole body was trembling but I wasn't sure if it was from the cold, fear, or shame or maybe it was all three.
With a quick glance down, I saw that I had been right earlier; I was wearing a cloth diaper with no plastic pants. I remember thinking to myself, "Who in there right mind puts a cloth diaper on someone and do not use plastic or rubber pants or at the very least a disposable diaper over the cloth diaper to hold back any flooding?"
I glanced down again to see that the diaper I was wearing, now barely hanging on my hips, was daggling down between my knees exposing the area from the bottom of my armor all the way down to just above my boyhood. I reached around to grab the diaper to keep it from falling off me but Cho was faster and grabbed the diaper by the sides and pulled it off me in one quick tug. Instinctively I covered my nudity with my hands as my face burned hotter, as if that were even possible, with embracement.
Cho looked me in the eyes, smiled and said, "Step out," and I realized she was holding my diaper and pajamas so that I could pull my feet out.
I did as she asked, stepping back into the corner all the while keeping myself covered with my hands. My body was covered in Goosebumps, as I now stood completely nude before a girl who only a few minutes ago I didn't even know existed.
When Cho reached out and touched my armor I flinched back into the corner as far as I could. The wood planked wall was like ice but her touch made me more afraid then freezing to death at that particular instant.
"Wha's dis?" she asked pointing to my armor.
I don't know why I looked down because I knew full well what she was pointing at but I looked down anyway. What I saw shocked and horrified me. From my right shoulder was a crack that went diagonally across my chest about ten inches. I was instantly filled with rage like I had never felt in my life. With everything that had happened, everything that had been done to me, my friends and my home, this... this was the thing that pushed me over the edge. I was so mad that all I could see was the crack in my plastic armor glowing as if electricity were escaping threw it.
It took a gentle hand caressing my left cheek to bring the furry within me under control.
"Please don't cry." Cho said in such a way as to remind me of my own mother.
I had not even realized I was cry; my rage had overloaded ever sense within me until I felt her touch. I looked up into her eyes and saw a softness, a kindness that I'd not noticed in her up to this point.
I was startled to hear a high-pitched voice say, "B-brok-ken r-r-ribs," not knowing that the voice I heard was my own. I looked around for the origin of the voice before realizing it must have come from me.
Cho scrunched up her face as if she were being forced to eat dog crap, "Did those monsters do this to you?"
I must have shaken my head to indicate that they had not because she next asked me, "What of these?"
She touched my head over my right eye causing me to flinch at the pain.
"They are animals and should be shot!" Cho said the words as if she were vomiting poison.
Without another word, Cho turned away from me, dropped the soaking-wet diaper onto the floor by the doorway and tossed the pajamas I had been dressed in into the left side of the deep double sink. She turned the water on briefly, dropped a large block of yellowish-brown something into the water, I could only guess it must have been some kind of soap, and swished the water a bit with her hands.
She then returned her attention to me; hobbling back over to where I was cowering as tightly into the corner as I possibly could while still attempting to hide my nudity from her.
Cho pointed to my right and without thinking I grunted, "Huh?"
I looked in the direction she was pointing to see a length of hose was coiled and hanging on the wall with one end connected to a faucet. I looked back to Cho with questioning eyes.
"Dey say yer to 'ave a wash a'fore I show ya to yer bed." She said.
And taking hold of the free end of a coiled hose she then turned on a faucet and after a few low groaned from the pipes overhead water proceeded to spray from the end of the hose in Cho's hand. I could not help but notice that the water coming out of the hose looked more like rust then it did water and I was reminded of my new friend, Lowell and his story he had been sharing with me.
My eye caught Cho's as she began to spray me with the rusty water. I gasped when it hit me; it was ice cold and smelled like meat that had long since gone bad. I actually had the thought, "This was supposed to make me stink less?"
Once Cho was satisfied that I was wet enough, she turned off the hose and hung it back up on the wall, being sure that it was coiled just right. She turned back to the sink and left me standing there, my teeth chattering, my legs quaking and the rest of me shivering all over.
"Where's the soap? A wash clothe? A towel?" I thought to himself.
Cho again turned on the faucet at the sink, placed the large cake of soap back on a shelf over the faucet and began to rinse the pajamas I'd arrived in.
I honestly don't remember much of what happened next. I supposed I have blocked it out of my mind for some reason. All I remember is Cho kneeling down in front of me and beginning to wash me with that same big block of yellow soap.
I don't remember anything after that until she was taking me by the hand and leading me out of the Toggery, clad in a cloth diaper that was way too big for me and brownish-yellow plastic pants over them. As for my armor? I had no idea what came of it; actually, it wasn't until the next day that I realized it was gone.
Horror upon horror upon horror, in a night already filled with horror! Was there more to come? When Cho led me from the Toggery back through the kitchen into a stale-smelling back entryway and then down, down, down a perilously steep set of cold, damp wooden steps, I felt as if I were being led down to a dungeon or—a tomb. By now, that could hardly be surprising.
However, when at last I had stumbled off the last of the steep steps onto a rough uneven wooden floor, equally cold and damp, I saw by the flickering light of Cho's flashlight that we were in another hallway.
Thud, shhhh. Thud, shhhh.
I waddled along, guided by the feeble light of the dimly lit flashlight and the sound of a dragging foot. I followed Cho past a closed door to a doorway appearing to be no more than a black hole in the wall. Cho jerked her head at me and entered through it.
We had come into a room barely large enough to hold six narrow iron cots in two rows of three each against opposite walls. Hanging on the wall by all but one cot were what must have been clothes, or what passed for clothes at any rate. In all but one cot lay a boy seaming to be very much asleep with no time to take in the surroundings Cho led me to the only empty cot at the far corner of the room.
"Dis' yers," she said, waving the flashlight over the cot. "In da mornin', whish ain't too far off now, there's a bell goes off. Ya bez jums faster'n ya ever dream'd were possible; pull up yer bedco'ers, and jums in'a yer clothes. Then you go wit da rest to the facilities, which is up the stairs at the other end of the hall and through the door. No dawdlin' neider. Af'er dat ya get on up ta da dinin' 'all where ya was jus' at." Cho paused, raised her flashlight, and with appraising eyes studied me from shoulders down to my feet. "All right, now I got yer size, ya can get into bed. I'll be ri' back with yer stuff. I a hang yer clothes' on dis chere nail nexter yer bed. Socks'll be in yer shoes under da bed."
Thud, shhhh. Thud, shhhh.
Cho and her flashlight departed the room, leaving me in darkness thick as pitch, to climb under the rough wool blanket that was the only covering on the cot provided, and lay my head down on the small, hard lump that scarcely passed for a pillow. However, I did not have long to lie there, rigid and shivering, before Cho, as announced, was back with my "stuff"; otherwise knows as clothes.
Silently, she went about hanging them up on the nail provided for the purpose and finally shoving under the cot what had to be the shoes and socks, she meant for me to wear. Wearing a satisfied look on her face, she shone her flashlight around the room, and then left without another word, taking every twinkling of light with her.
Once again, I was left alone in the darkness; or as alone as possible when taking into account the fact that there were five other boys in the room with me.
Five boys! Five boys who, if they were anything like Peter and his gang, would be five teasing, taunting, tormenting boys. Moreover, they would not be boys who would return to their homes when an afternoon of play had ended. No, they would be right in the room with me, living with me. Five boys! I could hear them sniffling in their sleep around me.
"Is this the final horror? What more could there be?" both questions flashed in my mind as I was clamping my jaws together to keep my teeth from chattering. I drew my feet up under the blanket and pulled it tightly up under my chin just as I would have done at home.
Then, however, it had been with cotton sheets and a down comforter. Under my head had been a cloud-soft pillow for me to burrow the back of my head into. But now around my chin was a coarse wool blanket that bit into my skin. The small, hard lump of a pillow already made my neck and head hurt and my ear grow numb. It seemed that only a few specks of time had passed since I had been in my own cozy bed, but oh, what a difference it was for me now!
I whispered softly to myself "How could so many terrible things have happened to me in such a short time?"
And then I thought of my parents and begin to weep quietly to myself. "I bet they have been looking for me. I bet the police and everyone has been looking for me."
But there was something I knew, deep down inside of myself. It was something I could tell myself over and over—that all this horror was not going to last. For once, the villainous Segal had received the ransom he demanded, I would be returned to my home and my family. And there was no question in my mind now that I had guessed right about being held for ransom. Were not the sinister words "terms of the transaction" spoken by Mrs. Wriggle proof of that?
Why Segal had chosen such a grim place for him to be kept while waiting to be ransomed, I could not guess. However, no prison could have kept me more secluded. I had been warned that nobody here cares who I was or where I came from. I was now just another Banachelli boy, and if I ever told anyone otherwise...
My thoughts over came me and for several minutes, I wept bitterly with my head beneath the blanket to keep from waking he other sleeping boys.
Remembering the glaring, venomous eyes of Mrs. Wriggle, or the hideous toad like stare of Mr. Wriggle, who could doubt that no iron bars or heavy padlock could do a better job of keeping a young boy safely imprisoned?
"No! No! No!" I cried and with a sudden jerk, I pulled the blanket even tighter over my head. My eyes darted from side to side in terror; for though I could see nothing in the deep, suffocating darkness, there was also nothing to say those terrible eyes were not there piercing my soul.
I repeated to myself, "I must no longer even think the name I had grown up with. Ron, Ron Banachelli-that is who I am now; and if I want to save my skin, to still be alive when I am finally rescued, I must remember that!"
And then a voice inside my mind asked, "But for how long? Days? Weeks? Oh, how will you bare it?"
Trying to ignore the voice I kept repeating to myself, "I am Ron Banachelli! I am Ron Banachelli! I am Ron Banachelli. Remember it! Remember it! Ron Banachelli."
"Could I remember it when I awoke later? What if I don't? Well, I will just not fall asleep." I thought.
"I will stay awake saying it over and over again; over and over. Ron Banachelli, Ron Banachelli, Ron Banachelli.
I don't know how many times the name had marched through my head before my weary, wet eyelids drifted shut, and the marching came to a stopped.