Coming out of the pool was a refreshing experience. The hot and humid environment was replaced with the cool air of the evening. It was something I looked forward to every night. At 11:00 in the evening, I knew it was time to head home and let sleep overcome me. The night had been uneventful with swimming lessons, an aerobics class and finally adult swim. By the time the adults departed, there was just enough time to clean-up, making things ready for tomorrow.
I locked the front door and gave it a quick tug just to make sure. Something that had become a habit for each night I had to do this. With two bags of garbage in my hand I headed over to the trash bins to deposit the days offerings. Along with Allen and Rachel, the two other lifeguards, we chatted for a few minutes before each of us got into our cars and started heading home. Another day was done.
As I started up the engine and the headlights turned on, I was surprised by a movement at the side of trash bins. My thoughts were an animal scavenging but then I thought that with the size of the bins, this would have to be a very large animal. More than likely it was a homeless person looking for food.
I opened the car door and stood behind the panel. I yelled at the person to move on and not make a mess of the trash. Nothing happened. In fact, the noise and movement ceased, and I saw no further action. Then I heard a muffled noise and a soft thud. The person must have fallen into the bin when I called out.
I slammed the car door in agitation and went to check it out. Whoever it was, I wanted to make sure they were not hurt. I opened the top of the bin and looked in. What I saw was a complete surprise to me. A boy of about 6 or 7 years was sprawled out over the bags in the bottom of the bin. He was rubbing his head.
I propped open the top with the lock bar and then boosted myself up while I asked him to grab my hand so I could help him out. All he did was shy away from me further into the corner of the bin. Not to be taken back, I told him that I would not hurt him and in fact just wanted to make sure that he had not hurt himself. It took another 10 minutes of cajoling before I finally coaxed him to grab my hand and I lifted him up out of the trash bin.
I was shocked by how light he was and how smelly he was. I tried to talk with him for a few minutes to get his name and find out if there was any injury from falling into the bin. I found out that his name was Steven and he said that nothing hurt, and I could see there was no bleeding. I asked him what he was doing out so late and he indicated that his mom had not picked him up yet. I told him I would drive him home which he was reluctant to agree to but with a little persuasion, I was able to get him in the car and he directed me to his house.
I am not sure house is the correct term for what I saw. The building was run down and in severe need of repair. At least three of the windows were missing and there was makeshift boarding in place to keep out the cold. The grounds had nothing about them that indicated they were being looked after. Broken parts of cars were scattered all over the place, the grass, or what could be referred to as grass, was all over the place and in all sizes.
Steven got out of the car and walked to the front door. In a rather strange action, he knocked on the door first. Nothing happened. I could see him knocking again and again with no result. I was glad that I waited to see him enter the house. I got out of the car and walked up to the front door and helped him knock. There was no response. No lights in the hose went on, there was no movement and the door was definitely locked. Steven looked at me and indicated that his mom must not be home yet. He proceeded to walk around the house.
I watched him enter a playhouse, grab a blanket and lay down to sleep. My mind was reeling. How could anyone leave a boy of this young age out in the cold all night long? It was summer but even in Calgary the nights could be quite cool. I called his name and he kind of moaned at me. I asked him to come out with an idea in mind.
"Since you have no place to sleep tonight, and I do not feel right about you sleeping here in the back yard, let me take you to my place and put you to sleep in a real bed." What had I just said? Do you know how much of this is wrong? Wrong or not, it was the right thing to do and my idea had taken this into mind.
After I got Steven into my apartment, I drew up a nice warm bath and had him soak for about 20 minutes. It was well past his, and my, bedtime but he really needed to clean up since he smelled so bad. I took his clothes and put them in the washer so he would have something clean to wear in the morning. I did not have any clothes for him to wear to bed, so I just got one of my large shirts and he wore it as a night gown. It was about 12:30 am now so I tucked him in, gave him a kiss on the forehead and he was out by the time I closed the door.
I had already decided to call Roger Milton who was a friend of mine and also a city cop. I told him the story and he advised me to file a report right away so that I would avoid any unpleasantness. I told him that it was way too late for that and asked him if he would call social services and accompany them to my place in the morning. He said he would do this first thing. He also said he would file a report right away about this discussion. With that out of the way. I checked on Steven once more and then headed off to bed. Sleep came quickly for me and lasted until about 5:30 am when I heard a sound from Steven's room.
I threw off the covers and walked briskly to the spare bedroom to listen in. Steven was sobbing in his bed and I was sure he was still asleep. I decided it was best to wake him and talk about what was bothering him. I sat on the side of the bed and slowly shook him awake. In a most unexpected move, Steven sat up and immediately grabbed on to me in a giant hug. I whispered to him asking what was wrong, but he was not very forth coming so I just let him whimper has he hugged me. I was hugging him and rubbing his back as the sounds subsided and when it was just deep breaths, I knew he had fallen back asleep. Slowly I unwound him from me and put him back in bed with the covers neatly on top of him. I really felt like he needed some more sleep time as did I, so I walked back into my room and fell on the bed asleep. About an hour later I opened my eyes to see Steven standing there looking at me.
"Good morning young man," I said in a sleepy but understandable voice. No response. I swung my legs to sit up on the side of the bed and before I could say anything, he walked over to me and once again placed himself in a big hug. "Whoa," I said to him as I hugged him and then unwound him from me for a second time. "What do you say we make ourselves a first-class breakfast?" He thought that was a great idea.
Breakfast consisted of pancakes with syrup, orange juice and milk, toast and jam. I have never seen a 7-year-old boy devour so much food in such a short time. It was obvious he was very hungry. I then thought that maybe we should have had something last night. It never even occurred to me that since he was looking for food, he would therefore be hungry.
I put Steven's clothes out to air dry and then the two of us went into the den and turned on the TV. This was something he was an expert at. In only about a minute he had the channel selected and the cartoon was off and running. He was really enthralled with this. When it was over, I looked at the time and remembered that Roger would soon be coming over. I sent Steven to his room with his now clean clothes and had him drop the shirt in my room on the way back. I combed his hair, had him brush his teeth (thank goodness I had a left-over hotel toothbrush) and then left him to do his morning business. A couple of minutes later, and almost at the same time, Steven came back into the living room as the doorbell rang.
It was Roger with a lady that I presumed was from social services. I invited them in, and we all went in the living room. Steven raced across the room and hid himself behind me when he saw Roger all dressed up in his police uniform. It was apparent that he was very afraid of police men. I took his hand and introduced him to Roger who bent down to his level and shook the hand. While it did seem to ease the situation, I was sure that Steven was still quite unsure about Roger.
The social services agent was a lovely lady named Madeline Small. She spoke very softly but with an air of authority that made her sound like she knew what she was doing. I listened intently as she talked to me and to Steven. Towards the end I interrupted her and asked what was going to happen with Steven? This caused her to stutter a little and then let me know that he would go with her to the office where they would process him and move forward with a placement into a group home for the time being. I did find out there had been no formal report of a missing child matching Steven's description. I gave her the address of the house I had tried to drop him off at and she promised that a home inspection would be conducted as soon as possible.
It was about an hour later when everyone left and all of a sudden, I was alone. I cleaned up everything and started a wash of the sheets from the bed that Steven had slept in last night. I always kept them clean in case someone came to visit. With Steven last night, I was glad I did. It was during this time that I noticed a piece of paper on the desk with a drawing on it. When I looked at it, my eyes teared up and I held it close to my chest and started to cry. Never in a million years could I believe that this would happen to me.