Preface: This is the first, in our newly intended, series of original, short stories, to be published on an occasional basis. If successful, the narratives will (hopefully) be included in a future compilation, to be named, “The Dust Eaters,” since they are intended to probe various facets of the universal human experience, like breathing and ingesting, the Planet’s dust-containing air.
Nathan, also known, by his familiars, by the nick-name, “Nate,” had attended a local University, for the required four years, and, on completion of his studies, was, on Graduation Day, personally delivered, by an officiously smiling, Dean of Students, an official Diploma, attesting to his “Baccalaureate.” HIs Diploma was enhanced with the meritorious declaration, “Magna Cum Laude,” signifying a rather successful, course of study, in his selected field, “Social Work.”
He was an engaging, highly intelligent, inner directed person, with, the ambitious, conceptual, and dedicated dream, of a lifetime achievement, of accomplishing, authentic and consequential, betterment for his fellow man. He had little difficulty in finding employment, after graduation, and had worked for a few, not-for- profits, and Municipal Agencies, in vain pursuit, of his earnestly, desired aspiration, to bring about dramatic, and recognizable change, in the lives, of the suffering and needy. He transferred, during the relatively short, period of four years, from one job to another; each time, experiencing the same, disappointing, factual pattern, consisting of intense poverty, and the consequent need, for economic and emotional survival. In comparison with his dreams of contributing to the betterment of the general lot of mankind, he, saw himself, to his dismay, as simply “treading water,” in a vast, ever churning, ocean of social misfortune. He was not, as, previously, fantasized, breaking through the resistant, spider web of misfortune, and effecting significant improvement in the human condition.
Nat was, on a particular, nondescript, weekday afternoon, engaged in the process of, painstakingly, dusting off sandwich crumbs, attributable to a recently consumed, and disinteresting, tuna salad on toasted rye, lettuce, mayonnaise and half- sour pickle, when his business-like, but, tolerably, friendly, Supervisor, ushered into his office, a very small, silent, visibly undernourished, and underdeveloped, male child, of indeterminate age. The child, one would venture to guess, was small, late “toddler” age, obviously terrified, but completely lacking in emotional affect. The child appeared clean, his large growth of brown hair, showed signs of being recently washed and combed, as he steadfastly stared down at the tiles of the office floor. However, the most observable features, when he chose, to look up, was his face, pale with blotches, and disturbingly, evincing, both a cleft lip and a cleft palate. Nate, when observing the child, after the silent exit of his Supervisor, detested himself, for his unprofessional, and unkind, private observation, that the child’s face, reminded him of the shocking and disagreeable sight of “roadkill.”
The earlier, accompanying, comments of his Supervisor, were, to the effect that the strange looking, child had been discovered last evening, by a parking lot worker, in in an open dumpster, wrapped in old rags and newspapers. He, immediately, called the police on his cell phone. The puny child, was taken, by ambulance, to the Emergency Room, of a nearby Community Hospital, examined and diagnosed with obvious, and prominent, cleft palate and cleft lip, suspicion of autism, and evident signs of physical torture and attempted cremation, in addition to dangerous exposure, and malnutrition. The dumpster, in which the child was found, was one, in close proximity, to a long- established “hang out” for the homeless, who, when questioned, uniformly, asserted total ignorance.
The Hospital Supervisor, determined, that the strange-looking, abandoned, child be preliminarily seen, by a competent, social worker, for the possibility, of securing information, necessary to understand the child’s background history, prior to thorough examinations by the Hospital’s Medical and Psychiatric Departments. The unusual, extremely challenged, child, was said to, incessantly, repeat two eerie, incomprehensible words, sounding like, “Home Leaf” when questioned about his name. When spoken to, or gently requested to speak, the child, would, chillingly and unfailingly, utter the identically strange words, “Home Leaf.” Hearing the small child, repeatedly, croak those strange, and incomprehensible words, “Home Leaf,” was, indeed, baffling and, admittedly, frightening, as observed by the experienced, Hospital Executive.
Nate emotionally wondered, what kind of psychopathic mother, would, (albeit, in a state of total frustration) torture her own small child, and attempt to dispose of him by cremation, failing which, would discard him, in a public dumpster, to, predictably, suffer and slowly die; and, why in the world would she do it? What could possibly, motivate a parent, despite a few years of disappointed nurturing, of her natural (albeit, deformed and challenged) child, throw up her hands, in despair, and try, in some fit of utter frustration, to (attempt, unsuccessfully) to completely, erase his existence.
When left alone with the strange-looking child, Nate, professionally, forced himself, to look at him, without outward expression, noticing, most especially, his abnormally, distorted face. He gently set the child down, on a comfortable small, footrest, observing, with some relief, that the child was, independently, able to sit upright, without external support. Nate, very gently, offered the child a cool sweet drink and a plastic straw, which was readily accepted and, greedily finished. The child, who appeared, for the moment, to be somewhat pacified, looked at Nate, and calmly, and eerily, repeated the words, “Home Leaf.” Under the circumstances, Nate could not be certain, but something, he now discerned, in the child’s altered tone of those spoken two words, and, perhaps a perceived, glimmer of light in his eyes, transmitted the impression, of a primitive gesture of gratitude. Nate was nervously, thrilled, feeling that some primal vestige, of mutual human interaction, had been elicited.
Nate’s fascination, with the severely challenged, tiny, bizarre looking, human being, and his natural feelings of empathy, regarding the envisioned, toddler’s past life and experience, of cruel torture, attempted cremation, and lonely, imprisonment in a dark, filthy dumpster soon overcame, his feelings of awe and protective, reserve. He then resolved to, as possible, attempt to engage the battered, threadbare and deformed, toddler in whatever degree of interaction, or conversation, was possible, under the exotic circumstances.
Name and identity, generally recognized as being of foremost significance, and normally used to initiate an introduction, Nate decided, initially, to attempt to exchange names, with the silent being. When he succeeded in getting the child’s full attention, he gestured to himself, by pointing the index fingers of both hands to himself, and very clearly, and deliberately, repeating his name, “Nate”, “Nate,” “Nate.” The child, apparently, grew to a gradual understanding, that the sound, “Nate,” was in reference to the Social Worker, and, seemed to Nate, to brighten, somewhat. Then, he stated, a bit louder than he had, at any time, previously, “Home Leaf!” This time, the child, mimicking the gestures of the Social Worker, pointed his short index fingers at his own chest, while croaking, “Home Leaf,” with a change in facial features, conceivably, in an attempt to, smile, despite his massive facial distortion. Nate, taking a lesson, from the famous and saintly, Fred Rogers, stated: “It’s you, I like, not the way you look.” And then Nate added, for emphasis, “I don’t care whether you, are handsome or homely, I like you, and would like to know your name. What have others called you. “Home Leaf”, was the reply. It suddenly hit Nate, like the proverbial, ton of bricks, “handsome or homely,” were his previous words; like an epiphany, it came to him, handsome or “home leaf” (homely). Prior attempts to communicate his identity, apparently, were unsuccessful largely, due to his, unfortunate, facial distortion. Homely (“Home Leaf”), tragically, was his only recalled, (unkind) personal reference and identity. Nate was in raptures; it was the first step, he knew, in the suddenly predictable, attainment of a future, meaningful, career.
Nate shortly thereafter, went on to convince the Hospital Supervisor, to establish a specialized Clinic, for extremely challenged children, now known, as the “HOME LEAF CHILDREN’S CLINIC,” to honor the memory, of the recently deceased, greatly challenged, child. Nate heads the Clinic, and with a substantial staff of dedicated Social Workers, has at last, attained his goal, of rendering significant and meaningful service to needy mankind.