The gutter wasn’t the place he was designed for. Yet there he lay under the mid-day sun. A scant four hours before, he rested cozily in his dark hideaway untouched by the world. So much had happened in a few ticks of a clock.
The jostling on that morning aroused any senses he might have had. The light penetrated his hideaway and the cover was ripped off from around him. The whimpering was overwhelming to anyone who could hear it.
His stillness made no difference. He was discovered. Separated quickly from the others nestling nearby. Exposed. Pushed. Pressured into place. And then he was rejected.
He was one of 4 billion made last year by the speciality machines which purred and whirred in a concrete block warehouse less than three blocks from the most dismal industrial sector of the city. The ETS fabric that formed his elastic core had been coated with glue, puffed up under heat, rolled, stretched, padded with fabric, perforated, wrapped, sterilized and packaged all in moments.
On his surface there were no tattooed symbols of Disney characters or Superheroes in action. There were no toy trains or smiley faces or designs of any form. And that was his shortfall on this blistering summer weekday.
The young child who he was stuck too rebelled at being plastered with a plain brown band-aid. The brawny brat clawed at the adhesive and tore it from its anchored haven on his knee. The helpless covering was crumpled and tossed and abandoned near the curb of a busy crosswalk.
Within minutes a heavy heel pressed down and claimed the orphaned strip. Step after step crushed the puffiness from the heart of the healing fabric. It was shredded steadily by the rough concrete and friction of carpet and tile and steel.
Along the journey the new ward of the orphan discovered the stowaway on the shoe and plucked it off. The wannabee NBA shooter who owned the footwear arched the crumpled wrap toward a trash bin but a tiny breeze blew him off course and into a boxwood hedge. A piercing hook as strong as Velcro held him suspended in place. Again he was abandoned.
It wasn’t long before the tail of a golden retriever wagged along the hedge and claimed the band-aid for itself. For hours the plaster hung precariously in place as the fragile figments of glue lost their hold.
Before that moment a canine admirer discovered the clinging passenger and disengaged him from the retriever’s tail.
More crumpling. Squeezing. Tossing. In the gutter.
It was in this gutter on that mid-day morning that an addict searching the ground for old cigarette butts found the lost one.
“What have we here?” he mumbled to no one who would listen.
The shaky hands cradled the victim of carnage and began to carefully unwrap the bandage from itself. The crushed, dirty and torn surface didn’t seem to impact the discoverer.
When the unrolling was completed the eyes of the addict stared in wonder. He looked at the unstained inner core. “It’s unused. Like new.”
Gentle hands protected the strip until weary feet stopped at a park bench. “You know little guy. I know how you feel. Left behind and unwanted. I used to be someone. I had a job and a family and even a house. Had to go to war though.
“My mind got messed up seeing all that stuff. When I got back nothing was the same. I just wanted to hide away. They tried to put me to work but I couldn’t focus. They told me not to come back. I couldn’t pay my bills. They took my car.
“My wife couldn’t handle it. She took my kids and left. I couldn’t handle that. One day they changed the locks on my house and I had nowhere to go. My value had expired. I was worthless. Just like you. Crumpled. Left in the gutter.
The young man carefully rolled up his sleeve where a series of scrapes and scratches betrayed fresh wounds. “I’ve just got the perfect place for you,” he said. “Some of those punks done give me a beating. Think I’m a good-for-nothing. Don’t make no difference to them that I fought for my country. Loved my kids. Worked hard while I could. Prayed every day to Jesus. I wish someone would take the time to reach down and unwrap me and see what’s still good inside. Oh, yes. I know how you feel.”
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