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The small dark figure jumped off the high brick wall and into the
graveyard, stumbling a little as it hit the ground. It dusted itself off
and crept along the graves in the dead of night, the wet grass squeaking
under its tennis shoes. After running up a few rows of headstones, it
stopped and looked around in the dark. It turned right, paused, then
walked up a few rows before stopping at the headstone covered in moss
and vines. The words on it were hard to decipher but the small figure
knew it had found what it was looking for. It sat down and began to
mumble, a sob escaping from deep inside its heart every few minutes.
After a while it stood up and tried to peel back the vines but its little, tender hands weren’t strong enough. As the clouds crept away from the moon, the light fell onto the figure, exposing its true form; a young boy with a frail body and mousy brown hair. He was dressed in striped pajamas and a coat that was a little too big for him. He looked at his red hands, tears still dribbling down his face. He looked around and spotted a small daffodil growing amidst some weeds nearby. He plucked it and placed it on the grave and with a final sob he turned away and began to walk back to the wall he had climbed over.
He half-heartedly climbed on a headstone, then pulled himself up onto the tree next to him and finally over the wall. He sat on top of it, looking back towards the daffodil until he could bear it no longer. He turned his attention away from the flower and to the street that lay beneath his feet. Squinting up and down, he saw a light on in a distant house but his path wasn’t towards it.
He jumped down and landed with a thud.
“Ahh!”he yelled. He landed on his feet without rolling like the older boys at the orphanage had taught him to do when jumping off a high wall. Another cry of pain escaped him and echoed down the street. He bent over and tried to massage the pain out of his legs before anyone arrived. Tears began to stream down his face as he lay on his side rubbing his legs.
A third cry escaped the child, but he managed to contain it this time. He stopped rubbing his legs and looked around him. There, by the moon’s light was a man running towards him. Afraid of the on-coming stranger, he staggered up and leaned on the wall for support. He might be able to escape again if he tried. He put one foot in front of the other and fell, crying out in pain again.
He rolled around and saw the man squatting over him, his face inches from the child’s. From it, the boy could see the old man’s face had just begun to wrinkle and his eyes were small, like a parrots, and black. The man extended his hand towards the child but the boy shrank away.
“Don’t touch me. Leave me alone. Don’t hurt me. Please!” he cried out through his pain.
“It’s alright, son. I’m here to help. Let me take a look at your foot,” said the man in a rough but kind voice. He was dressed in a striped nightgown and a pair of worn shoes. “It’s ok boy. I’m not going to hurt you,” he repeated. “How much does it hurt?”
The child looked at the man with parrot eyes and eventually managed to stifle his sobs enough to say, “I can’t walk,” before the tears gushed out again.
“Come on then. Let’s get you somewhere warmer. What are you doing out at this time of night in the first place? What’s your name child?”
The boy hesitated but gave in once the man had lifted him into his arms. “Corbin,” he said. Corbin began to cry into the man’s neck as he was carried towards the lit house.
“Well Corbin, my name is Mr. Yibson. Would you like to tell me what you were doing? How did you hurt yourself?” he asked gently.
“I… I was just … I was running when I tripped,” he lied. He pressed his face into Yibson’s shoulder to hide his face.
“Come on, son. If you had tripped, you would have scraped your knee. What were you doing on that wall?” Corbin kept his head pressed against Yibson’s shoulder and remained silent. “Very well child, let’s just get you fixed up.”
They reached the one-story house, a timid building compared to the neighboring houses which loomed over. It was wooden with the paint peeling off of it and a small, broken porch sitting in a dead garden. Only patches of weeds were to be seen and some useless garden tools. Yibson opened the small brown gate and walked up to the door.
“Now try to stay quiet son. My wife is sleeping.” He opened the door and walked into the well-lit kitchen. Corbin peeled his head off the man’s shoulder and looked around. A small table occupied most of the space in front of the sink and tiny refrigerator and some dirty dishes sat on the counter. They crossed into the living room where a humble sofa was perched among some wooden furniture - a coffee table, some drawers and a set of shelves that held a single picture frame with a young couple standing in wedding attire.
Yibson set Corbin down on the sofa and quickly put a pillow under the child’s head.
“Now let’s take a better look at your leg.”
Corbin didn’t dare look at his foot for fear it was broken. Who would mend it for him if it was? It’s not like the grown-ups at the orphanage could afford his treatment. He was already going to get into trouble for sneaking out. What if they decided he deserved his punishment? What if they decided it wasn’t enough?
The sofa he lay on faced a small room where a woman lay on a bed, motionless, staring at him. He was shocked to see her awake but he felt like she wasn’t seeing him. He cringed as Yibson touched his foot and let out a muffled groan. Something about the woman quieted him though. He looked back at the blank eyes in the room nearby and felt petrified.
“You’ll be alright son. It looks like it’s just a sprained ankle. You’ll be fine to walk around again in the morning.” Yibson looked up and saw Corbin staring over his shoulder. He turned to see his wife slowly trying to move her arm. “Lay back, child, and rest. I’ll be right back.”
Yibson stood up and walked into the room where his wife lay and closed the door behind him. Silence. The lights from over head shone brightly down on Corbin, keeping his fear of the dark at bay, and along with his fatigue he slowly drifted off to sleep.
He awoke the next morning with a light knitted blanket on top of him. It took him a moment to remember where he was. The lights confused him; the grown-ups at the orphanage usually turned them off for him after he falls asleep and the window in his room at the orphanage was boarded shut. When he sat up and looked around, fear gripped his chest. He wasn’t in the orphanage. What was the old man going to do now? He couldn’t remember the man’s name but he did remember those glossy eyes of his wife staring at him. He shuddered just thinking about them but thought they would still be asleep.
He slowly got up and tried to stand on his feet again. He stumbled a bit but managed to remain on his feet. Out of habit, he threw his arms back for his routine morning stretch but broke short as he remembered the old man was somewhere nearby. The sunlight, however, shone in through the window and eased Corbin’s fear a little. At least he could make a scene if the man tried to hurt him. He hobbled over to the kitchen and saw Yibson sitting at the small table, a cup of coffee in his hands.
As Corbin entered, Yibson looked up and a warm smile jumped onto his face. “Good morning, Corbin. Come on in, son. Sit down. Let me get you something to eat.” He rummaged around in the cupboards and pulled out a bowl and a small bag of cereal. From the refrigerator he withdrew a small milk bottle and poured out the last of the milk. “Here you go,” he said as he set the bowl and a spoon on the table. “Don’t be shy. Come sit down and eat up.”
He sat back down and resumed sipping his coffee while looking out of the widow above the sink. He occasionally glanced over at Corbin who had slowly crept over and sat down and was now eating whole-heartedly. Corbin’s eyes danced around the room and occasionally met Yibson’s. He was glad to see they weren’t black like he had imagined them the night before, but dark brown. They made him look more human and more welcoming.
When he had finished eating, Yibson turned and looked at him. “I see we had quite an appetite.”
Corbin looked up, worried that he should have left some for Yibson but he was reassured when he saw the man smile at him warmly. “Thank you Mr… um…” he mumbled.
Yibson chuckled. “Forgot my name already have you? It’s Yibson. You can call me Yibby, though. How’s your foot?”
“It’s better. Thank you for healing it Mr. Yibson,” he quickly said. He felt awkward calling this older man Yibby but Yibson smiled.
“Now do you want to tell me what you were doing last night? Is it you that I’ve been seeing walk around the wall for the past few nights?”
Corbin hesitated then nodded.
“Come on now son, I’m not mad at you. I just want to know what you were doing.”
“I… I was just…” he choked down a sob but his eyes still watered.
“It’s ok, son,” said Yibson solemnly as he watched Corbin try to master his emotions. “I understand. Where do you live Corbin? We need to get you home.”
Corbin shook his head.
“Come on son, we have to get you home. Where do you live? You’re too young to be out alone. How old are you?”
“I’m eleven. And I don’t want to go back to the orphanage. Please. They will hurt me for sneaking out. You can’t take me back.” Corbin began to cry quietly.
“Alright Corbin. Take it easy, son.” Yibson pulled his chair around the table and sat beside him. “Don’t worry son. I heard about that place. I’ll figure it out.” He pulled Corbin into a hug. “I’ll figure it out. I won’t take you back there,” he added, talking more to himself than to Corbin.
“Now come on. I need to go to the market to buy a few things for lunch. Do you own anything at the orphanage?” he asked as he pulled Corbin back.
Corbin’s hand reached for his chest before a worried look jumped onto his face.
“What’s the matter son? Oh, that’s right. Don’t start getting worried. I took it off of you last night so that it doesn’t choke you.” Yibson walked into the living room and returned a few seconds later with a small square locket on a bronze chain. “Here you go.”
Corbin grabbed it and immediately put it back on, holding it tight against his chest.
Corbin stayed at the Yibson home for the next three days. He explored every room of the small house, all except the one where the woman lay. He wasn’t allowed in there. Mr. Yibson told him that his wife was sick but never said anything more than that. Corbin would watch as Yibson takes the food into the room and closes the door. A while later he would emerge with the food only half eaten. Corbin tried to catch a glimpse of the woman when he could but he couldn’t tell if she was getting better.
On the second day, Yibson’s neighbor came to check on him and his wife. Corbin overheard the neighbor saying there was word that a child had run away from the orphanage. The neighbor and all the residents on the street were struck with anger at the lack of control the orphanage had. Rumors had already been circling that they were abusing children who misbehaved under the name of “discipline”. There was an even stronger rumor that the orphanage was going to close soon and all the children there were going to be let loose, like birds flying out of their cages, with no one to ensure their safety. But those were rumors. How much of it could be true?
Mr. Yibson didn’t think any of it was true until he saw the marks on Corbin’s back when he got the bath ready for the child. When he asked Corbin why they did it to him, he said, “I took too long to scrub my bedroom floor in the morning. They wanted it done before nine every other morning. I woke up late and knew that they whipped us with thin sticks if we are late. So I quickly started but there was no way I could have finished it in 8 minutes. That is five lashes.” The other lashes told more severe punishments for crimes of similar stature that made Yibson’s eyes water.
Corbin tried to sneak off every night he stayed with the Yibsons without any success. Whenever he lay down on the sofa and pretended he was sleeping the couch would absorb him into a comfortable position. It was far more comfortable than the beds at the orphanage, and it would guide him into a peaceful, undisturbed sleep.
On the third day, Mr. Yibson journeyed alone to the orphanage to see what the process of adoption consisted of. The “teachers” as they liked to be called, told him that as long as he had a house and a job, they were willing to give him two children of his choosing. He was disgusted at how they spoke of the children like piglets that could be sold and squandered. There was nothing he could do though to fix the unbelievably horrid place. What was he- a clerk at a grocery store- going to do?
That evening, when Mr. Yibson returned, he summoned Corbin to the kitchen table. “There is a way for you to stay here if you would like to son,” he told Corbin. “A way where you don’t ever have to go back to that gawd-awful place.” He paused for a moment looking Corbin over. “Would you like to be our adopted son?”
Corbin stared at Mr. Yibson, his eyes dilating. “Our?” It slipped out of him. He knew that Mr. Yibson was referring to himself and his wife but he didn’t understand why he was never allowed to see Mrs. Yibson.
Mr. Yibson frowned. “Yes Corbin, our son.” He sighed and scratched his head. “I guess you’re right,” he said at last. “You should probably meet my wife before you decide whether you want to be our son.” He looked uneasy, shuffling his feet. He stared hard at Corbin, thinking about how well the child had behaved over the past few days. He had listened to Mr. Yibson when he told him to put his plate in the sink and he was very polite whenever Mr. Yibson gave him extra food off of his own plate. He also took out the trash without being asked and even put away the garden tools when Mr. Yibson was at work. And all the while he never bothered Mrs. Yibson. Or at least, if he did, she never came out to tell him to quiet down. Mr. Yibson never told him off after his feeding session with his wife either, even though he knew he had made a lot of ruckus one day when he accidentally dropped the pot while putting the dishes away.
Mr. Yibson stretched out his hand towards Corbin. “Come on son, let’s go see Molly.”
Corbin held Mr. Yibson’s hand as he was led towards the bedroom. Corbin felt really nervous and Mr. Yibson noticed so he held on tighter to the young boy’s sweating hand. He opened the door and they walked in.
She lay there, on her back looking up at the ceiling with her eyes open. She didn’t look over at them. The lights were on and the window was open, letting in the cool air from outside along with the smell of the fumes from the automobiles passing by. Up close, Corbin stood shocked. With his eyes open wide, he pulled his hand out of Mr. Yibson’s hand, pulled out the locket and opened it. The picture of the woman inside resembled the woman that lay there on the bed; a slim body with golden curly hair and a slightly long nose but the eyes in the picture were green and the mouth was smaller. The woman who lay before him had brown eyes and large lips.
He took a step back, the tears welling up in his eyes again.
“Come here son, it’s ok. Molly dear, would you like to say hi to Corbin?” he added to his wife.
Mrs. Yibson turned her head towards Corbin and stared at him. He watched her chest move up high as she took a deep breath. She tried to move her arm but couldn’t manage it; her frail body ignoring her mind’s commands. But she did manage a smile to crawl onto her face and all the way up to her eyes; a warm and bright smile despite the sweaty curly hair that moved helplessly in the breeze from the open window.
Corbin felt the warmth from Mrs. Yibson’s smile penetrate his skin and his fear evaporated as he nervously smiled back. “Hi Mrs. Yibby,” he said. He walked over to her and put his hand on hers, all the while Mr. Yibson just stood there watching. Corbin stared into Mrs. Yibson’s eyes for a few moments then finally leaned over and gave her a hug. She managed to lift her hand and put it on Corbin’s back, tears rolling down her face. Mr. Yibson stood there as a single tear escaped his eye. After a minute he walked over and slowly removed Corbin from his wife’s embrace. They smiled at each other once more then he walked out of the room. Mr. Yibson murmured something to his wife and she smiled.
He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. He smiled brightly, “I’ll take that as you want to be a Yibson?”
Corbin nodded with a tearful smile. “I do,” he said with a little sob.
“Very well,” said Mr. Yibson, “let’s go to the orphanage and take care of the paperwork.” He suddenly swept Corbin up into a tight embrace. Corbin was shocked at first as he hung limply in Mr. Yibson’s arms but then hugged back.
It was a good minute before Mr. Yibson let him go. “My wife hasn’t smiled in a long time. Thank you Corbin,” he said holding back his tears.
Mr. Yibson went to the kitchen and quickly washed his face in the sink before grabbing the small stack of papers he had prepared to take with them to the orphanage. He called Corbin over and they left together.
They entered the orphanage and immediately two women came running up towards them. “Thank you sir,” said one of the women, “you found our child!” She attempted to pry Corbin away from Mr. Yibson. Corbin screamed and try to hide behind Mr. Yibson.
“Let go of him!” bellowed Mr. Yibson. “Leave him be I say!”
The woman shrank back, afraid. The other in turn piped up. “Sir, we thank you for returning young Jacob here to us.”
“What are you talking about? That’s not his name! And I’m not returning him to your foul treatment. I’m here to adopt him.”
The two women were shocked but the second immediately piped up again. “Sir, you kidnap a child and then think you can adopt him?”
“I did not kidnap him,” he said angrily. “Everyone knows how children try to escape from this slave-port that you call an orphanage.”
The yelling began to escalate until another teacher emerged from a nearby room and hurried over to resolve the issue.
“Ladies! Please!” he yelled over them all. “Go about with your business. I’ll handle this,” he added. The teacher turned to Mr. Yibson with a look of annoyance. “So you’re here to adopt young Jake?”
“His name is Corbin!” bellowed Mr. Yibson. “How many times do I have to tell you! And who are you anyways?”
“I’m Mr. Wrench, the headmaster of this orphanage, sir. Now please will you contain your anger so that I can assist you?” he told Mr. Yibson. “Thank you,” he added before Mr. Yibson could say anything. Corbin looked over at the headmaster, a greasy-haired skeleton of a man. But those shoes, he remembered them too well. He had been lazy about shining them one afternoon and so the headmaster had been lazy about easing Corbin punishment for it.
He hid his face in Mr. Yibson’s back again.
“Follow me and we’ll get these papers signed so that you and young… umm… our young boy here can be on your way home. Would you like that son?” he added to Corbin. Corbin kept his face plastered to Mr. Yibson’s back.
They followed Mr. Wrench to a shabby room that had a single table enclosed by four wooden chairs and a filing cabinet. He offered them seats at the table as he opened the filing cabinet. His face then turned red as he turned around to ask, “what’s the lad’s name then?”
Mr. Yibson turned to Corbin who was seated on the chair beside him. “What’s your last name son?”
“Putnam,” he whispered.
“Putnam,” Mr. Yibson told Mr. Wrench.
The headmaster found Corbin’s file and they sat down. He began to ask Mr. Yibson question after question on where he found Corbin and why he wasn’t returned immediately. Mr. Yibson told the headmaster everything that had happened since he heard Corbin cry out to the night. Mr. Wrench looked satisfied with the story so he proceeded to ask questions related to the adoption; what was Mr. Yibson’s address and writing down his annual salary until he reached the twentieth question.
“Why do you want to adopt? And what makes you fit to be a parent?” asked Mr. Wrench.
Mr. Yibson choked on his words. He rubbed his hands nervously on his pants then looked at the headmaster. “My wife and I lost our son a few months ago,” he said looking the headmaster straight in the eye. “He was only eight. We weren’t ready for him to leave.” He took a deep breath to try to steady himself as he continued. “Now my wife…she is bed ridden and hardly eats. But when she saw Corbin, she just couldn’t believe we had a child in the house again. When I told her he was an orphan she asked me to adopt him. Since she saw him, she’s been eating again and today…today she even managed to smile again. He’s been a blessing in the few days we’ve had him. We want him to bless us for the rest of our lives.”
Mr. Wrench was unfazed by Mr. Yibson’s story. He quickly wrote down a brief answer to the question and stood up. “Very well, all I need is your signature and we’re done. The child doesn’t have any possessions so you may head straight home afterwards. I hope you treat this boy right and keep him happy Mr. Yibson. Congratulations,” he added as Mr. Yibson handed him the signed papers while trying to hold his temper from bursting through again at the lack of sympathy he was showing. As soon as the paperwork was done they left without even shaking hands with the headmaster and headed home.
On their way, Mr. Yibson decided to take a detour through the cemetery. As they walked in, Mr. Yibson hurriedly walked up the path then stopped at a small grave that had a simple head stone. On it read May he rest in peace. Michael Yibson. 1756-1764.
He let go of Corbin’s hand and began to cry silently. When he could regain his control he looked around but couldn’t see Corbin. He walked around, searching frantically, until he found him. He was standing in front of the head stone buried in moss and vines. Mr. Yibson quickly pulled the clutter off and read what was written on the head stone. Here lies Patricia Putnam. A loving mother. 1734-1759. In Corbin’s hand was the locket, opened. Corbin was staring at it and crying quietly. Mr. Yibson squatted down beside him and hugged him. Corbin hugged back and cried out loud into Yibson’s chest. He cried and cried, holding the locket tighter in his hand. He had lost his mother but he was going to have that love again. He would have a mother that would read to him like his own did when he was so little and a father for the first time to take care of them both.
He hugged Mr. Yibson tightly then slowly began to quiet his sobs. He looked at the grave once more then turned to his father and asked, “can we go home now Yibby?”