I wait in line. Smoke's polluting the air though hope is what I inhale. How does he afford such cigarettes? Yet his back suffocates in odour-filled rags and a noose slowly tightens his pockets. I can see the orange jacket stood at the front, I look at her with conditioned hair; smart phone in one hand, my survival in the other. Where will the food take her? Paying off the hours of service due; in time the long-awaited karma will take its toll against the greedy and unworthy. I am worthy, I am needy, yet I am hungry.
Whilst shuffling forward, the daily routine is in play, I smell the food mixed in with human odour and cheap alcohol. Holding onto that faint smell, I sense it's home cooked, I smell the memory of my wife cooking my favourite meal. The soothing smell of cooked meat teases me with the images of her. How divine my life was; how divine she was. But time moves on, the meat burns as does the happy memories. I drowned in debt after she did.
We shuffle in motion like slaves in the eyes of society; our bodies held together by charity and inconsistent kindness. Full mouths pass as we move forward; another step is another memory of her, sleeping peacefully with innocence as I walk away from her breathless body, unable to picture her warm smile among the cold skin. I died with her. Our love for each other was taken with her leaving me drained; hollow.
My emotions take hold as I look up at the cigarette smoke, it rises with grace, dancing with life; this dance is short-lived as it ends and its life is over. What a pessimistic world we live in. Death surrounds us wherever we shall go or whoever we shall be, the cup will be half-empty until drained out of desperate souls.
My life as a lost and lonely man has opened my eyes to what I need; not want.
Groans spread along the line as time passes through growling stomachs. My mouth turns moist at the thought of being near to the front. I glance back to see the late arrivals; they won't make it in time. They will wait and wait for the denial. They will go hungry beneath the moon. Now, I am the fortunate one. Enough with the self-pity, I am not them; for my hunger will be cured tonight, though, sure to come back.
Then I see him. Short enough to be too young, too thin to be walking and too hungry to be desperate; though he's weak and young… he's smart. He's smart enough to know he's late; too late. Stood still, he holds up his cardboard plea… holds up his survival. Heads turn at his arrival, he looks round for any takers, loss over love; we're all the same. He's too young. He's too young. My thoughts match others. The attention is no longer attached to the heart-warming and stomach-filling meal; but now to the too-young, too-precious, little boy.
Whispers spread as the smoke rises; the boy still stands in his routine as heads turn in wonder. How did he get here? Where will he go? Will he reach adulthood? Does he have parents? Did he run away? Why?
He makes me think of her. She would have wanted him fed. She would let him cut in the line. She would never let the young go hungry; it was her mother instinct she never got to act upon.
We think the same thing and no one objects when my mouth opens to speak for the first time in an age. He follows my order and, naturally, walks past the line with his face to the floor. His oversized, ripped and worn, jeans drag along with his stained trainers. His black t-shirt hangs past his shoulders while his weakness takes hold; leaving him swaying from left to right like a branch in the wind.
He comes to a halt as his shoulders are in line with me. His face slowly turns to reveal his deep blue eyes staring into mine; they flick fear. My eyes deceived me as his face reveals the years his child-like physique disguised. My greeting is a warm smile, she would have approved of that, and an arm gesture inviting him to stand in front of me. He doesn't refuse; what starving human wouldn't?
He inhales the smoke; the hope. I can tell he is smiling, though, maybe not in a physical sense. We shuffle forward in sync as the smell of freshly cooked meat lures us in; teasing every weak and desperate desire. He drops his cardboard with a shrug knowing that he no longer needs to plea for survival… for now.
We shuffle intently towards the front, the heat from the meals rises in the form of steam amongst the frost of the winter night. Faces blue; the smell of a burning cigarette and beef stew is the only thing that could ever come close to being a warm radiator or burning fireplace in the midst of these overused, and under-appreciated, streets. We are strangers to society, yet locals to the cracks that cut deep in these graffiti-stained walls.
The stew is given out in cartons with two slices of bread and a bottle of water. The smoker's hands shake in reaction to the rare feeling of warmth as he takes the meal and walks off to the side; loss over logic. The boy pauses for a moment before reaching out his hands as if he was still begging on the curb. The teenage girl smiles at him, almost inspired, and places her phone into her pocket before gently giving the boy his long-awaited meal. He turns to face me and flashes me a smile in thanks, holding the steaming carton to his chest to soak up the warmth. He walks away in a huddle of security as I watch on in the memory of her affection.
I smile with a nod as I take the meal and clutch my blue fingers around the carton. I watch him fade into the distance as I make my way to my home-away-from-home. I turn corners, guarding the food, blinded by the passing headlights. Nerves take over me as I try to guide myself through the night; my knees shake but hands soothed by the most valuable thing to me. We're all hungry, that makes us greedy, which makes me vulnerable.
Stumbling along, my feet trip on the loose strands hanging off my jeans, my long hair drooping over my eyes doesn't offer my sight any favours but it's not worth losing the grip of the warmth. I walk past the streetlamp, located close to my safe place. My steps quicken with the hope as a smile grows, knowing that I've made it. I've made it through another day. My planned out routine gives off small and appreciated successes that makes me live longer than statistics; logic over loss.
I then walk past another cardboard-hugging slave, about to stop and look when I realise my vulnerability. Yet something stops me from walking past, I freeze; I can't control my eyes as they slowly move towards the huddle sobbing on the floor. My eyes wander as the size of the huddle becomes clear. This one is smaller… a lot smaller. It took the black t-shirt to fully understand. I pause, acknowledging how scared he looks, seeing how cold he looks. Where's his heat? I cough, making my existence known, and his head whips up at me. His hands… empty.
I'd see this every day; they walk with confidence, they think they have it… but they don't. They never do. The needy get greedy; citizens become criminals, though no one pays the price. They don't warrant my sympathy, they're loss over logic. But not him, please not him, he's too young. He doesn't know the logic, he wouldn't understand. Why? He's old enough to be free but too young to be misused. A tear rolls down my cheek; the first one since…
I then thought back to her, how could I not? She wouldn't want this. She'd be in pain at the thought. He sits, scared, and just looks at me; so innocent. I sigh and look down at my hands, they are no longer blue, I then look at him and how he has to use the bottom of his t-shirt as gloves; the sun his only comfort. He sniffs as he cries and looks away from me as his tears fall. I could take his t-shirt, it would fit. He wouldn't even resist. I could take everything he owns, yet he wouldn't lose anything. Take everything… that would be logic. Logic over loss. But I can't. I was ready to be a father, we both were. She never got to play the role she had always wanted. She is all I can think about, but when he looks at me… I see hope. I see the hope that isn't in the form of a beef stew or bottle of water. I see hope of feeling something again, of actually living. So, I sit down next to him knowing he won't move, he looks at me… his eyes reflect the light from the headlights. I urge my fingers to move from the carton to share the bread, the water… even my heat. His eyes turn into something more than a source of reflection for the moving headlights; a flash of life sparks within his iris and I become his hope, as he becomes mine.
Logic over loss, love over logic.