The alleyway stunk, the smell of animal and human waste mixing together to create one smell. Sweat and stale food mingling with the other smells gathered together to create a disgusting aura of unwashed bodies and rotten meats.
An old man slept in a gap behind a huge waste bin, sleeping on a cardboard box and wrapped up in a fluffy jacket that was caked in black grime and dirt. His grey hair hung from his face creating a barrier between me and him, hiding his failings from my prying eyes.
He shivered in the cold, his staggered breath fogging the air in front of him. He was always there, every time I walked down this alleyway to my home. I always looked at him, he never looked at me.
My feet splashed in the puddles made by left over rain water and pee. The liquid splashed over my ratty old trainers, holes big enough to soak some of the water in and coating my old threadbare socks, freezing my toes. That meant nothing to me as I rubbed my hands up and down my bare arms. I needed to get back to the warehouse.
As I thought about the person waiting for me I began to hasten my steps, I was late again and I needed him to forgive me. He hated it when I got home after him; he always worried about me, wondering if I was going to come home. Leaving him to take care of himself just as our parents did, but I would never do that to him. Not to my little brother.
The cold started to seep into my bones but I ignored it as I kept my mind on the goal, the goal of getting home and getting to my brother, my family.
Reaching the end of the alleyway I stepped out, tucking my hands into my ripped pockets as I stared at the open space in front of me. The sea air whipped past me, bringing the smell of diesel which assaulted my nostrils. Factories and warehouses surrounded the docks, trucks lined up with pallets carrying whatever it was that they were loading up onto the boats that waited for their next journeys.
I bolted from my hiding spot, dashing across the docking bay and weaving my way around the trucks and pallets, trying not to be seen. I needed to be invisible until I reached the warehouse that my brother and I stayed in. The people at the docks either pretended not to see me or would outright stare, daring me to come any closer to them. They hated having their jobs disturbed.
I tucked my chin into my chest, hunching up my shoulders as I started to jog, I needed to get home. I needed to see my brother. With our parents leaving us in a house with no money, no food and no way of taking care of ourselves we had to run. Run far, hitching rides to get away from the system hunting us. We didn't want to be separated as we had nobody but each other. We loved each other.
Upon reaching the warehouse, our home, I quickly looked around me to make sure nobody was watching and then reached out and banged twice on the steel shutter covering the opening, and then I walked down the side and waited for the door to open. Just as I reached it, it swung open, a boy holding onto the metal bar going across the full width of the fire door.
"Get in!" He hissed at me in a low tone. I hung my head and dodged passed him as he tried to reach out and grab my shoulder to push me through the door.
The warehouse was cold, just like everywhere else at the docks but I didn't let that bother me as I walked to the far left corner and bent down for the bottled water waiting for me.
"And don't drink all that, we don't have all that much left Jakey and I don't have enough money," my brother snapped as he slammed the fire door shut after him and walked over to me. I still had my back towards him as I uncapped the lid from my bottle so he didn't see my eyes roll towards the roof.
"I mean it Jake!" Paul snapped as he walked around me to look me in the eye. His brown eyes dulled as he looked me over, the spark of fire that usually flashed in those pretty eyes not there anymore as time hammered down on his shoulders over and over again.
I took the bottle away from my mouth and wiped the back of my hand across my lips. I noticed that I had left a ring of black dirt around the rim of the bottle and I winced as I placed the cap back on the bottle. My brother had my features, brown eyes with thick lashes and prominent cheekbones. His hair hung passed his shoulder, ratty and unwashed. Dirt spots clung to one side of his cheek and dark circles smudged under his eyes. He had a cruel twist to his mouth which he had developed ever since he had had his first job.
"How much do you have?" I asked as I took a step towards him. I am the oldest, therefore I get everything. He takes good care of me, my little brother and I couldn't be more grateful.
Paul made a clucking sound with his tongue and sighed in exasperation. He looked towards the floor as he placed his hands on his hips then he shook his head as though he was talking to someone, as though he was arguing with someone.
I felt a familiar tingle running over my body and it shook slightly, the tingles becoming sharp and almost stabbing. I rubbed my hands up against my bare skin as I tried to fight of the chill.
"Paul?" I questioned him quietly. I needed him more than I needed anything, well, almost more than I needed anything.
I needed the cash more.
Paul looked up at me, a determination in him that I hadn't seen in a long time. He folded his arms across his chest and spread his legs; he stood across from me in a fighting stance. The shiver once again racked my body and I could feel bile wanting to rise from the pits of my belly. No, no I needed this!
"I don't have enough Jake," he stated as though I was asking for some sweets, he sounded just like our father the time that I had asked for a new bike and we didn't have the money. I could feel my forehead break out into a cold sweat, the sickness would start soon. Didn't he understand that I needed it; I needed it like a thirsty man needs a fresh cool glass of water, like a dying man needed his last breath.
"Paul, I need it," I pleaded, hearing the whine in my voice and not caring. This was my brother, he would understand, he had to.
A look flashed in my brother's eyes but it vanished before I could figure out what it meant. He sucked his bottom lip between his teeth, a habit he had developed as a kid and hadn't stopped doing it when he worried, "I'm sorry Jakey, I don't have enough for you to buy your drugs and then food and water on top of that!"
Anger crossed his features as he took a step closer to me, we both stood nose to nose and if someone could see us nobody would believe that I was the older one, nobody would believe that I came first.
"As a matter of fact, I'm not doing it anymore Jakey. I'm not giving you money so you can kill yourself, I give you everything already," his breath fanned my face and it stank something rancid, with black rotting teeth from being unable to take care of himself. My little brother.
Needles stabbed along my skin making me gasp, my stomach cramped causing me to double up in pain and wrap my arms around my skinny waist, feeling my ribs along the way. Oh god make it stop, please somebody just make it stop.
I felt a gentle hand rubbing my back in small circles, trying to soothe a hurt that I had created a long time ago and continued to create by feeding it the food that the monster inside me needed. I groaned and tried to shrug his hand away as the skin in that area suddenly felt as though it was burning.
"Think about it Jakey, we can be free of this. You just have to fight it, fight just like you always did at home when you defended me from dad. I know you can do this Jake, we can stand side by side and do this together Jakey," Paul whispered in my ear, his hot breath feeling like a furnace, "Please Jake, please! You're my big brother and I need you, I really need you right now Jake!" I heard him gasp out as his voice became hoarse.
I knew he was crying but the pain was unbearable, overwhelming. I needed it to stop and for it to stop I needed the money. I needed the drugs.
I looked up at the makeshift crate table with a fork and a sharp steak knife sat from the dinner that Paul had eaten earlier. I did it without thinking, I just needed the money, I just needed the drugs and if my brother thought that it would be easier if there was only one mouth to feed then that's what I would give him.
Grabbing the knife in my right hand I swung around and thrust it into my brother's belly. Face to face we stood, foreheads touching as I watched blood dribble from his open lips and trail over his chin, those brown eyes staring wide at me in shock. He had little clothing on so the knife had easily pierced through his skin, muscles tissue, reaching inside him and ripping him open before me.
I stared at him as he stared back, his legs giving away under him and toppling to the ground. My body followed his and I landed on top of him, pushing the knife deeper into his skin. He gasped and choked as he clung to my shoulder.
"I… I gave you all… all I had Jake," my little brother gasped out, blood splattering in my face as he spoke. Tears fell from his eyes, running over his cheeks and gathering near his ears, washing away the dirt that clung to his skin. I watched as the light dimmed in his eyes and then vanished altogether leaving me staring at an empty shell that used to take care of me, that used to wash me with kindness.
I let his head fall against the floor and turn away from me as a cramp stole my breath away, urging me to search his pockets for the money that I needed to find a new brother, a new brother that washed away the broken memories of a destroyed family.
I reached for his jeans pocket and ripped it in my haste to find the money, but I found nothing. A cramp ripped through me and my teeth began to chatter. I couldn't take the pain any longer. I curled up next to my dead brother and wrapped an arm around his cooling body, too hurt and broken to move away from his blood flowing towards me.
I let my eyes close and sleep pull me under as I thought about what I would do once the pain leaves. I knew that I would hunt for my next fix once the pain left me as I would be running from a different pain, I would be running from the pain of betraying a loved one, of betraying a brother that loved me more than he loved himself.
Running and hiding from the pain of killing a brother that should have meant more to me than life itself.
© Katherina Selby 2013