A Pound of Flesh
The reflection staring back at him in the water had calmed now, save for the little droplets trickling down his nose and chin down into the basin. The water was dirty, clearly he had not woken up early enough to be the first one to the basin outside the little building he called home, like all the other users of this water did. He looked up to see the same stained wall the reeking of piss, sweat and blood. He stood in the alley, feet planted in the muddy ground. His meditation was disturbed by the dumping of the chamber pot, all of its contents barely missed him, but the splashes against the puddle did not. He looked up and recognized the woman to be her upstairs neighbor, though he did not know her name, but then again, he never knew any of their names.
Slowly the slum came back to life, the voices and the smells filled into the void. He caught another glimpse of himself in the water basin. The stubble grew rougher, the dark underneath his eyes conveyed the sleepless nights he spent, the long hair- dry and stiff. He sighed and turned about, out into the city. The clouds hung over the city skyline and painted the sky grey. It seemed it would rain.
Passed the thugs local to his neighborhood, their barks worse than their bites; then the butcher whom he knew only by face now, he had forgotten what his name was, and he cared not enough to ask him again.
"Oi, Hera, come at sundown, I'll try to keep something set aside for you.", the butcher shouted from across the street, swinging his little handcloth around the meat to drive the flies away, as if it would keep them away for the rest of the day.
Hera knew that the butcher gave away some meat to everyone in the slums quite regularly, how he could afford it, however, he did not know, and had not sought to ask either. For him, there was no gratitude, and no hate, just cold indifference. He moved onto the periphery of the slums and into the main city. The heralds shouting at the crowd about some rich aristocrat, now wanted, and on the lam. Hera turned to him, his physique long, and slouched over as if her were trying to blend in amongst dwarves. The lord had sold his vineyards and villas, and fled to the sea with his wife and slaves. The monarch suspected he had some help from the inhabitants of the slums. Hera had just found his work for the day. He would often work for city guards and constables. Mostly hanging up the posters and leading them through the narrow allies unfamiliar to them.
He headed out to his favorite constable, Reuven. Much like Hera, he did not like to talk much either. If he agreed to meet Hera, it would mean there was work for him, else naught to do be done that day. It had started pouring by the time Hera reached the office. It seemed gods really did favor Hera, for Reuven had just walked out, in his ironed and spotless white uniform, with gold accents on the shoulders and cuffs. Hera stopped on the wooden steps, and Reuven looked down into his eyes, and motioned him to wait in the alley a little way down the road. Hera, as his usual self did not care enough to ask why, or even enough to notice that the procedure was unusual. But, when Reuven showed up with stacks and stacks of posters, it finally made Hera wonder if anything was different about today. It was as he suspected, the posters were of the wanted lord. Without any word, they both went their way. After a year of working together, they had cultivated a mutual professional trust and roles, Hera to provide his time and labor, and Reuven to exploit it, for he knew Hera had nowhere else to turn to.
It was perhaps around 7 in the evening, or so Hera guessed, the evening bells were ringing though he had no idea how many times it had rung. On the account of rain, his plans to finish putting up the wanted posters did not turn out as well as he wanted. So he headed home, his mind completely blank, seemed to have realized for the first time just how to big the slums were. However, his meditation was broken once again, this time by some incoherent screams, and then a loud bang, that of a flintlock. It came from around the corner, Hera had stopped and not known he had. Soon a man appeared into the vision, sprinting down the street, splashing in the puddle, looking behind his shoulders and before he knew it, he ran into Hera. Both of them fell down, and muddied their clothes. The man got back up on his feet soon enough, and though it seemed he was in a hurry, he helped Hera up.
"Please help me! The guards chase after me, please good sir, hide this." And with that he handed him something, wrapped in his handkerchief.
And then, two guards followed, their swords drawn. One had a bloody sword, and another had his white uniform overcoat stained with the brown mud, and blood. Hera did not understood what had happened, but the kind stranger who helped him up suddenly screamed.
"He's got a pistol!"
What happened next was over too soon. The guards moved towards Hera, as the stranger ran away. One of them knocked him down, and with one swift movement he would have finished off with Hera's head. Perhaps it was Heras survival instinct, or perhaps it was his conscious effort, but he shot off the pistol. The blood was all over his face, and had splashed the guard behind him too. He could not stop now, he knew it, so snatched the sword away from the hands of the guard as his life bled away from him, down into the muddy streets in an unnamed alley in the slums. Before the other guard could react, Hera drove the sword deep into his gut and fell face first into the street. His face stained with mud and blood. He tried to get up fast, but his foot slipped, and he fell again onto the guard he shot. He had no idea why, but he had picked up the pistol again, and managed to get up again.
The rain helped him clean his face, and soon he found himself in front of the butchers shop. The noises had all faded out, so did the smells. He was brought back, when the butcher handed him meat wrapped in thin cheap paper, not good enough to even to hide the texture of the flesh against his hand, and not good enough to hide the color of it either.
"Here, nearly a pound left for ye." With that he sent Hera on his way. Once again he passed the thugs, cat-calling after some figure already one with the dark. The cold meat, he gripped it tight in his hand, as he maneuvered through the dark stairway with expertise, passing from in front of doors, each leaking the story of what is happening inside- a man fighting with his betrothed, a baby's cries drowning in the laughter of men drinking and singing in the same room. Finally, he was alone, in his bed. Slowly he gripped the meat harder and held it close to his chest, as he felt his heart beat faster until finally it calmed down.
He finally fell asleep.