This Winter Night
there is no such thing as pain,
when men feel hurt the world says it’s
our duty to put on a straight face
and take it all.
“I have no money to give you,” unwittingly, my voice shook, laced with remorse as my gaze remained fixed on the man in front of me.
The cold December wind nipped at my fingertips and nose, reminding me of why I usually didn’t stay out late. But losing myself in the dusty volumes gathering mold at the library had seemed better than going on. By the time I had realized how dark it was outside, it had already clocked midnight.
I stood quietly in the poorly lit alley, my eyes scanning the surrounding area cautiously. It was way past my curfew and I knew I was going to be in a lot of trouble when I got home, but there was something about being a nice guy that I couldn’t help but be. I helped people even though I knew they would never do the same for me. Arleen said it was pathetic.
“It’s okay, kid,” the man chuckled then told me to forget about it.
One another day, maybe I would have walked away but his scruffy boots and tattered gloves stirred up something within me. It was foreign but fiery. It might have been rebellion.
I turned to the apartment complex behind me and sighed. There was only one thing I could do now.
“Do you. . .” I paused, knowing my mother would at least let him stay for the night. . .I hoped. “Would you mind coming over?”
“Me?” He looked at me in surprise and I suddenly felt disgusted, by society. He was a grown man, given birth to just like anybody else, and just because he had no job or home he was made to feel lower than the average person.
It isn’t fair. Rubbing my palms against each other, I nodded at him, my lips pressed into a thin line as I looked past the flickering streetlight above our heads to take a glance at the sky. The slowly drifting waves of snow caused me a bit of dread. Where would this man sleep if it snowed? Would his clothes be enough to keep him warm?
Normally, I wouldn’t be worried but the shelters were being closed down because of the terrorist attacks that have been taking the city by storm. I understood that it was a necessary move to keep citizens safe, but weren’t poor people humans too?
In a twisted fit of anger, I grabbed the man by the arm and walked two blocks over to the building I and my mother lived in. At the glass doors, I paused. Was I making a mistake by doing this? Was the trouble I’d get into worth it?
I looked down at my reddening palm then at the flushed face being reflected back at me. I watched determination fill my gaze. I had just been out here for some minutes yet I was this cold, how could I leave somebody out in a storm when I could help them?
“Wait here,” I mumbled, taking out my key and opening the door. I shuddered when a blast of heat hit my freezing face.
A sigh of relief escaped my lips when I turned back and found him still standing there. I thought he would have left during my moment of indecision.
When we both walked into the building, the door was forced shut by a gust of wind. Our gazes met.
I looked away, curling my hands into fists and shoving them into the pockets of my hoodie. “What’s. . .your name?”
A touch of a smile touched his lips. “I’m surprised you’re asking.”
“Ah,” I laughed nervously, not wanting to seem like a more of a freak than I knew I was. Should I not have asked? Had it been too crass of me? I decided to take the plunge anyway. “You’ve lived two blocks away for such a long time. . . I see you everyday.”
“You’re such a nice kid,” he said slowly, his hands hovering over the heater.
But am I? I gritted my teeth and started up the flight of stairs, motioning for him to follow after me. My hands shook as I prepared myself to face my mother. Already, I could hear her shouting at me, her tone harsh and unforgiving.
Why are you so late?
Why did you bring a beggar home?
Why can’t you be normal like other children?
I braced myself for her slaps, for her throwing me around, then for the calming of the storm as she went off to smoke and drink, wasting herself till the next day then coming home a mess I had to nurse back to health.
My cheeks already stung with phantom pain as I inserted my key into the door and pushed down on the handle, but we were met with nothing but silence. The faint smell of Bourbon tickled my nose and that was how I knew.
Mother wasn’t home.