Monday, 24 October 2011

The Kindness of Strangers 4

He heard them before he saw them. Voices somewhere above him, up through the pressing weight of his seemingly endless captivity. He neither moved, nor made a sound. He was used now to waiting, to avoiding hopes, projections, anticipations and the inevitable body blows of disappointment and abandonment. But he listened to the sounds of movement, and the barely perceptible shifts and easing of the cloying mass that entombed him.

“Careful, careful,” said a commanding voice, and he knew that someone was coming closer and he wasn’t alone. He stilled his mind.

“I think there’s something here, sir,” said another, “Yes, there’s definitely something.”

Rescue! He couldn’t prevent himself; the agonies of hope coursed through him. He tried to make a noise, but somehow none came. He felt of the earth, only light and the presence of other men could break him from this mud and clay, could transform him into flesh and laughter once more.

Then a chink of light opened in the great darkness above, and in flooded a human presence with the simple words, “My God, we’ve found one.”

“Go easy,” cried the commanding voice, “He’ll be in a hell of a state.”

He lay back, while he heard them working patiently and painstakingly above him, trying to prepare himself for life on the surface, back in the haunts of men, and the demand of appetites and survival. When amidst all his preparations, they suddenly uncovered him.

He smiled up at them as they clustered round him. They smiled down at him, welcoming, caring, affirming his life.

“A hunter,” cried one, “Look at the arrows, and those pelts beside him.”

He said nothing, but looked up at them fondly, his heart bursting with gratitude. They’d been three thousand years, but they’d finally come to get him out.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Kindness of Strangers 3

Pretty as a picture, Effie had worked Cable Street since she could remember. And, for all her tender age, she was making a fine job of it. She had her own room above the pawn shop where she’d take her regulars. A safe alleyway to accommodate passing trade. Some small savings. Her daily gin intake stopped just short of lethal. Even Jack the Ripper had passed her by, preferring older, tougher meat for his arcane purposes. The other girls, when they were disposed to be kind, said Effie led a charmed life. She had an angel on her shoulder.

Perhaps it was that which first attracted the attention of the Reverend Esmond Petty who accompanied by his devoted cousin Lady Miranda Cossington, was on one of his regular trawls of the East End looking for vulnerable girls to take under his protective wing.

He straightway approached Effie and declared, “My dear child, your salvation is at hand.”

“Got years in me yet,” Effie protested, mistaking his offer of ecumenical support for some kind of medical diagnosis.

“We’re here to help you,” cooed Lady Miranda, “We wish to lead you to Paradise.”

Effie regarded them sceptically. She wasn’t taking them both back to her room; they might make off with her savings. “Alright, a florin for a stand-up in the alley. Three bob if the lady needs attention too.”

“Gracious!” exclaimed the clergyman, “It’s your soul we wish to embrace.”

“My soul’s my own,” replied Effie, outraged. “Not for sale to the likes of you.”

“Think we’re wasting our time here,” Petty confided quietly in his cousin.

Lady Miranda smiled wanly and rummaged in her handbag. She produced a florin and handed it to her cousin. “Go on, Esmond,” she muttered, “You might at least get a shag out of it.”

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Kindness of Strangers 2

Chester liked to flop out in the little square at lunchtime, when the office workers came out to bask in whatever sun the tall buildings allowed to permeate. The office workers would sit on the pale grass, undo their ties or hitch up constricting skirts a few inches and open up their sandwiches and takeaway coffees. They’d try to ignore Chester, his grime, his rags, the blackened toes protruding through his cutaway hobnail boots. If they couldn’t ignore his surly presence, they’d awkwardly hand over a coin or two in the hopes of watching him stumble away to leave them in peace.

Chester made a reasonable living out of their embarrassment, a bottle of cheap wine, a lung kebab, a plug of black tobacco. And so he kept to his glowering routine.

He was nonplussed when one day an attractive young woman sat down deliberately beside him and produced two separate lunch bags. She handed one to him, saying “There you are. Prawn salad, tiramisu, iced tea and a candy. Bon app├ętit.”

He stared at her uncomprehendingly.

“There’s a towelette in there and a plastic fork and spoon,” she added, “Better keep the cutlery for another time.”

With that she ignored him, and ate her lunch, looking idly about her as the other regulars came and went. Chester ate the prawn salad in silence, and the tiramisu. He drank the iced tea and ate the chocolate truffle though he’d never liked them. He made what he felt was an appreciative grunt, but she ignored this.

Finally, she got up, brushed down her dress and walked primly away. Chester watched her in amazement, daring to hope that perhaps this was the start of a regular thing.

Ten minutes after she’d left, the agonising stomach cramps began.