Release

The wind was colder now. Or maybe the fibres of his jacket were finally wearing thin. It was hard to tell through the grime that coated it, and the build-up from his body on the inside. He would be sad to see it go. But it should survive a little longer. Long enough, anyway.

There had been a frost that morning, and the morning before. He’d felt it in the soles of his feet as he paced through the night, waiting for the sun to rise, and for the warmth to return. Soon, he would be shivering constantly. It wouldn’t be as bad as last year, when the snow had come early, and the smell of mould in his hood had been a reminder of the constant damp. No, it wouldn’t be that bad this year.

And he didn’t think next year would be a problem. Soon, it would be over.

He smiled, the movement threatening to crack his lips, and the sensation might have been something to look forward to. But the lad was more important. Maybe, the young man would be the one to finally release him.

The lad was not the first, not even the tenth. Maybe the hundredth.

The first had been the young girl, left on the pavement by a so-called boyfriend. He knew the type of man who’d do that. Of course he did. And so he’d pressed the purse into her hands, feeling her revulsion, and then seeing the shock on her face soften. The smile she offered sustained him through the following day.

His stomach rumbled, but that was nothing new. It could keep moaning‌—‌there was no food, and hadn’t been since yesterday. He stumbled, and felt the urge to curl up in a corner. It wouldn’t be sleep, but it would be close.

But he needed to keep moving. He had a pocket of notes, all that was left from the purloining two nights ago. The junkie in that room would only have wasted the money, so it was better this way. At least now, the cash might do some good.

The lad was one of the nocturnals, working through the night behind a master who took all the glory. But the lad was keen to prove himself, knowing this was a way to make his mark.

So like the man himself, before he’d finally seen sense. Before he’d seen how little sense there was, and how everything was to no avail. Only by becoming something repulsive was he able to escape the Oroborus of money and power. Only by lowering himself beyond what he thought possible had he risen so high that nothing could touch him.

How long had it been? It must be five years now‌—‌hardly any time at all.

The lad was hungry. He’d seen it in those young eyes, and in the smooth skin of his face, barely able to support the straggly beard he tried to cultivate. He knew this lad just like he knew his younger self, and could read his intentions so clearly.

The lad had walked past the same building every morning for two weeks, paying close attention when he thought nobody was watching. He’d looked up to the room on the third floor, the one his boss used as a safe-house.

But the room was watched at all hours. The lad might have missed this, but he saw. He was able to get close, just another of the destitute, just another wasted life to be ignored. And he walked past the security, saw them wrinkle their noses, and saw the weapons on their hips.

Tonight, though, he stayed back, out of sight, hoping the money in his pocket was enough.

When the lad appeared, he could’ve shouted with joy.

The lad had his head down, but his eyes were raised, watching intently.

He stepped into the lad’s path.

“Watch it!” The lad tried to sound tough, and went to push past.

But he couldn’t let that happen. He stood strong. “Something for you,” he said, holding out the notes.

The lad looked at the money, then at his face.

“For you. So you don’t need to go in there.”

“What?”

He jerked his head, towards those watching in the shadows. “See over there? He knows what you’re up to. He wants you out of the way. You think you’d get out alive?”

The lad laughed. “What d’you know about it?”

“More than you. You think I chose to be like this?” He thrust the notes forward. “Take it. Use it wisely.”

The lad looked from his face to the notes in his hand, then around the street. He seemed on the verge of doing so many things, with violence simmering. But, at least this time, he did the most sensible thing.

He took the money.

The wad of paper disappeared into a pocket, but not before he’d flicked through it, whistling softly.

“How much?”

“Enough. At least, until you can figure out how to get more without crossing the wrong people.” He paused, then said, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

The lad’s eyes hardened.

“You’re young. You can do anything. That doesn’t mean you should. Don’t let greed be your ruin. Don’t be like me.”

The lad looked around again, then nodded. He crossed the street, closer to the building. And then he walked past it.

The man felt lighter now, more alive. The moisture on his face was too warm to be rain. He knew that, when it reached the corner of his mouth, he’d taste salt.

It was the taste of a debt being repaid. It was the taste of a sentence ending.

The wind picked up, and he let it blow through him, as if he was not there. As if he were nothing. As if the weight was slowly releasing him.

Soon. Soon.


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