The man returned the following day and the boy was not there. He brought a cigarillo out from a tarnished steel pouch and put it between his lips and lit a match to it and he stared at the tarnished splodges. He puffed twice and closed his eyes and walked away. Down the avenue.
The street bore only faint traces of life, in the dull grey morning. No vendors. No beggars. Only the faint chirpings of the birds. The silent melody of the clouds. Which looked to bear a dark weight. The ramparts held an ethereal air about them; from their pockmarks and smoothed ledges and the other symptoms of their senility. Like statesmen.
He thought it would rain by the evening as the air bore the cloud's condition and pulled out his data pad and inserted a reminder for later. He put it back.
The shops were all empty and vacant and the pans of glass were still misted and the contents of their interiors seemed like transparent hallucinations and when he paused to look he could not make out their forms and continued on his way.
He ventured off onto a side street and ducked underneath the bright colored tarpings and paused at a doorway and threw his cigarillo behind him and crafted a smiling veneer and pushed against the door and it opened before him and a bell rung. The tables were old and wooden and covered with white linens that peeled off just before they met the floor and he looked at the waitress and let his travel down her backside. He cleared his throat and she turned and smiled at him and smoothed her hair down and told him to go take a seat near the window, which he did.
The chair creaked under him and the fabric listed under his touch and he told the women he'd take the special.
"Anything to drink?"
She went to the back and gave the order and pulled a chair and sat next to him and talked. He nodded in turn and made remarks to which she smiled at and when she paused he looked into her and the manner in which she arranged her body he saw that she was another common soul and possessed no inclination that each arranged syllable was calculated and tabulated. She fetched his meal and put it next to him and he sipped the drink. It was very sweet and he made a face though it was not necessary and she giggled. As expected.
"So you never told me your occupation," She said.
"Is that so." He took a sip and set it down. "I'm an investment manager."
"Not as much as you'd imagine. It's all in the time and place and knowing when to risk it all."
"Like a hunter?"
"A passable simile. Though hardly brilliant."
They conversed more and he sifted through the food and took spare bite and when he finished with the drink she gave him her com number and said she'd be available on the weekend. He looked at and wrote down the number in the data pad. He looked at the crumbs and the fractional amounts of fish pushed around the plate and let them be. He bid goodbye and left out and felt her gaze linger on him as he passed the doorway.
He looked up and saw the sun beyond the walls and tucked his hands into his pockets.
He went back the way he came and avoided the awakened masses and arrived back at his origination and looked down at the old man. The beggar shifted against the wall and pressed his back into it.
"He ain't here."
"Where did you take him?"
"I took him nowhere."
"He's not your son. You don't owe anything to him."
"That so." The beggar rubbed his fingers together and thin peels of dirt mashed together and coalesced beneath him. "Gotta disagree with you there. Relation's got nothing to do with debt or its lack. Son or not. He is. I am. That's all."
The man tilted his head. "That so."
"You're lying to yourself."
"Says the liar."
The man shrugged. "Only as much as any other."
"More than any I've known." The blind man shivered and drew his rags across himself as if they were some armor. From which his essence could remain undistinguished and invisible.
"I'll come by tomorrow to see if he's around."
"You do that and I'll whoop ya."
The man stared into the beggar and tore the minutiae of that man into their base components. His syllables. His mannerisms. The depth in his words.
"To think to that you've learned nothing," he said. "Making promises that you can't keep."
He half smiled when the beggar flinched and moved further away and put another cigarillo in between his lips and looked at the half fallen walls in the distance like felled hawks. Of which whom were defrocked and naked and awaiting purchase.
"What a good day."
The boy lay under an archway and a lumilamp glowed above him in a half rusted socket and the water drizzled down and left thin rivulets and would be streams coursing down the paths taking the miniscule garbage with it . The light flickered on. Then off. On again.
His arm hung from his side and it tingled with a faint buzzing and he bit his lip and rammed his shoulder to the wall and he bounced against it. The air cracked and he cried out and collapsed into a heaving mess. He took a minute and stayed there and breathed. Ragged in form and function. His eyes kept shut. Against the world. Like it was a dream he could expunge by hopes and wishes alone.
He stretched out and coughed out blood and wiped the piddle from his mouth and looked at his other hand where the fingernails were torn and raw and where his pinky stood lock pinned at an angle. He swallowed and gripped and trembled.
He wrenched it out and bit deep and drew blood and the copper liquid fell onto his tongue and rolled on it and he swallowed it. So that his parched throat would have some sustenance.
He paused and rasped and waited and when he finished he peeled his wet clothes off and made a crumpled pile and winced at every misspoken movement. He was naked and the dirt on his skin did not peel from the water and he shivered and forwent the sight of his acquired scars and bruises and puckered scabs in the transitory light and laid his head against the stone and hugged himself and shivered as his tongue explored the gap in his teeth as the water fell down.
The light returned and his stomach rumbled.
"Shut up," he said.
It did not listen and the world became dark once again.
The man passed the lane of beggars in the morning and in the evening and the boy was not there and the blind man corrupted his spot and took in all donations of charity or passing negligence and paid no heed to the man though he requested conversations in all manners and in all forms.
The boy came to his station like a rheumatoid arthritic and the passing line of beggars watched him and he them but his glare did not dispose them. They stayed at their unassigned posts and he looked one in the eye they met it for a moment but nothing was conveyed or revealed. Their gaze was empty and chilling and bore the lack of good years and held no such understanding of this.
The blind man looked up and listened to the boy's shuffle and when the boy paused in front of him he shook his head.
"I knew you'd make it out alright."
"Only cause I ain't an idiot waiting around. Like you said I should."
The boy looked at the spot next to the man. At the area where his blood had flowed. He sat down on them and coughed at the tenderness of his flesh.
"You need to get outta here. Like I said. The man has imposed himself on you. And'll make you his slave. You want that? To be owned? Theirs no life to it. Nothing of value in that way."
"I'm no slave. Never was. Never will be."
"It's that simple," the blind man said.
"Simple as choosing and not worrying about a mover and what he knows and what anyone else cares to do."
"Boy. It ain't that simple. There are things out there. Things that move without our prudence. Things that move against us. For us occasionally. You can declare all you want but they will be. Whether you wish it or not. So you say you're free. That no man own you. Means nothing if it ain't true and if the man move you to his will in defiance of yours."
"Say something that makes sense."
The blind man sighed and pulled at his beard. "The world is beyond our declarations of what it does. You can say a fire's cold. Doesn't make it so. Can you say that the man has not possessed you? Yes. But you fashion yourself a liar. Saying something so blatant and false."
"It ain't false. I choose it."
"Boy. There are only two ways in which you can meet this world. We can declare it untrue names and delude ourselves. That the world bends to us and our wishes. When in reality the mover knows. The planets moved before our births. The stars too. The dirt underneath our feet been there before we were material. Thoughts or dreams. Saying that things bend to us. Or the other way."
"The world is. We are subject to this. We are in its grasp. Only acceptance of this can bring us to the necessary conclusion. And her-"
The boy looked down the avenue where the crowd mingled together in a growing clamor and the blind beggar put his nose to the breeze and took in the crowd's aroma and their muffled shoe steps and the splatter of the dying puddles. The boy looked at the rich men and the fawning women and the children in their grasp and the vendors who called out and the droids who clicked and whirred and said words in still monochrome and at the shops he never entered and every object and food which he never touched or tasted. Then he looked at himself and he took water from a nearby puddle and cupped it in his hand and cleaned the dirt off of it. Underneath the grime it was a pale tan and there was a freckle on the back of his index finger which he possessed no memory of. He wondered about that.
He looked up and started. The man was there. Pastry in hand. Smiling with his teeth half exposed. Glittering white.
"Hello," he said. "I told you I'd come by."
The boy gulped and the blind beggar cursed and tried to get up but the man pushed him back down.
"What do you want?" The boy said.
"What do you think?" He brought the pastry up but the boy sat stock still and peered at the man's face. It held something undecipherable and the man's lips were set and his eyes were steady and his jaw was tensed.
When the boy did not take it, he brought the bread close to his mouth and inhaled its humors and its warmth. "Tell me. Who cleaned that hand? Was it you? Or did the rain make it that way?"
"You already know."
"You need to answer," the man said.
"And who set your bones?"
"Have you been given food?"
The man paused and blinked and stepped back and the boy flicked the tip of his tongue into the gap in his teeth. The man squatted down and held out the food again. Farther from the boy.
"So if you are hungry, why do you do nothing? Sitting there"- he pointed at the street, at the beggar- "and waiting for some charity which you have never received. That man next to you. He has nothing. No family, no friends, no possessions and what life is left to him is sustained by strangers. And you want to emulate him? To stay still and be hungry and thirsty and cold?"
"I don't want that. Never said I did."
"Actions are the bigger speakers. Not words. And doing nothing is tantamount to declaring that the situation is within your acceptance."
"That's a lie. I'm hungry and thirsty and-"
"Then why, why do you do nothing?"
The boy looked at the outstretched food and licked his lips and his jaw pulsed with dim flare pain and every injury and atom of abuse that adorned his body wound its way through his nerves and conglomerated at the edge of his limbs, which quaked and trembled. Then at the man. And back.
He breathed in and seized himself and in a fit, let his hand across the chasm between their two figures and plunged his fingernails into the bread and tore a portion and brought it back into his mouth before the man could utter a word. He swallowed the bread as soon as it touched his tongue and the flavor of buttered warmth tinged with thin clouds came to him only after, as he sat there bloated and staring at the man.
The man smiled. "Understand the difference? Action is the proof we need. That we are not victims but always the deciders of our conditions. You can be hungry and thirsty, but it is only of your volition that this is true."
The beggar snapped to and put his hands in the air and made them into fists. "Boy, leave. You feel it. In ya bones. He ain't right. Speaking of those things like he knows them. Hurry out while chance is with ya. Like the wind."
The man gestured to the beggar. "Here is your example. The type of man who has lost everything he has coveted and worked and suffered for. And somewhere in those defeats he blamed not his own ability, but something that cannot be seen. Known. Tested. To preserve himself and to escape the blame. The self doubt. This is the one you imitated and who taught you. A broken worker and an escapist. Are you like that? Do you want that?"
The boy licked the roof of his mouth; at the sticky damp crumbs. "No."
The man ate the rest of the food in his hand and rose to his full height and brushed the crumbs off against his pants. "Then you know what to do." He turned on his heel and walked away. Jacket fluttering in the wind and the dark soled shoes shining like beacons. Or far away lighhouses without their horns and bugles.
The boy clenched his jaw and closed his eyes and listened to his gurgling stomach, the dull rasp of the blind man. The world. The aftertaste of bread on his tongue. The warmth of the sun. The chafing of his rags. Slight tremors in his hands. In his ribs. The dirt underneath his fingernails.
He breathed in and gathered himself up and rose. He looked at the sky. At its brightness. Then at the blind man. He stood there for a while. Taking in the wall and the poor who bore no pity for any save themselves. Empty eyes but frayed bodies. A future not to be found. Only anguished and dull histories.
He looked at the blind beggar once more. Then he turned and went down the man's beaten path and limped up the avenue.
And the blind beggar put his ears to the breeze and mourned to himself.
For the boy was gone.