He accidentally dropped the leather wallet out of his trembling hands. The woman queuing behind him moved away when he staggered as he tried to pick it up. He lost his balance and bumped his shoulder into the man standing in front of him, who turned his head and shot him a nasty look.
"Sorry." He mumbled with a lump caught in his throat.
He took a few steps back away from the aggravated man, and lowered his eyes. Frightened and miserable, he would have loved to turn around and head straight for the exit if it wasn't for that cold familiar feeling that kept churning inside his stomach. He had not eaten for weeks. The warm, wonderful smell of freshly baked bread that hung inside the shop made his head spin and think of nothing else. He watched with hungry eyes how the man in front of him brought a good-sized loaf that crisped in its paper package, and half a dozen of buns, glistening with a thick coat of sugar, and could only regain focus by biting hard on his lower lip.
"Next." The man behind the counter observed his supposed client in ill-concealed discontent. Indeed, he did not look like much, dressed as he was in layers of dirty t-shirts and an oversized coat that had seen better days, with his trousers covered in frightful stains and thinned down to the bare threats at the knees. It was obvious that he was a vagabond who had been sleeping in the streets for a while. His unshaved face was gaunt, his cheeks hollowed out, and his hair hung down his shoulder in greasy strings. The worst part was that he smelled like something dreadful that had been washed out of the sewage. Not exactly the type of customer that one hoped for.
"What can I get for you?" The baker asked, trying to ignore all the things that was offensive to his senses.
"What can I get for this?" The vagabond asked hopefully, and turning the wallet upside down, emptying the entire content. A meager amount of coins rattled over the counter.
"Two six pence? You're joking mate. You can't even buy a packet of croutons for that."
The young man now looked nervous, and checked the inside of the wallet, but there were no banknotes tucked away inside and there were no more coins left.
"I don't have more money." He stated plainly, as if he had only realized this at this very moment.
The baker lifted his eyebrows. "Now then, if you're not buying anything, leave. Next!"
"Wait! Wait! I can give you something else, here." He searched his pockets and showed him a cheap flattened earring that looked like it had been picked up from the streets. "And here." He showed him a plastic lighter, and a dented package of cigarettes. "Please. Take this and the coins. Take the wallet too if you want." He pushed them into the man's hands. "For a piece of bread."
"I don't want your junk." The baker dropped the stuff back on the counter and wiped his hands on the side of his trousers, pulling a disgusted face.
"Please sir. I'm hungry. I just want something to eat."
"Look I'm not a charity institution."
"You heard him." The sour-looking old woman waiting next in line complained. "Now get out of the way. You're holding us up.'
Yeah, get out of the way!" Someone at the back of the queue commented. "I've been standing here for ages."
"I just want some food. Please sir."
"Beggars. They're getting cheekier and cheekier nowadays." The old woman shook her head, and nodded to the baker who was studying the wallet. "Give it back to him and send him away. That stench that's coming off this young man is making me loose my appetite."
"Hang on." The baker flipped through the cards that were tucked inside the wallet. "This isn't yours. Look at the bloke on the ID card." He showed the photo to the other customers. "This looks nothing like him. Besides this thing is packed with credit cards, American express, visa." He stared at the troubled young man, his face drawn into a disapproving frown. "You stole this, didn't you!"
The vagabond stepped back. His eyes suddenly grew wide in panic.
"Thief! I bet he's an addict. Look at the state of him." The old woman hissed, her eyes flashing. She caught sight of something that glistened, dangling from a coarse string around his neck, half hidden in folds of the rags of his clothing. "What's this? He's wearing a sliver ring around his neck! Did you stole that too?!"
"No, no, I didn't steal this. I swear." He instinctively grabbed hold of it and kept it close to his heart. "Please… don't…all I wanted was a piece of bread."
The baker shook his head angrily, and grabbed his mobile phone. "I'm calling the police."
His nerves finally gave in. He couldn't take it any longer. With his hand still closed firmly around the ring, he turned and fled into the streets.
There was a small park at the back of the museum where he liked to go. Not many people knew about it, and it was usually quiet. He only stopped running when he reached the gate and passed the first trees. With fire burning in his lungs and his heart pacing madly, he walked towards the nearest bench. He sank down, put his head back, and closed his eyes while he listened how the drumming inside his ears slowly quieted down.
The weather was miserably, although it had ceased to rain, it was still very windy and cold. His clothes were damp, and his stomach started complaining again about the lack of food. The recent failure to obtain any made him frustrated to the brink of tears.
He didn't know what was wrong with him, but he couldn't get anywhere in life. His mind seemed to be governed by fundamental instincts, telling him that he should eat because he was starving, or that he should sleep because he was exhausted, but except for that it was useless in forming any complex ideas. It took him days to figure out that he needed money to pay for food, being chased away from the market when he took an apple from the fruit display. It took him another week to come up with a way to get the money, and still he went hungry. It was as if his thoughts were frozen up, kept in perpetual winter, and spring was nowhere near in sight.
He opened his eyes again, and stared vacantly into the distance, his heart sinking fast into a dark pool of misery. From the corner of his eyes, he saw a pretty young girl passing by. She was walking her dog, arguing with her boyfriend on the phone, and munching down a Mars bar at the same time. She shot a glance at him, but quickly averted her eyes. When she passed by the garbage bin, she pushed her mobile between her shoulder and her ear, and rummaged through her pockets with her free hand to get her half-eaten lunch, a peanut butter sandwich, and threw it away without slowing her pace. He didn't wait till she was out of sight, but jumped right at it. The girl turned around, saw what he was doing and pulled a disgusted face, hastily walking away. He searched through the pile of rotting old news papers and empty soda cans till he found the parcel. He ripped the plastic off and took a hungry mouthful, wolfing it down. He was about to take a second bite when someone tapped him on the shoulder. When he looked back he received a nasty punch in his lower jaw, and the sheer force of it send him thrashing backwards. Before he could look up and see who had done this to him, a second blow hit him in the side of the head. A hand reached out and pulled hard at the string around his neck. Frightened and reacting purely on instinct, he grabbed hold of the silver ring and pushed it against his chest protectively.
"Give it here you nutcase." An overgrown, hooded teenager was staring down at him with a mix of fear and excitement on his freckled face. He and his mate had followed him from the shop to the small park. Unlike him, they were indeed addicts, and saw in him an easy target for robbery. The boy tugged on the rope and he felt it snap behind his neck, but he kept holding on to the ring as if for dear life. This angered his young attacker, and the boy kicked him in his stomach. The young delinquent bend down while he was still paralyzed with pain, and tried to pry the jewel out of his hands.
" Hey! Let go I said!"
But the young man wouldn't give in. He pushed the boy's hand up to his mouth and bit down hard. His attacker yelled out in pain, and he was just able to pull the ring away from him when the other boy came into action and slapped one hand around his neck, while with the other he drove a knife into his stomach. Pain erupted, so intense that it dissolved all of his strength, and he collapsed to ground. Clutching onto his belly, his fingers soon became drenched with the blood gushing out of the fresh flesh wound. The knife was still stuck inside, and the boy who had stabbed him looked at it nervously, as if not certain if he should recollect it or not.
His mate trashed back, and stared up at him in shock.
"What the hell did you do that for?" He screamed, his voice trembling and sounding strangely high-pitched.
"He was attacking you!"
"Jesus! Man, look at all that blood!"
The fear turned into blind panic when a scream came from the other side of the park. A red haired woman had seen the incident, and was running towards them. The hooded boy backed away a few steps, tugging on his mate's arm.
"I didn't want to kill him." His friend stammered. "Fuck, Ed, is he dead?" He turned around but his accomplice was already on the run. "Ed! Wait for me!" He yelled, and rushed after him.
Donna didn't the see the faces of the boys, but she recognized the injured man lying on the ground in front of her. She had seen him before. She knew he was homeless, she had seen him sleeping outside in the park, and digging through the garbage bins during her lunchtimes. She had never really noticed him though, never spoken to him, or offered any help. He was just another faceless victim of this urban jungle, and she, Donna Noble, never had felt obliged before to take a moment of her busy life to open her eyes to such human misery. Not until today that was.
"Oh my God. Are you alright?" He could not lift his head to look her in the face, but even to his pain-dazed mind, this sounded like a really dumb question. She put her hand on his shoulder. "You're going to be alright." She promised in a soothing voice. "I'm getting help." When her hand lifted again, the vacant place on his skin felt strangely cold. In fact, his whole body, his legs, his feet, his face and his arms and hands, seemed to be turning into ice, all of it except for the burning sliver of agony that ran across his belly.
Donna called an ambulance, and waited by his side till they arrived. She took off her own coat and wrapped it around him. "There, I got you now. It's alright. They are coming soon." He was very tired, his eyes slowly veiled. He noticed that when she caressed his face, that her hands left like burning lumps of coal.
"Don't sleep." She said. "Stay awake. What's your name?"
His eyes fluttered.
She repeated the question. "Mine is Donna. Tell me, what's your name?"
His mouth opened and closed, like a fish on dry land. His voice was small.
"I…I don't know."
After that, he did not speak again, and darkness followed swiftly.
Donna gets her hands on the silver ring, and the Master dies to be reborn.