Conversations with Strangers, by queenopy

I enter alone on a familiar land to lose myself
Amid strangers alike I dream upon the twilight of a life
No more than a mirage no less than a memory
To be found apart and anew and awaiting again


The old man approached the boy.
"What happened?"
"You are the first one to ask. Everyone keeps ignoring me."
"Because one look at the scene and one just know what happened."
"So why are you asking?"
"You are not in shock although you should be considering..." He made a small rounded gesture with his hand.
"I am not hurt that badly."
"If having a broken arm and half your face pummeled is not being badly hurt, you should reconsider your standards in matter of injuries, young man."
A moment passed.
The man added, "I just feel that you need to answer the question."
"So what did happen?"
After a long silence, the boy spoke.
"It did not work. I thought it would but it did not."
Nothing more was said by the boy that night.


The following day, the two met again.
"Hey, want to explain to me what you did that didn't work?"
"You are the man from last night."
"And you are the kid from last night."
"I am the only kid from last night, there were many such as you."
"Hey, I am one of a kind, you remembered me, didn't you?"
"Are you from the police or from social services?"
"A bit of both... neither."
The boy frowned.
After a moment of silence, the man spoke.
"You really don't have to answer the question if you don't want to. It's not on record."
The two stared each other.
The man eventually smiled, "But then you want to talk, that, I know for certain from yesterday."
The boy sighed.
"You seem to be quite astute to the feelings of others."
"I don't know about others but I feel I am to yours... to some degree."
"Empathy?"
"Nothing like that, I just feel your intense desire to talk to a stranger."
"And does the stranger want to listen?"
"He is all ears!"
A moment of pause succeeded.
"Nothing would have happened if not for me."
"You don't mean you are responsible, do you?"
"Even I would not misplace such a feeling as guilt in these circumstances."
The boy swallowed, "I meant I made it happen-I expected another outcome though."
"Than you being hurt?"
"No, I did expect to be hurt. No-," he took a breath, "I thought she needed a trigger, an impulse to - you know - leave, break the pattern."
"This has been happening for awhile."
He nodded in answer.
"I was brainless, never did anything, always used to stay out of the way. After some time, I just despised her as much as him, and also, myself, coming out of... that. I don't remember having ever had good memories. But in the end being a child is just an excuse, that's why... for the first time... I chose to interfere."
"I see: Evil happens when good men do nothing."
"Evil? No. But in the end one can only blame oneself, you know."
"Sure one can only blame oneself but only up to a point. Being a child is a law of nature, not a failure in acting. Until now your perceptions as a child were mostly right, staying out of the way serves to preserve your sense of safety. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. You are a deft survivor, you need not to doubt your instinct or your judgement. In fact, by acting, you exposed yourself and it should have destroyed you but oddly it seems it did not."
"Why did you act... this is the real mystery," the man stated.
The boy answered, "I wanted not to have any regrets."
"You did not expect for it to work."
"It was unlikely..."
"You learn nothing new..."
"I already knew but..."
"To face some truths, one can never be ready."
He looked up into the man's eyes.
"I thought that I was the problem, I was born and none of them could back away from that."
"And you are now certain that it has little to do with you."
"I was just like so many other excuses."
The man shook his head, "I don't understand how you see it for you to withstand it so calmly."
"Isn't it a truth that all have to face?"
A silence passed and the boy pursued.
"Our parents are beings of their own, they are people that have nothing to do with us, children."
"So you do see them as they are!"
"I am tired," the boy said.
"And I should leave," the man concluded.


The boy said, "I want to belong."
"Don't we all?"
"I want not to be alone, I don't think I can bear the burden alone. Till now, I've survived, prevailed with the minimum, I've endured till the end, my end... I don't think I can go on beyond that."
A pause then the man said, "You need to let go. You're speaking of burden... seems you have a problem of letting go."
"This is greed, you mean? Yes," the boy agreed, "I was greedy, I wanted and wanted, didn't know what, but I wanted it so bloody much. I'm so tired of wanting but... but letting go is unthinkable."
A pause and the boy added, "I think I did, let go I mean, but now I'm back."
The man cut in, "don't let go of everything, that's not the point, only the things that you can't control. Accept it."
"Like accept my screwed up life?"
"You said that you could not have helped your parents, that they were unredeemable. Let go of that."
"What are you saying?"
"They messed you up, accept them as they were... are."
"Self destructive? Worthless?"
"They were not worthless."
"They are big failures according to society!"
"You mean they are worthless parents to you but they are more than that. Accept them as human beings."
"Shouldn't human beings be more?"
"But human beings are fragile, they can also be weak. Do you think the life of your parents wasn't worth living?"
"I... Some-... I don't want to think about them, I'm tired."
The boy turned away.
"You should probably rest, in this hour of the night, in this point of your life, you've reached your bottom but it can only be better when the sun rises tomorrow."


The boy looked at him.
"Are you stuck with me?"
"Not really, I chose to follow your case."
"Why?"
"Truth?"
"Only the truth, only but the truth... be brutal."
"You are very smart," the man stated.
"I'm not that smart for my age."
"How old are you?"
"The truth?"
"Be brutal."
"Going on 40."
"I don't understand."
"I don't either."
The man smiled.
"We can set up a club then."
"Or an Order..."
The boy giggled then stopped.
After awhile, he asked, "now what will become of me? I'm not technically an orphan."
"First you're going to spend a few days here..."
"What's here, not that I care much?"
"A halfway house... then you're gonna be sent with foster parents."
"Is it temporary?"
"You want to know if you're going to be returned to your parents?"
"Just want to avoid using the P word... I should know better."
"This is gonna hurt."
"My skin is thick, I think I do not longer care."
"If you think that, you are deluding yourself."
"They don't want you back, didn't want to look for trouble till now, but in the end, public humiliation or condemnation is no real deterrent."
"I realize that. Only the other exist in their world, it's an everyday egotistical drama... I don't want to be the spectator, I've seen it already, it's not pleasant and it ends bad."
"You are 11."
"Feels like... older than 40... like 140."
"The system is only going to keep you for a few months, someone will be sent to check your parents, I don't think there will be any improvement, your return will certainly be delayed but there is a possibility you'll go back to them eventually. It depends on you really."
"It does? I have a choice?"
"There is always a choice."
"I know, but sometimes all the choices available sucks royally!"
"You bet! Life's a bitch!"
"And then you die... except even that is not true apparently."
"What do you mean?"
"Ummm want the truth?"
"What about this obsession about truth and lies?"
"I was taught to lie by the best and the worst, you know."
"Like a way of life?"
"Like a spy."
"At 11?"
"I was taught to omit saying the truth from the crib maybe, but to outwardly lie? I think it was my first night at Hogwarts."
"What is Hogwarts?"
"My board school. We have a system of houses, my house puts a lot of importance in appearances."
"Such as?"
"About being pureblood for instance."
"You mean how blue your blood is?"
"The analogy works, but also how white, how rich, and how right your ideas must be."
"Seems dangerous."
"I became quite good at it."
"You became the best at it, didn't you?"
"A career, a life of lies... I'm reliving my life."
"Literally?"
"I lived my life and died, and I woke up and have to do it again."
"I see."
"Don't you think I am crazy?"
"It could be a psychosis, my little patient."
"Are you a doctor?"
"No, I am a humbled social worker making a u-turn careerwise."
"How old are you?"
"I'm going on 60 and feeling like 40."
"Were you fed up by your work?"
"It's my first and last case on the job."
"What do you mean?"
"I asked to follow your case, do you remember?"
He nodded.
"It's a courtesy to me, a favor that was easily granted. I have an interest in you."
"I don't understand. I am a nobody. Do you know me?"
"I met you yesterday, in that regard I hardly know you but now I do and one cannot unknow."
"By your own standards, no, but denial is not only a river. What do you care?"
"Incidentally now that I know, I seem to care."
The boy frowned.
"You want to see the outcome, my outcome."
"Yes that's true, but I want to understand more. Do you understand yourself?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I think that if you understand yourself better, people would also understand you better."
"I..."
"Do you know what you want?"
"Not to be alone. Love?"
"Not really, I don't see that in you."
"But I died for love."
"Maybe, maybe not, but that's not important, you don't have it on your mind now, maybe you're even done with that."
"I'll tell you what you want, you want a different outcome that the one you imagined and are imagining... yes the one you supposedly lived."
The man paused and asked, "No interruption?"
The boy sighed, "I don't have for habit to lie to myself."
"Brutal honesty?"
"Yes, I cannot deny what you just said."
"I don't think you are insane, so if you want another outcome, you know what you have to do."
"I need to change."
"Do you want to change?"
The boy grimaced,"I'm too old."
"Rest assured, you don't need to change, that will come in time. You'll end up changing when circumstances and people will treat you differently. You had the right idea after all, you need to make changes."
"And what a success it was. "
"And what a success it is, you changed your situation, didn't you?"
The boy nodded.
"But you think it is not enough."
"It changed but not that much, I'm enrolled in a board school, I only spend summer with them and they killed each other or themselves when I was 15. I did get emancipated before, my life did not improve, I did not suddenly become richer, purer, righter."
"You met me, you won't get really rich but you'll get richer."
"I don't need your pity."
"It's not my money, don't worry. It's Institution money, yours. Nobody can help you get purer but then there's no need for that and I'll definitely try not to make you righter than you naturally are, you need on the contrary to be bendable, not to be right but to be alright, pun intended."
"Take for instance, from now on, instead of lying through your teeth, you will state the truth. Brutal and total honesty is not a bad policy for a spy-no-more."
"Brutal I can do. Total... it seems a frightening relief."
"Try it out."
"I don't trust you."
The man laughed.
"What's in for you?"
"The pleasure of a maker. It's like finding a raw stone, not a mere stone, one with potential and making it into a gem."
"Am I going to be a tool again?"
"Scare not! What am I gonna use you for anyway?"
"What are you gaining from working on me?"
"I don't like to be idle much, as far as I see it, you can be a life commitment."
"If it's not about care but about commitment, I can accept that. Caring means nothing.
"I understand commitment," said the boy.


"Do you believe in fate?" The boy asked.
"I believe in Cause and Consequence, does that mean that I believe in Fate?"
The man pursued.
"The problem is that in both cases, it is always a conclusion we come with, afterwards, with hindsight."
"It's about Fate and Prophecies," the boy clarified.
"So you mean events that are not only foreseen but predicted."
"I wonder if my life is a forgone conclusion or meant to happen."
"You are basing your line of thought on the grounds your life cannot change."
"No, I am asking myself - should it be changed?"
"I return the question to you then - do you believe in Fate?"
Silence followed then the boy sighed before adding.
"I share the same position many mortals had before me: I don't want to believe."
"So what's on your mind are Greek tragedies. You fear more to struggle in vain than you care about the greater Good, don't you?"
The man continued, "you fear the Future, about what's to come. But only the Past cannot be changed."
"I'm living the Past," the boy replied.
"You misunderstand me, I am not saying the Past should not be changed, I'm saying that the Past is determined as passed and is impossible to change. Everything else can and will inherently change. That is the order of nature."
"Am I to think that my miserable life had been at best a dream at worse a delusion?"
"If you must, I think you should consider yourself a Cassandra... And... without sharing her particular fate, the two of you do indeed have a responsibility. If you had a vision, you have to act on it, otherwise you won't be able to live with it."
"So I should now focus on the what and the how."
"You certainly should not whine on the why as you are doing. What is... is, deal with it."
"So I have to determine the what by your standards."
"What's your greater good?"
"I only know that of an old coot."
"Did you agree with his greater good?"
"I never had an opinion, his was better than the alternative."
"What about your idea of the greater good?"
"Let me think on it..."


The boy turned towards the man.
"What is your name?"
"Jim Burke."
The boy reached out and they shook hands.
"You probably know already but I am Severus Snape-"

The End