HE was about leaving when some noise attracted him. Curiously, HE made his way around the barrels, passed a cart full of hay and approached the noisy crowd which made a circle and they were hailing and chanting while grunts and blows issued from within them. Pushing HIS way through the crowd of commoners that consisted mostly of traders, gamblers and farmers, HE got to the edge of the circle from within and got a clear view of what was happening.
Three men were rolling in the dirt, their bodies already soiled with mud. One of them, a smaller man, managed to get away from the other’s grip and punched one of the bigger men. The other man trapped the smaller man by seizing his arms and depriving him the power to fight back nor defend himself as the bigger man assailed blows into the smaller man’s stomach and midsection.
Bored with this, although a fight here and there in the slum wasn’t uncommon to the peasants, men fought daily over money, whores or bets. HE decided to take HIS leave and do something about his growling stomach when the smaller man cried out in agony as he was hauled down into the mud with blood trickling from his mouth. HE stopped halfway and looked over his shoulder at the smaller man who was now being kicked in the stomach while the bigger men laughed and the idle crowd urged them on or hauled insults at them.
It took him a while to discover that it was just the dirt that disguised the face of the smaller man, jeez! He was a boy. His nostrils were bleeding and his face caked with blood was covered with bruises and his swollen eye was turning black already. Soft brown eyes blinked at the sun when he was dragged up by his hair and he noticed the boy was barely up to his twenties. He flexed his jaw in anger at this embarrassing physical abuse inflicted on the boy by the two adult men.
“Hey!” HE cried out, silencing the noisy crowd and halting the two brutes, although one still held unto the boy’s hair. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
One of the men took some steps towards him then sized him up from head to foot degradingly. “…And who the hell are you?” he thundered in a baritone voice.
“Your worst nightmare!” HE said boldly, standing his ground though he was a foot shorter than the huge man. “Let him go!”
The man exchange looks with his fellow assailant and they suddenly burst into deep laughter. “We got two options for you, bum!” he raised two fingers. “You leave or you get yourself killed.”
HE raised his eyebrow in mock fright. “Coming from two shallow bullies? Oohh…” He suddenly feigned fear. “You scared me there…even a child will know better to stand its ground!”
The crowd exploded in laughter. The man’s face flushed in anger. “You asked for option B!” he gritted his teeth, walking backwards towards his partner who was flexing the muscles of his arms and his broad hefty chest then flung the boy back into the dirt. The crowd began chanting and hailing for a new fight. Stupid folks, they always love such things.
HE stepped into the circle formed by the eager crowd and took off his shirt, banded his hair with an elastic band he sometimes wore on his wrist, half exposing the scar at the nape of his neck and flung his shirt behind him at the crowd.
The first man who had threatened him lunged at him with a sailing punch and HE quickly ducked, the blow missing its target. Before HE could turn, a blow caught him on the jaw from the second brute knocking his head backwards, making him stagger and fall on a knee.
“Still wanna run your mouth, you stupid fool?” the second man growled and dashed the head of his heavy boot into his ribs, sending him rolling in the mud in pain.
The first man advanced on HIM in an attempt to trample his head into the mud and injure him badly but HE caught his foot and twisted the ankle. The first man fell down, bellowing in pain. HE staggered to his feet and rammed the second man running towards in the stomach with his shoulder, ramming him into a damaged cart straightened to lean on the wall, assailing him his face with blows. When the man was laid still, unconscious from the assault, his head tilted to his shoulder with his brow bleeding.
HE stood up, panting, HIS knuckles were bleeding and the crowd began to disperse having witnessed the disappointing quick defeat of the two brutes. HE straightened and spat blood beside him. The frequent fights HE usually got into might not let his shaky molar heal on time. HE was already leaving when the bruised up boy handed his shirt to him. HE stared at the battered mud-stained boy for a while and snatched his shirt. Slinging the shirt over his shoulder, HE made his way through the market with the boy following on his heels.
“Thank you!” the boy shouted above the noisy activities in the market in order to be heard as he hurriedly followed him, finding it difficult to keep up with his helper’s long strides.
HE didn’t reply, HE just continued walking but the boy pressed on relentlessly. “I’m Robert but I go by Rob for short.”
“Seems your name got you in trouble in the first place.” HE replied without stopping. “Did you rob them then?”
“No!” Robert replied. “I won a gamble and they took it out on me.”
“Aren’t you too young to be involved in gambling?”
Robert tried to keep up the pace with him having gotten to walk beside him. “I need to feed.”
“Getting your ass kicked is definitely the wrong way to feed. You are young and can work!”
Robert was quiet for a moment after being scolded by his saviour. “You got a name?”
HE hesitated but not his stride as they crossed a street after several carriages and carts passed by, hooves of horses thumping the cobbled road.
“Aidan!” he finally stated. He stalled as he noticed Robert letting his name sink in. The last thing he needed was a street urchin following him about, he was a lone man and liked it that way. “Now you know my name, go home!” He said sternly.
“You should come with me!” Robert blurted without thinking.
Aidan stopped and turned to face him, his eyebrow quirked in a questioning look, before he could reply, Robert beat him to it.
“One could easily tell that you have no definite destination with the way you are walking or wandering if I should state the obvious.”
“What the…” Aidan started to say angrily when the boy quickly interrupted.
“Please! It’s just my way of showing gratitude. I have no money to offer, please come with me even though it’s just for a night.”
Aidan thought for a while, sweeping the distance with his eyes. The sun was setting and he needed sleep and food badly.
He had no home and made any comfortable place his night resting place, like the Dock, stalls, abandoned shacks or the alley.
Sighing, he looked down at the expectant boy and said. “Lead the way.”
They both approached a weak dilapidated cottage. Its surroundings were overgrown with weed and most of it was partially covered with crawling plants due to neglect. The door creaked as Robert pushed it open and ushered Aidan in who stopped at the doorway to observe the small unkempt living room with worn-out chairs. The fire place was dark still nestling some ashes and few leftover chopped logs of wood. Beside a window, stood a creaking rocking chair which rocked a bit stirred by the little breeze sipping into the room through the window where one of its shutters hung loosely from its hinge.
The drapes were dirty and had holes in them. Robert crouched before the fire place and lit a fire. He kindled the little flame until they licked at the wood and grew bigger. He threw in some more woods and turned to face Aidan, wiping his charcoal-stained hands on the back of his pants and caught Aidan still examining the room from the doorway.
“You aren’t going to stand there all day, are you?” Aidan tilted his head upward and stared at him. “Welcome to my abode.” He announced with less pride.
Aidan carefully stepped in, scared the house might give way and collapse on him. “You own this place?”
Robert hesitated. “It was my father’s, he’s passed on.”
Aidan nodded, walking slowly further into the room. “I will just warm up the left over porridge soup, you must be hungry, I also have some bread left somewhere in the house… though…” He shrugged. “It’s hard already, but I’m sure you’ll manage.”
“Can I?” Aidan gestured towards one of the old cushions.
“If you have no problem with the bugs, you can!”
“The chairs are already infested with bed bugs.”
Aidan frowned. “I haven’t enough blood to share with them…” He scanned the room for another option. “The wooden chair will do.”
“Termites!” Rob stated.
Aidan hesitated as he approached a stool. “As long as they don’t get in my pants, I prefer them.” He sat down on the stool and it creaked beneath his weight.
“Very well then…” Robert said. ” Make yourself at home…I…” a wheezing cough interrupted him, making him alert and startled.
“I thought you lived alone.” Aidan questioned.
Before Robert could reply, a stronger and longer series of cough got him fleeing through the living room, down the short hall way and disappearing out of sight.
Aidan stood up and followed, worried about the boy’s weird reaction. He went to the short dark hall way and reached a dim light shining through an ajar room.
He approached the room and stopped by the door. Rob was on a knee beside a frail woman sleeping on an old bed, an oil lamp stood in a corner.
The woman coughed again and Aidan’s senses just absorbing the stench in the room, wrinkled his nose in disgust. The stench in the room was strong enough to drive a cat wild, it smelled of urine and vomit and perhaps decaying matter.
“Robert?” A croaky weak voice called softly. “Robert?…Is…is…that…yo…u? She coughed again.
“Yes Mama, I’m back!” Robert answered.
“You came back late!” she wheezed as another cough shook her body. “I was worried.”
Robert turned to find Aidan at the door. “…She is my mother.”
The sick woman strained to look at Aidan through sunken eyes just realizing that they were not alone. She coughed hard again. “Robert, you brought home a stranger.”
“He is a friend, Mama, he means no harm.” He lifted her head gently and made her sip from a cup he took beside the bed. “…You need to get some rest Mama, please sleep.” He soothed as he gently placed her head gently back on the damp pillow and slowly, the woman drifted to sleep.
When Robert was certain she was soundly asleep due to her ragged uneven breathing, he rose from her side. “She has the Aspergillosis disease.” He said.
“Why didn’t you call a doctor?” Aidan asked.
“We have no money for such treatment!” He replied in a choky voice with tears in his eyes as he glanced back at the deteriorated sleeping form of his mother.
“You can’t go to a relative?”
“None that I know of. She dies within each day. That’s why I do anything I can do to take care of us both.”
Aidan watched the sick woman for a moment or two and walked away without a word.