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The Game of Life
I sat there, shivering in the cold, my hand out and eyes imploring anyone who passed by. Their eyes nearly never met mind, and when they tried to they could not; for they were ashamed, guilty of my misfortune. I met this shame with various expression; bitterness, desperation, hopefulness...none got a reaction. They walked by still, furtive and with shoulders as cold as the weather.
The alley I was sitting in was my home. Ever since Mam died, it had been my refuge and haven. It used to be lucky. Mam would bring it luck, but that luck had died with her, and though I scattered her ashes beneath the wet soil of my alley, her luck did not come back. It made me wonder if her spirit, her angel (for surely she had become an angel) was watching over me, as I sat there shivering in the cold...or if she had forgotten me and was glad to be dead, glad to be oblivious to the pain that would hurt her ever so much. That Pain must have been hungry, he ate my Mam up until she could take it no longer, and now he was feeding on me.
I rarely felt physical pain, this Pain was, and still is emotional. He ruined my mind, made me think I was lost and lonely, when I was here—yes, here! With my fellow beggars, I wasn’t lonely either. When Pain visits me, I talk to him and talk about him. I introduce him to my friends but warn them not to get too close to him, otherwise he might like their taste. They must think I’m crazy, and maybe I am, but what they don’t realise is that I’m actually helping them avoid this terrible person, this Pain. Oh, no. They don’t wanna meet him, for sure. They think I’m crazy...
Mam said not to care what other people think about me. Mam always said, “Don’t blame them for what they think, for they’re only trying to get an opinion out, but don’t care ‘bout what they think neither!” She also said that I must say what I think, to let my opinions out and not cage them until they eat me up and I have nothing left to say. My Pa thought differently, still, no one cared what he thought. He was an animal, a man intent on hurting those around him only to feel the power of it. Only, Mam had more power than him, ‘cause she had the power of wisdom, while he only had the power of brute strength. She wasn’t scared of him, and nor was I when I was with her. When I was alone with him, however, it was a completely different story...
I remember this story, so vividly, as though it happened yesterday. I was alone with him, and not for the first time. I knew how to deal with Pa, or at least I thought I did. I also always thought that I knew how to deal with my old friend Pain, but he changed faster than I could keep up with. It was like that with Pa. He could be as kind as an angel at one time, and that’s when he and Mam would be a perfect match, but then something, anything, could set him off. Then he’d be possessed, ever so terribly possessed. The particular incident, the one that I will never forget, the one that I will forever hate my dear old Pa for, is this...
I was at his place. His work place. You see, Pa had a job. Well, if you could call it a job. Really, he stood at a stall where he sold bags of tiny white things. The bags were pretty! The powder in them sparkled in the sun during the day, alluring and tempting. I was always tempted by those Bags of White Powder, they looked like sweet sugar, a sugar sweeter than the dull factories that made it. I knew that this sugar would be the most delicious thing in the world, just ‘cause it was my Pa selling it, just ‘cause I knew he’d made it. Yet, by night...the bags turned dull, sinister even. I only caught a glimpse of them once, and then I got beat by Pa. It was past my bedtime, see.
The beating wasn’t worth it, not that much. What I saw, nah. It wasn’t nothing special, but it was something I would never forget...did that make it special? I honestly don’t know...Wait! Pain thinks that it’s special...I listen to what Pain says all the time. Pain, he’s my friend when he’s not hurting me. Pain is telling me to tell what I saw, and to hurry up about it. Well, here it is:
I snuck out of my sorry excuse for a bed, trying not to wake up Mam. She slept right next to me in her sorry excuse for a bed. I walked down the cold, empty street. I looked up, and found a full moon, looming in the sky like a watchful eye. I waved up at it, and my hand became my heart, and together they were bursting; ‘Hello, moon!’ I was cheerful; the night was beautiful and mysterious. I felt excited, so excited, and I barely knew why. As I turned into the next alley, I heard voices and hid behind a nearby bush. I peered through the bush, and silently scolded myself. Stop beating too fast, heart! They’ll hear you! My hand trembled, so much that it was almost vibrating as I pushed the rough leaves aside to see even clearer. What I saw made me smile, but as I dug deeper into the meaning of the scene before me, my smile faded into an open mouth of fear.
I saw Pa, and another man. The man looked in a terrible state; his rough skin was made pale and ghostly by the moon watching them. He had a scar that slashed across his face and looked worse when it was thrown into light. His hair, greying, hung loose and tangled over his shoulders, with grey stubble to match. I saw him and Pa exchange something—a Bag of White Powder! In the man’s hands, the White Powder was dull, even in the soft moonlight it did not glow, and held no divinity. The last thing, the thing that scared me the most and convinced me that this exchange was more than a friendly gift, was the smile the man gave. He had no teeth. His smile was not even a smile, but an open-mouthed gape, and I wondered if this man’s tongue was the tongue of a snake. I expected the tongue to slither out and wrap itself around my Pa’s neck. This image, of Pa being strangled by the man’s tongue was so clear in my head that for a minute, I actually saw it. I cursed my irrational imagination later, oh how I cursed it and prayed to God to rid me of it. (Then again, I’m glad He didn’t, because then I would have never met Pain. I love Pain.) I cried out and whimpered with fear for my Pa. I was struggling with the horrendous picture in my mind, convulsing with fear. As my body moved, it rubbed against the leaves of the bush, and as I ran out to Pa from behind it, my bare skin was scratched and dripping with tiny drops of blood.
Pa, who had been holding another Bag of White Powder to hand to the Snake Man, had an expression of shock on his face. An expression that quickly changed into anger. The Snake Man’s expression was the most frightening of all, his toothless grin was now stretched into a silent scream, his bloodshot eyes were wide. He ran away, fast, his shoes clacking against the cobbled street. I was left staring after him, sighing with relief that the Snake Man had slithered away into some far away corner that was just for him. With that danger gone, though, I faced a new one: my Pa. He dropped the Bag of White Powder to the ground, and the bag burst so that the powder spilled into a small pile of plain white. It glittered softly in the white light, resembling morning dew on a white rose. I stared at the small pile of white, and my jaw dropped for the second time that night. How could Pa let that happen? Let something so beautiful fall onto something so inferior in comparison? I looked up at Pa, hoping he would see his mistake. He stepped over the small pile of white and approached me. His teeth clenched, and a vein on his forehead bulged. I fell to my knees, covering my face feebly with my blood-streaked hands. The last thing I saw was red flowing smoothly into white, and slowly taking it over.
The next day I woke up to the sound of screams. Through my tired eyes, I saw Mam being thrown across the room. I buried my bead beneath my thin cover when I saw Pa cross the room to her. I thought he would help her. I should have known better. Dear Lord, why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I know that when his face was tense with anger rather than concern there was a problem? Why didn’t I know that when he crossed the room with heavy and furious footsteps he was possessed again? Well, I didn’t know, and when I peeked out from under my cover, what I saw made me wish I had never woken up in the first place.
Soon after Mam’s funeral, I ran back home to collect my things. There was no way, no way I was staying with That Man after what he’d done. He wasn’t ‘Pa’ anymore, see. Not after what he’d done. Pa’s don’t hurt Mam’s! Pa’s don’t kill Mam’s! I heard some people murmur at the funeral that it was That Man who killed Mam. I knew who they were talking about. So I copied them, ‘cause for once, my imagination couldn’t come up with something original.
Pa beat me home. Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why. But I ran like the wind, I did! And the wind, it took me to the two large feet that had kicked me. The two large feet that strode across the room and created a storm. I screamed when I saw those feet. Then I ran for my life.
I hid out for two weeks. I had a friend who took care of me. This friend’s mother was a friend of my Mam’s. She took care of me too. She also gave me Mam’s ashes.
“I don’t trust That Man with these,” she said as she handed me a pretty little decorated jar. It had a black Mary on it. She smiled at me, and that smile said a million things. I smiled back at her, and hoped that it said enough.
Soon I returned to my alley, expecting to find Pa there. I didn’t, though, in fact I didn’t find anything. Not even my sorry excuse for a house! The old wood had been knocked down. Most of it had been cleaned away into a pile next to the curb of the alley, but there were still a few stray pieces of rotten wood that were scattered across the dark soil. They looked sad, to be forgotten. I picked them up, and one by one, I placed them neatly on top of the pile of wood. Then I went to the soil, knelt, and prayed. I ignored the stares of the people around me. After the word ‘Amen’, I took Mam’s ashes and buried them in the wet soil. I planted the ashes with care, hoping that luck and love would soon grow. After a while, I realised that on the way to my alley, I hadn’t seen Pa’s stall that sold the Bags of White Powder. I smiled to myself. I heard Pain say in my head, Looks like it’s just me and you. I nodded in agreement, laying my head on the wet soil, laying my head on Mam’s ashes.
I smiled again as I realised that Pa had left me. If he were to come back, I’d say, “Ha!”
I laughed softly.
‘Cause you see, I won the game of life. I’m still alive, and God only knows where he is.