Thursday, November 27, 2014

Where the Night Finds You, Part I

"Hey kid, you hungry?"

The question was almost rhetorical.  The hunger in his eyes was unmistakeable, as was the fear.  It was bad enough that a stranger was talking to him, but a stranger acting kind?  That was something he had hardly ever experienced in his short life.

The man took something out of his pocket and held it out to the boy.  The boy cocked his head with a puzzled expression on his face. It looked something like the loaves of bread he vaguely remembered eating as a younger child, except this was much smaller and not sliced.  It was also much rougher, like the biscuits he would occasionally find in dumpsters behind restaurants.

"It's okay, kid, it's really quite good."  The man broke off a piece and popped it in his mouth.  He waited ten seconds, held it out again, and said "Try it."

Hunger finally overpowered the boy's fears, and he took the small loaf.  He gave it a sniff.  The smell surprised him.  It was nothing like anything he had experienced before.  It was very rich but subtle, a blend of scents he mostly couldn't identify.  He inhaled deeply and puzzled it out for a few seconds before giving up and taking a bite.  It was surprisingly dense, and he was torn between savoring the flavor and filling his stomach.

"You from the suburbs?"  The man knew this was the most critical part.  If he didn't engage the kid before he had finished eating, he was likely to bolt.  But he had to ask simple "yes-or-no" questions the boy could answer with a nod or shake of his head so the boy didn't have to interrupt his meal to answer.

The boy nodded his head yes, but the man already knew that would be the answer.  He was obviously too healthy to have grown up in the city.  He was lacking the obvious signs of being malnourished as a baby.  "I've lived in the city all my life," the man added.

"This your first time in the city?"  Again the boy nodded his head yes.  This also was a pretty easy question, it had been a long time since people from the suburbs came in to the city unless they absolutely had to, and the kid didn't look that old.

"You lose your parents?"  This was trickier.  The boy didn't have any obvious scars on him, so he probably wasn't running away from abuse, so the man knew that this was the other likely reason he came.  The answer came not as a nod but as a glare as the boy stopped in mid-chew.  "It's alright, we won't talk about that," the man said.

"You just get here recently?"  The man didn't really need to ask that question, he knew everyone in the neighborhood, so when a new face shows up, he noticed.  Again, the boy nodded.

The boy was almost finished.  As he put the last bite in his mouth, the man introduced himself.  "My name is Jake, but everyone calls me Satchel.  What's your name?"  

The boy paused to finished chewing his food, then replied "Toby."

"Nice to meet you, Toby. You busy?"  Satchel knew the answer to that question too; it was the reason he waited and observed Toby for a couple weeks before approaching him, so he could catch him when he had some down time -- and was hungry, of course.  Satchel had asked the question very nonchalantly, but this was the critical question.  If Toby left now, there was a good chance he would move on and Satchel would never see him again.  But if Satchel seemed too desperate, Toby would get creeped out and would leave.

Toby shrugged his shoulders and answered, "Not really."

"Good."  Satchel smiled.

Next part

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