The Stranger

He watched from the shadows as hundreds of bright colours swarmed past: reds, blues and greens mingled with the duller browns and blacks that were always present. Constantly moving, they weaved and swerved around each other to avoid collisions. Some moved in groups, some alone. The lone ones might be easier targets but for the fact that they moved quicker.

Flecks of white swirled amongst the colours and he shivered; he had been dreading their return. Every year it was the same. Before he’d embarked on it, he’d thought they would make his task easier, but actually they made it harder. The colours all moved faster when the flecks came.

With trembling hands, he pulled at his jacket, wrapping it around himself as tightly as possible. The cold had penetrated right through to his bones. He had been sitting here, hunting for suitable marks, for hours. He had found little success. He wished he could do this somewhere warmer, but he was known around this town. They would move him on or, worse, report him.

He glanced up at the clock tower across the street. It was getting late and soon the kaleidoscope of lights which fell on the street would begin to go out. As they did, the colours would thin out. Later they would intensify again, but then the lights would come from different buildings and the colours would be even harder targets.

Rooting in his pockets, he brought out the result of his day’s work. It wasn’t enough. He couldn’t leave yet; he still needed to get a few more of the colours to notice him. He shuffled forward slightly, trying to be more visible without exposing himself to the wind and the snow. It was a difficult balance.

He eyed a potential target. A lone red breaking the usual rule of sole colours moving quicker. Clearing his throat, he leaned out towards it. “Spare some change, please?” Two eyes swivelled towards him from the depths of the hood but the red didn’t slow, didn’t reach into pockets. Defeated, he stepped back under cover.

He tried a few more times with the same result. The colours didn’t want to remove their hands from the warmth of gloves and pockets for the likes of him. To most of them, he was invisible. Sometimes he liked it that way; today he just wanted one of them to give him enough for a warm drink or two to see him through the first night of proper winter.

The illusion of warmth left the air with the lights from the shop windows and he shivered. Before long the colours would be out again, in skimpier clothes and coats made of alcohol. They moved quicker at night and their reactions to him were even less friendly. He would need to find a place where he was out of sight.

As he curled up in a darkened doorway, he thought he saw a familiar face appear above him. The eyes, so similar to his own, were unusually warm and kind. The full lips formed a smile before opening to release two words into the air. “Hello stranger.”

It couldn’t be her. She had been dead for years; that was why he was here. He tried to reach out to her, but he found he couldn’t move his hands. “Mother?” he whispered, his breath billowing out in a white cloud in the chill air. She leant down and kissed him as his eyes closed for the last time.

Originally published in The Cabinet of Heed, issue two

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