Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Urchin

The urchin walked down a snow-covered sidewalk, his rag-swathed feet soaked and numb. His clothing hung loosely from his emaciated form: ragged pants that hardly came to his ankles, a shirt whose collar hung midway down his chest. Bones stood out everywhere on his body, the outline of his skeleton apparent to all who cared to look. People rushed by him on all sides, unmindful of the small creature. He was bumped several times, jostled, pushed. He didn't care. His eyes gleamed like newly-cut diamonds, a smile was spread across his cracked lips. He had his ticket. A hunger cramp momentarily doubled him over, stealing a gasp before he clenched his teeth over the pain. He had eaten almost nothing for a week in order to make the purchase. Rising slowly, he reached into his pocket and patted the small slip of paper before continuing. Turning a corner, he saw his destination, a large concert hall, the type nearly every city had in those days. A place where pompous old ladies could drag their reluctant husbands to spread their feathers in front of other pompous old ladies in hopes of blinding them with their razzle and dazzle, then hissing spitefully when someone's sparkle fell into their own eyes. Meanwhile, the husbands march to and fro in the lobby, puffing out their chests like overblown cocks and recanting old war stories in which they were always more heroic than the fellow who spoke before them, but a coward compared to the man whose tale followed. There was also an orchestra there. Not that anyone cared. Except the urchin. He had no razzle, no dazzle, no war stories. All he had was an empty stomach, barren pockets, a cold corner to curl up in later, and his ticket. Ah, the ticket. He had heard the symphony one night, through a cracked door behind the theatre. He hadn't dared to go in, but dreamed of what would happen if he someday managed to attend a performance. The smartly dressed doorman would lead him inside and place him in the very best seat, front and center. All the ladies would comment on what a dashing lad he was, the men would pat his head. People would see him, finally notice him, give him more than a derisive glance or a sneer. He would belong. He would be part of that beautiful noise that beckoned from behind the theatre. For a little while he would be a real person, not a dog, not a piece of filth, but a real human-being. So he had scraped, and he had pinched, and he had starved, and he had gotten his ticket. Now he neared the hall. He could see the crowds out front , the hissing ladies and puffing husbands. Taking his place in the line, he withdrew his ticket. No one seemed to notice. The line grew shorter, his heartbeat gaining momentum with every forward step. Any second now, he would hand the man his ticket and his fantasy would commence. The last lady ahead of him moved away. It was his turn! His turn to hear the music! He proudly stuck out his ticket to the doorman. A moment passed. The doorman looked down, down, meeting the excited eyes of the urchin. He took the ticket. The urchin beamed upward. The doorman looked at the ticket. Then he looked at the urchin. Looked at the ticket. Looked at the urchin. The ticket. The urchin. Ticket. Urchin. Sweat beaded on the urchin's brow. Why was he glaring at him like that? He wasn't a piece of filth anymore! He had a ticket! The doorman shook his head, crumpled the ticket, and threw it in the snow. Beat it scum, the doorman's eyes said. The urchin stood there, disbelieving. His vision swam. His lip quivered. Someone shoved him from behind. He landed facedown in the snow, next to the crumpled ticket. The line moved on, unmindful of the shivering bundle a few feet away. The urchin grasped the ticket and pulled it to his chest, clenching shut his eyes. His ticket -- his dream -- worthless. The snow was freezing, the cold biting through to his skin. No matter. His tears would melt it all soon enough.

No comments: