“I’m not going to make it.” Rich was a week into his street living and his body was feeling the pinch. Now, the only way out seemed to be to give up and go home, to take it as it came. But his parents—he couldn’t let them see him like this, so thin and unwashed. He hadn’t eaten for a day or more, his only nourishment a cheap cup of tea that tasted like dishwater, and that was only because a teenage girl took pity on him and gave him a pound coin, smiling as she did so.
“Thanks miss,” he’d said, feeling like an old, old man. “Thank you very much.” But from the way she was smiling, you would think that he was the one to give her a gift, which he could not understand.
That had been almost a day ago. Rich was starving. Had he gone with the Seekers, would he be staying in some fancy hotel with three meals a day and four courses at dinner? Would he be sleeping in a soft, warm bed, his future assured and no cares weighing down his young shoulders? On the streets, a person can age twenty years.
“Rich?” A voice startled him; it wasn’t somebody that he knew, yet they had recognised him and had known his name. Looking up, he saw a girl—the one that had given him money and smiled so disconcertingly. “Rich, is that you?” With her waist-length blonde hair and flawless skin, she was even more beautiful than he remembered, and he found himself smiling like a fool.
“You know who I am?” he said, hunger and sleep deprivation making him stupid. “But how…?” She took his hand and helped him to his feet, saying nothing until they were at the entrance to the indoor market. That was where she had found him begging.
“Come with me,” she implored. “You will be safe there, and there is someone who wishes to see you.” Only then did the first prickles of doubt enter Rich’s mind, but the stomach cramps and migraine had intensified to the degree that he completely ignored such misgivings, thinking only of the food, the warmth, the security.
“Where are we going?” he asked. The girl put a finger against his lips, hushing him; still leading him by the hand, she boarded a bus, paying both of their fares. “No, you don’t have to,” he protested.
“You have no money,” she reminded him. “I know this, or I wouldn’t have given you any yesterday.” Rich conceded defeat and sat down in the chair. An elderly passenger sitting behind them got up and moved—sniffing discretely, he realised that it was because of his own personal body odour.