“You found me,” he said matter-of-factly. “How did you know what I looked like?” He was not particularly distinctive, or so he thought, and Lenna was a complete stranger.

          “Linda described you, but it wasn’t that. It was more the air around you, like you weren’t at all used to this, and it wasn’t what you had expected. You looked so lost, like this wasn’t quite your world.” She smiled. “I guess it’s very different from your life at home, am I right?”

          “Yes,” he admitted. “But it’s not that. I mean, I always feel out of place, wherever I am. I don’t belong here, that’s what I think, but of course it’s crazy because there’s nowhere else I could belong. I was born in Greater London and I’ve lived there all my life.” He found it difficult to find words for the strange sense of displacement that he had felt all of his life, and yet it seemed to be something he should talk about. Rich struggled a little. “I don’t suppose you could ever understand what I mean—I imagine it’s something unique, something that only happens to me because I’m a freak.”

          “No,” said Lenna, closing her hand over his. “I know exactly what you mean. I understand it perfectly.”

          “You do? How?”

          “I feel that way too. I have done for all my life.” Rich looked up at her, his eyes wide and hopeful, to see a tear spill down her cheek and land in her lap, spreading rapidly as it hit the fabric. “I’m sorry … please, ignore me. Just being silly.” But her voice, choking and sniffling, didn’t sound like she wanted to be ignored. He leaned over and put his arm around her trembling shoulders and felt as she resisted for a moment, hesitated, gave in, and leaned her head against him, wiping away the tears with one hand.

          “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said kindly. “You’re among like company here. You don’t have to worry so much, Lenna. Don’t be so sensitive, please. This world is not kind to people who feel, you should know that.” With a soft sigh, he added, “I know that well enough.”

          “And yet here you are, coated in dirt and looking like a skeleton.” Lenna stroked his arm, feeling the bones beneath her fingers. “You shouldn’t be so cruel to yourself. Couldn’t you just listen to what they had to say, and perhaps think about their offer? It doesn’t sound so unreasonable to me, if I’m honest.”

          “They wanted me to be a thief,” he told her, suddenly feeling hungry now that she had reminded him of how long it was since he had eaten.

          “You would have stolen eventually, living as you did. When you got hungry enough.” Rich wanted to protest, but he knew that the girl was right, and so he remained silent. Not for long, though, because the door opened and Davide returned. In his hands he carried a silver tray with steaming plates of food, a teapot and several cups.

The End

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