Charlie

The pain woke him as it usually did when he slept outdoors.  It seemed he was aware of it long before he actually opened his eyes. It gnashed at his body in waves that brought him closer and closer to consciousness until sleep could no longer be attained.  He longed for the days when he could sleep for more than four hours in comfort and get a true rest.

He opened his eyes this day to a sky that was just showing the grey of the dawn.  His back screamed in agony as he uncoiled himself from his sleeping position.  Admittedly it was his own fault for getting back to the shelter too late yesterday and being turned away.  His worst days always began outside.

His best days were always those where he awoke in the shelter.  There was a doctor that volunteered a few hours in the morning once in a while, and he knew him and his ailment well enough that he always gave him a pair of pills which helped him through the morning.  When he laid his eyes on those pills he often found tears on his cheeks.  They were the only thing that really reduced the pain enough that he could function as a human again.

Those mornings were the only bright spots in the perpetual fog that defined most of his life.  Those mornings he would go to the library and try and find examples of how people had persevered in the days before bullets and pills.  He knew that people were stronger in those days, and he tried to write as many quotes from that time as he could for later reference.  He was hoping to one day be inspired himself, but it hadn't happened yet.  He knew his own weakness.

Alas, today was not to be a good day for him.  There would be no pills to combat the pain, so instead he shambled along in the early morning light, hurrying as much as his condition would allow to get to the bus station.  The manager there let him have a locker for his meager possessions as long as he did not loiter. It seemed a fair bargain and he was grateful for it.  He needed to get there before the crush of people hit.  He did not think he could handle being jostled about today.

He winced at the effort of pushing the door to get into the bus station, but once he stepped inside he paused and relished the warm air enveloping him.  He only paused for a second though.  He did not want to attract attention.

He moved with as much purpose as he could handle toward his locker; he was aware of the glares of the young lady and fellow behind the counter.  Judging by their expressions he was glad that the fate of his locker was not in their hands.  He did not know where he would store his possessions if not for this locker.  In his condition he could not push a cart, much less fight to protect it, and the shelters would not hold possessions for very long.  He knew they certainly would not if they knew what he had in this locker.

He laboriously lowered himself into a kneeling position and pulled the dirty key from his long grimy coat.  He opened the door and assessed the contents with another grimace.  There was a small shelf inside.  Below it had two changes of clothes, though neither of them smelled better than what he currently had on.  It had been too long since he had visited the laundromat.

On top of his folded clothes was a box which held all that remained of his life.  Anyone else would think them useless trinkets and a very few faded photos, but they were all that remained of what he once was.

On another day he might have fingered the framed picture that lay on the top and keeping it all together, but today he only had eyes for the top shelf, where he kept the only medication he could get his hands on: alcohol.  

It was late in the month, so he only had a few bottles left.  There were two tall ones, and a couple of smaller ones.  He immediately reached for one of the larger, but hesitated and then clenched his hand into a fist.  He held it for a minute and then grabbed the smaller mickey bottle.  He needed to get back into the shelter tonight and if he drank the tall bottle he knew that would not happen.  As much as he wanted the oblivion that would bring, he knew he wanted a warm night and a chance of those pills in the morning even more.

He grabbed one of the plastic bags he had stuffed in the corner and put the small bottle into it.  That was another rule: no one could see what he carried out of his locker when he left the bus station.

He closed the locker and left the bus station as unobtrusively as possible.  His back determined how quickly he could move, which was not nearly as fast as the looks the employees behind the counter told him he should go.  He might have wondered what it was about him that offended them so much had he cared, but at the moment he only had enough thought available to know he wanted to escape them and their eyes.

He had a bank account - he had opened it when he had once had an address and had kept it ever since.  He received a monthly stipend on that account from an inheritance long ago.  It would be a pittance to anyone else, but for him it allowed him to get some food and go to the laundromat occasionally and with some panhandling it even provided enough to fill his locker once a month.  Without it he knew he would have been lost a long time ago.

Once out of sight of the bus depot he started taking pulls on the bottle of whiskey in his hand.  He was anxious to dull the oppressive messages coming from his body.  

He made his way to coffee shop and sighed in relief when he sat down and eyed the staff.  The nice one was leading the crew today, and she would let him stay for longer than the other one.  Over the last few years the joints in his hands had begun to ache, and keeping his hands around that hot coffee mug always helped.  He gave her his best smile as he pushed some coins across the table to her.  As always she just smiled back and pushed the coins back; she truly was a saint.    

the only bad part was her smile that was filled with pit as she poured for him. He had grown to accept that pity, but he knew he did not deserve tit.  He was ashamed to admit that as long as they let him stay he would accept it, though.

there pity grated on him, since he knew he deserved exactly what had befallen him.  Every pain and rude glance that he ever received would never make up for what he had done.  The only thing that kept him alive was a promise he had made, and nothing else.  He was not fit for their charity or for life, but he had promised and so he remained.

The End

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