It’s always pleasant when you meet someone who resembles a character that you once created. You feel a certain fondness towards them, as if you know them already. It makes you feel like when your friends said that they enjoyed reading your story they weren’t just being polite. It makes you feel like at least something you have written has some honesty in it. Unfortunately for me, most of the characters that I create are unsavoury in one way or another, even if I don’t intend them to be when I start out, when I read the piece back I realise what I’ve written.

I recently had the pleasure (as I write this word I realise that is not at all true) of meeting a woman who resembled a female character that I had written about nearly half a year ago. She was the femme fatale of a story in which she broke the protagonists’ heart. She couldn’t sleep until she had done so. Having met this woman I was filled with the kind of fondness that I described earlier. Fortunately for me the feeling seemed mutual.

Over the next few weeks we saw each other casually, occasionally staying over at each others houses. I once went to hers to find that her room was full of smoke. When I asked her about it she told me that she had written down everything that she had wanted to change in her life on pieces of paper. Then she threw them into a fire in order to get a spiritual high that she recommended strongly. Considering my initial fondness for this woman had grown during the past few weeks, I was levelled by this gesture. I thought that I’d finally found someone that suited me. Someone with some “depth” (I write with my tongue very firmly in my cheek).

A few days after this she stopped returning my texts. After that her phone always seemed to be turned off. She was the first person to ever take an interest in me so I hoped that something had gone wrong with her phone. As the week continued I remembered that she had once phoned me from a different number. In that moment everything made sense; her old phone had broken and she’d forgotten to tell me that she had a new number.

My ears were full with the dial tone and my head was filled with her, but as the phone rang I felt a tingling sensation in my temples. Maybe this wasn’t her number; maybe she was avoiding me. Before I had time to acknowledge these sensations the receiver clicked and I heard a man answer in a brisk voice that echoed like the lowest frequency of a double bass.

“Hello.”

“Hi. Is Esther there?” I tried to hide the surprise in my voice.

“No. Who’s this?”

“Who’s this? I’m Buddy,” I replied, a little bemused by the aggression in the man’s voice.

“I’m Esther’s boyfriend. How do you know her?”

“Oh, err, no, I’m, err, I know her housemates.”

“Are you sure about that that?”

“Yeah?”

He hung up halfway through saying, “Good.”

I laid back on my bed, slightly panicked by the threat in his voice. As I laid there a thought entered my head, I can only assume through the temples. Maybe I was on one of the pieces of paper that she burnt. Maybe I was on a few of them. Maybe I was the reason that she felt she needed to do that in the first place. I began to ask myself over and over again, “Was I naive to assume that a girl is single if she invites herself back to my flat the first time that she meets me?” I thought about that for a while before I rolled out of bed and walked across the road to my local, fully aware of how much of a cliché I was being. In the pub a drunken old man asked me if I was married.

“No, but I do have a girlfriend,” I replied in a beat.

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“Get out. Go on. Shoo. Bloody vermin.”

Charlie stood up and without addressing the shopkeeper with even a conciliatory glance, walked into the wall of water on the street. It felt as if nails were clattering against his skin, not quite hard enough to leave a mark, but certainly hard enough to cause physical discomfort. He knew this walk all too well. The early morning wake up after another night of being pissed on and threatened by some of the worlds best drunks.

As he left the doorway he hung his head, not out of shame, he’d outlived that long ago, but more to protect himself from the sky’s nails hammering into his face. It was November and the last thing Charlie needed was a head cold because, sure enough, that would soon develop into the flu, which would soon develop into pneumonia, which would soon result in death. No matter how desperate Charlie was, he wasn’t ready to die.

The rain had coated everything in darkness and great waterfalls fought to gush down stairways and into overflowing drains. Charlie’s feet splattered as they walked through the pond that would soon become a high street and his eyes scanned for any kind of shelter they could find.

He spotted a shop doorway with a red and white striped tarpaulin roof over the top of it. The white stripes from the tarpaulin cover had faded and, under the influence of the rain, had turned into a pale shade of grey. This colour bled onto the pavement beneath it, distinguishing it from the rest of the street.

Charlie’s eyes blinked shut and stayed that way for a couple of hours. When he stirred he could hear the sound of rain on the high street replaced by the sound of footsteps and high heels. Another day, another dollar.

Just as Charlie stirred he heard the deep “swooshing” sound of a broom flying through the air, followed almost instantly by a throbbing on the side of the head. Blood rushed to the wound before Charlie even had the chance to let out a high pitched yelp. The blood warmed Charlie’s head in a not entirely unpleasant way.

He rose to his feet and slipped on the wet pavement as he scampered down the high street and away from the red-faced shop owner holding a broomstick tight between both hands, the tenseness reflecting fear more than aggression.

He ran out of breath quickly, drawing to a stop on a half rotten bench which was turning green at the sides. Charlie sat down and watched his breath in front of him, blowing clouds out into the world to meet up with everyone else’s clouds. A thin rasher of blood gleamed down the side of his face, sticking out dramatically against Charlie’s rain soaked and wind worn features.    

A dizziness passed over him and he decided to stop watching his breath swirling away into the atmosphere. Instead he closed his eyes and submitted himself to the convulsions that were spreading over his body; his immune system’s attempt to stop him from freezing to death.

While he sat on the bench with his eyes closed, he listened to the world go by. Since he’d started sleeping on the streets the world had passed him by with a scowl or a whispered insult. That’s one of the reasons he slept in doorways; to get in contact with someone, regardless of whether that contact was favourable or not. 

As he listened he heard attention seeking children howling for their parents. He heard passers-by lowering the tone of their voice so that their conversation was inaudible to him. He heard car exhausts and purring bikes and radio shows and horns. He heard his loneliness as his body shivered. Every person that walked, drove or biked past Charlie paid him some kind of attention, enough attention to lower their voices, turn up their radio or stop their bike 10 metres before the traffic lights.

Charlie had become accustomed to his loneliness but today was a day when he longed to interact with people. He wanted to walk among people he didn’t know and not be singled out as an outsider. His desire to interact and his rumbling stomach suggested that today would be a good day for the market. After he opened his eyes he noticed that his dizziness had gone, along with the clouds that had been coming out of his mouth.

He padded his way to the market, slanting his head to one side to show off the chunk missing from the side of it, in a feeble attempt to gain stranger’s sympathy.

When he reached the market he was delighted to see that the aisles were full of people browsing the various stalls. The sounds and the smells of the market conspired to lift his mood. 

“I got tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, parsnips…” he heard one coarse voice shout, before another interrupted.

“Mobile phone cases, batteries, iPod cases, DVD’s. Get it all here.”

The sound of the market traders made Charlie feel included. As long as you were standing near their stall they were addressing you. It didn’t matter whether you were black, white, homeless, gay, straight or the Prime Minister. The sales pitch never discriminated. Charlie brushed into the crowd, leaning into passers-by and letting his side rub against theirs, revelling in the busy, narrow aisles.

After standing at a vegetable stall for a while Charlie managed to get to the front, where he was greeted by the owner of the stall. The stall-owner was a well-built man with bare forearms that told of a lifetime lifting boxes of vegetables out of trucks and putting together market stalls. On a day where the rain had shaded everything in a pale grey the stall owner still managed to look tanned, almost Mediterranean. He wore a thick gold bracelet that was intentionally loose to highlight his tan lines. Although his dark hair was thinning on top you could tell from his eyebrows and the hair on his forearms that he once had a healthy head of thick black hair. A smile spread across his wrinkled face as he looked up to see Charlie.

“Ello me old mate. Still ‘anging around I see. It’s always good to see ya.”

He patted Charlie on the back and then lifted an apple from the stand, presenting it to Charlie with a warmth in his eye that made him forget that it was November and he would be sleeping on tarmac all Winter.

“There you go buddy. Take care ‘o yourself. I ‘ear we’re gonna ‘ave a bloody cold Winter mate. You wanna wrap yourself up warm.”

Charlie gripped the apple in his mouth and started to suck the juice out of the core, causing his mouth to fill with saliva and the crowd of shoppers to do their best to avoid touching him. The stall-owner just looked on with a smile, which widened slightly when Charlie turned and nodded his head in gratitude.

After sliding through the crowd Charlie left the market and snaked into the nearest alleyway he could find. Hiding between two blue dumpsters he took the apple out of his mouth and began to eat it. Since sleeping on the streets his stomach had shrunk so much that he found it hard to finish the apple. However, he knew he needed the strength for the cold weather ahead so he chewed the flavourless mouthfuls, wishing he hadn’t sucked the juice out when he first got the apple.

After finishing his meal a wave of full-stomached tiredness fell over him and he looked down at his body to make sure he was still there. His head throbbed from his earlier wound and his legs stung from walking around so much. Charlie’s muscles had depleted to such an extent that you could map his rib cage and legs through his increasingly transparent skin. It felt today that he’d had several glass bottles smashed over his legs, whereas some day’s he couldn’t feels his legs at all.

He peered down either side of the alleyway to ensure his relative safety and then slumped back on his hind legs, easing the chill of arctic tarmac. His faded pink tongue looked like a piece of streaky bacon as it licked the rest of his body. Sliding his front legs in front of him, he rested his head and closed his eyes for another day. The only movement in the alleyway was the rising and falling of Charlie’s rib cage, which stretched his ruffled hair to almost breaking point.