Carrying a single bag, the young man is travelling alone at his whim with no particular destination in mind.
One might wonder what the young man has in his bag for this aimless journey. Well, food: a small apple, an orange and numerous chocolate bars. He has a sweet tooth this one. A book, notepad, several cheap pens.
And a box. Wooden. Plain, not old, not new. Not large. A simple metal lock is its only adornment. Nothing remarkable about this box. How the box came into the young man’s possession, what he went through to obtain it, that would be a tale worth hearing. It is a shame for him that the box will soon be leaving his possession. But such is the way of this world.
The young man hovers at a crossroads, turning slowly, assessing his options. He chooses and sets off, his walk quietly confident. Not the ostentatious swagger that many young people adopt. His clothes also differ from his peers sporting baseball caps and jeans that display their underwear. Not this lad. One could say he values function over style.
He stops outside a cafe. Takes his time examining the window display then goes in. He buys a large hot chocolate and a generous slice of cake. He is the only customer and the girl serving watches him as he works his way through it. He invites her to join him and they sit together, sharing the cake. A connection forms between them – in common parlance, they ‘click’.
There is a lull as the young man leans back and surveys the girl, evaluating her for a moment. She stares coolly back, unperturbed by his attention. He arrives at a verdict; he has made his mind up. She watches him as he lifts the bag onto the table and opens it towards her, his hand resting lightly on top of it. He speaks and she listens, her eyes flicking every now and then to the bag.
Dusk creeps in. They gather their belongings and leave the cafe together, the girl turning the sign to ‘Closed’ and locking the door behind her. We have an unlikely Lothario it seems.
They walk slowly, in step, close, but not touching, as the streetlights flicker to life. They pass shops closing for the night, workers hurrying home, heads down. The pair turn into a street of houses, quiet, no one in sight. As they pass under a railway bridge someone steps out in front of them.
“Good evening.” I greet them cordially. “Kindly step this way, my young friends.”
He exchanges a glance with the girl. Something unspoken passes between them and both follow me back into the shadows under the bridge. She plays with her hair and gazes indifferently at me. He waits patiently, hands hanging loosely by his side.
“It was always going to be like this,” I tell him. “You were to come to me sooner or later. It was meant to be. Call it Fate if you will. Don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault. Nothing you could do. It’s better off with me. Pass me the bag now, there’s a good lad.”
He looks at the bag dangling from his hand then holds it out to me, as I expected he would. I have, let’s say, a presence that suggests that I am not to be trifled with. People tend to give me what I want when I ask for it nicely. No need for any unpleasantness.
I unzip the bag and take out the box. It is light, unnaturally so. Even empty it should weigh more but this does not surprise me. I take a small key from my pocket and fit it to the lock. It turns easily and the lid opens silently. I look inside, nod to myself and smile. “Good boy,” I say and look up.
The doll in his hand is crude but accurate. Made with more care than skill. Light gleams off the knife in his other hand. He meets my eyes for a moment then flicks the knife across the leg of the doll, ripping a small tear. The pain is not bad, just a sudden sharp slice, gone as fast as it arrives. But it was only a shallow cut, a preview. It could have gone deeper had the boy desired it.
His face is calm, bored even. I look from the young man to the box and back again. I consider myself a good judge of character; I wouldn’t be who I am today without such a skill. There is more to this young man than appearances suggest; I see that now. It would be unwise to call his bluff. He has the advantage of me in this instant; an unusual occurrence. I arrange my face into a pleasant smile and hold out the box.
He signals to the girl with a slight gesture and she steps forward to take it. I put my hands in my pockets and shrug. With a reproachful look she runs her hand down my arm, lifting the key from my pocket and displaying it before my eyes between thumb and forefinger before handing it to the boy. I watch him turn it over in his hand briefly then slip it into his jacket.
“Well,” I say amiably, “I have to confess you have played your hand admirably. Kudos to you, sir. And to your companion as well.”
The young man watches me for a moment then leans forward to retrieve his bag from the floor. The girl looks into the box; she looks for a long time. Gently he takes it from her and pushes the lid shut, breaking her reverie. He puts it carefully in the bag, takes out a chocolate bar then zips the bag closed.
“It certainly has been most interesting to meet you,” I tell him. “Perhaps we shall meet again one day, under more agreeable circumstances. Take good care of yourselves. And that box.”
The young man unwraps the chocolate and takes a bite, watching me. I imagine I see a faint smile play across his face before he slings the bag over his shoulder and turns. Together they walk away and I watch them go.