The man felt older … He was in his late 50s now … his wasted youth now far behind him. He had fallen from social grace, lost everything he ever had through a wanton act of passion and drunkenness and found himself in the foul-smelling environs of an innercity alleyway … strewn with garbage … stinking of adjacent tenement buildings filled with all the rejects of humankind in their lowly state.
His tired body was wracked with pain, his eyelids, swollen from many a sleepless night, his stomach on fire from the pangs of hunger … he hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days and was, at this point, contemplating catching some of the rats running around in the alleyway where he found himself and he mused silently, “Meat is meat, after all.”
But the suggestion was both appealing and sickening at the same time. How could be ever have allowed himself to sink this low?
It was at about this time, when need became the most desperate, that he chanced to meet another man …. a man in his early 40s … as destitute as himself.
His new friend turned out to have a cruel streak about him. It seems he loved to catch the rats and set them on fire … not to eat them … but to listen to their screams and to watch them die.
But the new acquaintance seemed to have a soft spot for the 50-year-old because one of the first things he did when they met was to offer the 50-year-old a drink from his half-empty bottle of cheap wine.
The 50-year-old did not drink from the offered container because he was concerned about what germs it might have accumulated in its travels.
Both these miserable creatures had been driven from their homes by the most dreadful of circumstances and now they had met in the alley in the stinking slum section of a large, dirty, noisy and dangerous city.
Needless to say, necessity caused them to bond with one another for mutual protection and so they became a team … wandering the streets by day and sleeping in parks and under bridges at night — always keeping an eye out for thugs who might cut their throats to rob them of whatever the thugs might think they possessed — and sharing cans of stolen beans cooked over a makeshift campfire under the bridges where they slept.
They were each others’ protectors — until the night the 40-year-old made the mistake of sleeping in the open doorway of an abandoned building in the middle of the worst snowstorm of the year.
His friend awoke to find his companion frozen to death … staring blankly through eyes that would never see again … eyes encrusted with a thin veneer of ice.
From this point forward, the man guessed to himself .. silently with a tear rolling down his cheek, “I guess it is just me and the rats from now on.”