The Quilt

The first snow of the winter fell early this time. Earlier than last year or the year before that. It was the earliest snow he has ever seen in his extremely long life, which must be somewhere between 80 and 85.
He can’t remember the exact year. The only thing he knows about his birth is that his father used to say that he was born in a year of great storms. Everything else he remembers about his father is the long, drawn out, costly battle he fought against a liver disease, which ultimately took his life. His mother killed herself sometime later because she couldn’t cope up with the poverty they were now subjected to.
He mostly slept out in the open with hunger in his belly and cold in his bones. After many years of such life he was now able to master the hunger, bending and twisting it to his wishes. He could go on for days without eating a single piece of bread, surviving through the sheer prowess of will. But he could never conquer the cold. There was always cold in his bones except for the few days of summer.
Long ago, his parents had given him a name, a name that was now long forgotten. ‘bum’, ‘poor soul’, ‘old man’, ‘piece of trash’, ‘dog’ — these were the names that society called him by. In the early years he resisted these abuses and fake sympathies, but soon accepted them as his new reality. It was a small price to pay for staying alive. He has seen people embracing worse fates.

‘It must be the festival today’, he thought. Too many lights, too many decorations and too many happy faces. It has to be the festival. ‘The best time of the year’, he almost smiled at this thought. Today he’ll get to eat good food, and a lot of it. Every year, he slept with a full belly on the night of the festival. There were years when he had even received warm clothes from a kind soul. And on nine blessed occasions, he was gifted a new blanket by a group of angels in disguise. Those were one of the happiest moments of his otherwise sad, pathetic life.
This year’s festival was one of those moments. By the time the streets started to empty out and the stores began to close; snow was falling heavily. But the warm quilt he had snatched from the old woman standing behind him at the charity was going to keep him warm. More importantly, he had with him a whole box of homemade fruitcakes that a young couple had given to him. After seven days of not having anything to eat at all; those fruitcakes were like the elixir of life.

He quickly went to his spot. His was the one nearer to the drain valve. A total of 10 people slept inside that old, discarded sewer pipe. It has been 20 years since it was last in use, and it still always reeked like shit. It was extremely cold inside the pipe, since it was open from all ends except the top and somewhere at the side. But it was only home those 10 people had.
The fruitcakes looked delicious. The box, too, was beautiful. The cold was unbearable for his old age. The quilt was the only thing keeping him alive.
Before he could start feasting on the delicacy he had stumbled upon, his eyes fell upon the kid. He had seen that kid numerous times in the last week. Thin as a twig, with a sunken face and lifeless eyes, he looked more of a ghost than a human. The kid never had anything to eat, and the clothes he wore served absolutely no purpose in keeping out the cold. He would probably die by the end of the season.

“If you would have just tried a little, you would have got food and new clothes.”, he shouted to the kid, “Useless, lazy bums like you don’t even deserve a chance. You’re better off dead, if you can’t even beg. STOP STARING AT MY FOOD. I need to eat or I’ll die. I’m not a drug addict like you, half dead and spending all of their little collection to take syringes. I’m not giving you anything; so stop staring at me and get lost you dumb piece of crap…….”

That was when he noticed the missing leg and the open arm wound.

The morning came bright and shiny. The fresh white snow of the night before was soon stained by the constant trampling of everybody on the move. The holidays had just begun, and everybody was in a hurry to grab the discounts before ‘out of stock’ boards started coming up.
Nobody passing by the disused sewer pipe paid any attention to an old, starving beggar, dead from either hunger or cold or both. Neither did they to a small child sleeping nearby the dead body snuggled up inside a new quilt.

If they had really paid attention, they would have noticed that the old beggar was happy in death, with a smile on otherwise sunken, dead face.

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