December Gift – Download The Full PDF Here (Use any other browser apart from operamini)
“Promise only what you can deliver. Then deliver more than you promise”
It was terribly cold. My entire body was shaking like jelly fish and I could feel my back spasm with each shudder. I tried to lift my head, and pain let off down my spine. I lay back down and tried to open my eyes. There was light, but not oppressive light. Slowly, my focus returned, and I glanced unknowingly at my surroundings. The light was coming through an assembly of all manners of flex banners of political office aspirants and church events, cartons boxes and rough planks surrounding me. I had a torn green trampoline over me. I tried lifting my shaking hands, but more pain shot across my back.
The trampoline smelled foul, like the inside of a wet sneaker or gym shoes and socks. I raised my head enough to see the white stains, obviously bird waste, speckling the trampoline. I choked at the thought and tried again to move. The pain was too much so I collapsed on the hard surface making my bed. I was lying, slightly inclined, on carton sheets, pali. I suspected there was unyielding concrete beneath them. My shaking was getting worse. I was soaked from head to toe, and the water was foul. Maybe it was I who smelled so bad. The bridge drifted back into my mind. The events leading up to it and then, Dolapo.
Grief flooded back as the uncontrollable shaking continued. I couldn’t even fall off a bridge properly. It would be slow, but I was going to freeze to death. I could feel my fingers going numb and my lips weren’t moving right. I closed my eyes; they say it is just like falling asleep. Dolapo was there, in my mind. Something was missing and I couldn’t figure out what it was. My memory wasn’t perfect. I knew it was her, but something was off. It didn’t look quite right and I struggled, shaking, to bring back the perfect image and things got worse. I was losing her. I hated myself that moment on.
I heard footsteps, walking through loose gravels, echoed into my pali beddings. I opened my eyes, and turned my head toward the sound. The steps left the gravel and became quieter as they hit a harder surface. I realized this must be the person who unsaved me.
A small section of the makeshift abode made of pali was pulled away to reveal a cloudy, dismal day. I could make out some large concrete supports and the brownish iron underlying a portion of the bridge. An old man, his hair greying on both his face and head, grinned at me. His teeth would furnish a dentist with months of work and make a fortune for Oral B tooth paste brand. “You’re up,” he said with eyes brighter than his weather-beaten face. “They call me Fabio. I pulled you out of the water.” He tossed a nylon pack into the tiny shanty and it landed on my chest.
“You should have left me,” I ranted, not realizing talking would be difficult. “This province is mine and I am the mayor of the province,” Fabio stated firmly, “you want to die, go to the other side.” He used his head to gesture along the bridge to the other bank. “These are dry clothes. They ain’t the finest,” he smiled again, “but they are dry. I ‘trago’ them on my way coming home so they are sparkling clean.” He crawled into the hovel and reclosed the opening. He didn’t smell any better than I did. I tried to sit up and a sharp pain put me back down. “Just roll me back into the water,” I groaned. Fabio laughed. It was a halting laugh that didn’t speak well of his mental state. “You missed most of the rocks, but found a few. Fabio chuckled. “Bet you’re real sore about now.”
That’s all I needed, some homeless guy laughing at me about my failed suicide. I took a few deep breaths and cried out as my muscles protested. I forced myself to sit up. The dirty trampoline fell forward onto my lap and my upper body felt even colder. I sat shivering, trying not to move much. My lower back would have preferred I lay back down.
“Give me your shirt,” Fabio demanded. I took a couple of deep breaths, trying to give my back time to get used to the new position. It wasn’t fast enough for Fabio. “The shirt or you leave. You have to go somewhere else to die,” he said, while holding out his dirty hand. I was in no condition to leave and I guess he had a right to demand I didn’t die in his home, as crappy as it was. I tried to unbutton my shirt with my shaking hands.
The mixture of the cold, and the shooting pains as I moved my arms made it very slow going. I couldn’t feel much in the tip of my fingers which made it difficult to shove the button back through the wet hole. Fabio started laughing again. “Maybe you don’t miss the rocks next time.” He barely got it out before resuming his inappropriate laughter.
“My fingers are too cold,” I stuttered between shakes. “I’ll do it, but don’t have ideas,” Fabio stated as he moved forward, stinking like unkempt poultry farm. I tried to give him my ‘are you out of your mind’ look. I don’t think I fully managed it. He deftly undid the buttons and quickly scooted back again. It was agonizing pulling the wet shirt off my shoulders. I must have really bruised my back.
The air hit my wet skin sharply, and my shuddering increased. Fabio quickly took the wet shirt and handed me a dry one he had liberated from the pile in my lap. It was only an old t-shirt, but it was dry. Pulling it on was another slow, agonizing process. Fabio handed me a worn flimflam shirt that buttoned down the front.
“Kari-kaka, I learned that my first year of homelessness,” Fabio spouted proudly. There was more pain putting my arms in the arm holes. The shirt smelled clean. In truth, it didn’t smell at all and that was clean from where I was sitting. I was able to get the shirt buttoned myself, much to Fabio’s relief, who seemed overly concerned about his virtue. The dry clothes started warming my chest quickly. The shivering didn’t stop, but the severity receded, and I had more control over it.
“Now the trouser,” Fabio said, and quickly stepped outside, “let me know when you’re done.” I smirked, my lips working a bit better, at his worries. Even if I was gay, Fabio wasn’t my type. I laughed inwardly at that thought. He was old and homeless and had all the right in the world to be from the roughest side of the street.
It took a long time to switch my trouser. My lower back must have taken quite a hit and the muscles were screaming. I more or less scooted out of the pants since I was unable to fully bend my legs. Fabio had brought a pair of cotton exercise shorts and some old stained jeans. I replaced my boxers with the exercise shorts, almost screaming to get them over my feet. The jeans were even more difficult. I looked around and noticed for the first time that my shoes were missing. They were probably the same place my socks were.
“Pa Fabio, where are my shoes?” I asked as I rolled over onto my hands and knees. I wasn’t sure I could stand up without passing out. I certainly couldn’t stand up in the hovel.
“I put them by the side to dry,” Fabio answered, “they will dry soon.” I crawled to the exit and poked my head out into the grey day. I was housed under the bridge, right where the supports met the land. My shaking had stopped. It wasn’t terribly cold now that I had dry clothes. Fabio looked down at me. “The face cap is in there too,” he said, pointing into the hut. I crawled back and painfully.
“What’s your name, jumper?” Fabio asked with a bit a sarcasm. I decided it was best he didn’t know. I didn’t plan on staying, and I didn’t really trust him. “Frank,” I answered. It was the first name to come to me, my father’s first name, though he was gone before I was born. I subconsciously felt for my phone and remembered it was at the bottom of the river, along with my wallet. I really wasn’t planning to need them anymore.
“Why did you do it?” Fabio asked. I looked up at him and saw the glint in his eye. I could see he wasn’t really concerned about me. He was more interested in the story. I guess I was what passed for entertainment under a bridge. “Are you owing a debt, killed someone?” he continued. He gave me the best lie, the one that said I owed a lot of money.
“Debt, the economy is biting hard and I am out of business” I lied. Fabio laughed his crazy laugh.
“I’m always penniless,” Fabio said, “I don’t need money so I don’t care if I don’t have any. It’s you idiots that put worry in it.” I chuckled at that. He was right in his own way.
“You’re a wise man, Pa Fabio,” I praised, his face lit up like a Christmas tree. I have no idea why I found that pleasing. He’s an old man who lives under a bridge. Why would I care if he was happy? Nevertheless, his dental disaster of a smile made me feel good. I tried to stand and decided against it when my back fought against it with pain.
“Lay flat,” Fabio instructed, “you might be stuck here a day or two. I will take care of you and then you owe me….that’s how it works.” I slowly rolled over on to my back and slowly straightened my legs. I smiled at him. “What will I owe you?” I asked. I was thinking in terms of cash.
“I don’t know yet!” Fabio snapped, “You share what you get or do some jobs at my command. Nothing more than what you get. I’ll ask when I see it. We can’t live without helping each other out here.” He was talking to me like I was an idiot. It was a simple barter system, favour for favour.
“Sounds more than fair, “I responded lightly, “you just let me know. I will owe you good when I get out of here.” Fabio smiled again, and nodded his head. He really enjoyed the idea of being owed. I would have to find a way of paying him back. I was impressed how simple his life was. Right now, I envied him.
…to be continued