by Chris Jabas
I shambled up the street, my legs mechanically moving me forward. The soles of my shoes worn thin from the walking I had done over the past few months and errant pebbles needled my feet every few steps. Had it been so little time? Four months ago seemed a lifetime away.
My stomach grumbled as I past a grocery stand just opening for the day. I wasn’t proud of the tomato I stole while the owner was busy with a crate of oranges. This was just the way things were now.
I don’t even like tomatoes.
I shrugged the strap of my bedroll off the groove it had dug into my shoulder to hide dropping the tomato into my pocket. I looked back to see the grocer unfazed by my theft. Could I get away with a second one?
He looked to be older, but could probably still chase me down. There also weren’t many side streets in this part of the city that I could confuse him with in a chase. Besides, if I didn’t raise suspicion, maybe I could sneak one of the pears he had just put out later.
I continued up the street further into the market district to watch the shop owners start their day. Some would slam open their shutters and gates as if to greet the adventure of a new day. Others would shamble and grumble as they fumbled their keys at their locks, seeing the blessing of having a life as a curse.
One store owner was actively ignoring the mewling coming from a small cardboard box next to him as he finished setting up a display. The box was tattered and soaked, but the remnants of “FREE” could still be read on the side. The owner puzzled over the contents for a moment, then steeled himself and kicked it to the side as he propped a sandwich board in its place.
I don’t remember walking over to the box, only seeing the lost little whiskered face peering back at me. It tilted its head at me, as if to ask me what I was going to do. It was stupid to pick him up, to feel how soft and vulnerable he was, but I did it anyway. I had made the same mewling cries four months ago. It might as well have been me in that box.
Maybe in some way, it was.
I hope he likes tomatoes.
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