The rain leaked through an ash sky that the sun had chosen to forget, and the streaks of light that pierced the clouds seemed to be its own way of mumbling an apology.
The dawn, as no wise man ever said, was simply a yellowish night without the odd star marring the darkness. Buildings – little more than spindly piles of damp, flaking brick and plaster – stood, bent, but still not broken, against the ceaseless downpour that threatened to turn civilization into a damp shadow of its former self. And then there were those who lay low and listened, not in the least perturbed by the droning of the raindrops.
The sombre melody of the raindrops falling to the earth was at once distressing and enchanting; it was a complex, nuanced rhythm that often seemed to have a voice of its own. It spoke of the cruel wrongs it had suffered, of the halcyon-days-in-sunny-meadows that everyone loves to remember, of the ecstasy that only a glorious fall from the heavens could exhilarate one with – and of the things great and small that it had seen as it fell before and flew past man and brute alike. It was occasionally angry, sometimes frustrated, often thoughtful and mostly morose. Some had died, some had killed and many had simply given up on life because of the dark, disturbing beauty of the rain. Yet, there were those who lurked in the shadows and listened intently to the music of a motherly Nature feeding and comforting the few stalks and roots that remained.
And in a small, quiet corner of the town, in an alley overhung by the finery of bakeries, stood a young boy shivering with cold and fright. He had a little puppy in his arms and an incongruously large backpack on his back. The puppy was staring: right up at the massed army of clouds that darkened the sky with cold fury. It looked with apparent wonder in its eyes at the shimmering drops falling from their exalted position in the heavens. Its eyes seemed to reflect the staid hopelessness that had enveloped life – a farce where all one could do was scavenge for survival to the tune of a liquid metronome marking off the moments as they crawled past with reluctance.
He bent down, put the puppy on the ground and took his backpack off. He opened it and pulled out a long, grimy shotgun. The fear that he had felt when he first held it had slowly turned into a distasteful familiarity. It needed reloading, but he did not bother with the shells which he knew were stowed away somewhere in the backpack. He had had enough of the shotgun. It was too heavy, and, besides, it needed weird black batteries filled with gunpowder, unlike his other toys.
He thrust it back into his backpack and took out something much more pleasing to his nine-year-old heart – a few peanut butter sandwiches tied up with a handkerchief that had once been blue. The sight brought back faint memories of a green Donald Duck lunchbox with a plastic spoon (or was it that most delightful of all inventions, the “spork”?) inside.
He quickly pushed the thought away, with the haste of a recovering addict eager to shield himself from a fatal glimpse of his marauding beloved, and untied the bundle. He threw a sandwich to the dog – with an offhandedness born out of the dust of roads longer than one like him was wont to weather – and took one for himself.
He raised the sandwich, trembling, to his mouth – and paused, as he felt himself failing to stop the all-too-familiar ache for starlight never to be seen and hours never to be struck again.
A little contraption of bread and peanut butter flung itself against a dim alley wall, as a child burst into tears.