“Came up to the world, have you boy?”
That voice. Deep, gravely, somewhat raspy. And suddenly the quietly confident man in a suit disappeared. Bradley was eight years old again, cowering behind the couch.
He remembered that voice, guffawing in amusement, chortling with mirth as Bradley’s young body got thrown against the wall. Then he remembered those large, beefy hands. He feared those hands; the burn across his face, the crushing grip on his arm. The same hands that dragged him across the floor before locking him in a room with a tall skinny man with sweaty hands and horrible breath.
Bradley remembered fighting until he can’t anymore. He remembered the almost unbearable pain as his eight-year-old body endured what it should not have. He remembered learning to hate as he heard his own helpless whimpering. He remembered walking out of the room after what he felt was forever and saw those hands counting out bills given by the tall skinny man.
Standing by the door, he looked on as those hands pulled out a bill and handed him a dollar. Face stained with tears, eyes burning with hate, Bradley stood there holding his dollar, unable to walk after what the tall skinny man did to him.
Three days later, those same hands locked him in a room with another man, this time short and stout, and handed him a dollar with that same broken-toothed grin after he had to endure more than a little boy’s body could have.
Those hands. A man. Pain. A dollar. A grin.
That was his life.
It took twenty dollars and a building fire before Bradley could get out of that life. Before Bradley was taken away by the nice policeman.
Snapping back to the present, Bradley turned and looked at where the voice came from. The years hadn’t been kind to him, Bradley thought dispassionately, noticing the lines on the face, the disheveled hair, and the yellow tinge to the skin. “Hello, Gabe.”
“It’s been twenty years, aren’t I going to get a warmer greeting than that?” The grin flashed out at him.
Bradley shook his head at the small, squat, pudgy, and withered man standing beside his table. “Goodbye, Gabe.”
Gathering his things, Bradley felt a rush of gratitude for the family that took him in and the years he’d lived after that fire. He stood up, nodded at the man that he used to know as his father, and walked out of the cafe. As he stepped out, he saw a tall woman rushing up toward him. He smiled at her.
“Hi, honey. I’m so sorry I’m late.” She leaned up to kiss him. Then tilted her head to look back into the cafe. “Who was that you were talking to?”
Bradley looked back and saw Gabe sitting on the table he vacated, sipping the coffee he left. It doesn’t hurt to look at him anymore, he realized. The years made him feel clean now.
“No one, sweetie. Just a ghost.”