“There is a quarter missing…”
Her head begun to spin like a slow carousel, her throat dried up and when she tried to swallow, she started coughing. The tall man in front of her uttered a hollow sigh, while his bluish-gray eyes, moved over the endless line of people behind her.
“Excuse me?” she asked with a hoarse voice and shook her head.
The man stared deep into her eyes.
“A quarter, there’s a quarter missing, for the charge.” His voice was sharp and it planted a seed of doubt in her head.
“But, but I gave you the money,” she looked back at the man with big innocent eyes, “I know I did!”
He squinted back at her while wrinkles deep as furrows emerged on his ash grey face, while his hand tightened around his long wooden staff.
“BUT, there is still a quarter MISSING!” He said, pulled out his hand from the dark cloak around him and opened it.
She counted the money, as they lay scattered in his big, wiry palm, twice. The amount was correct, she thought, and a big rush of triumph lifted her head.
“You’re wrong, good sir. Look again, everything is there.”
She tried to diminish the huge smile that was growing all over her face. The man inhaled so hard that his body swayed backwards for a moment. He pressed his blue lips together and pointed towards the weather-beaten sign of wood, beside them.
“If yesterday had been today, you would have been right, but today is not yesterday, so you’re wrong.”
She had to stare at the sign for a few moments before she understood what the message the big, black, runny letters tried to convey. A cold, empty felling swept through her. He was right, the price had changed, she thought. She felt a subtle ringing in her head as the panic started to rumble inside her.
“But, but I….” she ran her hand through her dark hair, feeling the cold sweat on her forehead, “I don’t have a quarter!”
The sound of someone clearing his throat made her turn around. She found herself peering into two brisk eyes, sitting in the face of an old man. The man was so thin that his white shirt and brown trousers were hanging on him as if he was a coat hanger.
“Young lady, I think it’s time to move on now.” He uttered with a soft cracking voice, while stretching his wide suspenders with his boney thumbs. She shook her head and looked at the tall man, whose gray lips smirked back at her.
“Wait!” She bawled, and her hands moved like scared ferrets into her pockets. Both the men looked intrigued at her actions.
When her hands come up empty, she swallowed hard and felt how her eyes begun to fill up with tears.
“No, it cannot be.” She muttered, “It cannot be!”
The man in the cloak inhaled and placed his gnarled hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, but you must step aside, now.”
A burning feeling escaladed inside her and she felt how the first couple of tears rolled over her eyelids, tumbling down her blushing cheeks.
She turned to the old man behind her, whose thumbs now where running up and down under his suspenders.
“Please, you must have a quarter to spare, pretty please!” She said, folding her hands in front of him.
He shook his head, gave her a brief look of compassion, together with the smile of a gentleman, before he begun to squeeze pass her.
“But, really?” she asked, looking at the old man, before she turned towards the others in the line.
“Can someone spare me a quarter?”
No one responded. Most of them just buried their eyes in the neck of the person in front them, pretending they didn’t see nor hear her plea. The sad eyes of a woman dressed in black, embracing a blood stained cloth wad, caught her eyes. Even though the woman’s eyes seemed to carry an immense sadness, there was also a small spark of liberation, flickering in there as well. She felt relieved as she ran up to the woman and reached out her hand.
“Surely, you can spare me a quarter?”
The woman tilted her head, while her tired eyes probed the girl for a moment, then she shook her head and turned her head away from her, like she didn’t exists.
“But why?” the girl exhaled, her shoulders collapsed, and her arms fell flat along her sides.
She turned her head just to see how the old man, now glowing as a child, pressed a stack of coins in the tall man’s crooked hand.
“Welcome!” The tall man said with a modest nod, before the big gates behind him swung open, filling the damp air with a rusty whining.
“Find my humble boat at the end of the path that lies before you. Mount it, and I will be with you.”
She met his potent stare and a strange fatigue grabbed on to her, forcing her body to the ground, and a thick, white fog crawled over her, filling her with body with a comfortable warmness. I shall just rest a little, she thought, while the tall man got another stack of coins pressed into his hand. Before she closed her eyes, she saw how he nodded at her, and moments later, a vast darkness embraced her in its emptiness.
copyright © 2013 by Ken Bergman