Relative Values

I saw them, last night.

The father is short, unshaven, hair long

but thinning. He walks in a strange way. He

walks in short steps, quickly, as if hunted.

He walks with his whole body.

Not short.

A condition.

He has a condition.

He wears unfit clothes, loose and

dirty. His eyes look past me, though I know

he sees me. He sees everything around

him. He has a complete awareness.

It is his way, his protection, his

lifelong defence against everyone he has

ever met. If pushed, he will fight, bite you

if he has to. He is a victim of his

circumstances, which he can never change.

He passes me by, unacknowledged.

Behind him, his daughter. Dark haired,

unlovely but unaware of that fact, she

has some of his walk, and all of his height.

There is an arrogance, a sense of self

emanating from her like a light. He

has taught his daughter to value herself.

A vision of their future comes to me.

They will have small lives, without

opportunities or joy. They will always feel

frustrated, but will not understand why.

She is eating on foot. An open parcel

of fish and chips, forked rapidly into her

quick little mouth as she moves. At the

last mouthful, she drops the fork,

and the wrapper

and the container

on the worn grassy path beneath her

feet. She walks on. She does not

look back.

He has taught his daughter everything

he knows. What he knows is this: nothing

matters in this world. Nothing but him,

and his daughter, and the rest of

his family. Just like all the other people

who owe this world nothing, who are

owed nothing, who are giving back

what they have been given.


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