Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Shiver in the Night

He wolfed down the chicken like a hungry man wolfing down a chicken. Then again, he's not just any man. Life on the run is not one that settles the stomach well, after all. There's hardly enough time to eat, to drink, to do the basic essentials of life. Not with Mahone on his back all the time, even when he's not there.

No, life on the run is not fun. At all.

"Thanks for the chicken," he enthused, dragging every bit of meat from the bone with the edges of his teeth clamped tightly together.

"That's not a problem," said the old man. "You are very welcome." He pushed the last remaining chicken wing without touching, instead tipping it over by slightly raising the plate with the edges of his dirty, unwashed fingers. "Here. Finish it off.

He got up, and headed towards the kitchen sink to wash up. Tempted, Fernando Sucre reached over, and smiled mischeviously as he gingerly lifted the chicken to his plate.

“So what brought you here?” The old man had sat down noisily, but Fernando, though polite, had not paid much attention to him until then. “Are you on the run from the law?”

That hit home a little closer than Fernando wanted. He hoped that the momentary flinch didn't give it away. Fortunately, the old man, driven by his curiousity, pressed on. “Or maybe it was because of a woman?”

Fernando couldn't help but smile, the relief of not having to lie to the old man immediately washed away by even happier memories of Marie Cruz. “Yes,” he grinned. “The most beautiful woman on earth.”

The old man joined his smile, then it slowly faded away. As he chewed the chicken, Fernando wondered what is on his mind. Perhaps it is of a similar situation, an occurence that happened a long time ago. Perhaps he, too, was once on the run. He couldn't guess what it was, but then again, given the experience etched on the man's face, Fernando could have spent the whole night looking at the old man being despondent, and probably wouldn't get the right answer.

“So,” he started, swallowing the chicken meat. He could feel it, still a little hard, as it moved down his oesophagus, but settled safely in the confines of his stomach. He did it, because he had wanted to break the silence, but as he does so, looking into the eyes of the old man whose attention, fixed as it is now, on him, he realised that he didn't actually know what to say. “I...I just wanted to say what a lovely meal it was.” Pause. “Thank you, once again.”

The old man, bent over slightly at the waist, his back a smooth curve, lifted his right hand from his knee, one of the two that had been supporting his posture, and waved away Fernando's gratitude. “No, no...” he said, letting the end of it trail away. “No,” he continued, more stiffly, more sure of himself, “it was nothing. If anything, I want to thank you. You have spared me from spending the night by myself. Solitude,” he paused, and closed his eyes momentarily. “Solitude...it is not a friendly company.”

He raised himself up, waving Fernando down as he, too, did so out of respect. Fernando sat back stiffly down. “There is nothing worse than eating by oneself. I should thank you, instead, for being here. Goodnight.”

As the old man went into his room, his feet shuffling noisily against the floor, Fernando suddenly felt the lack of an appetite. The weight of the man's words hit him, harder, than he had thought. He looked at the leftover chicken, small as it were, and despite the rumbling of his stomach, did not touch it again.

Instead, his heart shivered with the loneliness that he could no longer deny.

The shiver in the night.

*A re-imagination of a scene from Prison Break.

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