Tony could forget his troubles and elusive credentials for the day, for he had won big on a discarded scratch card. Celebration was giving his grey roots a fresh coat of green, having a posh shave, and buying a tailored pinstripe suit he had been admiring for weeks through a store window. Reaching into the pocket of his new trousers, he pulled out a strawberry lollipop: this truly was his lucky day! He walked out with the confidence of a winner.
The street looked different that day. It was more colourful, and Tony felt different in himself, like he could smile back at strangers instead of dipping his head in shame.
A beggar was laughing in an alleyway. It was a cruel laugh, but Tony felt a pang of pity anyway, believing the poor woman to be delirious with hunger and exclusion. He pulled out a £10 note and handed it to her, feeling proud he was finally able to give, but she ignored his gesture and continued to laugh. It was impossible to tell how much of her lump was clothing and how much was body. She was dirty, her rotting broken teeth were showing, and Tony covered his mouth in disgust, letting his lollipop fall.
“What are you laughing at?” He forced out from behind his hand.
The beggar didn’t utter a word, but pointed at a section of wall further down the alley. Tony peered in, and could just about make out a bright pink and red painted mural. His curiosity got the better of him, and he went for a closer look.
Before him was a large circle with a complex design inside. It was a mandala, he decided, like you might see in a spiritual haven or a colouring book. He marvelled at its beauty for a while, deciding the paintwork was actually all in pink and the red tint was a shiny fluid running along the lines like they were gullies.
Unfortunately for Tony, in his state of enchantment he had lost track of what the beggar woman was doing, and he stayed conscious only long enough to feel her grab the back of his hair and thrust his head into the wall. Red liquid trickled from his scalp and into the design. The mandala glowed with fresh energy.
When Tony awoke he no longer wore his suit of pride. His money was gone, along with his underwear and his shoes.
The mandala was giving off signs of life; expanding and contracting, and emitting blinding streaks of light that danced and filled the alleyway. Tony felt sick. He ran three fingers through his hair, and found it sticky with blood.
Red and Green should never be seen.
He dragged himself to his feet, and shuffled back towards the street using the beggar’s discarded rags to keep his dignity. They smelled bad, but needs must.
On reaching the street entrance, he was to his astonishment repelled backwards several feet by an invisible force field.
You can’t leave that way, I’m afraid.
He tried again, and a third time, to make his exit but was met with the same result.
You’re as stupid as you look, aren’t you?
The effects of the head injury were clearly getting to him. He sank down to his heels in resignation and watched the pretty lights.
Sleep must have come, for the next thing Tony was aware of was a deathly cold and sharp hunger pains. He groaned as he tried to sit up straight.
His surroundings felt all too familiar now: the harsh stone digging into his buttocks, the stiffness in his legs, the disdainful stares of passers by, and that same old fucking wall. There was the usual stench of piss and trash and grease, only now it was mixed with a vague smell of used aerosol. How long had he been here? His beard growth told him perhaps a couple of months.
Something was new, though. A piece of art adorned the wall behind him, an intricate mandala. He rose to admire its beauty.
There’s only one way to leave, and that’s to feed me.
As he took a step back onto a half-sucked lollipop wrapped in a used scratch card, confusion morphed into recognition. Tony knew what he had to do. He started laughing.