The alley is dark and foreboding. If it wasn’t it would be a laneway. Or a very thin street. A light flickers, and a cat knocks over a bin for purposes of dramatic mood setting. Edward regrets his shortcut even before the young men step from the shadows.
‘Give us your wallet,’ says one of them. If he was the subject of a newspaper article it would not be sympathetic.
‘I don’t have a wallet,’ says Edward like a gameshow contestant who knows they’re giving the wrong answer.
With a variety of facial expressions and knuckle cracking, the young men make it clear that this was indeed the wrong answer.
‘I have a sock,’ says Edward.
‘You what?’ says a young man.
‘I have a sock. I mean, for my things.’ Edward takes the sock out of his pocket, it chinks sadly with the sound of not enough loose change for a cup of tea. ‘Do you want it?’
‘Gross,’ says another young man.
Edward shakes loose the contents into his free hand. Besides the coins, some of which are buttons, there is a used bus pass and a debit card cut in half by the lady at the bank. ‘It’s all I have.’
‘What, that’s it?’ says a youth.
‘I have some degrees. But they’re mostly in philosophy.’
The young men spit in unison. ‘Worthless.’
‘So I’ve found out.’
With disgust a youth says ‘Let’s see your resume.’
With shame Edward hands it over.
‘No wonder you don’t have anything,’ says a youth.
‘This is bullshit,’ says another.
Together, the youths begin to work. Soon Edward has a new resume, and then a cover letter, and then a job. A girlfriend follows, becomes a wife. In time there is a home and a family.
‘How can I ever thank you?’ says Edward. The years have been gentle. He has loved, and he has been loved. He has known what it is to contribute and belong.
The young men are no longer young men, but old men, almost as grey and wrinkled as Edward. They hobble out of the shadows on creaky bones. ‘Give us your wallet.’