A tale from beyond the shadows.
| Jakub cursed under his breath again, as yet another black bin liner burst spewing its rancid juices on his already stinking work clothes. These fucking people were nothing short of greedy pigs, every year they did the same thing. They would buy enough food to feed a small village back home, then they would let it spoil or worse still threw perfectly edible food in the garbage. They wished everyone a happy Christmas then greedily hoarded food and possessions that they had little regard for, food and possessions that invariable ended up being hauled to the dump by his company or hundreds more like it. Back home in Jakub's country they knew the real meaning of Christmas; back in his country the ordinary people did not waste food while their neighbours went hungry. It was just two days since Christmas day and they were already racing out to buy more food and drink, they would flock to the sales like rabid animals to accumulate even more possessions. He hated this country and the way of life, supposedly well educated people were caught up in a downward spiral of greed and unsustainable debt. Still he earned more money than he could back home and with this he helped his family to live well, but just as soon as things picked up in his native land, he would return.
Jakub trudged wearily up the rickety stairs of the tenement building he lived in; he hoped he would not meet any of his neighbours on the stairwells. Even he found it hard to stomach the stench of garbage the wafted from his work overalls, he could not wait to get indoors and put them in the washing machine. He had scarcely closed the door when he undressed and placed his work clothes in the washing machine, then he hurried to the shower. Once he had finished his meagre meal, Jakub sat down to his favourite task of the evening. Placing his tool kit on the kitchen table, he placed his glasses on his face and began to empty the bag he had brought home from work. He spread the toys out and began to meticulously clean every inch of them, only when he was certain they were thoroughly cleaned would he begin to repair what he could of them. Those that were beyond repair would be scavenged for spare parts; it gave him great satisfaction to give these discarded toys a new lease of life. The vast majority of toys he repaired would be distributed to the poorer children of the neighbourhood, sometimes he would keep some of the finer pieces and send them home to his family. This was Jakub's hobby and his way of trying to balance out the unjust way, in which this society worked, he was trying to give a little to those who had nothing. However he also gained from the exercise, he had always wished since childhood to be a toy maker. That and the fact it helped to stop him brooding about his self-imposed exile in this country, when you are far from hope it is never good to obsess on those left behind.
The environment most migrants worked in was never friendly and a lot of the time it was downright hostile, he had learned to live with this. He would pretend not to hear their racial remarks and would never allow himself be drawn into confrontational situations. By and large the local workers had given up on trying goading him into fights; in return he had ignored their snide comments. However something about the atmosphere at the depot this morning felt strange, no one seemed willing to even look in his direction. Jakub was at a loss to know what in the hell was going on; when his name was called over the loud speaker he knew it was not good. Climbing the stairs to the office was like climbing the scaffold to his own hanging, when he walked into the office something told him this job was over for him. On his walk back home he kept stopping to look at the letter of termination, he was in shock and hoping every second he would wake from a bad dream. Back in his own kitchen he stared at the offending piece of paper in utter disbelief, "Theft" the word screamed accusingly from the paper and echoed deep in his mind. He had taken some broken and discarded toys from the garbage bins, toys that were no longer needed or wanted by their owners. This company and this land of the free would condemn him to shame, all because he had taken broken toys to give to those with nothing.
Weeks later Jakub found himself worse off than those he had tried to help, no one wanted to hire a man who had been sacked for theft from another job. He was hungry and cold as he trudged the streets in search of work, in another week he would be homeless, as he would be evicted from his apartment. But even worse than the hunger and cold was the shame, he was too ashamed to even contact his family back home. How could he tell them he had been branded a thief, from this shame another even stronger emotion took hold. Hatred, hatred for the people at work and the boss who fired him and hatred for the rich greedy people who discarded things while others went hungry. Jakub wandered the streets aimlessly, fuelled by hatred and anger that burned like a fire in the pit of his stomach. But even the hottest of fires eventually begins to cool and he found himself in a part of the city he did not know, it was a strange feeling to find yourself at a place without any recollection on how you had got there. Jakub looked around for any familiar land marks but nothing in this area seemed familiar, the street he was on led to the entrance of a city park. He began to trudge wearily in that direction, he would be able to rest for a while on one of the park benches. Just inside the entrance gates to the park a small crowd were gathered, Jakub walked towards them, perhaps one of them could direct him back to his own neighbourhood.
The crowd of people by and large had the appearance of being just as badly off as himself that look of hopelessness in their eyes told the same old story. The people had gathered in a semi-circle around a man who preached from a soap box, Jakub listened for a moment as the man preached to his hapless audience. It was the same old clap trap that was always aimed at the downtrodden, he entreated these unfortunate people to place their trust in god. Had he not been so weary he might have once again flew into a righteous rage, but it was effort enough just to turn away in disgust. Jakub pushed his way through the people, the man's empty rhetoric ringing in his ears. God would not save either him or any of these poor fools, they were the bottom of the food chain and that is where they would remain. Now he was beyond the crowd he looked back and spat on the ground, a feeble show of his contempt for those who would believe in such lies.
Jakub found a wooden bench and eased himself wearily on to the hard surface; he was freezing now and so very tired. He would just grab a quick nap before trying to find his way home, it seemed like he had just blinked when the soft voice spoke in his ear. When he opened his eyes the first thing that struck him was the man's fine clothes, whoever he was he was certainly not down on his luck. The man offered him a silver engraved hip flask, Jakub looked at him suspiciously. But the man smiled warmly back at him, it was the first gesture of kindness he could remember for quite a while. In the end he shrugged and took the drink, the brandy burned its way to the pit of his stomach. From there the warmth spread throughout his body, for the first time that day he felt almost human again. A couple of sips later and Jakub was telling the man his life story, the stranger listened carefully and nodded sympathetically as Jakub told of his fall from grace at his work place. When he had exhausted himself from talking, the stranger made him the most unusual proposition Jakub had ever been made. Things could not get much worse he thought as he shook the stranger's hand, he could scarcely believe he was about to start working at a job he had always wanted to do.
Jakub stared disbelievingly at the man who stood before him signing the delivery docket; it was less than twelve months since this same man had thrown him out of his job. Yet here he was smiling at Jakub and wishing him a happy Christmas, there was not a single sign of recognition in the man's face. Still that was good, as his new employer always said they had to go about their business discreetly. The man opened the packages and stared in disbelief as he laid the handmade toys on his office desk, who in the world would send him such gifts at Christmas. Still these were all collectables, not to be played with but displayed and admired. Two tin soldiers crafted expertly down to the razor sharp bayonets on their muskets, they would make brilliant paper weights and conversational pieces. He looked at the packaging but it contained no hint of their origin, still he thought better not look a gift horse in the mouth. He place them carefully on the corner of his desk, he would try and find out later who had sent them. This was a busy time of year and he was soon lost in mounds of paper work, it would be a long day. The refuse collection business was getting cut throat, too much competition. Every year after Christmas he would find some excuse to get rid of employee's and hire cheaper labour, this year would be no different so he needed to plan ahead.
Being the boss had quite an upside but also a sprinkling of negatives too, the cavernous depot building below him was silent as the grave and in complete darkness. His employees had long since sat down to their evening meal, yet here he sat in his office working away. Mind you he would much rather be in a cosy office than dealing with stinking bags of refuse, anyway he was almost finished his evening's work. Nothing left to do now but pick who would be sacked after the Christmas festivities; he got up and went to the locked drawer at the bottom of his filing cabinet. He took out his secret list or as he liked to refer to it, Santa's naughty list. It was a list of his foreign employees; it was always easier to get rid of them as they were not trusted by the other workers. Just like last year he would close his eyes and stab his pen onto the list, and like Jakub last year whoever's name was hit would be sacked, once the worst of the Christmas rush was over. A sudden noise from the darkness below interrupted him before he could make his choice, going to the office door he listened for a while but no further sound reached his ears.
Tiredness he thought, my ears are playing tricks with me. He needed to finish up and go home, a hot shower and a couple of glasses of fine cognac was what he needed. It took him moments to figure out what was missing from his desk when he returned, suddenly it dawned on him. The tin soldiers where in the hell did they go, he really was suffering from exhaustion he must have put them away somewhere. He sat heavily into his plush leather office chair. Maybe I have been working too hard lately, he thought as he lifted the pen again. The sudden searing pain in his shin caused him to yelp like a frightened pup, it felt like broken glass had been jabbed into his shin bone. Another flash of white hot pain shot up from his other leg, as something sharp jabbed his calf muscle. He pushed back the chair quickly and looked down. This time he screamed on top of his voice as the soldiers stabbed him again and again with their bayonets, their little tin arms moved like a blur. There were pieces of trouser cloth and bloody flesh flying through the air. One of them jammed his bayonet in the ankle socket of his right leg, when he could not pull it out; he resorted to using his razor sharp teeth. By the time Jakub entered the office all that remained of his former boss was a heap of mangled flesh. He quickly picked up the tin soldiers and placed them in his shoulder bag, he needed to take them back to clean them. They had still plenty of work ahead of them; he really was enjoying being a toy maker.