What does millionaire Ralph want with homeless Ben and is he really a cousin?
|Ben Sanders sat on his usual bench, staring out at the river. The fog was thick and it was hard to see beyond his shoes. His shoes rested on damp grass, that was emerald green and stark against the white of the fog. He had a lot to think about. He stared blankly into the fog, to where the river flowed. It was free and its freedom was vast. Flowed all the way to the sea, its current strong and sure and predictable. Predictable freedom. Sure there were snags under the rippling current, slowing it in places, and the occasional chip packet drifted along, but all in all, nothing stopped the freedom of the river. There was no weir, no dam to halt it. He envied the river.
A river didn't have to think, it just flowed until dams were built to harness it. Freedom came with its snags, and people couldn't ignore them and keep flowing without a care. Freedom brought loneliness, and in his case, homelessness. He was used to it now, glad of his car, parked behind him, with its custom made mattress and thick quilts and blankets to ward off the biting cold. He was glad of the charities that rallied around in times of need, the various church run dinners and grocery hand outs. Freedom brought intense poverty as with no fixed address it was hard to check in with welfare, and so no payment came his way. The little it was, it wasn't worth the struggle to find a hostel to live in. They were all full anyway. He could mow a few lawns for cash in hand to pay for a few litres of petrol for the car. He could work as a labourer for a few dollars an hour, he wasn't too old for that. His arms were still strong, and his feet worked well.
The reason for the thoughts intruding on his routine was the fact that he was offered a hand out. Sure the guy said it was a hand up, but what were words? It sounded crazy, it sounded too good to be true. At the edges it felt like a set up. It suggested an end to freedom.
Freedom had its bonuses. No one to squabble or fight with. No dull routine business problems to consider. No financial concerns - for example what does one do with spare cash? The possibility of illegal activity leading to physical lack of freedom caused doubts that worried him.
The guy had been stalking him. Obviously. He had bailed him up at the post office, early morning - before the locals stirred from warm beds. Apparently he was a cousin. A descendant of his father's cousins. Ben had no idea if that was true, and it sounded unlikely. Ralph Matthews was a young man, dressed casually but with obvious wealth. Glasses sat on his nose, designed to be inobtrusive and stylish. He was smiling, arm outstretched waiting for a shake.
With the stench of Ben's unwashed body and clothes, he backed off a little, his smile faltering for a couple of seconds. Ben had half smirked, shifting his pack on his back a little higher. It wasn't as if it was deliberate. Deodorants could only do so much. Laundramats needed coins, which he didn't always have. Let alone the price of washing detergent. And where was a suitable place to shower in this district? There was no truck stop anywhere near. There wasn't enough petrol to reach the closest one, and everytime he drove it he risked problems. It hadn't been registered for a while, and there was only a few times the police and council workers would accept that he was going right now to register the thing. Hopefully a few more chores would earn him enough to deal with that.
Sometimes he wished he hadn't been raised so well. There was a lot of money to be made from drug dealing and supply. Morals were an impediment to life sometimes. He knew of people who were paid to kill people so that the employer would get away with murder. He wouldn't touch those. He could have done it if there were no morals in the back of his mind, reminding him of long ago sunday school lessons, let alone parent teaching.
Ralph Matthews looked like one of those salesmen that persisted in badgering passerbys for sponsorship of children overseas, regardless of your income. "It's only a dollar a day," was a common plea. Ben was lucky to make a dollar a day for himself, but he could recognise hardship and suffering in the eyes of the toddlers on the brochures. He felt like a heel to pass by as quickly as possible. He supposed that was why there were toddlers on the brochures, crying and starving and suffering. Smiling kids would not get the same result.
"Hey, where are you off to?"
"Some of us have lives, Ralph. Nice to know I have cousins. See you Christmas lunch," Ben said, as he started to head off.
"Only coffee shops are open right now," Ralph said with confusion. "Hey, we can talk over coffee. I'll shout you."
"Talk over coffee? Ah, well, maybe." Ben thought about the warm cafe and the steaming cup of coffee. Maybe he could get some food out of this cousin of his. "It's a deal if you throw in a full breakfast."
Ralph smiled. Sure he could do that. He'd be happy to do that.