I had never eaten so well in all my life. The rich aroma filled my nostrils. Roasted lamb, so tender that a mere touch parted it from the bone. I gulped. I had only seen this kind of food from the other side of a window. I remember the warm glow of the taverns and the tormenting smells of the freshly prepared bread and meat it served there. The streets were cold most of the year. Not quite cold enough for the incessant rain to freeze to snow, but a harsh cold that burns and chaps the skin.
I held the metal cutlery awkwardly in my hands. I had never needed to learn how to use a knife and fork, there wasn’t much need when food was as scarce as the warm shine of the sun. I speared some of the meat and placed it into my mouth. It melted, filling my mouth with a rich taste I had never known. It made my head spin. If only things had been different.
I hadn’t chosen to live on the streets, not many do. My earliest memory was The Home. A place for unwanted children. Little more than a place to rest your head between the long hours working in the linen mill. A bowl of salted porridge and a flea infested blanket was all the respite we were allowed.
I delicately arranged some of the roasted vegetables, so bright with colour it felt almost wrong to eat them, and scooped them into my mount as delicately as I had the meat. An ecstasy spread through my body, as if my body cried out in joy as the nutrient rich food hit my stomach. The mill wasn’t so bad a place. Not when she was there. Emma, we had all but grown together, sharing blankets and warmth. Crawling among the nooks and cracks of the machines amidst thick fumes day after day was almost bearable knowing she was by my side. But during our sixth winter together, she was bitten by one of the machines. This wasn’t uncommon in the mill. Many of the children had been bitten. Missing arms and legs, a sign they must bear for the rest of their lives. The winter it happened had been an especially cold one. Emma took a fever and died. No one cared apart from me.
The plate was emptying fast. I grabbed the fresh, crusty bread in one hand and smeared it with a warm yellow butter. The softness within made me gasp. Bread had served as the main component of my diet for most of my life. But the stale, dirty crusts couldn’t compare to this masterpiece. I had thought I would be better on my own. That I could make my own way in the world, away from the mill, and everything that reminded me of Emma. But the streets were a mean place. A world of its own, with nowhere to run or hide. It hadn’t been more than two nights before a group of men took me in. They had been nice at first, offering me my first bite to eat since leaving the mill. They promised me more. I just had to do as they said.
I finished off the last of my plate. Sitting back, I stared at the ceiling. The gnawing pain of hunger was absent from my mind, creating a stillness and calm I had only dreamed of. Even the pain of the wound across my chest had calmed. A robbery that had taken a turn for the worse.
The rattle of keys and inaudible cries of men from cages marked the moment I had been waiting for, for what seemed like an eternity. The bars creaked open and a man wearing a priest’s robe walked through the door. “Have you any sins you wish to confess and seek forgiveness before god?” A croaky voice. A pitying look in his eye.
I just sighed and returned my gaze to the ceiling. Too late to start praying. Two large, well fed guards walked in past the priest and grabbed me by the arms, easily lifting my malnourished and ragged body. I didn’t bother to lift my feet. There was nothing I could do. My head hung between my shoulders as I was dragged towards the gallows.