I know on my last post, I said I’d have something to do with Telltale’s Walking Dead game, but I needed to get back into writing something fictiony after my post-NaNo break, and I’d rather share this now before I overthink it and it sits on my hard drive forever.
I haven’t always been a boy of the market. There used to be a time I’d live on the high street, spending my days in the darkness of dusty record stores, listening to obscure music and taking in that unique smell of the cardboard sleeves. Of course, those shops are gone now. They were replaced by brand name book shops that only seem to sell one kind of book. Those generic romance stories that you always see mothers buying at the airport before a long flight. My high street is long gone, replaced by one that looks like every other high street in the world. The shops are sterile and neon lit. There’s no place for me there any more.
It was one of the other children who introduced me to the market. A boy by the name of Todd. I didn’t believe him when he first told me, Todd’s known for his exaggerations. When we take the tube, sometimes we’ll wait until we’re near the bottom of the escalators, then slide down the partition in between them on our arses. I’ve never seen him do it more than a few metres from the bottom, but he maintains he did the Angel Station escalator. Longest escalator in the tube, top to bottom. Nobody believes it, of course, but it’s still a story that gets passed around the market children in hushed whispers.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to get the tube, especially if you’re a child as small as me. It’s a matter of blending with the crowds of businessmen, all moving like robots, swiping their Oysters when the machine tells them to. Get in the middle of a big enough group, and it’s simple enough to just squeeze through the barrier behind one of them. Sometimes they notice, but ratting us out would start a long train of bureaucracy and shit that’s not worth interrupting their morning commute for, so they let it slide.
The train itself is almost a prison. Packed in with all the other sardines, barely able to breathe. That choking smell of the underground; a mix of cologne, sweat, and hurried desperation. To me, it smells like freedom. Life at home is too stifling. Mum’s too fucked up on whatever pills the doctor prescribed her this week to even notice I exist. Dad’s a rapidly fading memory of a stern voice and firm hand. His ghost hangs over our broken family.
The markets are where I can really be free. In theory, I can get the tube anywhere. Once, I took it all the way out to the airport, and just watched the planes taking off and landing, but the market is my favourite place. It reminds me of those old record shops, but more alive. I love watching the merchants set up their stalls every day, putting out the newest or best items to display at the front. Sometimes they even ask me to help choose, or look after the stall while they take a break. It’s nice to feel trusted like that, but I prefer walking around all the stalls. There’s one that sells old books, and the man who works there lets me sit inside and read the comics sometimes if it’s raining. He let me read the proper books too, but I’m too slow, and I’d forget where I was, or he’d sell the books before I finished them.
Lunch time is my favourite. I’ll go around to the various food stalls, making a meal of free samples from different countries. A scrap of chicken (at least, I think it’s chicken) from China, something spicy from Mexico, something else from Morocco. It’s not exactly a feast fit for a king, but it’s food, and it’s mostly free. I’ll confess, I’ve stolen more a couple of times. I’m not proud of it, but mum has been known to forget to feed me on occasion, and I’ve got no money to buy more, but I tend to get by okay with the stuff they give away.
My favourite place to eat has to be down by the waterfront. I don’t mean on those old scooter seats they have set up, those are far too crowded. I mean literally right by the water. I’ve never seen it happen, but I like to imagine the doors opening and the water draining down to let a boat through. Todd reckons he’s seen it, but as we’ve already discussed, Todd is hardly a reliable source of information.
Of course, I can tell you a true story about the waterfront. This girl, Sally. Of all the kids who hang around the market every day, Sally’s by far the prettiest. Strawberry blonde hair, hand me down dresses, and scuffed knees. We were just sat down there eating one day, and she kissed me, right on the mouth! I know! I was shocked too. I had no idea what to do, so I did what any normal boy would do and kissed her right back. It was nice, and we finished eating with our hands held. She’d probably deny it if you asked, and when I told Todd, his only response was to say that it had happened to him four times with a girl far prettier than Sally, as if such a person exists.
At the end of the day, I watch for a while as the stall owners pack up, then I head home on the tube in the evening rush. All my friends get off at different stops, until it’s just me and the commuters. I get off the train, and head home, reluctantly. It’s an empty house, cold and devoid of love. I lie in bed and dream about Sally, Todd, the stalls, the sights and smells, the customers from far away places, coming in on the planes and all meeting up in this one place. This house holds nothing for me. I am a boy of the market.
Thank you for reading, and I swear my thoughts on the Walking Dead game will be up in a week.