Dignity

Streetlights glow. An orange light bathes the town, stifling the blackness. You sit on your doorstep, the warmth of home behind you, wind and rain pinching your cheeks. A cigarette, sodden, reaches your lips again. You take the smoke from mouth to chest, curl it around your heart, and push it out, watching it fade into nothing in the cold air.

People scurry past. Hunched over, their heads bowed, braving the weather, protected with thick layers of clothes – people you’ve never met, living lives you’ve never seen. Black overcoats shimmer with rain. You shudder, trying to warm yourself with the smoke in your lungs, the wind blowing through you like a forest.

You pick up your whiskey. It’s calling to you, like a Siren to a sailor; haunting melodies tell you to smash your brains out. You splash it into your empty glass, ice cubes melting at the bottom – temptation on the rocks – and swig it, too drunk to notice the taste.

A group of kids strut down the road, an urban swagger in their walk and urban smiles on their faces. An intangible sense of trouble follows their path towards you. You count six shaven heads. The group jovially shoves each other, cursing and guffawing, bouncing down the pavement. Clad in tracksuit bottoms and hoodies, every hood uniformly worn down to spite the rain, they send a pang of snobbish fear into you. You begin to curse yourself for stereotyping them like the high-and-mighty dick you are – you look at your shattered life, think of the people you’ve mistreated, and emanate drunken love and hope for the future from the silent depths of your mind. You pray to whatever could hear you to forget your stupid sins and forgive you for your human weakness.

You see one of the members pointing in your direction, yards of emptiness between you and him, yet his finger still knocks a hole of fear in your gut. His sect follows him, forms into a semicircle, strides through puddles and darkness towards you. Should you turn and run, back into the sanctuary of home, behind the locked door – retreat into your fortress, leaving it open to their attack? Or do you stand here and fight, at the door of your property, grossly outnumbered by kids – thugs – who’ll bring you to your knees, your head a football in some sadistic game?

Armed resistance. Dutch courage. You take deep gulps from the whiskey bottle, pouring it straight into your belly. You feel it burning the soft pink tissue of your stomach. The alcohol seeps into your brain; sodden with liquor, it fills you with a sense of duty to fight against this evil gang and this evil level of society, and enough confidence and cockiness for you to not care that you’ll definitely lose.

“Lend us a fag, mate,” their leader shouts impolitely. He is around 16, yet he looks weather beaten, his skin leathery, his face plastered with boredom, his sunken eyes deadened, a gangly figure underneath a neat short back and sides. You ignore the menacing tone of his voice and casually have another mouthful of liquor.

After a few seconds, you murmur, “it’s my last one,” and take another deep drag. Their leader stands still, staring down at you like Goliath, his hands on his hips, his friends flanking him on both sides. You lazily exhale towards them. They’d be perfect statues were it not for their fringes fluttering. There is no sound but the howling of the wind and the patter of raindrops.

They all stare at you. Contempt narrows their eyes. The tension is so thick you could wade in it. You smile, your knuckles whitening over the glass gripped in your hand.

“Give us some money to buy some then mate,” he demands. Your nonchalance has put a nervous quaver in his menace, you notice, yet curiously, he still feels compelled to attempt to rob you. You consider throwing your change at them, but dignity forces you to keep your money. Your eyes roll in your skull, you slur and salivate and suppress nausea, yet you’re desperate for some pride, any pride, for a reason to look yourself in the mirror without feeling depressed.

“Fuck off,” you snarl. You hope you’ll be able to ward them off with tough talk, to fool them into thinking it’s not worth their time to bother you, that you’ve got your pockets cemented closed. They just hang around in groups to intimidate individuals – they’ve not done a day’s work in their life, so obviously you want to make your mugging seem like too much hard toil. They turn to each other and flash false smiles, trying to maintain a cool demeanour and to look unperturbed by your ballsiness, then turn back to you, hiding behind their number.

“Yo listen mate,” the leader says softly, dangerously, “you’d better give us your fucking money, or we’ll fucking stab you up.” His posse shuffle, some glancing at their feet; their nerves show in tremors on their faces. You take another puff of the cigarette, another gulp of whiskey, and stand upright, hands full of fag and glass. You’re unsteady on your feet; you notice you’re swaying softly. You’re tempted to tell them to fuck off again, but realise the flaws in that tactic and decide to make the first move, throwing your body behind your arm as you swing a massive right hook at his temple. He tries to lift a hand, dangling from his hips, to block it, but fails.

The glass that was in your right hand reaches him first, shattering against his pink flesh, showering two of his mates with broken shards. He roars, the blood released from his corrupt head gushes from his chin, flows down his hoodie, the rain turns him into a watercolour as it mixes with the deep red of his life and puddles into a dent in the pavement. Grabbing your whiskey and fags, and tingling from pissed adrenaline; you sprint into the camouflage of the night.

Four hooligans follow; one stays back at the aid of his wounded commander. Your shoes thud down the road, towards the amber glow in the distance, but four human dogs bound towards you, baying their hatred and lust for vengeance into the howling gales and thundering rain; you, the rabbit, running for your life. You fill your throat with whiskey to numb foreseen pain. The weather attacks your eyes; nevertheless, you battle through blindly, already feeling somewhat a moral soldier.

Next to the post office, just to the right of the post box, over the kerb, your left foot flies out of place. You become briefly airborne, crack your chin upon landing on the soaked cement. Your cigarette flies from your mouth and lands in a puddle. The rest of the whiskey fortunately emerges unscathed, and is emptied into your gullet. You turn to face the remaining aggressors, staring stony faced at them. Rain drops streak straight into your eyes. You throw the glass bottle in a rainbow arc to a crunching impact on one of the scumbags’ haircut. Like another cloud breaking open in the sky, razor sharp fragments of broken glass rain over his head. They slash through his cheeks like knives, rip chunks from his scalp, leave patches of bloodstained enamel. A bloody geyser, erupting from this blow, scatters for yards around, caught in a gust. The top of his hoodie becomes stained with red; the same grisly shade of red pool in the hood and spill over the side.

Too desperate to seek retribution, the remaining three ignore their fallen associate and continue pursuing you, you, fallen and unarmed. You try to scramble away, but they quickly reach your sides, kicking your body into a huddle, stamping on your head. The sound booms in your ears, your nostrils become full of your own flowing blood, the metallic smell mixing with the dirty smell of the wet road. The endless, pointless violence seems like it will go on until you die. Boots to the exposed areas of your torso thump ribs and organs – it becomes difficult to breathe, your lungs refusing to work, your winded body heaving and moaning.

The cowards flee when several large men race towards the scene of your crumpled body. One offers you a hand to pull yourself up, but you’re still too weak to move, the alcohol doing nothing to bring air into your heaving chest. Eventually, you manage to get to your knees, staring at yet another puddle tinged with magenta. You spit teeth and watch them bathe in your red blood.

You smile. You maintained your dignity, a slurring voice in your head tells you. Well done.

Then you begin to vomit.