He tromped up the stairs. The girl pulled back from the fire against the wall. Fuming at her apprehension, the youth sat down. Perhaps males both homeless and the criminal caste had abused her in the past. He said nothing as he stared into the flames. What point was there in alleviating her fears? She would either trust him or she would not. Besides, he was too tired and cold to care.
Nearly an hour elapsed as the cold seeped from his body, while the girl shivered.
She gradually shuffled closer across the floor, until she sat beside him. He continued to rigidly stare into the flames. Every now and again, he could make out the girl stealing glances at him in his peripheral vision. Not infatuation, merely curiosity.
She took something out of her pocket and nudged his upper arm, causing him to turn his head, to see a chunk of cheese.
“It is all I have,” said the girl.
The boy took the offering, broke it, and gave a half to her. Not taking his eyes from the flames, he took a bite and chewed.
“Thank you,” he muttered with mouth full.
She continued to watch him as she ate.
“You are not like the others,” she said.
He nodded, understanding what she meant, but then it wasn’t in his nature to mistreat a girl. She meant it as a compliment; he could tell, but it gave him no solace. His meagre existence came about as a matter of rejection. He was a discarded human being, firstly by his parents. When he became a homeless waif, people at large spurned him. At 12, then 13, he stared after beautiful women longingly in the market place. They always turned from his gaze, fuming. Apparently it was a sleight to them to be admired by the likes of himself. So for this girl to say “he was a man of virtue” meant nothing. What good was moral fibre if no woman wanted him anyway?
“I am Dekra,” she said.
He nodded again.
She paused a moment. “You have not looked at me this whole time.”
The youth didn’t want another girl to be disappointed, but still he swallowed and turned. In the firelight, she looked at him almost pleadingly. She seemed so fine boned, not skinny, merely delicate. Her hair hung in shoulder length ropey strands, draped about a face of perfect skin as if to suggest she was made of porcelain. Her eyes were unusual, almond shaped.
“My mother was Yactanese,” she said.
“You are beautiful,” he whispered, immediately regretting the words. That was stupid.
Dekra’s lip began to quiver. A tear streamed from her eye. The youth wondered what he could have said to upset her?
All at once, she leaned forward, embracing him and sobbing over his shoulder. It took him a moment to get over the initial shock before he held her too, nursing her anguish away. As the evening wore on, Dekra explained that people thought her eyes were a birth defect.
They spoke freely together for the next two hours. At least, Dekra spoke, but the youth was happy to listen.