Twenty minutes elapsed before the street cleared itself enough for him to leave unnoticed. In years gone by, he could leave the morgue without encountering anyone.
Why so many in the poorer quarter?
Closing the door after himself, he slipped into the shadowed lanes to care for his city. He performed good deeds for the better part of the evening, then headed toward an area he frequented. In the shadows of a shaded arch, he stood, listening to a girl sing in ever sweet strains. Often, he placed a coin in her cup. If he had one; gold.
Even behind the rag tied around her ruined eyes, he could tell Ladasu was a girl of rare beauty. If his daughter had lived, she would have been her age. At odd times, someone would come closer to hear, then move on. First one man, then two more gathered. By their movements, and they way they favoured their hips beneath their ragged cloaks, he knew they did not come to listen.
He stepped from the shadows into the streets. They turned their heads, fearful masks on their faces as they walked away. Here he could show his face with immunity. The destitute knew the truth behind the legend.
Ladasu smiled as he stepped closer. She always knew his gait.
“Please do not stop,” the Forgotten One said, dropping a coin into her cup.
“Still so sad, Forgotten One?”
Aye, he still felt the pain of his sins, but to speak of it would make him pitiful.
“I wish I were like you,” he said.
“You are so pure, delicate, and beautiful like a crystal goblet. For years, your song has soothed my troubled soul. I used to watch you without you knowing. I have heard the gentle words that come from your heart for others.”
The Forgotten sighed, finding his expression of Ladasu to be inadequate.
“You think me so pure? I would get as drunk as the next person if I had the coin. I have lied, I often dream of what it would be like to feel the touch of a man.”
Although softly spoken, her words pained him severely, damaging the image of her he had created in his mind.
“I do not want to hear this.”
“You should, Forgotten One. It is only lack of opportunity that makes me appear virtuous. We have all sinned, no matter how much good we do. I am no better than you.”
The ache in his heart forced him to silence.
“Why do you hate yourself so much?”
He said nothing.
“Why can you not allow yourself to love?”
She touched his arm, then immediately recoiled.
“It is because you are a leper.”
“I am no leper.”
“Then your bandages hide some sort of deformity?”
They did, just not physically. His bandages hid his hideously deformed soul.
“Aye,” he said simply.
Ladasu sighed softly. “I know what it is to regret a wrong too, but until you learn to forgive yourself, you can never truly live.”
The Forgotten One nodded, forgetting he spoke to a blind girl.
“You speak the truth, Ladasu, but I can never know peace until I have attained atonement, and my sins are many.”
“And then you could love?” Ladasu said hopefully.
The Forgotten One snorted. “I am too old for you.”
“Should that not be for me to decide?”
“No, it is not.”
In his heart, Ladasu was a daughter to him. He could never see her any other way.
“Good night, sweet child.”
He took a few steps.
“Aye,” he asked, turning to face her.
“Would it not be wondrous if someone could come along and throw away all our wrongs; as far as the east is from the west?”
Tears welled in his eyes at the sentiment.
“I would run to such a man, Ladasu. I would fall on my knees, weeping in gratitude if such a thing were possible.”
Saying no more, he turned for the nearest alleyway. It was a nice thought, but one that offered no solace. He knew of no one that could take away sins. Perhaps, one day, the unknown god in his mercy might send such a person.
As he wandered the back lanes, he listened, aware of a set of following footsteps.