My earliest memory was how and when my eyes were opened. I would walk the streets begging and stealing my way. The world would have seemed very different to you, but to me, it was much the same. You have the rich and the poor, the good and the bad. The deserving and undeserving. I was both poor and bad, I would have considered myself undeserving, but many would disagree. I do not remember a childhood. I suppose I may have had one. I would not like to say for sure, my first clear memory is of piss.
My story takes me to many places, but it will begin in the same place as it is now starting. The houses in this area are all somewhat modern. Sure, they are old to your eyes, but to mine, they are a recent addition. I was walking these streets after a day of criminality. I had robbed a local trader. I would like to say that I had done it to feed my family, or I was pulling a Robin Hood, but alas, I cannot. I had done it so I could get drunk, and get drunk, I would. It may seem strange to you the idea of stealing money and then blowing it on booze or drugs. When you are that poor, you take pleasure where you can find it. What did it matter if I woke the next day hungry, wet, and alone? I could do it and have had a good night before, or I could do it without having that good night. I am not ashamed to say that I wanted the good night. Tomorrow be damned.
The large houses that lined this street were made of timber and not stone. The richer the person, the larger the house. Much like today's world, houses were used as a symbol of wealth. Many would come with a job, where people were crammed to live in squalor, but it was better than living on the street. Then you had the rental houses that were much the same. If you have three bedrooms, why not rent to three or more people? There is money to be made. Some people worship money. I do not. I have never understood the craving for more than you need. The upper floors would often overhang. I suppose they thought it stylish at the time. The truth is I quite liked it. There is something to be said about sticking with what works. You would walk the roads that were little more than alleys to get from a to b.
This is a small town, and it took time for sanitation to reach here. When you were walking from a to b, you often had to watch out for p and p. There were other things. Crime was rife, robberies and pickpockets as common as the charity shops and pawnbrokers are now. The alleys were more of mud tracks filled with clumps of dirt and shit. I was usually very good at finding my way. Still, on that evening, I was splattered with the stinking acidic stench of piss. I was heading to the pub and was far too preoccupied and happy with myself over my days work that I missed the telltale noise of the window opening. Wealth, in this case, is relative; everyone who lived here was considered to be poor. Much like the ladder of success, the ones who lived higher up were the wealthier ones. You cannot be covered in piss or shit if there is nobody above you. I had missed the noise, and I had paid for it. The piss covered me. Its warmness steamed into the cool air as it soaked into my coat.
I looked up and cursed at the house. It would do no good to shout and scream for long. They would have opened the window, threw the contents of the pan out and then closed the window. Giving no mind to anyone who would have been walking down below. It was, at that time, the way of the world. I could have looked up and got a face full of shite. So, in many ways, you could say that I was lucky. The jacket I have now was made for me. The one I had then was stolen and ill-fitting. Still, beggars can't be choosers, as they say. I took the jacket off and wrung the urine from it. It trickled down my hands, leaving streaks of clean lines, like water stains on a window, the lined strips exposing my dirtiness to the world. I continued to walk and wring out the jacket. Nothing was going to stop me.
Daisy's was the place to go. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good pub. It was, however, the only place that would accept someone like myself. On any given night, I could walk in there and not be the most undesirable person on the premises. I do not know if Daisy ever existed, I had certainly not seen her, but the pub was open to all. If your money was good. The door creaked open, and I was hit instantly with the aroma of stale beer and smokes. The smoke drifted from table to table and gave the pub the look of a fog-filled graveyard. People sat at tables like monuments to the dead, moving only to raise a cup or take a drag. I made my way to the bar and slapped my coin down, ordering a pint of the swill they called beer. I drank away my troubles.
The beer was awful. When I say awful, I do not mean like beer in today's world that you would consider terrible. This was the true dregs. The stuff that would never be sold elsewhere and only had a passing resemblance to beer. I would have had less chance of illness had I drank the piss from my jacket. The piss from my jacket would not have got me drunk; the cloudy brown liquid I was now drinking would. I finished, ordered another and necked it. I could feel the numbness of alcohol infecting me, washing my cares away. It pushed my worries to another place in my mind. A darkened room that would store and care for them. I would have happily turned the lock on that mental door and locked them away forever. To hell with those accursed feelings and concerns. I could live without them.
The sediment settled at the bottom of the metal tankard. I could see it swilling about each time I lifted my cup. The beer settling at the bottom of my gut, true gut-rot, as the sediment made its temporary home in the cup. I closed my eyes and took a swig, finishing what was left. I felt the bits sloshing down my throat with the fluid. What goes in must come out. That was a worry for another day. It was something that I also locked away in that room. I ordered another beer and listened to the barflies as they socialised. Things are not all that different today. They sat and spoke of work, moaned about bosses and pay. Songs were sung, greetings and farewells made. I just sat alone and drank.
The beer flowed, and the conversation sizzled. I got talking with the others, and we set the world right. Daisy's drunkards, solving the world's problems one drink at a time. After many drinks and settling the problems of the world, I needed the toilet. I had been holding out for as long as possible and enjoying the evening. I was much like the modern advert; once I popped, I would not stop. I left my new found friends and made my way to the alley beside the pub. I would like to say I walked with gentle ease, but that would be a lie. I staggered and wibbled from table to table until I found myself outside and holding myself up against the wall. The world swayed, and I felt like I was standing on a boat in rough seas looking through a telescope. I had never been on a boat at that point, but my imagination filled in the gaps. I leant forwards on the wall and unbuttoned my trousers, and set about my business.
Had I been sober, things may not have played out as they did. I was pretty comfortable with my fists. With the world as it was and the life I lived at that time, I had to be. I was a criminal, I was a thief, I was apt to get attacked and robbed in much the same way I would do to others. I had only ever fought back in self-defence. I had only lashed out to save my own hide. Maybe this was my comeuppance, my karma striking back at me for those times. They say alcohol numbs pain; if it did, I am grateful. My head was pushed forward at speed, and even with the numbing of alcohol, I felt my nose smash to pieces. I felt the hair on my head being pulled back. Every other hair being ripped from my scalp, then my head was rammed back into the wall. With my nose crushed like a can, there was nothing to protect my face. I heard my jaw-bone click as I hit the wall. I do not know if it dislocated or broke. I only know the noise I heard. My body was shaken, and I was in shock. I slipped down the wall, my face never leaving its cold, rough stone surface.
I felt the skin on my face tear as I fell. Pulling away from the bone, sticking to the stone like it was velcro. My ear pulled away from me, like tape being pulled from a Christmas present. I felt my descent slow for just a moment as it caught on a jagged stone. It was just a second, and then I fell to the ground, suddenly free of the wall and lying in my own piss. It was this time, somewhat fortunate that I could not smell it. I did not think that at the time, I had other things to worry about. That was a thought that came to me afterwards. I think that I still have some humanity; seeing the funny side of things feels very human. I hope I do. I remember the boot next. A thick, stiff leather boot. A workman's boot crashed into my side. I felt my ribs crack as the boot made contact, it lifted me into the air. It felt like I was lifted high, but I know this can not have been the case. The boots were relentless; they hammered into my sides like a carpenter fixing a table. Two people attacking me, this was not in any way a fair fight even had I not been jumped from behind! I felt anger burning and boiling up inside me. A saucepan of fury boiling over as I was kicked to the wall.
I do not know precisely what happened next. I can only speculate and describe. I heard a crack, like the breaking of a branch, and then I could not breathe. I would try to inhale, but I could only wheeze; it felt like I was trying to suck air through a paper bag. When I exhaled, I sprayed blood from my mouth. The thick, warm blood flew from my lips as I spluttered. Some settling on the wall, some on the floor and the rest on my chest. I think a rib or ribs had punctured my lungs, or maybe my windpipe. I tried to breathe. The gargling as I did so seemed to rattle in my ears. Releasing it sounded like a blocked drain clearing as blood once again made its way up and through my mouth. The kicking continued throughout, and I found myself slipping into darkness. I slipped happily. I felt no pain, I heard no noise, and I sensed no beings. I lay in my darkness, waiting for my world to end. I did feel my pockets being picked.
Is that really all a life is worth? I was no angel. I still am no angel, but was the meagre contents of my pocket the value of my life? A thieves thievings are taken; is a life really worth so little? My life was flowing from me. It mixed with the piss, shit, and all the other crap that had gathered in the alley. The value of life and humanity to be washed away down a drain like shite in a toilet. Flushed away and forgotten about, never to be seen again. And, so fucking be it, my mind roared as I had this thought. Fuck you all. Why should I be like this? I cannot die! I do not know why, and I do not know where it came from. The thought 'I cannot die' rang true. It spat itself with rage and anger to the front of my mind. Dripping with ferocity as it urged me to take my revenge. I felt a strength screaming up from inside me. A vigour I had never experienced before. I thought it had to be adrenalin rushing through me. I know now that it was humanity escaping me. The stinking ruinous slime of my human life had been washed from me in that alley, and I felt like I could take on the world. I stood up, and for the first time in my life, I felt free, and I felt alive.