“Boy, I told you. No.”
“I’d work for free the first few weeks, just so you could see how—“ The door slammed shut. I took a breath to keep from screaming. I’d lost count of how many places I’d asked to take me on as an apprentice.
If the butcher’s rudeness wasn’t humiliating enough, I turn to find that someone had witnessed the whole scene. A dark-haired boy with glittering blue eyes was leaning on the building across the alleyway. He was smirking like it had all been a show for his personal amusement.
“What are you laughing at?”
“Your pout. The man did you a favor.”
“I’m not pouting. And turning me down wasn’t a favor.”
He shrugged his shoulder making the pack on his back rise and fall. It was as tattered as his clothes. He must be an orphan—carrying everything he owned in one small bag.
“If you want to be someone’s personal slave, then yeah, I guess he wasn’t doing you a favor,” he said.
“Slave? I was asking to be his apprentice.”
“Apprentice. Slave. Same thing.”
He wasn’t making any sense. The best thing to do was leave this crazy orphan to himself, before he swiped the change in my pocket. As I passed him, he pushed off the wall and joined me. He was looking for a moment to steal something from me, but I wasn’t going to give him the chance. I stopped walking and glared at him.
“Do you want something?” I said to let him know I was on to him.
“Just wondering why you were so desperate.” He looked me up and down. “It doesn’t look like you’re starving to me. Why sell your life to that guy?”
“I wasn’t selling my life,” I said as I started walking, hoping to leave him behind. He followed me.
“You wanted him to take you on as an apprentice. He would have made you sign a contract that bound you to him for however many years he felt like.”
“That’s how an apprenticeship works,” I said. What was with him? Lots of people become apprentices. Why did he care?
“Then why would you want it?” he asked.
I took in his tattered clothes and face so smeared with dirt that his eyes looked like glittering sapphires. “So I wouldn’t end up looking like you.” I expected him to say something smart back, but he only laughed.
“There are worse things than looking like me.”
Yeah, smelling like you.
“Truth is, I have more than you do,” he said.
More than me? Wait, how did he…? My hand moved to my pocket. The money was still there.
The orphan chuckled. “I didn’t take anything.”
I was getting tired of being laughed at by this ragamuffin.
“All I need is right here,” he said stretching out his arms. “My freedom.”
“You can’t spend freedom,” I mumbled as I walked off.
“Sure can, kid.” Why was he calling me kid? He was my age. “You were trying to,” he said.
I didn’t see it as selling my freedom. I was earning freedom. The freedom that came with the money and respect a trade brought.
“Freedom isn’t a trade,” I told him.
“Who says you need a trade?”
I looked at him. Or course he didn’t think you needed a trade. He was a bum.
“Everyone needs a trade or they’ll end up…” I shrugged.
“Like me? My own master. No one to tell me what to do or where to go.”
“They’ll end up with no money and no place to live.” And no respect. Without a skill, you were nobody.
“I have plenty of places to live.” he grinned. “I bet you haven’t been half the places I have.”
He was wrong. I hadn’t been to any of the place he’d gone.
“Name a place you’ve been. I bet you I’ve been there,” he said like he was playing a game.
“I grew up here.” I didn’t look at him so I wouldn’t see the smug look in his bright eyes. It was enough that no one wanted to hire me, I didn’t need this dirty orphan gloating over me.
“You mean you’ve never left this town?”
I gave a limp shrug.
“No wonder you’re ready to throw your life away. You need to live a little.” He elbowed my arm. I veered away from his jab and nearly collided with a woman walking in the opposite direction.
“Watch where you’re going,” she said.
I apologized to her before whirling to the orphan.
“I don’t know why you’re following me,” I snapped, “but I’m not giving you any money if that’s what you’re after.”
He held his hands up. “Not what I’m after. Like I said, I have more—“
“More than me. Yeah, I know. So why are you following me?”
“Just thought you might like to know that there are other options besides grumpy butcher back there.”
“They’re not my options.”
“They could be.”
“Are you asking me to join you?” Did he think I was that desperate? Just because I was turned away from a couple of jobs didn’t mean I was ready to pack my bags and wonder from city to city begging or stealing or whatever he did.
He looked thoughtful. “I don’t normally take people on. I travel alone. But I may let you tag along for a while. Just so you can see what you’re missing.”
He said it like he was doing me a favor.
He laughed. “You’re crazy to pass this up.”
I turned, and again, walked away from him.
“Let me know when you want to take charge of your life,” he called. “But don’t wait too long. I might not be here.” He gave his annoying laugh again, but I didn’t care. He finally stopped following me.
Read it from the orphan boy’s view.