The concept of something for nothing was foreign to Juan.
He didn’t quite believe it at first, wary that it was a trick of some sort, or a game he didn’t know how to play.
He studied this stranger who was offering him a slice of a life he could only dream about. Although, he tried not to dream, it hurt too much. He sometimes dreamt of his mother and would wake up crying.
This man, in his fifties Juan supposed, had an open face, and was well dressed. Juan saw him the minute he stepped into the ghetto, and had followed him out of curiosity. He walked with determination, like he knew where he was going, and once he glanced back smiling, almost willing Juan to come out of the shadows.
This game was not unlike the one played by the barracuda, a name given to the child predators that came to the ghetto.
The strangers suit was smart, a city smart that came with the knowledge of how to spend money.
The barracuda dressed in cheap imitations, and flashy watches. The stranger had a Rolex, Juan noticed, as he watched him stop at the drug dealer’s corner, and light a cigarette.
He took the cigarette out of a gold flip case and slowly rolled it between his finger and thumb. He smelt it and took his time savouring every motion, then brought it up to his lips, almost kissing it. Juan watched transfixed, as he drew a gold lighter from his breast pocket and with one movement torched the end of the cigarette. He drew deeply, almost closing his eyes, as if the embers were too bright then he looked around and caught Juan in his stare.
"Come" he said, and he offered Juan a cigarette.
Juan took three, and put them under his hat. Then he looked into the stranger’s eyes. He felt he could see the whole world in those eyes. He looked away, knowing it wasn’t a world he wanted to see.
"I know you," the man said.
Juan looked puzzled, but averted his gaze to the man’s shoes. Brown leather with punched holes in a swirling pattern. Expensive, Juan thought.
"I have something for you" he said.
He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a photo. Juan expected him to hand it over, but the stranger cupped it in his hand and gazed at the picture as if in private. He drew deeply on his cigarette and deftly flicked it to the ground. Its embers scattered in one last effort to stay alight then he gingerly stood on the butt showing a white sock on a thin ankle.
"Here, it is for you" he said as he handed over the picture.
The black and white image was of a woman. Juan held it tentatively not knowing if it was his to keep or just to look at. He looked to the man for conformation.
"It is yours to keep," he said reading Juan’s face.
The woman in the photograph was young and smiling. She wore a simple summer dress and had a cross glinting in the sun around her neck.
"It is your mother," the man said.
Instantly Juan’s hand went to his neck, feeling for his mother’s gift.
Juan looked at the photo again with new eyes. A reverence crept over his face as he held the picture tenderly.
"Come, she is waiting". The stranger indicated they should walk.
Juan followed, forgetting his caution, leaving behind his cynicism as they turned the corner into the light.