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Life

We are driven people, as are all that take part in this game of life. Survival of the species is of this sort, a right royal battle of existence all the way down to a molecular level. These drives manifest themselves in a multitude of ways, being an endless barrage of them, a constant, unending assault on the senses as a result. We pander to them, we seek them out, we bask in them. To exist without them never crosses our minds, but are we right to chase that which ultimately destroys? Are we not facing oblivion because we cannot rein in the 'primitive' inside us? Is the human race to fail because we cannot rise above our own innate dispositions? Surely not. Then again, what kind of life would a person lead without them? Would it be a life worth leading at all?

Bartholomew was of prime stock. The family ancestry was proudly displayed on very fine walls indeed. Each illustrious, ancestral personage had held their chin aloft and had looked down upon even the artist with disdain. Bartholomew though, was a cause for concern. It appeared he wasn't as forthright as those who had shaped him, had passed on their genes to him, being somewhat sensitive. His parents were aware of this sensitivity and had tried their damnest to cut it off at the source, to effectively drive it from him. It had worked, up to a point - outwardly that is, but appearances can be deceptive. Bartholomew still hankered after a different way of life entirely, one less constrictive, one he had some control over and as a result he began to hate his life all the more.

What is it like to have your life planned for you, right down to the smallest detail? Are all such people rebellious when they become aware of this imposition? Apparently not. Some would say it was an imposition, yes, but when such an easy life was there for the taking was it an imposition at all? Surely not, but to Bartholomew, it was, to such an extent he felt smothered and unable to breathe properly, the effect being claustrophobic in its intensity. Each day was a drudgery he wanted to be free of and becoming all the more so as his role in the family firm was beckoning. It was expected of him to take up this role, as it was expected of him to have taken all the steps necessary to be molded to fit the vacant position, one that was ordained for him from the moment of his birth. It was a weighty consideration that rested very precariously on his shoulders, yet another he considered a burden he could well do without. Bartholomew's very soul was restless. It was all he could do not to squirm in his seat when in the presence of his dominating parents in whatever capacity he found himself, be it simply sharing the same dining table as them for that matter, as they seemed to exude emotionally restrictive tentacles that wrapped themselves around him to such an extent he was in danger of choking on his food. It was obvious then, that Bartholomew would do something completely out of character in an effort to break free.

A cog in a wheel. A cog in a machine. Both mean the same thing, though the latter implies a greater capacity, a greater involvement in something of greater numbers, of greater expanse. Are we each of us then, a cog in something or other? It appears some are more cog like than others. Bartholomew was being groomed as if the machine could not function without him at all. He was the machine by all accounts. He might as well have been a marionette, or, more machine like, more cog like, an automaton as he had little say in the matter, little say in this or that, or anything of much worth, not to him anyway. His life lacked real meaning and it was telling on him, playing on his mind all the more.

Life went on in all its splendid complexity, but a great deal of it the likes of Bartholomew would not become privy too, not as things stood, and it grated on his nerves. A full life would not be experienced by one so confined, as well he knew. This was heartbreaking to a sensitive soul. His body and actions might well be following some prescribed plan but his thoughts were his own and they flew far and wide whereby he imagined living a different life altogether. Such a thought become commonplace, to take root eventually, to burgeon, to flower, to become his means of escape, lacking substance maybe but being far more than just a fleeting fancy.

The pressure kept increasing. So much was expected of him. What added to the discomfort was the sheer tedious office life he was forced to endure each and every day. It also afforded him too much time to daydream. Staring out the window became a habit. People going about their business with real purpose held him spellbound. Here he was, trapped in effect, with no real purpose at all. Everything laid out on a platter. It was never really expected of him to do much of anything. Of course, to balance the equation, he imagined what it would be like to live without all the finery, without all the trappings, without the responsibility, without much of anything. At one time his heroes would have been firemen - mechanics - a whole host of blue collar workers, but overtime his attention shifted to those on the fringe of society - vagrants, tramps, down and outs, those seen begging on the sidewalk. What would it be like to live in such a manner, free of interference? It was a romantic vision he applied to such a lifestyle and it was one that played on his mind all the more.

Bartholomew was not a stupid man, just not fully formed as of yet, more a child than a man. The one thing that made him stand out from his peers was his innate sensitivity. It really had no place in the hustle and bustle of corporate decision making. His peers could be quite heartless to others, both in and outside the office environment. Neither could he fit in with the macho ribaldry that invariably permeated the corridors of powers - or bathroom for that matter. To be alone among others is to be very alone indeed. The office window and his imagination drew him in then as a spider to a fly, becoming all the more captivating as time went by.

The straw that broke the camel's back. Such a meaningful phrase and an apt one at that because Bartholomew's back did indeed break, maybe not literally but figuratively.

Girls, women, it had always been the same problem - Bartholomew simply had no idea how to behave in their presence. His small talk was non-existent. His wooing capabilities were practically zero. There had been no need for him to be in their company whilst growing up as even this aspect of his life was to be organised by those who knew better. His choice of spouse would not be his for the asking. She would be found from a suitable line of applicants. Someone who didn't love him, didn't know him, probably wouldn't care for him but was willing to spit out a progeny or two, the reward being prestige and limitless bounty. And there she was, sitting opposite him on the dining table. His future wife, or one that might well fit the bill. Poor Bartholomew was frightened out of his wits.

Bartholomew's hands were shaking the next day. Even handling a pen had become an issue and he had to be careful not to show his work colleagues the obvious unrest he was suffering from, even so it had not escaped those who knew him well. Office diplomacy and the 'stiff upper lip' held their comments in check though, again, adding to his discomfort overall as it would certainly have helped to have a shoulder to cry on. What was he to do? The weight on his shoulders had become unbearable. Suddenly, out of the blue, as if a switch had flicked inside his head, he knew exactly what he had to do. His hands stopped shaking. He looked around the office one last time and strode out the door into the great big world beyond. Bartholomew had broken free.

He stood on the forecourt of the family firm's skyscraper and breathed in deeply. His past began to fade from his memory more or less instantly. The relief of casting aside all that had assailed him for so long was liberating in the extreme. He shut his eyes and listened to all that was around him. Cars beeped their horns, a multitude of sounds floated through the air, the likes of which had been denied him until now. It was intoxicating. He wanted to breathe it all in, to drink his fill of the rich tapestry of life itself, realising his immediate area was but a crumb of what was on offer, and he was hungry for more. So there he was. A man in a suit demanding attention of the sort he had little experience of, yet, by all accounts, his appearance said otherwise, contradicting his new stance in the world. Most definitely a man in a suit, a well tailored suit, with money in his pocket and a wallet stuffed with gold credit cards. Not exactly a man down on his luck then. Nor a man likely to taste freedom of the sort he yearned for. It was time to cast aside even these ties to his former existence, essential though they might well be to sustaining life itself, as he would find out soon enough.

Each step he took opened up new fanciful opportunities, or so he thought, and with each step his former life receded from his conscious mind, strangely enough, without care of consideration for those left behind. To go AWOL in this manner wasn't planned, but Bartholomew couldn't have chosen a better time to venture out into the steamy world at large. The sun was shining, the air was warm and inviting as it was the middle of Summer. People were happy and smiling, as spirits are always uplifted by such natural conditions. Bartholomew felt attuned to the same natural phenomena, striding forward with a quite inane grin spread across his pampered features, feeling more at home than he had for many a year. He soon became aware that he needed to not only 'feel at home' but to look the part too. The shop windows reflected a Bartholomew that no longer existed, or at least represented a being that was garbed in clothing unsuited to the life he now wanted to lead. But what did he know about shopping? Shop he did, nonetheless, but his choices created but a parody of who he now thought himself to be - still a rich man is how he actually appeared to others. With money jingling in his pockets he cruised the sidewalks, surveying all around him with childlike innocence. Something else rattled in his pockets - his credit cards and mobile phone. To the astonishment of quite a few onlookers, he defaced them, damaged them and dumped them in the nearest bin to hand. He was ready to be who he wanted to be - free of nearly all worldly possessions and anything that would tie him to the Bartholomew of old. Life beckoned and he now felt ready to receive whatever it had to offer, come what may.

A tramp-like existence? A life free of material possessions? Free to go here there and everywhere? It was apparent Bartholomew wasn't completely enamored with the concept else money wouldn't still be on his person. He felt more like a student on vacation if anything, on holiday so to speak. Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. Those in close proximity, and some of those who had to maneuver around him, observed a young man in deep thought. A young man seen staring at coins in the palm of his hand. Deliberating over something of great importance. It was obvious something profound was to take place with this absorbed individual, and it did, Bartholomew finally twisted his wrist and dropped all the money on the floor. He watched it falling to the ground as if in slow motion. It was an effort to let go initially, but as it left his hand and journeyed to the ground below he felt all the lighter for it. Finally, he was unencumbered, divest of all that had governed his life until now and he strode forward to meet this new life head-on, slowly at first but picking up the pace as he went. It felt great to do so. The jetsam and flotsam of his past life rolled away from him as did the coins behind him, but should he have looked back he would have seen some of the coins ended up in the gutter. Bartholomew now had the good and bad facing him and he too could end up where others are loathe to tread. The soup of life can taste wonderful or ghastly depending on the ingredients it is made from. That which flows through and down gutters is of a poisonous sort, but, nevertheless, how can you distinguish good food from bad unless you had tasted both? Bartholomew's metaphorical taste buds were to get a rude awakening all too soon.

For hours on end Bartholomew drifted this way and that. It was a wonderful feeling to be in charge of his own destiny. It was wonderful to be able to turn a street corner for that matter and delve into all the nooks and crannies of a new line of shops and buildings. Talking of nooks and crannies, that which can be hidden from view at times, there were some of those Bartholomew now placed in high regards - tramps, down and outs and the like. Surely they had a tale to tell? They could be seen here and there, some slumping in an appropriate fashion, others begging for handouts. But, there were others too he had not thought of, such as street buskers. Such a density of spirit inhabited the place, made all the thicker by the various personalities in evident, or so he thought. And now he was one of them, or at least he was a willing participant, a new and raw recruit is how he thought himself to be. It was all too soon to consider what he could offer his new family - those who lived outside of accepted norms, but it was enough, for now, to remain apart and watch from a set distance. You don't suddenly become a beggar or a vagabond overnight. Not in this case anyway. One step at a time was sufficient. Bartholomew had taken a major step in this direction by casting aside all his money. He wasn't as far removed from his intended lifestyle as he thought himself to be as a result, as his belly would inform him of soon enough.

Eventually the shops closed. People who had no reason to be there simply vanished from the scene. What had once been a thriving metropolis was now deserted, a lifeless skeleton of a place had taken its stead, but not entirely lifeless. Some people had simply no-where else to go. No reason to vacate the place at all. Bartholomew was one such person. Still, the place hadn't died a death completely. A heart still beat within its cold walls. The fashionable shops might have shut but whoever owned the shops left the lights on to tantalise passes-by with the promise of more to come. By now an empty belly had really made its presence felt. It was the shop windows stocked full of delectable goodies that attracted Bartholomew's attention than any other. To be hungry was a new experience, an ugly experience and one that was growing with every passing minute. Without a penny to his name Bartholomew had inadvertently placed himself in a lower standing than those he admired for living such a penniless existence in the first place. Such people had recourse to money by one means or another, whereas Bartholomew had no means whatsoever. The evening wore on. Bartholomew had never relied on his senses until then, but he had become aware of a rich aroma in the air. Sniffing this way and that he instinctively followed his nose to where the smell was strongest - a street lined with all sorts of eateries. By now the aromas were intoxicating, with his belly rumbling all the more as a consequence. Even his mouth had began to water by this time.

Outside looking in was a new experience for Bartholomew. By now diners were sitting at tables next to windows, chatting away over a hot meal. Some stared directly at him, wondering who he could be so he took to the other side of the street. He had options and he did indeed consider them, but he lacked the mettle to carry them out. For one, he could order a meal and attempt to leave without paying. He could attempt to steal something for that matter. It was a pointless and self defeating exercise though so he eventually moved away from the area, away from the temptations. By now evening had become dusk. It had been a very trying day and he was tired. Of course, he faced his next challenge then, as in where to put his head to rest for the night? It being summer the necessity to find cover wasn't yet an essential requirement. He sat down in a shop doorway for a while, an alcove, snuggled up as best he could in his choice of rustic clothing and ruminated. Of course, it wasn't an ideal place to be. He was vulnerable for one thing and noticeable for another. Footsteps and street sounds kept him awake. His backside ached from the hard stone steps. He couldn't sleep there so he moved on yet again. Finally a small park was his for the taking. Sleep did indeed find him in the early hours of the morning, but such peaceful repose was rudely interrupted as life again slowly stirred into motion. He finally arose from under a bush in a somewhat disheveled state. Unbeknownst to him he had earned his first hobo like stripe. Successive stripes would make him as one of their own in due course. Already his freshness was waning. With no washing facilities close to hand, no comb for his hair, no toothbrush for his teeth, and no way to brush or press his clothes, he was on his way to becoming one of the great unwashed. It was still very early days though. For now food was all he could think of, as in where and how he could acquire some.

Nothing clears the head more than distress of the sort Bartholomew now faced. He was hungry - thirsty, cold. The basics of life were making their presence felt. He could have just gone home. A reverse charge phone call was all it would have taken, but the contemplation of such an action didn't even enter his head. Resigned to his new life for now he ploughed on in the pursuit of sustenance. His mind felt clearer than it had for years. What did anything matter if you were hungry? It sharpened his intellect if anything. No longer an onlooker but a participator, looking to strike a deal, to strike a bargain, to take advantage, to compete. His reservation had not gone completely out the window by this stage but it was about to. What the hell could be do? He had to eat.

He wandered on, away from his previous route. He felt the need to see new places and not face repetition or to reside in the old. It was a big city and there was plenty to see. People were once again scurrying about, all with a purpose in mind - or so it seemed. Many though, seemed oblivious of everything around them, purposely blanking it all off if anything. With their eyes staring ahead or down, and with headphones on they bulldozed their way forward as if wading through a herd of wild animals, where to come into eye contact with any obviously hostile native species was just asking for trouble. At least the cold air had warmed up some, enough for Bartholomew to take off his jacket. As he did so he became aware of his own bodily excretions making their mark - sweaty armpits were now his constant companion. Such a stink would deepen in time to surround him with a disagreeable pungency that others would step away from. Tools of the trade though to any itinerant. What better way to separate yourself from the rest of humanity than by appearing so disheveled and smelling so offensive. It was part and parcel of the way of life now facing him. Taking a break whilst sitting down on the pavement he was astonished that a sound of tinkling money appeared to his side. Someone had cast some change into his jacket! Did he really appear so down and out already? A night spent under the bushes had left its calling card - a few calling cards, in fact. Bartholomew's hair was tangled, his face was smeared with dirt, his eyes somewhat lackluster and his trousers were marked at the knee. A man down on his luck is how he appeared to be. Such deterioration in so short a time was alarming, even to Bartholomew himself. Still, a few coins were a few coins after all. A cup of coffee - a sandwich! Lifesaving. But such a turn of events hadn't gone unnoticed. Bartholomew was stepping on someone's turf!

The underclass - the underground of a city, is not the province of the well balanced. It is inhabited by some very damaged people who are not known for their reticence to give vent to their feelings. Bartholomew had inadvertently opened the door to rubbing shoulders with human failure, in effect, by stepping into their world. They might all have a story to tell - who doesn't? But these stories were anything but uplifting. Some were not really stories at all, but crazed monologues, literally.

To think competition doesn't exist among those who exist on so little is wrong, very wrong. Those who have very little place high value on next to nothing as a result and woe betide should anything or anyone attempt to take it from them, as Bartholomew was seemingly attempting to do. The next thing he knew was being punched in the side of the head and having to face a true-life maniac, one who was quite capable of ending Bartholomew's short life there and then. It was more than a sobering experience. No-one had ever laid a finger on him before. He was lucky in a way his boyhood greenness was very apparent to his attacker as it was this disarming quality that saved him from greater harm, but even so, the ranting and raving continued. Bartholomew picked up his belongings and ran for it, leaving the money behind.

Life in the concrete jungle is fraught with danger. You don't escape it by attempting to live underneath it or by attempting to ignore it. Such danger follows you wherever you go, be you rich or poor. Already Bartholomew's romantic vision of such a lifestyle was heavily tarnished. But credit where credit is due, he soldiered on rather than call for help at this point. He might have had a sore head but he was still hungry. He so very nearly had the wherewithal to satisfy his cravings too - it was within his grasp. For the first time in his life he felt anger towards another human being. Running from such a man? Running from someone much smaller than himself? He felt a rising gall in the pit of his stomach and a tightening of his skull around his temples. Looking back he could still see the man in the distance. He was intelligent enough to know he could never challenge his assailant, not now, but he had a sneaking suspicion he would some time in the future should he keep on this same path for very much longer.

Of course, by this time, Bartholomew's parents were frantic with worry. Had he been robbed, stabbed, murdered! They knew he had walked off into the distance as he was spotted doing so. They also knew he had defaced some of his belongings and dumped them in the bin, and also money had been dropped on the floor, but they didn't know where he had wandered off to since. The trackers were hot on his trail though. One in particular showed a great deal more promise than the motley collection of others. The last thing his parent's wanted was this news to 'get out' so they had hired a private detective rather than call in the police. As luck would have it the detective had not found out about Bartholomew's change of clothes, not yet, but he would in time as the purchases showed on his credit card transactions, the likes of which he would finally gain access to. For now though, he was looking for a young man in a very expensive suit. A temporary reprieve is all it was, but it was enough to put some distance between them - the hunter and the prey. In a world where material possessions were so important to most it was ironic they would betray Bartholomew in this manner. Hadn't he cast them aside? He couldn't exactly walk off down the road stark naked so we can forgive this small digression. A change of clothing was required then. Fate was on Bartholomew's side this bright summer's day in this regard. Nice clothes are appreciated by those from all walks of life as Bartholomew was about to find out to his advantage.

Pawn shops were scattered here and there, but prior to this day Bartholomew had never considered them for any reason whatsoever. He had already passed a few without knowing or caring what they were, but the gnawing hunger in his belly had opened his eyes to the sights, sounds and smells of human coexistence, the result being such a shop had finally caught his eye. He knew what they stood for and how they operated - ready money for those with something to sell or pawn. What did he have that might be worth something? His jacket for one - his shoes for another. They might have spent the night under a bush but they were still anything but worn - and they had cost a fair few bob too. What did he have to lose? The rumbling in his stomach made its presence felt yet again which gave some impetus to his deliberations and he stepped inside the money pit without further ado.

It was altogether seedy. Of a sort Bartholomew would never have stepped foot in prior to his now depleted condition. Dark and dingy with oddments scattered here and there. Not exactly awash with valuable antiques or heirlooms other unfortunates of the same station in life had been forced to part with either. No, Playstations, Xboxes, games of all sorts adorned the walls. All sorts of other items that were of no use to Bartholomew in his present state or in any other previous state were scattered around. It spoke to him of human dross, that which inhabits the underbelly of society, a direct connection to the ways and means of people he had never thought about or cared about before. Yet, here he was, no better than they were. Hoping, as they had, to strike the best deal possible. Thankfully, by now, in just a short space of time, Bartholomew had learned a little of life to give some fortitude to his actions, some grit and determination to his dealings with the well-versed money lender. It wasn't as bad as he thought. As expected he was taken advantage of but had walked out with a small sum of money in his pocket nonetheless. Not only this, but the trade included both his jacket and shoes being exchanged for others of a lesser quality and price tag, unknowingly throwing off the pack of hounds on his tail. He now looked like one of many others, effectively merging with them with each step of the way, appearing to be just another inconsequential fish in an overcrowded sea, making his pursuers sniff altogether harder to pick up his now elusive and rapidly diminishing scent. Bartholomew was becoming who he desired to be at a pace that was hard to believe, and still he had little thought of home.

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