A rooster shattered the tranquil dawn with a shrill crow, waking a drooling young man from the depths of his slumber. Nicholas woke with a start, jerking up from his thin mattress and knocking over a cup of water that was quickly absorbed by the simple earthen floor in his single room house.
He sighed, calming his racing heart, silently wishing he could repay the rooster by having it for dinner as his stomach growled loudly and twisted painfully. He stretched slowly, got up and shuffled two steps to his kitchen where he refilled the empty cup with water.
It’d have to do for now. Nicholas wondered what he’d do that day. He’d been walking to town seeking casual work wherever he could find it, but today his muscles ached and his head hurt; he’d not had a very successful week and he could feel it. Lying back down on his mattress, he closed his eyes and mentally tried to psyche himself. If he didn’t go out, he wouldn’t eat tonight, and at that thought his stomach protested loudly.
“Maybe today you’ll get lucky…” he started to himself, but was cut off by his phone which begun to vibrate noisily on the dirt floor where it was charging.
“Hey! Nico! How are you man? How’s everything going?” an all too cheery and excited voice shouted over the line, and Nicholas inched the phone away from his pounding head, “It’s been too long man, we must meet up! Lunch today? We can…”
“Excuse me,” Nicholas cut in, thoroughly confused, “Who’s this?”
“Ahh, it’s your good friend Frankie!” the annoyingly happy voice yelled in response, “I wouldn’t say we were best friends, but we were pretty close and…”
Nicholas, holding the phone a half foot away from his ear now, drifted off as he scanned his memory for a ‘good’ friend named Frankie. It sounded familiar somehow, but he felt as though he were searching through fog, grasping memories and faces that were so blurred they were unrecognisable and he wondered if he was making them up.
“…dormitories in high-school…” the stranger was still talking, and as Nicholas caught that part, it dawned on him like a rush of cold water. Frank, one of the popular children who’d barely said three words to him in the four years they were at school, except that one time he’d thrown a basketball in Nicholas’ face when Nicholas wasn’t looking, yelling ‘Hey you, catch!’ at the very last minute and then laughing as Nicholas was carted off with a nose that was streaming blood.
“Friend?” Nicholas said quietly and even though the stranger seemed to be yelling too loudly to hear him, the line went dead silent, “Friends you said?” Nicholas repeated again slowly, he wasn’t a scared boy anymore and was now too hardened by life’s troubles to be bullied, “Please Frank, never call me again.”
“Come on man, we were just children having fun…” the stranger begun yelling, but Nicholas hung up. His head was still aching, even more so now, but he felt good. He begun to recline back onto his mattress when his phone buzzed again and he sat up, angry now, answering it without bothering to see who it was.
“I said never…” he begun testily.
“Hello!” a sickly sweet voice came on, a woman’s, then hesitated at Nicholas’ rudeness, “Nicholas? Is that you?”
Sitting at attention now, cursing himself for allowing his anger to get the best of him and praying this woman wasn’t someone important, Nicholas cleared his voice and said in his most placating tone.
“Err, yes, hello…sorry, I thought you were someone else, I…” he fumbled for words as nerves, anxiety and his headache mixed.
“No worries dear,” the slippery, too sweet to be natural voice jumped in, “I’ve missed you! You young people don’t bother visiting anymore…but it’s okay, I know how it is with life,” she inhaled wheezily before powering on, “We should catch up soon…are you free today?”
Nicholas sat numbly, his phone dangling weakly from his fingertips, what was going on this morning?
“I…I don’t exactly remember who you…” he begun tentatively, but she beat him to it.
“I’m your aunty Anne! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the nice lady who used to give you lollipops?” she said with a high pitched false laugh.
Now Nicholas slumped down onto his mattress, the phone held to his ear, his mind racing as he wondered why on earth this nasty woman would call him after all these years. ‘Aunty’ Anne indeed, she was a snobby woman his mother had worked for, who wouldn’t even allow him indoors for fear he’d dirty her home. And she’d given him a sweet only once.
“Please…Aunty,” he added sarcastically, “Don’t call me. Ever.”
“Why the nerve,” the woman started, “When your mother hears…”
Nicholas hung up and rolled his eyes. The nasty woman didn’t even know his dear mother was long gone. He sighed deeply, arching his tense neck and started to lie down again just as his phone buzzed once more and he nearly ignored it.
“Hello, Nicholas Mite?” another stranger.
“Yes,” he replied tiredly.
“You’re our sweepstakes winner, the fifty million jackpot is yours!” there was a pause then, “What’s the first thing you’ll do?”
Nicholas’ hands shook in shock as he absorbed the news. Then finding his tongue he said dryly, “Change my number.”