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by Ann Abineri

I leave the office late. Most of the narrow winding streets are quiet and dark but every so often warm light and smokers spill down pub steps to the pavement. There are as many medieval churches as pubs, maybe more.

I turn north and look for Nick. He is standing so close to a lamppost that he seems to be wrapped around it. His bushy fringe protrudes from a coat hood with a fake fur edging and his legs look so, so thin in skinny jeans. His complexion is tinged blue by the recently installed streetlights, modern eco lights that illuminate the street below and not the sky above.

Nick gazes intently upon the car’s windscreen but does not realise it’s me. He’s only interested in cars that slow down. I drive past, unnoticed.

He used to stand in a more sheltered spot in the same street but the Council installed a speed bump to slow traffic and it meant that headlights dazzled him as they approached. He doesn’t have long to make a decision. Getting into a car is rewarding but risky.

I drive round the one way system, asking myself why I didn’t pull over and speak to him, wondering if I should just head home. On the back seat, my briefcase is full of Serious Case Reviews. But I find myself driving back through the city, praying that Nick will still be standing alone. I wonder if he’s already in someone’s car, heading for a deserted carpark or out of the city. This is the night that something will go wrong and I will blame myself forever for not stopping. I speed up, swing round the corner, through a traffic light just turning red.

He is there.

I slow down early, to give him a chance to recognise the car. His face registers a resigned smile.

‘How ya doing’ he asks, eyes still scanning the street behind. I gesture towards the passenger seat.

‘Do you want to come back for a while – bath, telly, hot chocolate?’ I don’t mention the clean comfortable bed because I know he will choose to fall asleep on the sofa.

Nick sighs. It is a Monday, a quiet night in the city. I suspect he’s got money from the weekend, enough for everything he needs this week. Prices of the things he uses are at an all-time low in this city, flooded by dealers and the young.

He takes one last look up the street, ducking his head sharply at the sound of a distant siren. Being constantly alert is in his deepest nature. I know he’s worried about missing a trick, letting a regular client down, being off the scene even on a Monday. But above all, he’s afraid of, the warm house, the clean bathroom, the full fridge. He does not want to put himself into the position of facing choices, of considering even the most remote possibility of getting clean versus the temptation to empty my purse and let himself out at dawn.

He sighs and opens the passenger door.

‘Any chance of macaroni cheese, Mum?’ he says, as I drive us home.

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