King Richie (Freewrite)
‘Anything else, Your Majesty?’
The girl already knows he won’t be ordering anything else, he never does, but she cannot resist it. Just for once, she’d like to see the man lower his proud eyes, stare at the crumpled bills in his hand in humiliation. That’s all he can afford, isn’t it? But the sarcasm in the girl’s voice is totally lost on the man. He doesn’t have time for stupid chatter, he barely acknowledges the needs of the body when there’s so many things weighing on his mind.
The fate of the girl in the too-tight red uniform behind the counter, is just one of his many problems. Well, maybe not this girl specifically, but those like her, he has to think of something. He has to do his duty by them, that’s what he set out to do the day they put the crown on his head. He doesn’t wear his crown these days anymore, he doesn’t want to attract attention. They know who he is anyway. As he sits himself on the bench by the fountain to eat his hot-dog, his subjects bow respectfully as they pass him by: ‘Majesty!’
The weather is getting chilly, but for now it is not a concern, the long black coat with its gold trimmed lapels is warm enough and there’s also the fur he keeps rolled in his bag. Such a beauty, he told himself the day he found it. Maybe too elegant, and he don’t want the people too think he’s vain, like all the others before him. He never wanted to be one of the useless kings that do nothing but sit on their thrones and stuff themselves silly. Like the one in the book his mother used to read to him. ‘Lord Greedy’ it was called and there was that funny picture of the fat king, a whole mutton chop in his greasy hand, and he had several buttons missing on his red coat and rolls of fat poked out. They always laughed at the picture, he and his mother. It was just one of their private jokes for his mother always told him he could be anything he wanted to be, even a king. King Richie! ‘I don’t want to be like him!’ the boy cried pointing at the fat king in the red coat. And they both laughed.
His father was the practical one in the house and he always told Richard he should study hard to become a clerk. A public clerk, preferably, that’s a good solid job because the government never goes out of business. And he made sure the boy studied, long hours doing calculus in his father study. The old man read the newspaper methodically, page after page, except for the sports section, he didn’t care about that, while the boy fretted and sweated over his sums. Not that he wasn’t good with numbers, they just didn’t make much sense to him. To him, a 3 was just as good as a 9, they were both good in fact. Not like 4, he always suspected 4 too be lazy. Sometimes his mind started wandering and he started to dress any 0 with a silly top-hat, with oversized shoes and a cane in its tiny little hands. Or hang fancy bow-ties over 8’s neck. His father didn’t think it was funny and tore the pages out and made him start all over again. Until one day he gave up. Richie thought it was his fault his father was so pale and groaned every time he sat down on his chair. It was only later, when they took him to the hospital that they told him his Dad was very very sick and he had to pray for him. He did pray, every night, until the funeral, he never prayed after that.
His Mom thought he should go to art school, she always found his drawings funny. But the gentleman at the school, who looked every bit as sick as his father used to, didn’t find them funny at all. Like the portrait of the woman with one huge eye, occupying most of her face, dwarfing the button nose and the tiny drooping mouth. Richie explained it was Edna, their landlady, who spent her days in a rocking chair by the window watching her tenants comings and goings. ‘You have no sense of proportions’, the professor said and begged him to leave.
He thought himself lucky when he got the job at the theater, the work wasn’t hard and he was allowed to hide in a corner and watch every show. Until they found out he was sleeping backstage, in the emperor’s bed he had to drag on stage every night. It wasn’t quite royal as a bed, you could tell the columns were just painted wood, not gold, but the mattress was good enough. But the actor who played the emperor complained the bed smelled funny and he couldn’t concentrate on his speech in the death scene. He made such a fuss, Richie had to confess he had nowhere to sleep now that his mother was dead. The actor would not hear of his apology and, then, Richie snapped and told him his king came across like a pompous ass and it was stupid to shout out his lines when he was supposed to be dying, not to mention he had a silly accent. The actor got so red in the face they all thought he was going to have a stroke and, of course, Richie was fired.
He sees thing so much clearer now that he is a king himself. All those long boring speeches with the mighty forefathers and the gods and the glory, really, there are things that are way more important when you’re the king. Richie wants to be a king for the people, it is for them that he’s writing the new Constitution. He’s got a notebook that is almost new stuffed in his bag somewhere. Sometimes, when he gets a really good idea he tries to write it down, but it’s hard. His eyes are not what they used to be, and the lamp at the foot of the bridge where he has his shack broke down after the storm three months ago and they sure don’t seem in a hurry to have it fixed.
Maybe he should write it down. There will be a clerk in charge of public parks and the under-bridges and all the places people like Richie disappear at night. Make sure there’s decent lighting and safe places to build a fire to keep warm on cold winter nights. And blankets! Free blankets for everybody, so no one will have to steal another man’s blanket. Like that Joe did last winter. Much good did it do him, they found him frozen one morning anyway. And they cleared all his belongings and took away the blanket, too, his blanket. Maybe he could order his servants to deliver rum to the street people on cold nights. He’s very partial to rum, but he rarely has the money to buy it these days. The councilors might oppose the idea, everybody does, like taking a swig of rum on a cold night is the end of the world. God forbid they see you with a bottle tucked away in your pocket. Why does everybody think it’s because people like him drink they end up in the street, when it’s the other way round? He never used to drink when he was younger, well maybe a beer or two, but he wasn’t one of those that get plastered every time they get a bit of money. Tea, would be a more reasonable idea. He’ll see to it that the homeless get hot tea, it’s nice and keeps you warm for a while. Until you have to get out of your shelter and go pee. Always such a drag, but what can you do?
He’s done with the hot-dog and Richie licks his fingers carefully, to get all the ketchup. There’s still the apple-pie, but he stuffs that in his pocket for later. It’s nice to have a snack in bed. Maybe it’s not the best pie in town, but it’s big and it’ll keep him full till morning.
Richie straightens the tails of his coat as he gets up, time to go home now. A little girl in a pink frock runs up to him and stuffs a coin in his startled hand. The mother pats the girl on the head and stares after Richie with a sad look in her eyes. Richie smiles at her and quickens his pace, he needs to get home and write everything down while there’s still light.
Story written for @mariannewest's freewrite challenge. Today's prompt was: emperor!
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