Once upon a time, in a faint, industrial London, there was a poor boy with a sad face. He had no money, no home, no parents, often pushed by aristocrats. The only thing he had was a steel lighter, which, if full, was ready to warm him up. The boy filled it up in an industrial plant where excess oil was not new. The workers threw him some breakfast leftovers. By the canal, he had a place to sleep. This is how children were treated in the British Kingdom. They were a common topic in the hate of that time.
I was that poor, frozen boy looking in a gutter for a delicacy. I came from a countryside; I was just good-for-nothing. I wasn't really an orphan at all. My mother lived with her daughter near London, and I used to come to its centre to beg. Every week, on Saturday, I'd come up with cash. If it wasn't enough, I'd get a beating. We had to buy drugs for my sister, who had been suffering from tuberculosis for a long time.
The Christmas market was coming up. Winter came and frosts started. It was time for me to move the couch from the canal. The poor were kidnapped from there to be shot. I was looking around the centre for a warm place. One boy, begging in front of a church entrance, told me about the Christmas tree on the main square. I thought I'd owe him for that. Under a huge tree many children were sleeping, among sweets planted by people. So, I went under the Christmas tree in the evening and was received there in peace and quiet. It was no problem to find a place for me there. For a night we covered the entrance with branches. It was much warmer than outside the square, but it was still cold because of the frost. I tried to warm myself with my lighter. Before falling asleep, it was the last goodwill. The frost and my thoughts were gone. In my dream, children in London were rich and it was they who ruled Victorian England. I woke up soon. It was hot as a Kupala Night. There were flames all over the place. I crawled out. Two gendarmes in uniforms arrested me.
No one was injured in the fire of that tree that was raised from my lighter. The melted, that morning in court, was evidence. But what reason could I have for starting a fire?! I had fallen asleep unhappily with a lighter in my hand, but the judge insisted on the punishment fiercely. Eventually, he reduced the fine to £100 without tolerating any of my rebellions.
After the trial, they drove me straight home. A very strong wind heralded an arrival of a storm. My mother broke a pot at the sight of the gendarmes, who accompanied me, and the documents that ordered payment within three days. The money for my sister's medicines was barely enough, and then I was sure that there was no money left. My sister must have wanted to live so much, but death was getting arms around her. She had been out of school for a long time. Mother began to cry and beg for mercy, but she couldn't help my sister with her love. It was me, not my sister, who had been found guilty…
The senior military policeman suggested something else: 'It can be lowered from £100 to 50, but lashes. Shall I file an application and summon one of the executioners?'
I was terrified by the vision of that male decision and the heavy flogging offered to me. I could have saved my sister or my skin. There was also an option to take my pride away: I could pay a fine and steal medicines, but I hadn't been able to do so yet. The failure meant the death of both of us and a gift for the mother in the form of children's graves. Feeling great sorrow and great concern, I agreed to exchange the fine for flogging… The policeman said that they would come for me within three days. I would be flogged discreetly in a prison cell.
In a fever, I waited out those three unfortunate days. In the face of severe punishment, they seemed eternal. Finally, at dawn, a stage picked me up. How long did the reconnaissance wait for me after the whipping? Would I even survive that bloody lesson? At least I'd save my mother's daughter. It took over an hour to get to prison. I've listened to other prisoners cursing. They mostly waited there for death for thefts. Would they hear my suffering through walls?
I've waited a long time for the executioner and the papers. Each of the gendarmes seemed adamant. Finally, the executioner greeted me with a hooded coat and took me to a room where he would give me pain. I was ordered to take off my jacket and shirt. They asked me if I accepted the punishment for sure. I had no choice but to save my sister. I haven't thought about it at all. I was hung up high by my hands, and in the meantime the executioner went to get a cat o' nine tails. It consisted of nine straps with knots. Typical on ships between sailors.
We waited with the punishment for an equal hour, until finally the very strong executioner started beating. I yelled since the first blow. I felt my skin cut by every sharp knot. Apart from the pain, I felt blood dripping down my back, and the whip was hitting and hitting, as if it wouldn't stop. I thought this torment would never end.
I was unconscious, the anguish was over. I remember lying on my stomach when I was in the fog. My back was burning, and I was praying in spirit.
I spent more than a week in a prison hospital before I could finally take a wobbly step. After the Epiphany holiday, I returned home. Hugging my sister and mother, I've done my best. Years later, I find that the family was classy: with scars on my back, but with money in pockets. My sister stopped getting sick of tuberculosis and in school we were not seen as good-for-nothing. Slowly we crawled out of the social pit and moved to the capital city. Together we always wait for pay-outs to come, and the scars are reminiscent: there is always a way out.