By nj.

In my dream the sound seemed to be coming from a robot that was remarkably human-like, but in reality it was just the telephone. I could barely open my eyes. Not because of the black eye, though it still hurt, but because it was 2 AM.

"Yeah?" was the only thing I could utter.

"Is this Mr. Lewis?" a female voice replied too loudly for this time of the night.

"Cian, yes. Who's...?”

"This is Doctor Francis from the Saint Paul's hospital," she replied, before I could finish my sentence. "Mr. Philip Lewis was found with a concussion, earlier tonight."

"Is he..., what's his state? It's not bad, is it?" I replied hastily, shocked by how quickly she told the news like it happened all the time. All of a sudden I was more awake than a squirrel after his hibernation.

"He was unconscious when he was found, and... he still is, actually."

"What happened to him?"

"We don't know, exactly, but he was found on the bottom of a flight of stairs. Either he fell, or he got pushed down." she informed.

"Did he drink too much?" I asked. I was instantly embarrassed by my question.

"You can visit him now, if you wish. He's still unconscious, though," the doctor replied, unwilling to judge. "Saint Paul's?" I asked. "Thank you. I'll come right away."

I grabbed a pair of jeans and a cap from my closet, and walked to the shed in the garden while putting my coat on. The hospital was about ten minutes from the house, by bike. I didn't know why I wanted to go; I could have ended up in the hospital too, because of him. As that crossed my mind, I realised I still had a black eye and a wound on my eyebrow. I couldn't go to a hospital like that. They'd ask me what had happened to me. After telling a lie – I couldn’t say it was my father who did this – they would examine me, and then they’d probably send me to the police. I stopped by the entrance of the hospital. Among the many dark rooms, there were three windows with light behind them. In one of them was my dad. "He'll be fine, after a while. Even if I don't visit him," I thought. I stared at the buidling. My stomach grumbled; I forgot to have dinner. Surely the fast-food restaurants were still open.

I passed a parking lot on my way to the centre of the town. It belonged to a company with a tall building, standing up in the cloudy midnight sky. I heard someone yelling. I couldn't really understand it, but it did sound hostile. A familiar voice replied. I thought of Stuart's comments about the people that made him do things against his will. This group was a good example of what he described. Some tuned cars with a bunch of young men around them, expressing "Don't mess with me" just by their bearing.

I stopped in the dark on the other side of the road. I wanted to see more of this. I had a feeling something was about to happen. I didn't want to get involved, but something told me I had to stand there to witness what was about to unfold.

The angry voice continued. Then, its owner walked up to a short person, probably a teenager, and pushed him with force, which made the kid fall.

“Now go!” I heard the young man say, as he said it quite loudly.

The teenager picked himself up from the floor, and ran towards the opening in the gate that surrounded the parking lot. It was Stuart. The young man told him to go, so where was he going? What were they up to? He told me about the shoplifting, but this had to be something bigger. Shoplifting two hours after midnight? I had to follow him. I didn’t know if I wanted to talk to him, I didn’t want to poke my nose in his business. Well, maybe I did, but that might cause him to do something stupid. I followed him, just in case he needed help.

Stuart was so busy in his mind that he didn’t see me, standing across the street. I tied my bike to the nearest fence with my lock, and started my pursuit.

He walked fast, my new friend. I could hear him mumble. After turning right twice, he went through an ally. Halfway, he stopped. He let out a deep sigh and looked to his left, where there was a fence. I felt strangely sorry for him because he had to climb such a high fence, but despite his length, he did it with great skill. “Like a professional,” I thought. Surprised by that thought, I shook my head and walked to the point where Stu climbed over the fence. I tried to find an opening between the boards of the fence. I could barely see him in the dark garden.

With the same skill he used to climb over the fence, the reached the small, ivy-clad balcony above the back door. He then pulled the balcony door with great force. The apparently weak lock gave up, and he entered the house. Surely he had done this before.

I wasn’t mad at him for being a burglar. He couldn’t help it. Had he not told me he wanted to stop, but couldn’t, this very afternoon?

My eyes left the dark garden for a second, and caught an orange light flashing in the front garden. A silent alarm! I had to warn Stu, before it was too late.

“Stu!” I yelled with a whispering voice. Of course he couldn’t hear me. “Stu!” I called, this time a bit louder. I saw a vague silhouette on the wall inside the house. I took a few steps back, so that I was visible for him from the balcony. I heard a car coming closer to one side of the ally. It couldn’t be the police? They can’t be this fast! I started to panic.

Where were we supposed to go? They would hold me responsible too! My palms were sweaty. The car came nearer. I then realised the flashing light was an approaching lorry, instead of a silent alarm. But now it was too late. My call was too loud, and Stuart came out of the house.

“Cian? What the fuck are you doing? Go away!”

“I thought I saw an alarm, and...” Right then I realised that no one would be stupid enough to brake into a house with a visible alarm above the front door.

“Let me do this!” was his reply, as he rushed back inside. This probably made it much harder for him. Again, I didn’t know what to do.

“Should I stay here to help him out if something goes wrong or should I go away before I make it even harder for him with my stupid actions?” I murmured.

I walked to the other end of the ally, hoping that he wouldn’t see me after climbing back over the fence again. Suddenly I froze, but only after my heart made a jump.

“Don’t worry, he won’t bite!” a passer-by with a strong accent said. It was just a dog that felt a sudden urge to bark at me.

“He did give me a heart-attack, though,” I sighed, with my heart still pounding.

“Ha ha! So, what’s a young lad like you doin’ here at this time o’ night?”, the man, dressed in a long coat, asked.

“Oh, err, I’m on my way back home. I, eh, just saw a movie at a friend’s, but I couldn’t stay there for the night, so...” I told him, surprised by my creativity after that shock.

“Aight then, sleep well!” He said as he walked on.

I didn’t realise that this meeting could have some bad consequences for Stu’s burglary adventures, until I saw him open the garden’s gate from the inside.

Against my will, he looked straight into my eyes. •

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