Shared Burden


amato_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title Shared Burden
Synopsis Two men argue on the concept of charity and responsibility in Staten's Rookery.
Date August 3, 2010

The Rookery

Below his throne of rubble lies a world wrought with sin.

When it's this hot out, not even the few nuns that still lend a hand at St. Joseph's Church can blame Amato for stepping outside for a breath of fresh air. In an uncharacteristic display of physical discomfort at the expense of his appearance, Amato sits on the the pile of debris blocking the entrance to the Rookery's only celestial house of worship with the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up past his elbows. His hair, getting long enough that it needs attention, is unruly with the heat of the day and the man's sweat. Despite his casual posture and a glass of lemonade that rests on a chunk of concrete beside him, the lankly, pale Italian looks far from content.

Worry knits his forehead as he watches the Rookery at his feet like a displeased monarch surveying troubled land. The Rookery, even during the day, is a less than ideal place. Children run unsupervised in the streets, many only partially clothed, having been pushed out of doors to stop annoying disinterested parents. Others trying to make some semblance of a living pick through the refuse of others for recyclables, while still more harass their fellows walking by for anything they can spare. And that's just on the fringes. There are others working as well, doing a seedier trade in whispers and sleight-of-hand exchanges.

Undesirable, to be sure - but when presented with an alternative, Amato ultimately chose the status quo.

Exiting from one of the bars across from that throne of rubble, a dark-haired young man squints blue eyes at the sudden blinding sunlight before tugging a pair of sunglasses from the collar of his t-shirt to shove on his face. Next comes a silver Zippo lighter and a pack of Capstans, pulling one cigarette out and bringing it to his lips, the lighter cap flipped with a "click" before the wheel's turn ignites the flame. He inhales, shoving the cigarettes and lighter back in his pocket, surveying the area. His eyes hidden, it's hard to make out his true expression, but there is a sneer of contempt on his face.

After a few deep drags of the cigarette, he begins to walk, but it is then that one of the children approach him; a young girl, perhaps 12 years of age with dark hair and big gray eyes, touches his arm and murmurs something. He jerks away as if he'd been burned, and shakes his head, reaching into his pocket for some coins and tossing it on the ground, far away from him so she has to scramble after them. His head turns and he looks toward the bar he just exited, as if to make sure he hadn't been seen — but there's only the shut side door, no windows. Until his gaze alights on Amato.

And he stares right back at Nick, his furrowed brow now coupled with a judgmental scowl. As if the mindless unkindness toward the child weren't enough, there is something familiar about the man's face that unsettles Amato. Has he met this man before? Surely, with such an aversion to him, Amato would have remembered such a meeting.

Amato stands, pushing against the rubble to get to his feet and thereby putting himself lower on the pile's slope. "Is that how you show charity, young man?" he calls to Nick, no small amount of censure in his tone. His accent is not American, nor is it any discernible breed of European - more of a mix, as if the man has traveled quite extensively. "If you were starving, and someone threw a gift of bread into the mud - would you see that as charitable?"

The little girl has picked up the coins — mostly quarters and even a few of the golden dollars, so it turns out to be about five dollars' worth of "charity." She is counting it even as she gives a wave toward Nick and Amato then running off on bare feet to get out of sight before the man can change his mind. Nick turns to watch her for a moment, his frown deepening before he turns to look at the pale man preaching to him.

"It wasn't bread and I don't fuckin' see any mud. The money's still usable," he mutters to Amato, the accent more generically American. "So she had to get on her knees to get it. That's what she was offering to do, anyway. I'd say my way was kinder in the long run, wouldn't you?" He takes another long pull of he cigarette, exhaling with irritation.

That gives Amato pause, especially given the apparent age of the girl. But he shakes his head after a few seconds, and his scowl is back with double the intensity. "Perhaps," he argues, his eyes narrowed, "but that is no reason not to hand the child the coins. It is possible she's never seen that sort of kindness." And probable, given her haste to collect the money and run, hopefully to buy food.

Amato picks his way down the rubble pile, leaving the lemonade behind, and begins his slow approach. He hasn't done this sort of thing since…before. Before everything. But there is an undeniable euphoria in the righteous anger that boils up within the once would-be priest.

"So yes, today your infinite charity spared her pain," Amato concedes, the sarcasm in his words almost dripping, "Yet the chances of her ever leaving this place, and that life, are still infinitesimal. You had the opportunity to redirect that path, but you merely tossed her aside, ignored the silent plea, and left her to rot in the gutter. You're the very picture of a good Samaritan. I'm sure your mother would be very, very proud."

There's a twitch in Nick's cheek; with his blue eyes still covered by the sunglasses, it's the only tell on his face that Amato is getting to him, though there are others; one hand balls into a fist at his side. The one holding the cigarette throws the half-finished stick on the rubble at the Italian's feet.

"Can't help them all, Padre," Nick says with a feigned indifferent shrug, clearly taking the man for a priest since Amato is sitting in front of a church, broken as it is. "I'll leave that to you and yours. Looks like you're doing a fine job of it, too." He gestures to indicate the slum they stand in, his voice as sarcastic and bitter as Amato's as he begins to walk away.

Amato shoots out his hand - his right hand - and grabs the back of Nick's shirt, right at the collar. He's taller than Nick, but not by much. Still, his own work with the monastery's flock of sheep has put a layer of muscle on his lanky frame. He tries to twist Nick around to look him in the eye, his own icy glare blazing.

"Thankfully," he seethes, "I'm not a man of the cloth. And these people - our fellow men - are your responsibility as much as they are mine. Remember that, ragazzo."

He tosses Nick away from him then, a gesture not that far from Nick's own dismissal of the girl not minutes before. Squaring his shoulders, Amato stands his ground, though he fully expects the younger man to continue his retreat.

His face flushing red with anger, Nick glares as he catches his sunglasses that tumble away from his face as he stumbles away from Amato's shove. He contemplates a fight — but that might draw undue attention to himself in this place he is seeking to establish connections. And what's more, there is truth to Amato's words. These people, people like that twelve-year-old girl, are his responsibility and what's more, his cross to bear. The unkind throwing of money was simply because the girl startled him; in the blinding sunlight, his eyes still used to the dark, dank bar, she looked for a moment like a ghost he'd left far behind him.

"Don't tell me about my responsibilities, Padre. You don't know shit about me," he says wearily, shoving his sunglasses back onto his face. "And I'd suggest you don't go around tellin' people what to do or not do, or you'll be the one kneeling in the mud asking for mercy. You're lucky I don't have the time for this shit, or I'd teach you a lesson about preaching from your fucking soapbox."

Nick lifts the hem of his shirt a little to show the gun he's got tucked into his waistband. "Don't fucking pull that shit again, or you won't live to tell the next person how to be charitable." Once more, he begins to stride away.

If the sight of the gun brings Amato to his senses, it doesn't show on his face. His jaw tightens slightly, and he lowers his chin, but otherwise, Nick's 'padre' doesn't move a muscle. He could have died, to be sure, had this encounter gone in a different direction. Perhaps part of him wanted that - to die in the moral defense of a child, a child he could have gone after himself in an attempt to save.

Once Nick has put some distance between them, Amato looks down at his feet to the barely smoked cigarette, dying in the dust. One blond eyebrow arches with interest, and the nagging familiarity in the back of his mind flares with answerless questions. After a moment's contemplation, Amato bends to pluck the cigarette from the dirt, careful not to touch the end marred by the other man's saliva. The brand insignia is one Amato has not seen for quite some time. He looks up to watch Nick's progress along the road for another moment before he silently slips the cigarette into his pocket.

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