Life in Alexandria had not been tender towards Antef, but he didn’t mind. He had a job, a full belly most of nights, and places to stay dry in the Rain Season. Sure, it wasn’t in his nature to be violent, so he had found a way to make himself useful to the Boss nonetheless. He couldn’t be a cutthroat, but he was tall and muscular for his young age, so he could be an enforcer, to intimidate people by his very presence. He could deliver packages, too. Mostly opium, from the docks where it came from, to the smoking houses, where the consumers came. Antef knew it was illegal, and bad for health. But he couldn’t decide for others, so, if they wanted to ruin their health, it was their responsibility, not his.
To be more impressive and look like a fighter, Antef had came with a brilliant trick, which made quite an impression on his fellow henchmen (or rather, boys, for most of them). He had discovered he had a knack at making up fake wounds and scars, with only a few things, like coal, berry juice, dust, and whatever he could come up with. Sometimes, when he was lucky, the tattooist from the docks, the one who had tattooed him several times in exchange for small services, gave him some ink from his leftovers. With that and old rags, he could make anyone look like they just came out from a nasty fight. Black eyes he made with verdigris powder and charcoal dust, wounds with ink or other reddish substances and a lot of nasty-looking things around, and sometimes, it took nothing more than a tainted bandage around an hand or arm to make it look like there was a wound under it. The Boss called him an artist, and soon he was asked to help the professional beggars working for the gang looking even more shabby and pitiful.
It was his everyday life, working for the gang, sometimes getting paid, sometimes getting fed instead. Most of the time he slept in a small room in an abandoned house where the lost boys of the gang liked to meet. He had some straw to keep him from the clay flooring, and even an old woolen blanket with not so much holes in it. He was in his bed one morning, when he felt something approaching. In his line of business, you had to be extra aware of your surroundings, if you wanted to live a bit more. Antef jumped when he discovered what it was which had awakened him. He had never seen such strange a beast. To be fair, he had not seen many animals besides those you could see on the docks, for trade, or the domestic ones. He was a city boy, after all. The animal quietly came to him, its many quills moving with its body. It didn’t seem to mean harm. Curiosity took Antef, and he reached to touch the nose of the beast. It was a shock. All the sudden, Antef felt like he had just found a missing part of himself. It was hard to describe what this feeling was. Like someone had forced a new organ inside of his body, and the organ was now functioning as if it was always meant to be there. A shock, but also a relief. Out of the blue, he knew it was female, and it was called a porcupine. Antef sighed, as Fluffy, as he decide to call her, for her many spines, from afar, looked like a long soft fur, and he thought it was funny, came to his side and handed him a date from the cluster she held in her tiny hands. Antef didn’t know why he could feel what Fluffy felt, or know what she meant, but a strong bond had formed between them, and he was thrilled to have a trusted friend in this dangerous world. He gladly shared a breakfast of dates with Fluffy. He laughed softly when he pictured the face of the other boys – and even the Boss! – when they would meet Fluffy. Certainly the Boss would see her as an asset for intimidation. She was so sweet, though, she wouldn’t have hurt anyone. But she could look impressive, erecting her spines, if he wanted her to. How amazing was that? He tentatively petted Fluffy, carefully avoiding the quills. She rubbed her nose on his hand. For the first time since his brother left, Antef knew he would never be alone again.