Bespeckled in holiday lights that twinkled in silent unison and donning the red and white velvet cap of St. Nick, the pig stood atop the market entrance, nose held high; a welcome to the city’s cultural center, to the salt-sour smell of the wharf, to bask in eternal consumer glory.
It was an object of amusement, a source of delight for both young and old, a symbol of the eccentric nature of the city where tourists gathered to laugh, point, and take selfies. There was a time, before he fell into the city’s trap, when he could see the pig without the quickening in his heart, or feel the clench of jaw muscle, but whatever happiness from those moments died long ago.
And so he stood there, silent in the morning drizzle, one hand clenched around a steaming to-go cup of Colombian, the other supporting an American Spirit between stained fingers, and stared up at the statue. Around him, the world shouted for attention, the barking of fish mongers, the pungent stench of salmon chilling on filthy ice, but it was all white noise. There was nothing more than the rain, the cold, and the pig.
A giggle disturbed his dreary thoughts. A little girl, Chinese perhaps, no more than six with short black hair that cascaded down an overstuffed winter jacket, tiny hands buried in woolen mittens, smiled at a camera, flashing the peace sign.
Maybe it was the cavalier innocence of youth or the way the smile brought back unbidden memories, but as he watched her pose for the camera, an unwelcome smile spread across his haggard lips as unbidden memories welled up from a black pit deep inside his soul. Then the girl was gone, shepparded inside the market with a few rushed foreign words.
He looked up at the pig, still smug as ever with that infuriating smirk, both pitying and condescending at once, and sucked down the rest of his cigarette. He turned aside, leaving behind a cloud of smoke suspended in the empty air, vague memories of happiness evaporating to nothing.