ntroduction Allow me to introduce... well, you probably already know each other. This is Poverty. I shook the bony hand extended to me, which felt like a latex glove, and suppressed the urge to wipe my hand with a handkerchief. The touch was unpleasant, and images of old men rummaging through garbage cans and starving Africans - skeletons covered in skin and surrounded by a swarm of flies, waiting for their prey to exhaust their strength and life, so that nothing would prevent them from feasting properly, flashed through my mind.
Shaking off these horrific images, I decided to leave this company as soon as possible. But as soon as I made up my mind to take the first step, I heard a heavy, guttural voice that seemed to be coming from everywhere at once:
"Do you know why I don't have a face?"
I looked up and saw that where her head should have been, there was a spot of blurry, wavering something. It reminded me of the movement of air over an open flame, with occasional parts that began to look painfully familiar, but as soon as they scattered, the obsession disappeared.
"That's so you think I'm not here."
While I was examining her "face," I forgot about the question I had asked, but her spoken answer brought me back to reality. The desire to escape returned, but it was accompanied by a feeling of awkwardness at the thought of rudely interrupting the conversation and leaving.
"Those images that flashed in your mind just now," and she pointed at my forehead with her bony finger, "you thought they only had to do with them, right? Not with you?"
I couldn't find the strength to answer or even rub my forehead after her touch. It was as if I had been struck with tetanus and the whole world at that moment consisted only of her repulsive voice, robbing me of my strength.
"Well, you're wrong. I need those people you thought of to compare yourself to. I purposely brought them to a terminal stage for people like you. I don't usually work that way," and here I felt her grimace, "it's not as interesting. I like to play with people - to pull the leash tight, then let it slacken a bit. And I need them to live and suffer, not die of hunger and disease right after birth."
"I've always been with you, remember. Do you do what you want? Do you live where you want? Do you eat what you want?"
I shook my head negatively, and heard a sound that was reminiscent of laughter from far away.
"Well, you see. Your whole life is dedicated to me. Fighting me. Accepting me. And fighting again. I never leave you - I'm there when you eat, sleep, and brush your teeth. You belong to me. No matter what you do, you can't get rid of me. And the funniest thing is that hardly anyone notices me. Someone may even drive a car but not know what to fill it up with. Live not on the street but in an apartment, but not know how to pay for it. Believe me, I've infiltrated practically every home, every family. But I don't show up in any statistics. I'm like drug addiction or alcoholism - only a small part of those who have really sunk low are visible, but most of them go to work and the theater. Outwardly, they lead a perfectly normal life."
"Why are you telling me all this?" I asked, struggling.
"Because I can. Look at it as part of our game."
"And one more thing - you really know whose face I have, don't you?"
I lowered my gaze. I knew whose face it was, but I didn't want to look.
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