The strange guest had never known the world could be so distorted and confusing. As if wandering through the darkest valley where sounds and smells were almost muted, she wanted to move, yet she couldn't walk; talk, yet couldn't speak. The only thing she could sense was this terrible voice, low and deadly. But as soon as it was there, it was gone. The voice was now a collection of them, lighter and seemingly less ominous. The blackness slowly changed into the dimmest colors she'd ever seen of blue, green, and red, though mostly brown. She began to groan instantaneous noises as she felt her hands and arms go up, as if reaching for something.
"Blimey, what's 'appened to 'er?" a high pitched voice said.
"Maybe she's possessed!" Another called.
"By a devil!" the loudest young voice rang out.
"Now, now, my dears, give 'er some air. She must be waking up is all," a scratchy, masculine voice replied.
The soft, fuzzy voices suddenly refined themselves into crisp and clear words as a bead of sweat ran down her face. "Charley, be a good boy, and fetch some water!" a the scratchy voice ordered. "Sure, Fagin," the first voice said. Her pale, sweaty forehead was dabbed with some sort of fabric as her vision became its usual self, clear enough to see, but nearsighted all the same. Her eyes widened at all the faces staring at her, as if she had just said something strongly impolite. With shaking hands, she sat up slowly and eyed everyone fearfully. Surrounding her multiple faces, ranging from ghostly pale to pink from sunburn. She tried to say something, but only soft breaths and tiny squeaks could be heard as her lips stayed agape; one man and all the rest, young boys with ages ranging from seven to twelve. She wasn't bother by that perse, for she was only nine.
"I-I..." she suddenly felt a little foolish as she swung her gaunt legs over the side of the bed she'd been laying on. " Welcome, my dear, welcome!" the man replied, noticing the silence. His long emerald green coat and black wide-brimmed hat, made him appear shabby, yet at the same time, stand out. He offered his hand, which she silently (and a little reluctantly) took, and try to stand up with. Unfortunately, her legs turned out to be far more wobbly than she anticipated. Thankfully she was caught by the man and a boy with a black top hat and blue coattails. "Oh-Oh there we go. We gotcha, Miss," the boy said, in that loudest tone she'd heard before. "Now hold on there, you two," the man replied. She helped her sit back down onto the bed, giving the girl a moment to realize the situation.
"W-Wait, stop, stop, stop...wh-where am I?" Her eyes traveled all over the room. Two long lines of hanging handkerchiefs, mattresses with pillows, and a least a couple of long tables. Aside from a few windows and an opening on opposite ends of the room (one with a small staircase to the outside world, and the other on the opposite end, leading to a small hovel with a small stove and a wrapped container of sausages. The man in the long green coat stepped forward. "Ahh, good-no, great-question, my dear. I am Mr. Fagin, patriarch of this-" His sniffed and proudly stroked his suspenders with his thumbs. "Little family, I should say. And who might you be?" The girl blushed and curled in her lips in embarrassment. "You're...gonna think this is crazy, but-" "Hmm?" Fagin interjected, intrigued. "I kinda don't reme-" When she placed her hands in her pockets, she felt something smooth, but unusual. She reached inside and pulled out two pieces of paper. Most of the boys gasped the moment they saw them. One was a letter, the other was a 10 pound note, and the other was a crumpled lily.
"To my darling dear," she read aloud. "That's me, isn't it?" she asked Fagin, who wasted no time opening her hand to take a closer look at the cash. "Ah, a pound note, a letter, and a flower; very special, my dear," he said. The boy who'd been directed to fetch water, stepped forward with a ladle full of it. "For you, Miss; name's Charley," he said. She gratefully took it. "Thank you, Charley..." as she took a sip, she thought of something. " "What day is it?" she asked. The boy in blue pointed to a window. "Can't you hear the church bells?" The girl nodded in understanding, though the girl had to admit that . "O-Of course, sorry..."
Fagin slipped in between her and the boy in blue. "Oh, it's perfectly alright, my dear. This one 'ere is the Artful Dodger, formally Jack Dawkins!" he announced. Dodger tipped his black top hat. "Morning, Miss!" he greeted. "What a boy, what a boy...my dear Dodger say he found you in Covent Garden, yeah?" "Right!" Dodger confirmed. "Do you have any idea if anything else could be your name, my girl?" Fagin asked.
She shook her head and sank a little into her seat. Fagin nudged Dodger and tipped his head towards a hanging handkerchief. "Oh there, there, my dear, don't be sad."
"It's, well,...something's telling me to be somewhere, but I can't for the life of me recall where...not even my own name." Her voice began to break, though only a little. She took a deep breath. "I'm afraid I can't say help you, sir. I-OW!" She suddenly rubbed a tender, yet throbbing spot on the back of her skull. Fagin looked at the spot himself, took the handkerchief Dodger picked up, and handed it to her. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, what an awful bump you've got. No wonder your memory's gone! Not to worries, Miss, we shall help you, won't we my dears?" he asked, handing the cloth to her to help with her misting eyes.
"Yes, Fagin!" The boys exclaimed. "How?" She asked. "Well, first and foremost, we must decide on your name! Can't wander the world without even a first one, can't we?"
She curved an eyebrow at this, but shrugged and nodded. "That would be silly, sir." "Oh, unbearably! Henceforth, keep that letter close, darling, for you shall be..." he placed pointed the lily towards her ear, making her take it and place it there, with the green stem secured through her hair. "Lilian...Green. Hmm, add an 'e' to that last name and you've a marvelous name!" The boys released a collective cheer. "Our Lilian Greene!" Dodger concurred. Lilian looked about her and couldn't help but feel suddenly lighter. The smiles of these new children, and the approving nod of this man comforted her in a sense. She nodded and waved back, albeit awkwardly. "Th-thank you! Thanks! I-I really mean it." "See, that's a better attitude!" the man confirmed. "I've got a corner you can sleep in, we'll give you food, a lovely job, everythin'!"
"What kind of job?"
Fagin grinned at her, though it seemed more comically silly than anything else. "Lily, my dear, you see that 10 pound note in your hand there?" Fagin rested an elbow in his palm and his supported hand under his chin. "Yes, sir!" "Money is an amazing thing, isn't it, boys?" "Yes!" the boys replied. "And in this life, it can be hard to come by, so we work together to simply pick the pockets of outsiders, no harm no foul."
"That's all? You just slip nice things from out of people's pockets to get more money?"
"Exactly! Cash, handkerchiefs, wallets, even the smallest coin. We embroider wallets ourselves, you know, and do some impressive needlework with our handkerchiefs. You'll learn that with time, once you've pocketed a few times yourself. And we put 'em all in my special box, before I cash 'em in the bank! Rent, you see...and a little fulfillment," Fagin giggled at that last remark.
Lilian's eyes twitched with a little excitement at the final word, herself. Fulfillment, she thought. She certainly needed that.
"Boys, let's have a few practice rounds, ey?"
All of the boys hurried to the center of the room with Fagin slipping into the center. "You see, Lilian, my dear, they say 'money is the root of all evil'. I say 'nay'! It is the root of all happiness, possibilities, personal bonds!" As he preached, one boy with a blonde bowl cut, sneaked a hand from behind and pinched a black wallet from his deep, front pocket. Lilian momentarily rose a finger to speak, but Fagin's body posture suggested that he must've known.
"And look! The wallet is gone!" he replied jokingly. "In this life, my dear, if you want to get ahead, you've got to pick or pocket or two, I often say!"
Another boy sneaked a small tin container from another pocket, Dodger snuck a watch from his vest pocket, and Charley managed to grab a string of pearls from his sleeve, amidst his strutting about and speech about his way of life. Lilian was mesmerized. The seeming easiness of swiping the smallest trinkets, the mischievous joy on the boys' faces, and way Fagin would pat their heads once he'd turn. "You'll learn a lot from us, my Lily. Some of us here will-"
He suddenly turned to the left to find Dodger there with a ring from his back pocket. "'Ere now, give it back." Dodger reluctantly agreed. "What a crook!" he laughed. The boys joined in, even Lilian couldn't help but giggle a little. "You'll learn a lot from Dodger especially, Lilian. ' E keeps doing what 'e's been doing and 'e'll be as great as Bill Sikes one day!"
"Yes'm, Mr. Sikes, only the best professional burglar on the European continent..." Fagin admitted in a mildly quieter tone. Lilian's eyebrows curved and her smile grew.
"Bold statement, Mr. Fagin; what's he like?" she asked, excitedly.
"... Smart ol' dear, that one. Very determined..." Fagin instantly looked away before locking eyes with her again. "You'll meet 'im soon enough...Lily, why don't you give it a go? You need practice more than all of us! I mean, if your legs are up for it." Lilian took a breath, and eased her way up. "Alright...I think I got it, sir." "Strong girl, clever girl! Now-" he gestured to a new handkerchief into his pocket, one she'd never noticed before. He hummed as he walked about the room in a circle. "Give it a go, huh?" "Yes, sir!" Lilian replied rather bravely. She tried to imitate his walking, based on what she'd seen from the boys. He stopped for a few seconds, making her freeze and make a quick lung for it.
He jumped out of the way and wagged his finger in her face. Lilian grumbled to herself, despite his lighthearted attitude. "Never fear, my dear. Try again," he assured her, turning back around. The second time, she loosened the muscles in her fingers as she tried to quietly sneak the handkerchief away from him, but an involuntary twitch made her try again a third time. Some of the boys looked unsure at that point, but Lilian would not relent. On the third time, his hums took on a tune, as she took a soothing breath and delicately pinch the cloth in his pocket, regulating the muscles in her fingers so that it would make for an easy pull.
"Hmmm...you got to pick or two. You got to pick a pocket or two, boys. You've got to pick a pocket or two," Fagin sang, as the cloth turned into a long train of them, one tied after the other. As she pulled as mildly as she could, one last sudden tug took her off guard. She gasped as she lost her balance, fell backwards, but thankfully collided with the hand-railing at the top of the steps. Her collision triggered something in her. Her eyes widened as the contact made Fagin's room disappear only for a moment and was instead replaced with an image of a particularly bright light and the glistening shape of a diamond. The light only lasted for a second before she was brought back to reality. Though the boys walked towards her to compliment on her chain of handkerchiefs, she was mostly silent. "A diamond..." she thought to herself. She grinned at the very thought of it; so random, yet quite familiar.
"Lily, my dear! You're brilliant! I knew you 'ad it in you!"
"Thank you! Thank you, Mr. Fagin."
"You'll be a fine lady pickpocket, won't she, boys?"
"Sure!" Charley replied. The boys eyed the fabric avariciously as he put it back in his pocket.
Lilian looked all around her and smiled warmly.
"Now, boys, Lilian, time for bed!"
"Aww..." the boys replied. But they relented anyway. "Off to cash our findings, meet with Mr. Sikes, and then, tomorrow's a new day, my dears!" Fagin announced. Lilian glanced at her with a determined smile. "Yes, sir," she said as she was directed to an empty corner where a cot sat. It was no aristocrat's mattress, but it wasn't awful either. It was right under a strong shelf that held other sleeping boys. As the boys settled down and fell silent, so did she.
As Fagin left with his box of valuables, Lilian merely laid there and, despite her happiness at the image that came her head, she still felt a little conflicted. She only had that image now, nothing more. "Well," she thought. She plucked the lily from her ear, looked at it from all angles and set it aside. "There's this flower...and my letter..." But then she found herself smiling softly again. "And Mr. Fagin, Dodger, Charley, and...Mr. Sikes." Her mind became flooded with the last of them. A professional thief, successful and smart, she thought. If Mr. Sikes of all people could find fulfillment, as Fagin put it, in his craft, perhaps she could find fulfillment too, and more memories along the way.
She almost couldn't wait to meet Mr. Bill Sikes.