By the time he was twelve the boy knew the amusement park as well as his own home; indeed, over the next few years he seemed to spend more time there than at home. With a little persuasion, the attendants on the various rides would often let him have a go in return for chores or errands, as long as the manager didn't find out. He loved it all, every inch of the place, the noise, the music, the laughter, the colour, oh the wonderful, garish colour… Every night of the summer he discovered something new and wonderful. There was the Ghost Train, the Haunted House, the roller coaster, the fantastic Hall of Mirrors where nothing was what it seemed… the surprises were never ending.
By day, he was working in Mr Finkelstein's candy shop, sweeping the floor, re-stocking the shelves and in time, serving customers, weighing out those tiny treasures with their bright, beautiful colours for eager children and occasionally older people too. They always looked so happy when he handed over the pink and white striped bags and, being little more than a child himself, he found it easy to chat away to them about their favourites and whether they liked the new candies. Most of the candy was produced in a factory by this stage, which was disappointing but the boy still liked to create the chocolate caramels in the back room, having been taught by his boss early on. It was an art, it really was, putting ingredients together in the right proportions and cutting them up into those neat little shapes. And best of all, he could take them home if they didn't turn out correctly. Sometimes he would deliberately make them the wrong shape so he could bring them home to his parents, who rarely got to eat sweet things otherwise.
Not all the customers were pleasant of course. He hated having to serve the spoilt, wealthy children who came in during their vacation and demanded this, that and the next thing from their parents, constantly changing their mind just to annoy him. On those days, he just longed to be making candies away from the public where no-one would bother him. Maybe he could work out a better way of making them if he had time to think about it? Surely nothing was so good that it couldn't be improved?
Work was a way of existence for him and the people around him and school was something to be endured and then dispensed with as soon as possible. At thirteen he could spend the entire day earning a living and now he was taking on more responsibility at the store, often being left on his own when Mr Finkelstein wasn't feeling well, which happened quite a lot these days. Sometimes he worked at night in the little vaudeville theatre on the sea front, selling programmes and candies outside, then graduating to the foyer when the manager realised that his patter and charm were an attraction in their own right. Not that he minded; not only was it warmer, it was the only way he could get to enjoy the shows, even the cheaper ones. He loved the spectacle; the dancing, singing, magic tricks and illusions, the sheer flamboyancy of it all. The little grey house bothered him less and less; he liked to think that a little of the colour of his other world followed him home.
At fifteen he was already copying and practising the acrobatics he saw in the circus shows that toured places like Coney Island. Finding a relatively flat space at the top of the embankment, he would practise his tumbles and cartwheels to his heart's content, while his mother hung out the washing and wondered where on earth they'd got him from.
As trains sped by, he started to notice that the passengers were taking notice and waving at him from the windows. Sometimes he would deliberately stop and wave back, watching how happy they looked. For years he was something of an urban legend; the boy who used to entertain the passengers down by the railway track. And then one day something unexpected happened. The train stopped for about twenty minutes right by his house, something he'd never seen before. It must have broken down or something; he was never quite sure. Regardless of the reason, he happened to be there at that very moment and spent the next ten minutes entertaining the passengers with cartwheels, backflips and anything else he could think of. And then, without thinking about it too much, he started doing a little song and dance routine he'd seen in the theatre. He wasn't even sure he was getting the steps right and he stumbled a bit on the uneven ground but he didn't care. At the end, all the passengers in the carriage leaned out the windows and applauded. He'd never felt anything like it. They'd noticed him. He hadn't even been looking for applause and here it was. With excitement surging through him he bowed elaborately, like they did on stage. It was the best feeling of his life, next to eating chocolate of course. They loved him because he could do things they couldn't do. He was no longer just a poor kid trying to earn a living. He was someone.
At sixteen, when he was practically running the store single handed, an unexpected and unwanted visitor came to the little grey house. Influenza. The boy and his mother recovered but his father did not and something inside both of them died that day. With heavy hearts and numbed fingers they stood together in the local cemetery as he was lowered into the ground on one of the coldest days of the year and when the little ceremony was over they left him there surrounded by grey tombstones covered in snow.
A year later Influenza came back to finish the job it had started and this time his mother was too sad and too worn out by life to even try to fight back. Her son had to bury her alone this time, surrounded by kind neighbours who brought him food and tried to look after him, but who also knew he wanted and needed to be alone. That night he cried for both of them, for all the times he had dreamed of leaving them behind and for all the things he would never be able to tell them.
Each night for a week, he wandered down to his favourite amusements but the season was over and everything was locked up, unable to offer him any comfort. As he stared at the empty park through the gates it dawned on him, in the midst of his grief, that it was all a lie, a façade that hid the real world from view. Every fibre of his being tried to fight the idea but he knew it was true. But what if things were the other way around? What if the grey world was just a façade for the other, better one? With a lump in his throat he nibbled on his bar of chocolate, wondering what such a world would be like, a world where the greyness could never enter.
And not long after that, he disappeared. He simply left the little house one day and never returned to it. It was unexpected, certainly, but nobody was surprised when they thought about it. After all, they all agreed, that young man was so different to everyone else that he was surely never destined to remain here. Having lost his best employee Mr Finkelstein retired soon after for the sake of his health and the store was closed, although it lived on for a long time in the memory of everyone who had known it. Years later, when the locals saw the first pictures of a certain successful chocolatier in the papers they would realise exactly who had lived among them.