The man had scales all over his face and all over his hands. The rest of the skin was covered in clothing but the scales ran down under his shirt over his entire body and he sat on the pier in the sun, his skin flaking, drying, scales coming loose, tossed up in the sea winds.
The Lizard Man watched the world, his yellow eyes pulled tight, squinting in the bright that burned over everyone. He studied the faces that saw him and turned away, that saw him and laughed, saw him and felt queasy, ill, afraid. The Lizard Man sipped his bottle of red wine concealed in a plastic bag and smoked his rollies one after the other in a furious chain that drifted in the breeze, spiralling upwards, as the waves crashed into wood and steel below.
The Lizard Man was watching a small girl, with dark hair and a sparkle in her eyes. She spotted him but didn’t look away; four years old, too young to be afraid, too young to know what is right and what is strange. And she walked around alone looking over the edges at the water, always smiling, running as the seagulls screamed above.
The girl came and stood by the Lizard Man; there were butterflies on her T-shirt and the glitter sparkled in the sun. She looked at him again, the smoke from his cigarette making her cough. So quickly he tossed his cigarette away and below it fizzed in the salt water out of sight. Only the fish heard it.
And the Lizard Man turned on his bench to watch the little girl who peered between the railings just beside him, her brown curls blowing in the wind. And she laughed merrily and the Lizard Man laughed with her, the ocean spray tickling their faces.
The girl hopped and stamped her feet in excitement as she continued to stare at the water, her feet nearing the edges of the damp wood.
“Don’t fall in young miss,” the Lizard Man said.
She glanced at him, unsure for a moment, but then she relaxed. She could see a kindness in his pale eyes and she smiled warmly again. As the Lizard Man smiled back at her an angry man burst through the crowd and charged towards them, “There you are! I told you not to move! Bloody hell! You know what’s coming now don’t you!”
The man was raging. His tiny eyes were dark and empty, his cheeks red from gin and fury. He looked at the Lizard Man and muttered something under his breath before grabbing the little girl by the arm and dragging her away. The Lizard Man watched, rose to his feet. He tossed his wine bottle over the edge of the pier and followed.
He waited in the cellar of the little girl’s house. He’d followed her and the angry man, her father, all the way home. The man had dragged her by the arm as she struggled and tugged, trying to get free. The Lizard Man followed at a distance but could see that she whimpered and cried all the way. He’d slipped in through a low window at the back of their house. It led straight down into the cellar where he now waited, listening to footsteps, waiting for assurance that the little girl was safe.
The Lizard Man thought he heard the father leave, as heavy stomps were followed by a slamming door. He waited a few minutes before trying to climb out of his hiding place among some boxes. As he did so, he knocked over an old lamp and it crashed to the ground. Shards smashed and disappeared into the darkness. The Lizard Man went silent, so did the rest of the house. He tried not to breathe heavily but it was hot and stale down there. His scales itched and he scratched at them till his arms bled.
The door suddenly opened and the Lizard Man peered up at the light streaming in through the doorway. The little girl stood there, illuminated by sunlight, glowing. She saw him immediately and seemed scared, her eyes open wide. She released the door handle and took a step forward.
The Lizard Man spoke, “Shh, it’s OK. It’s only me.”
The girl didn’t say anything at first. She glanced around, put her index finger to her lips.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she said.
“I know, I’m sorry. Don’t be scared.”
She was breathing quite heavily, “OK.”
“Are you still scared?”
“Yes, it’s dark.”
She glanced around, unsure of the dank cellar.
“Well let’s turn a light on. Where’s the switch?” The Lizard man stumbled around in the dark, “Here,” he flicked the switch, “is that’s better?”
The girl seemed to calm, “Yes.”
“Good, you want to come down?”
The little girl tiptoed down the stairs, her short legs allowing her to move just one step at a time. The Lizard Man stood before her. He crouched low to the ground.
“Now let me explain why I’m here. But you have to be quiet. Do you promise?”
She nodded vigorously, “Yes.”
“Good. I followed you home see. After what I saw at the pier I had to follow you home.”
The girl looked puzzled, “Why?”
“Well, I wanted to make sure you were OK.”
“I wanted to make sure you were safe.”
“I am safe.”
“Are you sure? Is that man your Dad?”
“Does he hurt you?”
The girl went silent.
“Does he hurt you? You can tell me. I’m here to help.”
“He used to but not anymore.”
“Why not anymore?”
“Because he’s scared.”
The little girl seemed sure, she was calm. The Lizard Man bent closer, put his scaly hand on her shoulder, “Why is he scared?”
“Because he knows my mother is watching him all the time and he doesn’t like seeing her.”
The Lizard Man stood up, scratched his forehead. Flakes danced and twirled to the filthy floor.
“Where is your mother?” he asked.
The little girl smiled and pointed to the sky.
The Lizard Man smiled back at her, “I see.”
“But sometimes she comes back, when he’s angry because of his bad drink. She comes and he doesn’t like it.”
The Lizard Man rose to his feet and studied the girl but she was just smiling at him. He was unsure of what to do but he could see she wasn’t playing games. Her tone was matter-of-fact.
He leaned close to her again, “As long as you’re safe.”
On his way out as the Lizard Man walked towards the front door he thought he saw something white by the living room window. The curtains were closed and he was certain he saw a shape hovering, but it disappeared when he looked more closely. He shrugged it off, it had been a strange day. The wine was still fueling his mind a little at least. Although the white figure, that was an image he never forgot, never told another living soul about.
He waved goodbye to the girl and set off back towards the pier. Clouds had since arrived and the sun was wrestling to warm the world below but the Lizard Man didn’t mind. His scaly skin was fried and he needed to cool off.