The sun was setting over London as I climbed the low wall outside the Globe Theatre, squatted down on the cold, concrete and dangled my feet over the Thames. The lights from the opposite bank skimmed the water, painting its grey-black sheen with shimmering stripes of orange, red and blue. I had never seen London look so enchanting. It was fitting, I thought, that my ugly, empty life should have such a beautiful end.
I shuffled forwards so my buttocks were half on the wall, half suspended above the Thames. A tiny shift in my balance and I would topple forwards and then...
The voice startled me and I froze.
"Friend," said the voice, "my twin would rather you didn't do that."
I shuffled back a little and craned my neck to the right. Behind me stood an elderly man. His thin, white hair tufted over a golf ball-sized growth that bulged from the centre of his head. I couldn't help but stare. The old man smiled back.
"This," he said, pointing to the growth, "is Arthur, my twin. I am Fred."
He was too neatly dressed to be your average London tramp. And he didn't have a British accent. He sounded Polish or possibly Czech.
"He may not look like me," said Fred, stroking the growth with light fingers, "but he has nails, hair and teeth. On the inside."
"Is it alive?"
"Not according to medical science, no. But he is my hope, my constant companion. He keeps me alive."
"Whatever works for you."
"Do you have hope, friend?"
"I did, once."
"When I was a working actor, when I was married. When I had a reason to get up in the morning."
Fred took a step closer and I flinched, which surprised me. What did I care if he pushed me into the Thames? I was going to kill myself anyway wasn't I? But it mattered, in that moment, it really mattered that I didn't fall in.
"I lost my family a long time ago," Fred said. "I was smuggled out of Poland when they were taken to the camps in Torun in 1939."
"Oh shit. God, I'm so..."
"No, no sympathy. Look."
I watched, fascinated, as Fred rummaged in the pockets of his thick overcoat and pulled out a Swiss Army Knife. He flicked up a blade with a gnarly thumbnail and pressed it again his growth.
"Shall I kill it?" he said. "If it dies I will have to learn how to grow a new twin."
When a drop of blood beaded on the edge of the blade I reached out and knocked it from Fred's hand. He picked it up and folded it back into his pocket.
"What did you do that, friend?"
"Because I didn't want you to cut yourself."
"Wrong answer," he said as he walked away. "Think again."
I smiled as I watched him disappear into the darkness.
"Thank you," I said. "Both of you."