One afternoon, just before closing, the diminutive man, approached the young man.
"You want learn?"
Overwhelmed by the artistry of his soon-to-be-mentor, all Colin could do was grunt and lower his head, a lank fringe obscuring his left eye.
"Yeh...I wanna learn. Who's gonna teach me?"
"I will, if you listen. Learn. Pay attention and do not speak while I'm working."
"Lock up boy. We shall call it a day."
As the lad walks towards the ageing door to flip the sign to 'CLOSED' two monsters of men push him backwards with the door frame, the force sending him reeling to the floor.
"Nip!" one of them yells, "I need a fucking fix...NOW!"
"We are closed. Come tomorrow."
Hiko rights himself and stands steadfast in the face of the intruders.
"Fuckin' bitch..." one mumbles. "She fuckin' left me and I've got her name inked all over my back. Get rid of it. Turn it into something else!"
The aggressor tackles the diminutive man and clasps a fist around his neck.
"I'm not fucking around you Nip...fix it and fix it now."
The other assailant is focusing on the crumpled youth, who charges only to be knocked down again, his head slammed against the skirting board before a leviathan biker's boot depresses his solar plexus until he can hardly breath.
Hiko is calm and relaxed against the whirlwind. He's inked this thug before during less aggressive times. He's more talk than action but he's mad, and crazy upon his return.
"Very well. Remove your shirt. Take a seat."
He retrieves his finest needle and checks out the thugs' tattoo. The word "Cindy" in script is clearly recognisable in 3 inch lettering across the man's shoulder blade. He winds leaves of ivy around the lettering, stems of twisted vine in delicate sweeps to obliterate the letters, and wipes the emerging ooze as he travels from the moron's shoulder to beneath the blade.
"You come back Friday to fill...."
The thug rises and checks the outline with a curl-lipped smile.
"Not bad Jap, not bad at all. I'll be back and you can finish it."
Hiko puts out his hand.
"That will be $200 now and another $200 after he fills."
"After who fills? Aint you doin' it?"
"No. My hands are not steady. He will do it..."
He points emphatically to the young man struggling under an older man's boot.
"He is good. He need practice. You are tough, you not cry when he fill and shade."
The thug, well pleased with the camouflaged error on his back acquiesces.
"Fine. See you Friday worm. Fuck me up and I'll do the same to you."
A foothold is released. Two burly 'not to be tangled withs' leave and slam the door.
A frightened youth raises eyebrows at an old man before finally locking the door.
"Colin. This is not just a job. It not like buying shoes or a handbag. What we do is permanent, who we do it to is passionate. Tomorrow, you do good job. You shade the leaves gently, and make friend. You shade the leaves and he leaves. You shade the leaves and you become fine tattoo artist."
He uncharacteristically embraces the boy but doesn't see the smile of a young man who's finally learned the craft as he takes a well-held breath. This is what he's always wanted.
He's tender with the women and tough with the men. His clients adore him and divulge much while wincing under the sting of a liner, shader, double pointer, flat and stick weave. He's adept and he loves his craft. Even more, he loves the tales his clients tell, the people he meets and the reasons why they get ink done.
Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge - Hiko's Apprentice