A winter wind blew across the clearing. The night was cold. The poorest men of the area, drunks and travelers, gathered around a trash fire. The vagrant who had started the fire welcomed the others with gestures and nods. He sat next to a stack of broken planks, which he used as fuel.
A few of the fellows pulled up rags and blankets close to them. They leaned against rocks, tree stumps, and their bundles of cloth. Soon they fell asleep.
Two men with bottles of wine in their hands remained awake. Occasionally they muttered to each other about the wine. Across from them, a young traveler took off his backpack, pulled out a metal container with water in it. He set it in the coals of the fire to make tea.
"We're scum," grumbled one of the drinkers. No one argued with him.
"I lost all of my friends," said the other after a swig of wine. "That's what did it. That's why I ended up here. I lost track of some. The others died. Then there was just the drinking."
The tea-maker snorted.
"Life is an illusion," he said. "Friendship is an illusion, too. I know that I'm hardly here at all. Same for you. We don't count. I don't have friends. I don't worry about it."
The three were quiet for a while. The man who was tending the fire threw another piece of wood onto it.
"Why are you here, fella?" one of the drunks asked.
"I'm here as a friend," he replied. He tossed on another broken plank.