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From One Loser to Another
Awakening as a street lamp snapped on above him, Paul stirred from his uneasy stupor, sitting up in the odor-filled alleyway that was his home. Baleful shadows filtered down from the large gray moon, illuminating Paul’s alleyway in such a way that even he feared what might be lurking in the shadows. This was ironic for Paul, as he was surely not a fearful person after having watched countless muggings and even shootings, now that he was living on the streets. Casually, Paul rose and donned a leather jacket – found in a dumpster even though there were only a couple of little stains on the back and sleeves – and stepped out into the night, on the lookout for any way to snag his dinner.
Dining happily inside the toasty restaurants along the road were couples, holding hands, laughing, clinking glasses of expensive wine, flaunting their wealth in front of Paul’s penny-less eyes. Overwhelmed with unwanted emotion, Paul found that he had to turn away, not only because it reminded him of his lack of money, but also of his wife, Una, who left him just as his money was finally running out, a few months ago.
“Every time I convince myself that I’m fine without you, something always reminds me of the good times,” Paul chokes out under his breath, but the words conjure up tears in his eyes. Before the tears can fall and leave streaks on his dirty cheeks, the undeniable sound of sobbing is heard in the distance. Far away, but not so far that Paul couldn’t get there in a hurry, the crying continues, not loud, but distinct enough for Paul to recognize the sound: a broken heart, as he himself had experienced as his life fell into the cruel, dirty hands of poverty and loneliness.
Gazing in the direction of the sound, Paul chewed over the thought of locating the maker of these terrible cries – he would certainly know what this person was experiencing – but would she listen, whoever she was? Hesitating only slightly, Paul starts in the direction of the crying, expertly navigating the moonlit streets and side-roads, as any street-savvy person would. The cries now much louder and so obviously close, Paul comes to a stop near a bridge over a river, nearly black under the night sky. That’s when Paul notices her: a woman stands, teetering on the edge of the metal railing. Instead of jumping into the water or stepping back down, the woman simply stands wobbling on the edge – the edge of life and death. Paul watches in horror, his ears still ringing with the woman’s sobs, which have now faded into a duller whimpering.
“Just hold it right where you are,” Paul calls out, but his voice jolts her causing her to lose her balance as she swings her head around to look at him over her shoulder. Paul’s hands fly up, as though to help her even from a distance, but she manages to throw out her arms and steady herself on a pillar, which she thankfully wraps her body around. Kaleidoscope-like patterns flashed in front of Paul’s eyes, as he was sure the woman would end up beneath the water’s swirling black skin.
“Are you alright?” he asks, walking with the greatest caution in her direction.
She whispers, “No.”
Lightly stepping towards her, shivering on the railing, Paul considers what it will take to bring her down – reaching up and yanking her backwards onto the hard ground, though she may flinch away from his grasp. He says carefully, quietly, “I imagine something unfortunate happened to bring you here,”
“Yes,” her voice quivers in response.
“My name is Paul,” he responds, his voice full of concern, “and I want you to come down from there…”
“That’s too bad, Paul.”
“Come on, you’ll hurt yourself, lady!”
“That’s what I want to do,” she
whispers into the night, making Paul feel as though he shouldn’t have heard.
“No, you don’t,” Paul says honestly, and notices a change in her posture, “you’re just upset, and that’s natural, but you can’t throw your life away because of one bad incident.” He says the next part a little louder, “I’ve got problems lady, I mean, I’m living on the streets, no wife, no home, no food, and you don’t see me face down in that river.”
Oddly enough, Paul hears the woman smirk, though her face is turned away from him – and this makes Paul smile a little, for he knows that she isn’t going to jump just yet. She sighs and says, “It wasn’t just one incident, it was our whole relationship, from the day my husband told me that there was no other woman in the world like me, to telling me flat out that he was seeing another woman and leaving me to be with her, and to be honest, I don’t think I want to jump because I’m angry with him, but because I hate the fact that I was so boring that he felt he had to cheat.”
Paul glances to the ground, murmurs, “My wife, Una, left me a long time ago, but not because I was cheating, or she was or anything, but because she saw that my money was headed down the toilet. To be honest, I wondered if I should be where you are, but I came to the conclusion that I’m just a loser, and the world’s full of them, so I shouldn’t feel too special.”
“Do you think I’m a loser?"
Quelling any fears that any misjudged word could send her over the edge, Paul crosses his arms, grins at the back of the woman, and says loudly, “Yes, I do, but before you take it the wrong way, I want you to know that it’s not so bad once you get used to it.”
“Really?” the woman asks him, her voice tinged with morose. It’s at this moment that Paul feels as though he shouldn’t have called her a loser: could this be just the right words to convince to jump? Unexpectedly, she steps down off the railing, where Paul races over to hold her hand and help her down. She turns to face him, and where Paul expects to see red eyes and dried tears over young cheeks, Paul is perplexed to see what looks like a smile on her lips. Her eyes probe his, as if looking to see if his words were true, and realizing the truth behind his words, she smiles completely. “Thank you for saving me… even though we’re losers, and the world’s chock full of them.”
“Thank you,” says Paul in response, still holding her hand, “and don’t think too poorly of us losers, we know how to support our fellow man- er, woman.”
“Una must have had a serious problem if she was idiotic enough to let you go,” the woman says, squeezing his hand with the undeniable reassurance of a friend. She leans forward, laying a gentle kiss on his slightly dirt-dusted cheek, not even wiping her mouth afterward – a sign of true gratitude. Vacantly looking into the distance, she sees something that attracts her attention on a road on the opposite side of the bridge: a car, shining its headlights in their direction. She recognizes the car and she propels herself towards it. Paul watches after her for a moment, but ultimately turns and heads back to his alleyway, hands in pockets.
“Where are you going?” Paul hears the woman’s voice call from across the bridge, which makes him stop and face her. He realizes what she means: she wants him to come with her, escape the dirty streets and reenter civilization. Xerophilous-like Paul would never again scrounge around for food and water, risking his life to starvation or death from extreme thirst if he went her. For whatever reason, Paul just shook his head, a brilliant smile on his lips.
“You know something?” he asked loudly, so that she could hear him, “I think I’ll stay here and see if any other losers are in need of my help…” he holds her glance as he speaks. Her expression darkens sadly, and suddenly he sees her throw herself at the floor of the car, her hands fumbling at something on the floor. Paul takes the opportunity to leave without making a scene.
Zealously, the woman speeds across the bridge and throws her arms around Paul, her hand sliding into the pocket of the leather jacket. Later that night, as Paul would remove his leather jacket for the night, he would discover a couple of twenty dollar bills and a post it note reading, “Thank you –from one loser to another.”