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It’s eight thirty in the morning. I wake up to greet another miserable day in this increasingly despondent life of mine. Who am I? It doesn’t matter. I'm just some guy you see in the streets on your way to your high-end jobs or your comfortable flats to your precious families, and don’t notice. But if you got to know me, you’d be thankful you weren’t me. I'm the homeless man nobody pities; the one everyone neglects every day. I'm the janitor no one ever thanks, the man with just a first name and a mop. I am why you want to be successful in life. I am everything you fear of becoming.
So now I rise and sit on the edge of my bed. Well, it’s not really mine. I'm constantly moving from place to place in this city. Finally, I’ve decided to slow down a bit and am staying at my girlfriend’s apartment while she’s in Minnesota with her ailing mother. Stacey’s been kind to me. She’s the one thing I can be grateful for. She has stayed with me for some time now, but even she’s given up on trying to get me to settle. I don’t own much. Six or seven pairs of clothes, two shoes, a watch and lighter my grandfather gave me, along with the day’s pack of cigarettes.
I'm up. I slowly make my way across the room to the always relieving bathroom. But there it is. Probably the worst thing to be discovered and evolve into a common household item. It hangs there on the wall above the sink on its throne, mocking me. And I continue to stand across from it day to day, no matter where I’m residing. I stand there and look at my dismal self. I'm a thirty six year old man who hasn’t committed to life. I always have a five o’clock shadow peering on my face. I don’t have a steady job and live off odd jobs and petty theft.
I wash my face. That cool refreshing feeling continues to give me hope that today could be the start of new me, a fresh me. I brush my teeth and grab an apple from the fridge and head out the apartment and down the stairs into this wondrous city in search of enlightenment and a better life. But this search is ever so disappointing.
I take a whiff of Manhattan’s great air. It’s not fresh or clean, but great it is. I smell the frying nuts and the grilling hot dogs mixed with exhaust fumes, industrialization and smoke. I tune my ears to the sound of life. People, commuting and communicating. Construction going on somewhere, no matter how far away it is, it’s always heard. The horns of cars going off like tea kettles in the distance. And I look. I look at this concrete jungle and I see everything. On just one block all of our human emotions and characteristics are revealed. I see the happy, the sad, the rich, the poor, the tall and the short. I see love, hate, shame, and pride. Everything, melting together to create the existential city block. I sit on the doorstep and eat my apple. I look at all the happy faces hustling to work and before I begin to wish hateful things upon them, I turn my head to the poor beggar at their feet. Neglected, just like me. And I gaze at his glum face and I feel for him. And the second someone drops some change into his paper cup, I see his ancient, buried smile rise from its grave. And with that I take the always lonely remaining cigarette left and as I light it, I propose a toast of sorts, “Here’s to you my friend! For finding happiness in perhaps the worst possible situation. Here’s to you.”
With that I get up and pull on that cigarette. I feel the smoke fill my lungs and pollute them with its cancer. Some people tell me I should quit. Not for my health of course, but for theirs. Honestly, death is something I welcome with arms wide open. I’ve been given quite a beating in life and won’t mind leaving it. For me life has been only a series of ups and downs, and I could probably count all the ups on one hand. I'm not suicidal, just not afraid to pass away. But I'm sure I won’t die of cigarettes. Hell, with my luck they’ll probably just keep me alive.
I begin to walk down the street towards Barton’s. Barton’s is a medium sized supermarket and for the past two weeks I’ve been working there off the books, helping unload the delivery trucks. I make descent pay, enough to buy food, cigarettes and pay off whoever I'm staying with. After work, I head to the local diner for a bite. Usually something simple; pancakes or a burger. Today, I go for the burger. A young man is sitting next to me, drinking a coffee. He sips his perfectly brewed French Roast slowly and with relief. In the entire time it takes him to drink his bean roast, I have finished my burger and let it sit in my stomach for a few minutes. I reach into my pocket and pull out my pack of cigarettes, only to remember I have none. The young man noticed my crushed pack on the counter and offered me one of his.
“Thanks” I said
“No problem. I couldn’t help but notice you were grinning at my coffee.
“Well that’s mighty perceptive of you; I was just grinning because I don’t understand people and coffee.”
The man sighs from feeling letdown at his incorrect discernment. He gets up and leaves. I pay the bill and make a quick trip to the bathroom. As I make my way out, walking along the counter where I was sitting, I notice a briefcase on the floor next to my seat. I don’t think much of it at first, but then I realize it belongs to the young man. I hesitate, but give into my seldom seen benevolent side. I look around to see if he’s still around, but he’s nowhere to be seen. I pick up the briefcase and try to open it in hopes of finding out some information about his whereabouts, but the briefcase is locked. Luckily, there’s an engraved plaque with a name and an address. Colin Henderson, 253 Waverly Pl. Waverly Pl is about thirty blocks down from here. I start walking down towards Colin’s house looking for the nearest subway entrance. I find one a block down from the diner and stop at the convenience stand next to it to buy a pack of Virginian killing sticks.
The train arrives just as I get onto the platform. As the train moves along, coming to a slow halt, I look in through the windows and see that it’s thankfully not too crowded. The train stops and the doors open. I take the seat right next to the door as it offers me both an armrest and also a seat where I would not become subject to sitting in between two people. Many times I have found myself pressed in between one obese man smelling of body odor, pulled pork sandwiches, and a vulgar amount of Brut; and on the other side a woman who, judging by the pentagonal design on her ring and the overbearing scent of burned incense, is a wiccan and has miraculously run into an old friend sitting across the isle, talking loudly and obnoxiously about how unbelievable it is to have run into each other. Of course the specific change every time, but essentially I'm in the same amount of torture.
The train closes its doors and takes off towards the next station. This normally chaotic, overcrowded form of public transportation is quite serene when not filled to its brim and I am quite enjoying the gentle, yet somehow also rough, rocking of the train as it beams through a system of tunnels.
I spoke too soon. The train makes its first stop since my arrival and the masses pour in like a mob held back by a gate, ravenous for blood. If anyone ever tells you they live in a more diverse place than New York City, all you need to do is take them on a ride on subway and they will shut their mouths. Every type of person is here. Every race, height, weight, and social class. Now every seat is taken and the isle is packed. A woman with a stroller is standing by the doors next to me. In front of me is a young man listening to his headphones blocking the noise around him, a tall, young lady with feminine cowboy boots, a fluffy skirt made of a synthetic fabric to look similar to a wedding dress, simple yet elegant blouse, and a smooth, milky white skin complexion. But my focus towards this lady is interrupted as young Latino couple get into a heated argument. I don’t know what exactly about and I couldn’t possibly care less. All I care is that they shut up. They don’t. They keep fighting, using every cuss word known to the English language, and their voices and faces get more intense as the seconds go by. The whole train cart quickly glances at them as girl raises her voice above the man’s, but the other train riders quickly lose interest as they have all become accustomed to seeing this ordeal on an almost daily basis. Their fighting awakens the baby next to me in the stroller and it begins to cry.
The train stops for a second time and I pray that someone gets off, but no one stirs. No one even enters the train. The baby is still crying and the couple is yelling. At this point, everyone’s eyes are focus on the train cart’s floor, listening to their music louder than usual, or extremely engulfed into their books. I am just praying that I don’t get up and attack the couple. The next two minutes last ages and finally, the train stops and I get off and light a cigarette as I reach ground level.
I get to Waverly Pl, and go down half a block until I reach 253. There’s a doorbell, just one, which suggests that the entire building is Colin’s home. I ring the doorbell and after three long minutes Colin comes to the door with a confused look on his face.
“Hi, I noticed you left your briefcase at the diner.” I say as soon as he opens the door. His eyes rise as he comes to shocking realization that he indeed had left his briefcase behind and it was now in my hands.
“Oh my God, thank you so much. I hadn’t even noticed. You don’t know how much trouble you’ve saved me. I must repay you.” He says after reclaiming his briefcase.
“Don’t worry about it. It was no trouble at all.” Actually, I could have done without that dreadful train ride.
“No, I insist, hold on.” He leaves the door open and runs into his apartment. He comes back in just about a minute with an envelope in hand. “Here, take this.” He hands me the envelope. “This may seem a bit extreme, but trust me; you don’t know how much trouble and anxiety you’ve saved me.”
I look in the envelope and see it’s filled with money. “If you say so.” As I turn and leave, Colin thanks me once more.
I quickly stand next to a tree and count the money. FIFTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS! This is ridiculous. I mean when he said extreme, the most I would expect is a grand. But who is this person and what was in that case that is worth fifteen grand? I ponder on this for only a moment and quickly subside to pure joy and excitement. Thoughts start to race through my head in regards to what I want to do with this money. I stop and conclude that first I should put this money somewhere safe and I proceed to my girlfriend’s house. I get there and look for a place to hide the money. I look around for a good, but not cliché place and hide the money in a cereal box inside a cupboard. I don’t want to spend the money right away; I’d like to spend it wisely and efficiently.
I step outside the apartment and light up a cigarette. I turn left and start walking. After one block, a man comes next to me and puts his hand over my shoulder and says “Hey there, can I ask you a quick favor?” A van darts up to the curb and opens. A man in front of me grabs me as does the one alongside me and they shove me into the van. Shocked and confused, I look up towards the back of the van where a man quickly bashes me in the face with something.
I wake up. My nose is throbbing tremendously and my head feels as if it was repeatedly slammed in a car door. All I can smell is blood and I taste it too. There is a faint ringing in my ears. Slowly fading but lingering long enough to annoy me. I notice I'm wet and become suddenly aware of my surroundings. I'm in a dimly lit cellar that looks like it came straight out of a movie. There are a few men in the background and I am almost positive there’s someone behind me as I can feel his breath blowing through my wet hair.
“Where’s the money?” The man from behind me says, calmly, after lowering his head to the level of my ear.
“Money? What money? You got the wrong man” I say, hoping that there was the slim possibility that these men weren’t after the money Colin gave me.
“The money your boss gave Henderson whom gave it to you for shooting off Chester’s face last night!”
“Henderson? I don’t know anyone named Henderson or a Chester.” Now I know they have the wrong guy. I know for a fact that I didn’t shoot anyone last night, I don’t even own a gun. And I'm almost positive I don’t know a Henderson.
“Oh yeah? Then who gave you the fifteen grand on Waverly Pl?”
“Colin…” I tried to recall his last name but couldn’t remember.
“J**** C***** this guy think were playing around.” The man says to the people around him. He quickly pulls out a gun from the back of his pants and hits me in the head, knocking me out.
I'm awake again, wet as well. My headache is worse than before and so is the ringing that might have actually disappeared at one point during the previous interrogation. This time the man has completely lost the calm demeanor he previously somewhat possessed. He’s smoking a cigarette and its sweet smell is making me shake. “Colin Henderson!” Now I see why I pissed these guys off earlier, I guess I do know a Henderson now, but to be perfectly fair, my head has seen some trauma. “He gave you the money for killing Chester. You’re a cheap gun-for-hire. They paid you crumbs to get a big job done. Now where’s the damn money?”
My luck! I manage to stumble upon a wonderfully generous man who rewards me with fifteen grand, and it turns out its blood money for the mob or something. And to top it all off, these guys think it was me who killed this “Chester”. I’ll be damned if they hit me in the head one more time, I sure am going to wish I did kill him. I try to speak but my mind begins to roll and I get increasingly dizzy. This angers the man and he puts his cigarette out on my neck. The pain of the burning tobacco piercing my neck’s fragile skin causes my mind to refocus and I yell in agony.
“It’s at my apartment! Building 521, 4th and Perry.” I’m gasping for breath as my heart is racing like a horse. I feel the blood quickly pumping throughout my head and it’s an uncomfortable feeling.
“Frank, knock him out and put him in the truck. We’re going to his place.” The man tells some one behind me. I let out a sigh of disappointment as I really don’t want to suffer anymore brain damage than I already have, but this thought comes to an abrupt end as Frank does as he was told.
I’m slapped back into consciousness in the van. “We’re here.” Says some man I don’t think I’ve seen before. But trying to think back to what’s presently going on is difficult when your head is treated like a punching bag. Speaking of my head, it’s either stopped hurting entirely, or these kind men have caused some nerve damage and I simply can’t feel the pain. The van door opens and we exit the car. The man who seems to be in charge tells the driver to drive around to the back of the building until he calls him. I try to regain both a mental and physical footing. My head is beginning to feel a bit numb and the ringing in my ears sounds like distant police sirens.
The men shove me into my building and we proceed to the elevator. There are five of us; the man in charge, Frank, two brawny men, and of course, me. I hit the button for the 3rd floor and prepare for the obscenely long elevator ride. I never knew why this elevator was so unbelievably slow. Normally, I take the stairs as they are ten times quicker, but I want to provide my head with as little movement as possible. The elevator music combined with the strenuously long ride provides us with an awkward and uncomfortable situation. We stand there for more than four minutes in utter silence. One of the brutes begins to sweat and swallows to clear his throat. He becomes increasingly uneasy as the seconds go by. I become fearful of my decision to take the elevator as I notice he is staring right into my eyes with a look that would suggest he is going to kill me at any moment. I quickly avert my eyes and the elevator stops. The doors don’t open for a few seconds and then the iconic elevator “ding” goes off and after another brief delay of a few seconds the doors open. The large man who was contemplating on killing me closes his eyes and exhales. The men shove me out and I stumble while trying to make a left at the same time.
That’s when we all see them. Our hastened pace slowly becomes slower than that of a turtle’s. Five or six police officers at my door and coming out of the stairwell. Seeing as I'm mistaken as a gun-for-hire, these men are probably involved in some sort of organized crime. And since they know Corbin, I mean Colin, he probably is too. The cops must have been tailing him or something and followed me to my apartment after he gave me the money. I did after all deliver a briefcase. It’s probably taken them this long to get to my place because they needed a warrant.
The cops notice us too as the elevator’s sound must have attracted their attention. They already have their guns in hand and begin to raise their aim. I hear the jacket’s of the men behind me rustling as they reach for their guns. This is it. In a moment, both the police officers and the thugs are going to open fire at each other and I am caught dead center in between them. My chances for survival are slim in this minuscule hallway of death. But hey, it’s been an unfortunate day. Maybe I’ll get lucky.