He wakes up to yelling on the street outside. He stands up, bleary eyed. He looks around, sees a pile of clothes in one corner, a sleeping bag in the other. He walks over, puts on the clothes, opens the door and walks into the hall. The Iranian woman begins yelling at him, something about some bills, he doesn’t care. It’s the same way at the end of every month, yet he’s still here.
He walks outside, sees three men sitting on the stoop. The men are talking rapid Spanish, but stop and stare at him. Doesn’t matter. He doesn’t speak that language. He looks at the ground, walks down the street, ignores the noises of the city.
He walks into the McDonald’s down on the corner. He feels the workers’ presence, as they feel his. He concentrates on the dirt on the floor. Those in the store stare at the slowly moving hand of the clock. He enters the filthy bathroom, looks in the cracked mirror. He sees a man in the mirror.
The man’s skin is dry and cracking, his eyes are bloodshot. The man’s chin is covered in scruffy gray tufts of hair, the top of his head obscured by a dirty gray knit cap. He is missing half his teeth, and the ones that remain are a rancid orange. He stoops down to turn on the faucet, but no water runs. No shower today.
He walks out of the bathroom, into the restaurant. He slowly turns his head, looks at the manager whose face is consumed by the exhaustion of an eight hour night shift. He endures a second long stare into the manager’s eyes, before turning to look at the ground. He stands for a minute, hoping for a word of compassion to leave the manager’s mouth. No word comes.
He turns to walk out the door, stumbles on his own feet. He reaches to open the door, but does not reach it. He is stopped by a group of three boys. He thinks of how they look just like he did thirty years ago. The tallest teenager sticks out his hand, as he does every time they meet. He drops a meager pile of change into the boy’s hand. No breakfast today.
He walks past the boys, goes outside. He slowly sits down, lies against the wall on the cold hard cement. He notices ants crawling across the sidewalk, each carrying a crumb twice their size. He follows the trail of ants with his eyes, sees they’re walking from the car lot across the street. The lot that charges Manhattan yuppies five fifty an hour. Five fifty could buy three loaves of bread from that bodega the Filipinos own. They always have the best sales.
He walks to the car lot, more out of boredom than curiosity. The lot is empty, with the exception of an overturned trash can. But he doesn’t look at that. He looks at the syringe on the ground. The syringe that was just like every other one. The syringe that took his money, took his house, that would take his life.
He doesn’t frown, he doesn’t smile, he doesn’t feel. He hasn’t felt in eleven years. He hasn’t felt since the accident, since the hospital room, since the final beep on the heart monitor. He is numb to pain, numb to joy, numb to life. He thinks of that numbness, thinks of why he stands there in that lot. He thinks of his wife. He thinks of the child she carried. He thinks of the life he could’ve had. And for a moment, he smiles.
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