nowheresville

1. NOWHERESVILLE

By: Nate Susvilla

He sat for late lunch. Alone. Meditative. This was his frequented restaurant set along a densely-peopled thoroughfare lining the wide canal. With no intent scrutiny nor any indication of unswerving observation, his eyes made greedy morsels of each passer-by while his mind ran a gamut of what ifs, unfulfilled goals and unrealised, elusive dreams.

He’s stuck, by insentient choice. His lonesome existence was a culmination of years of wrong decisions and indecisions. He’s way past the times when taking risks was permissible. Those young years when second chances were abundant and wrong turns had nearby U-turns.

He’s nearing 40—he’ll be 37 in a few days. This old he had pictured himself to have it all—a family, a healthy managerial career, own business. He’s just nowhere near that; that dream his ever changing priorities put aside.

They would throw a surprise party for him he suspected. His girlfriend had been mum about it but her sneaky phone calls gave it away. He’s hardly a fan of celebratory parties—the life comparisons, the rhetoric, the endless niceties, the prolonged play pretend. He hated the crowd his girlfriend would attract. The ones he couldn’t hold a conversation with. The ones he could brag nothing about to. He had a few to puff about—divorcing once, damaging one of his kidneys, losing almost his entire hair and having just half the amount of his monthly rate stashed in the bank.

He greedily sipped the last drop of wine and closed his eyes as he felt in his face a small hint of the winter sun penetrating through the clear glass. He winced in pain as he bent to pick up his mail bag and beckoned for his bill resolved not to leave a tip, which he’d do meagerly, being dissatisfied with today’s rather hard steak and runny pepper sauce.

For a second he felt the need to have some rowdy company; old friends perhaps who, unfortunately for him, were now busy living their dreams—or so they’d believably stage. Or that of mad ones whose hearts never run out of fuel, keep burning and beating fiery fire firing only the wildest stories to the welcoming wild ears; whisky shots with them.

Alas, he supposed they’d now been swallowed and subjugated—blindedly—by the monster that is this society, drowning them with rituals, rules, restrictions and obligations. Most have their hearts weighed down beating only to endure life; overwhelmed with the unnecessary that everyone’s bound to adhere to. Their hearts he understood just like his were itching to explode, break free from the chains and just wander unrestrictedly. There, somewhere, nowhere in particular.

He went back to the hardly packed electronics store—work. Today, work—one of those that’d stay open beyond 6pm—was a usual drag.

At 6pm he clocked out, on the dot; so did the other first shifters, storming all at once the biometric time clock system.

Making his way to see his girlfriend for a dinner and movie, he passed by an advertising studio and was reminded how much at one point he fancied working there.

He stumbled upon backpackers walking about aimlessly and craved for at least a month he could do the same again—it had been a while. For once he’d want yet again to worry about where to find a toilet while gallivanting at a faraway place where the streets bore no name and just drown in beer while fucking the mind of a Renaissance man not just for a day nor two, but a long while—long enough to pass for a lifetime.

He yearned for that moment yet again when he woke up and he couldn’t reconcile for a second where he was but sure he’s safe and well taken care of; for that place where worries were nowhere to greet him good morning. But he’s stuck in this minimum-paying job.

It paid the bills. Not long ago though, his measly salary could afford him cheap tickets to get away and a lengthy time away—away to be sung an Edith Piaf by a French girl in Madrid; away in Barcelona to insert himself between a baffled walking mother and son, hold their hands and gaily sing “Sing A Christmas Carol” then flee; away to be arguing with the barman of some customer-deprived bar in Sliema, Malta as to what the world’s best beer is and take the stage away from the dance instructor of some packed nearby Latin bar and be exonerated from reproach for out staging the Latin dance instructor in the spirit of fun; away in Lyon to be strongly rebuked by an old French man he asked directions from for not being able to speak French [like it’s an abomination]; away in Australia to play fisherman for a day and catch the biggest fish; and away in Marrakech to fool a number into believing he was a famous actor. Getting away had been like that.

It’s his chance to encounter strangers he could be himself or whoever he wanted to be; have his past actions nulled and voided; be amused by what’s otherwise maddening; get personal with a complete stranger he’d always end up being more honest to.

The Guilder-to-Euro transition took a toll on his personal finances. Money was worth a lot less now. Plus the penalty he had to settle for defaulting a townhouse mortgage. And the short-lived marriage that costed him a lot more.

At the restaurant with his girlfriend, he dreamily stared at the empty bottle of Belgian beer he was rolling in his hand, fancying sitting in a bar in Brussels sampling hundreds of the country’s beer varieties—he’d skip the fruity ones. He left the beer bottle to stand, picked up the little spoon and slowly shoveled a pint of raspberry cheesecake. He munched it in savoring it the way a judge in a TV cooking contest would.

He watched his girlfriend, Laura, walking back from the loo. She stared at him. He scooped a finger of cake and thrust it under her mouth. He wrinkled her nose. She looked down at him and said, “You’re always eating that shit.” He said nothing; popped the rest into his mouth. She looked disgusted. He smirked.

Joshua left a tip and hastened to catch up with her already at the door. “You sure you don’t want me driving you home?” Laura said looking subtly irritated. “Naah,” Joshua replied motioning her to go on. Their lips briefly touched as a gesture of goodbye.

“Tell Ma I said hi,” Joshua said referring to Laura’s mother living with her. An arched brow and a nod was the reply. The two turned about and walked in opposite directions.

Ten or so minutes into Joshua’s walk home, a sudden swoosh of the violent, cold wind pushed him aside. And almost instantaneously, a rather silent motorcycle sped by his side. As it darted away, the motorcycle skidded and eventually tumbled down throwing the biker away from his bike. Now on his belly, the driver was immovable.

Joshua quickly made his way to the biker and asked, “You o’right, man?” The biker slowly turned around and started moaning in pain, “Ah! My knee! Shit!” The biker rolled up his loose trousers to reveal an obvious dislocated knee cap and an open wound on the lower leg, which allowed an overwhelming amount of blood to escape.

“Holy shit!” Joshua gasped. He fell to his knees for a closer look while digging for his phone in his pocket. As he rang rescue, he held the biker’s lower left leg to turn it a bit. Joshua felt a surge of energy escape his hands. The biker squawked in pain as his body convulsed for a second as if getting shocked by a defibrillator. And swiftly the knee cap twitched to its precise place.

And as he saw the wound seemingly starting to close entirely, the biker rolled down his trousers in bewildered panic. They both looked at each other in wonder and turned to the now covered leg almost simultaneously. The biker rather trembling in horror, got up quickly, dashed to his bike and zoomed away.

Still on his knees clueless what to make of it all, Joshua looked at his palms, stunned. Could it have been these hands indeed?

He rushed home, hastily making for the door ignoring his neighbor with lisp, busy prettifying his already well-manicured little garden while downing his umpteenth beer of the evening. Just as Joshua was about to insert the key into his door lock, his neighbor greeted in excitement, “Whath up, homie? I got your packageth! You have two!”

“Appreciate it! Skunk. Not working today, huh?” Joshua asked quickly rather rhetorically and was quick to be sorry he did.

“Yah, man. Called in thick.”

Again?

“You thie,” his neighbor said handing Joshua a bottle of beer and ushering him in, “…my mother, you’ve met her, right? Thie’th a thweetheart. Thie hath a boyfriend. Dith boyfriend, I thwear to god, if I ever thie that thcumbag again, I’d kill him! Dith kid took all her money! My mother woke up to her thafe gone…dith scumbag; he took everything! Thow I went up there.”

“How much was stolen? D’she get it back?”

“No man unfortunately. Well I thuppoath, a few hundredth thtath-t away, ectheth money off her monthly penthion and pry-thie jewelrieth, I reckon. I had to tell my bawth I’m thick; Other-whyth I couldn’t be there for my mother. You know my bawth. ‘Your mother’th worrieth aren’t mine! Nor are they yourth!’ Plaath man, dith pimple ith really killing me, man.”

“Those are the packages, I assume,” Joshua said in elation having spotted them hoping it would spell an end to his neighbor’s yet another recital of an entry to his journal.

“Yeth, yeth. I’ll give ‘em to ya if you thuck my dick!” the neighbor said looking straight into Joshua’s eyes.

And before Joshua could say a word, his neighbor broke into a fit of laughter, “Hahaha, look at your faith! Why thow thie-ree-yoth?”

“Had a fuckin’ busy day, man. Well I hope your mother is fine. Anyway thanks again for these.”

“Oh thie’ll be fine. Thie learned her leh-thon. And yup anytime thun-thya-in.” the neighbor said winking.

“We’ll down more bottles next time. Dick,” raising the nearly empty bottle trying to gesture “thank you” before just laying it on the grass with the rest of the other bottles.

He shut his door pensive of that incident with the biker overlooking the strangeness of the packaging of this one parcel. He was rather eagerly tempted to test anew for proof this newly revealed ability to his cat that came rushing to greet him by wiggling its tail whilst biting as if trying to tear off Joshua’s trousers—reminiscent of a dog.

“Come here, Nora. Here kitty kitty,” he scooped up the playful cat; brought it to the kitchen, put it on the island table and stroked its belly, whilst taking out a knife, and murmured. “Take this, you little fucker…”

To his cat’s horror, Joshua stabbed it on the paw. He was quick to grab his now escaping and screaming cat. Upon contact, his pet convulsed, gave a final high-pitched screech that ceased all of a sudden.

He put down Nora, which jumped off the island to settle on the couch. He followed her, sat beside her and combed her soft fur with his fingers and sliding his hand to the paw  he stabbed. “D’you see that, Nora? I have powers!” he told his repelling cat after seeing no trace of a cut. “Hah! How is that even possible?” he gasped. He began tracing back his whereabouts prior to that baffling incident and recollected nothing unusual transpiring that could result to him having been bestowed this superhero-like ability. He recalled getting lost in a movie that rather put his girlfriend to a snuffling sleep, and having a delectable dinner after. He pondered it could be he’d had this for a while and that only now did it have a chance to manifest.

He reached for his phone thrilled to let his girlfriend know. Just as he was about to call her, his phone squealed so loudly it startled him, he almost dropped it.

Speak of the devil. “My god!! Joshua!” screamed his girlfriend. “I’m here at Dirk’s! I found him! I guess he’s dead! He-he’s in the bathroom…found him there! Oh my god! Come quick!”

“What happened? And why are you there?” Joshua inquired.

“He.. We-we-we wereg’na do something,” Laura said hesitating. “Long story. God!! Joshua just come quick!”

Twenty minutes later, Joshua was knocking at the front door. His girlfriend, crying an ocean, opened the door, hugged him and quickly wrenched him toward the bathroom upstairs.

“Wait,” Joshua said as he broke free from her clutch yet still following her. “So you came here and you just found him dead up there? How did you even get in? You’ve keys to his fuckin’ apartment?”

“I do,” she said bowing down her head as if apologetic but quickly snapped out of it. “Can we talk about this later, please?”

And there Dirk was—a little damp, exposing his log, lying down dead as a dodo. Joshua knelt down, noticed the slippery tiled flooring, surveyed Dirk’s body for any bruise or wound and brought his ears close to Dirk’s nose to check for breathing—not breathing.

“Oh god,” his girlfriend screamed as Joshua shot her a blank stare, covered her mouth with both her hands and turned around as she chuckled in remorse—reminiscent of a turkey gabbling.

Joshua was well aware of his ability by now but was uncertain if it would prove useful to somebody who’s already dead. He moved to touch Dirk but was stopped by the thought of just why his girlfriend was there—having even a key to the house.

“Is he dead then?” Laura asked.

“I think so. Did you already phone the police?”

“No! Should I call them? Is he really dead? D’you check the pulse?”

Joshua didn’t want to touch him in any way. Just the likelihood of them having an affair behind his back was just too much to bear he’d rather that Dirk rest in peace. But what if it’s not true? They could be planning that surprise party for him. And quickly with no second thought, he gripped Dirk’s wrist and just as he expected and to his dismay, the asshole came back to life—Dirk so suddenly awoke in a starving gasp for air as if surfacing after being submerged on water for a period beyond the endurable time.

Laura turned quickly at the sound of breathing and rushed to the disconcerted Dirk for a bone-breaking embrace. The scene just furthered Joshua’s gut feel. “We thought you were dead!” the ecstatic, teary-eyed Laura roared.

“What happened?” Dirk, who’s rather calm, inquired. “You must have tripped as you stepped out of the tub,” Joshua tried to shed light to it. “I was conscious…but I could not move my body. I felt like I was in a dream I could not wake up from. I felt weightless and began to float. Then felt some force…some shock…that seemed to breathe a new life to me. It woke me up,” Dirk explained as things started to make sense.

Dirk narrowed his eyes, crossed his brows and slightly pouted his lips before darting uncomfortable stares at Joshua and Laura, back and forth. While Laura was side eying Joshua. There was silence—awkward silence.

“Okay! Glad you’re okay, man.” Joshua filled the dead air.

“Your birthday! We were gonna plan your surprise party…that’s why I’m here!” Laura exclaimed in an attempt to explain her shady presence at the unlikely place.

Unconvinced, Joshua turned to Dirk subtly dismissing Laura’s alibi.

“You might wanna get scanned for any internal injury. And as for me, Imma head home…finish my laundry, feed my cat, murder my neighbor…I dunno. Ciao!” Joshua directed Dirk tapping his shoulder, gripping it and shaking it firmly twice. He turned back to Laura whose head was down, “Your fuckin’ boyfriend needs a ride…to a hospital!”

Now traversing the lengthy pathway across the rather scantily-lighted park heading home, Joshua kept thinking about just how he never had an inkling there was something going on between the two. He lit a cigarette as he paused to sit on a bench. He started to regret he deferred Dirk’s Hell welcome. He thought of Laura, who he had been with for years. He completely understood it’s a possibility they’d fall out of love, in fact he saw it coming. He just expected Laura to be honest to him had it occurred to her. And of all people, why my fuckin’ mate?

His thought quickly transitioned to the strange ability he obviously possessed. It was a complete puzzle how he got it but instead of spending time trying to make sense of it all, his thoughts centered on the range of possibilities of what/where/who he could exploit it on. He could pop in to a hospital, touch every person there dying or in a critical condition—an excellent idea. An idea he disputed right away—Why the fuck would I do that? Nothing in it for me. Having just helped an unworthy bastard, he was resolved not to waste it on anyone but someone who truly deserved it.

He quickly thought of his adoptive mother, the only family he had, who passed away the year before. If he could play Jesus to “Lazarus” Dirk, maybe he could raise mommy from the dead too. He tossed the cigarette butt and as he began to rise, he felt feebleness—his body seemed to want for him to just take the weight off his feet and slumber. And his body started to be intolerant of the cold.

He reached home and made for the bathroom right away. As he gazed at his reflection, his pale face and dry, cracked lips said hello. He felt his neck—rather cold. He began to feel thirsty. He surveyed his whole body and noticed his skin was dry. He reached for his back and found it scaly; so were his outer thighs. He spent minutes looking at the mirror—motionless, sunk in thought. This so-called gift definitely wasn’t going to be squandered on just anyone. Hell no.

The following day, he was early at this diner. He had an hour to spare before work commenced. He found a seat by the glass window next to the door. From where he was seated, he could see smartly-dressed office people rushing to work putting on such infectious gusto and intimidating sureness—just a lovely sight. He long fancied having their kind of job and their seemingly contented disposition. But he was quick to remind himself these were costumes they convincingly don in this masquerade called life. He looked past the dashing cocksuckers to notice the busy wide avenue, and past to the other side of the street specifically to a bank at the corner.

It dawned on him, maybe he could rob a bank. He could shoot to paralyze security, unload their guns, take all the money, heal those shot, and leave. But the thought of how little money’s hoarded inside these banks dispirited him. Digitization and automation of banking just made these bank branches penniless, literally.

The thought of having that big sum enough to spend a year in Africa or South America and secure him a spacious unit by the river Ij—big enough to hold a studio where he could paint unrestrainedly not having to worry about mortgage—was just so tempting he kept toying with the idea of seizing this broke bank.

His censor contested just why he’d even entertain such an idea. But he was quick to dismiss conscience justifying it’s just a thought—he was never capable anyway. He scanned through the sight and stopped at the ATM. He figured he could actually get more money from this machine. He thought of these strange abilities he saw on movies; of those who have a way of controlling machines. A single touch and the machine would eject bills. Twenty grand from here, another twenty somewhere. But these ATMs had surveillance cameras. He could always cover his face. Easy. But hey, that wasn’t what he had. He had been bestowed with a valuable ability that had in fact so far proved disobliging—really comforting.

He got out of the diner and made his way to this humongous appliance store—work. He had both his hands buried in his coat pockets leaving the handling of the cigarette to his lips. He turned left to this far less busy one-way road—alternative shorter route. He churned in carbon monoxide aggressively and spewed out smoke, ashed the cigarette with a twitch of his mouth as he continued walking still thinking about how best to utilize his not so super gift and where, with it, to buy a one-way ticket to prosperity and freedom.

A screech of a speeding car suddenly swerving to this brick road cut in his musing. As the vehicle sped by his side, he held the cigarette, spit out a small bit of his saliva that almost reached the car’s tail.

The front passengers, locking a torrid kiss to each other’s mouth, rather caught his attention. The kissing lingered until the car neared the crossing. Simultaneously, as the driver unclutched his tongue to turn to the road, a running human had hit the front guard of the car. It was too quick the car driver hardly witnessed the clash. The car humped over the body and zoomed away in sheer panic.

Joshua, having seen it all, slowed down in shock but quickly picked up his pace and rushed to the victim. As he inched closer, he found a middle-aged, well-built man, on his belly with his arms bizarrely spread. A hardly perfect circle of blood was starting to frame the victim’s head. The victim intermittently coughed out blood—hardly with force—and started sounding like choking. Joshua was firm he didn’t want to be more heroic than the one who’d dial the emergency number.

As he put his hand flat on the ground to support himself getting up, the tip of his finger managed to touch the man’s arm. Joshua bolted as he felt a sudden big surge of energy escaping him that invigorated the unknown man—easily restoring him to his perfect condition. And the bewildered overhauled man immediately got up, locked a mix of scared, thankful and questioning stare at Joshua while half focusing on surveying the area. As he spotted a lady’s shoulder bag, the man snatched it and ran off.

As Joshua started to get up, a yelling woman in her heels ran across yelling, “That’s my bag! Somebody get him!” He slowly got up to follow the woman who was obviously after the man he just accidentally refurbished. The speed of the man just discouraged him from even attempting to reclaim the woman’s leather sack.

And yet another fortuitous heroic undertaking that proved frustrating. He wished he had Elastic Man’s ability as well just so from where he was, he could snatch that scumbag and pull him in a speed so overwhelming his spiritual body would have a hard time catching up and stretch him far to the opposite side and back, repeatedly doing so till he’d start reciting “Hail Mary”.

He clocked in on the dot to the scrutinizing intent look of his boss—disappointed yet again as he expected Joshua to be early by 10 minutes at least. With his towering and flabbily thick frame, his boss could easily be spotted. The boss already began his morning rounds—more like morning lectures. Joshua’s just ecstatic he missed—deliberately—the pep talk where the boss would enjoin everyone to form a circle for a five-minute prayer for good sales.

And so another squandered day for Joshua was almost over. He talked much less today. The boss rather spent a bounteous time in his office watching porn, he figured, instead of seeing to it his minions’ speech articulators were not resting. The boss was stalled by his worsening back pain he’d soon find out.

And just before his shift ended, Joshua was summoned to his boss’ office. His boss was standing by the opened window finishing a stick of those huge Cuban cigars when Joshua came in. He signaled for Joshua to take a seat. He ashed the cigar, sniffed a big one, left it to burn on the ashtray and turned to Joshua. Standing with one leg supported by a filing cabinet behind his elegant wooden desk, his boss sighed and popped, “Let’s talk about how very well you did this past month.”

Joshua was meek smelling trouble ahead, reminiscent of a dejected disregarded hound tentatively eyeing for a perfect timing to woo the master again. His boss took out a folder atop the filing cabinet and slewed it onto the table in front of Joshua and said, “So how d’you think you fared, huh?”

“Bad, I suppose?” Joshua said wearing a smirk as his hand slowly inched closer to the folder. “So bad, I may have to start claiming unemployment benefits?” Joshua said smiling and was quick to lose the smirk thinking it might get misconstrued. He donned an alarmed look instead in an effort to appear concerned about losing his job—he needed it. His boss, although convinced, didn’t budge.

“Oh bad is an understatement,” he said trying to keep his cool irked by some hint of the asshole’s arrogance. “I told you the last time we had this conversation I didn’t want our next to be about your ejection!” The boss paused in an effort to suppress extreme disappointment. “But guess what, those papers? There’s your future in this company. Not so bright, mind you.”

As Joshua’s hands began to spread the folder open, his boss blared. “Ugh, this fuckin’ back! Fuck!” he said referring to his intermittently paining lower back delivered as if aimed at Joshua.

Whatever, Blob! Joshua was stock-still as if frozen.

“I mean who tells prospective buyers cables are far cheaper on Amazon? And that a new model of this tablet arrives in three months’ time? That in a year’s time the price will drop by a hundred? And who tells customers toners are far cheaper than real inks? I mean, there’s like a conflict of interest there. Who do you work for? Not for Amazon and certainly not for some consumer price watch group. At least while your skinny ass is paid to just laze about here!” his boss fired his now more intense tirades.

His boss was endless attacking specifically Joshua’s seemingly lackluster work ethic. “You only sold like what, one printer this month?!” his boss said flipping through the pages of the folder. “Don’t tell me it’s because everyone has printers at home already!”
Joshua just looked down, docile. “Ugh this fuckin’ back!” the boss complained anew, almost to himself, gripping his side waist as he straightened up as if trying to bend backwards.

Joshua grabbed this window of opportunity that could ultimately put an end to this boloney and change the tone of the one-way conversation.

Joshua volunteered to try to relieve the boss of his suffering that kept interrupting his passionate reproach. Joshua told of this skill, some pinching technique he claimed to ease whatever muscle or joint pain, which he claimed he got whilst on vacation in Japan. He was concerned it wouldn’t work but the moment his palm touched his boss’ skin, the magic he was hoping to achieve happened.

“Oooh, just like that?” said his boss. His boss paused, pulled down his shirt as if smartening himself up in front of the mirror only looking down. He soon motioned Joshua to get back seated. “Thank you,” said his boss in all awkward honesty trying to be subtle about his deep gratitude speedily gazing back and forth upon Joshua and the folder.

“Such a relief!” he said. He paused, so did his eye movements—now just fixed onto the folder. “You know, you are a bright man,” his boss started to sing praises. Joshua had no idea how big a deal what he just did was for his boss. His boss had been burdened by this back pain his entire adult life almost.

“You know what your customer needs. You are aware of their unstated…unrealized needs. You just have to remind yourself that you work for this store, this company…and that you should have this company’s best interest at heart.”

Indeed a restored back was enough for his boss to this time point out Joshua’s generic strengths and emphasize his so-called potential.

“You just have to be proactive. You know hard work is rewarded here too. You know this company is built on meritocracy.”

Joshua clocked out, along with his eager colleagues, excited to use up slaving away for a week had afforded him. He checked his phone for any messages or calls missed hoping at least one came from Laura. There’s one—a voice message from his credit card company warning him about almost defaulting.

He went straight to some pub and found himself in the company of office people declaring the place as an extension of their workplace. He sat by the bar and ordered beer. He stared blankly at the racks of drinks as he rolled the beer bottle repeatedly with both hands almost stretched open as if trying to make fire with a stick—only slower.

Shortly after, a gentleman approached him. Upright, stiff and smartly-dressed, the gentleman sat next to him. He slid a note which said, “You only have until midnight tonight.” He turned his head to the gentleman and asked with his eyes what the note meant exactly. “Your strange ability expires midnight tonight. We tried to tell you through that package, which you didn’t even open. Use it well,” the gentleman gently said wearing a rather indifferent smirk; he took flight immediately.

Joshua remained static for a bit before finally putting the beer bottle down heavily—he nearly broke it. His heart pounded in excitement and distress. Who the hell was that? Had he been following him?

He hurried out and sneaked a quick survey of the surrounding for hints of anybody waiting for him to come out. He rushed to the direction of his house and intently passed by the park. He thought the amply-lit almost an open field would easily reveal suspicious individuals who might be trailing him. He spent a few minutes of vigilance until finally shrugging off the paranoia.

He settled on a bench and lit a cigarette to calm himself down. He had until midnight—a few hours from then. And thus far, it had been put to good use. Saving that asshole from the eternity of silence; condoning another’s likely habit of borrowing things from people by force and never returning; and ultimately, giving back the asshole of all assholes his brand new back relieving him of whatever pain—put to good use indeed.

These assholes were undeserving in any way to be at the receiving end of mercy. He had to be put it to good use. Better yet, he had to benefit from it before it finally was taken away from him. If only he had more time—he could find a person of great affluence but was cancer-stricken or something. One touch and he’d have performed a miracle; he’d be rewarded with a huge fraction of the person’s wealth. He could then buy the appliance store and let go of his boss—a long shot he was playfully fostering in his head. He could buy that house overlooking the River Ij for Laura and Dirk to drool over.

He got up and made his way to nowhere particularly. A hospital? Where perhaps a prosperous sickling is admitted to? Probably on the onset he’d be pushed away. Ugh, elsewhere. He walked and walked, head down, hands in his pockets when he felt a pull on his trousers—a skeletal middle-aged man lying on the pavement looking so weak with wounds all over his face. The man had his hand raised for alms. He quickly thought of touching the beggar. But the neatly dressed gentleman’s echoing voice served as a reminder. He wouldn’t be using it well if he used it on this hobo.

He turned around to resume his pace and the man motioned, “Mister, a few cents to spare for food?”

Joshua was quick to conclude that the man was a useless scum of society therefore unworthy of his touch. He couldn’t reconcile why there were people like him in this Socialist society where supposedly everyone’s guaranteed a piece of bread served on their dining table.

He mooched about and spotted an ATM. He stopped here and contemplated on snatching cold cash from a withdrawer. Why not? He’d get his money back from insurance after a police blotter—or will he? Hell, he’d have evidence—those cameras. Damn karma, damn consequences to one’s actions—there aren’t such things unless you’re caught red-handed. He hid behind a bush across the street and waited for anyone to come. This spot a little removed, hardly would people come by here to withdraw.

A car stopped, a man in suit came out to withdraw. From where he was, he could tell the small amount the man took. He passed up this opportunity nonetheless and waited for another.

Thirty minutes passed and he started to think it was a wrong idea. He was going to start heading home when a man in his unzipped leather jacket that revealed a tight shirt that fitted to his sculpted buff body came approaching the ATM. A little thick those bills were, he thought. But the build of this gym devotee just choked his will cowing him knowing there was no way he was going to knock him down.

He passed up many opportunities as he wanted for it to be done perfectly. Finally, a lady in an office dress and high heels still on the phone came.

The lady gathered the copious bills—a perfect situation to put to test a perfect plan he had already orchestrated during the wait time.

A piece of rock, all he needed, to surprise the lady and seize that huge sum. Just smash her head hard enough to knock her senseless. And he’d heal her and run off—with the money. He had at least to cover his face—those ATMs had cameras he knew. The jacket would do.

The lady, still on the phone, slowly turned while now securing the money into her bag. Just as he was about to hear conscience´s argument, Joshua enveloped his head with his jacket and closed in with the speed of light. With all his strength, he smashed the lady in the head, making her drop heavily to her side as if knocked out in a boxing bout. He quickly rummaged through the lady’s belonging and easily got what he came to do this for.

He held the lady´s forehead to heal her but to his surprise, nothing happened. He tried again. The same. He darted a questioning stare at his hands. He reached for his watch and was horrified to realize it was two minutes past midnight. He ran in panic. He thought of calling for help; he could not use his phone. He looked back thinking of using the lady’s phone. A car already stopped and he knew the lady found her Samaritan.

He hastened forward. Crushed. Horrified. How’d he not kept track of the time? Holy shit he killed somebody. Hoping he didn’t really have her go west, he looked back once again and was a little relieved with the sight of a Samaritan on the phone. She’ll be okay, he fervently hoped.

He slowed down in an effort to look casual. Thrilled and at the same time remorseful, he dipped his hand deep into his pocket to feel the thickness of the bills and guesstimated how much he just made for himself. But it was short-lived as guilt started creeping in quickly escalating to a heightened panic and fear as he saw a smartly dressed gentleman fixed staring authoritatively meters away in front of him that looked very very familiar.

He rushed home arriving there in no time. The sight of his cat playing with the strange package greeted him. With waning curiosity, he opened the dark colored box. Hidden underneath paper shreds was a piece of card that looked ancient. It was blank. He was about to put it down when letter after letter started to crop up that later formed, “Your gift expires midnight tomorrow night! Use it well.” Then slowly the letters started to disappear. What’s new? This gentleman-at-the-pub’s words exactly. Seconds later his phone vibrated and beeped. He turned to his phone to check what the prompt was for, quickly turned to the card, flipped it to see if there were anything written on the back. “There are consequences.” His heart started beating fast in utter panic. He knew what he had to do.

He turned to his phone to check out an alert hoping it’s his girlfriend. It was rather an email from some booking site informing him of last minute hotel and flight deals. And rather impulsively, he booked an early morning flight to Prague and packed.

In no time, he was making his way to the bus station. He was a little shaken at the glimpse of the seemingly suit-wearing bus driver. It wasn’t that gentleman to his relief.

He flew to Prague and decided to sleep at the airport till sunrise.

He woke up to the blinding rays of the winter sun slipping through the airport’s glass window. He bolted up and looked for coffee. His head hardly up in the clouds of the events that unfolded the night before, Joshua was a little fidgety and watchful. The sight of any lean, neatly-dressed gentleman in suit just triggered distress and alarm in him. And the picture of that card just kept flashing back putting emphasis on the word “consequences.” It wasn’t long till he gave up the idea of the gentleman following him to make him pay in any way. He figured he’d enjoy Prague.

The last time he got lost in Prague, his second, was a decade ago. It all came rushing toward him, the sweet recollection of his Prague misadventures—that pub crawl he joined in where he discovered mostly perverted tourists there to eye on anyone they could potentially bed; the Green Fairy that brought about bizarre clarity of thought; joint vended by this Marley bitch on the street and offered for free by these obviously underage boys as high as the sky at the surprisingly swarming-with-kids club one weeknight; a merry and excessive drinking spree with these Swedish lads who later left him to solve the maze that was Prague’s Old Town by him-wasted-self; and freeze for hours before dawn pretending to be marveling at the Christmas decorations around Wenceslas Square while actually impatiently waiting for the Metro to start fuckin’ running.

He took the bus from the airport that took him to the Metro that took him to Wenceslas Square. It wasn’t hard to locate his hotel, which was practically just next to the boulevard. He slept for a short while and decided to explore anew the sunny but freezing Prague.

Braving the cold, he struggled climbing the hill to the castle after spending some time at Charles Bridge. After a stop at a souvenir shop and a gulp of hot wine, he came across an old man out in this cold rubbing his hands together. He had a violin that stood leaning against the wall and a hat which laid in front of him with a few coins. As Joshua walked past him, Joshua dropped a few coins and moved on. The old man then murmured something, picked up his instrument and cheerfully started playing.

It was neither to get value for his money nor respect for an old man that made him stop and stay. It was the vivid sound of the violin so captivating. Playing, the old man was swaying while spasmodically closing his eyes ardently feeling every note. The icy, sun-shining backdrop was slowly replaced by the dim, soft, almost dark colors of an opera house platform that gave prominence to the spotlight striking onto the old man who was playing on a sold-out solo concert before an audience whose hearts were pounding heavily in excitement but managed to hold it as they marveled at the performer silently—in awe, mesmerized—and in the end expressed their deep appreciation in an overwhelming, prolonged, thunderous applause. A vivid picture of the old man’s dream that came true—in Joshua’s mind.

He had dinner then walked and walked absent-mindedly profoundly preoccupied. He still felt sympathetic about the old man’s situation. Was he going to end up in the streets like the old man? What did the future have in store for him?

The night lights meanwhile had already begun painting the night. Joshua later found himself in the Old Town Square. He leisurely strolled and settled in front of this massive monument. He marveled at the sculpture emphasized by lighting. He mused on what this person ever did to merit this. He used to want to be the same; to live a life worth emulating; to deserve a monument erected for him. Whatever happened to that zest?

A rehabilitated vigor for life started to light up his face when suddenly his phone rang. Laura. He didn’t pick up. Then a text message. “Where are u? U’r in the news! U killed that lady! I knew it was u from that jacket I gave u!”

Whatever little hope he had about his future went up in smoke just like that. There’s not going to be one if he’d go back. And so quickly with firmness he decided to stay away, never go back ever and start hitting the road to somewhere.

He turned to the direction of his hotel when he saw the gentleman from afar, standing erect, firm, expressionless, just staring at him motionless. His heart pounded and he ran off. To his hotel to snatch his belongings and to nowhere in particular.

Next chapter is here >>