Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Strange Man Sat At The Corner At The Back

The night was silent. Even the sounds of traffic from the distant highway did not seem to register through the thick evening air. The day had been hot and the air just as thick as it was now. Not even the cooler evening was able to cut through the thickness. It felt repressive. But none of this registered for him. It went unnoticed.

So did the neighbourhood that he was rushing through.

How did I get here? It was the only thought that filled his mind, like a recurring questions caught in some sort of loop, his personal version of a nightmare. The question had nothing to do with this neighbourhood filled with its unique stone homes and the expensive cars parked neatly on the side of the street. It had nothing to do with this impersonal city. These things were merely a backdrop for the drama that was playing out in his life.

The sensation of running was buried under his thoughts somewhere; the warmth of the evening air rushing over his face and pushing his hair back, away from his eyes. It was a familiar sensation but too familiar to pierce his reality tonight. The yards flowed by like a river, only he was going against its current. It actually felt like he was fighting a current as each stride took such incredible grit and determination.

He was running. But where? Where could he hide?

Nothing registered with him because his mind was too occupied to hold onto the information; it was full, too full. There was too much of everything pressing in on him, weighing him down, threatening who he was. The mounting bills that could not be paid were a part of it.

Why do finances have such an effect on me?

But they were only a part of it. If only they were all of it. If only this problem could be everything.

We honestly tried, he thought to himself. We worked so hard to save a little bit here and there. All our plans, our dreams, our hopes; torn to shreds. They were nothing more than pieces of fabric flapping in the great winds of circumstances and bad luck. But what are finances at a time like this?

Without acknowledging where he was he slipped into the metro station. It was familiarity now that directed his actions.




In the fluid motion of routine he ran his pass through the machine and descended into his escape. It was if there was not a single, living soul in this city. He was alone.
As he moved into the belly of the station he welcomed the comfort of the familiar. He welcomed the anonymity of this place. He welcomed the thought of escape. He welcomed the thought of being buried alive under tons of dirt, stone and concrete.

It was only last month he and his wife were celebrating the incredible high of their triumph. Sophie was pregnant. Pregnant! He remembered the now distant sense of elation as if it were mocking him. What a high it was! After so many years, the thought of becoming a dad ... incredible! No wonder the phone bill was so high. A slight hint of a smile jabbed at the corners of his mouth. He honestly thought nothing could crush that joy.
He had been wrong, so very, very wrong.

As he descended onto the platform he did not get the chance to sit as the train came roaring in. The noise and blurring streak barely registered with him.

The doors opened.

He stepped inside.

Now he could go anywhere and no one would know. Now he could disappear and no one would find him.

He had escaped.

He collapsed into a seat in the corner, at the back of the car. He did not take note if he was alone or in a crowded car. He didn’t care. He had escaped. But from what?

Cancer? How could it be cancer? This was not supposed to happen. Not to them.

He leaned forward, elbows on knees, burying his face in his hands. Here, in this place of escape, he allowed the pressing despair, loneliness and helplessness to wash over him, consuming him. He could do this in no other place. His body began to heave with the uncontrolled emotion that rolled over him like great waves, pounding him again and again and again. He lost himself, allowing the waves to carry him along. The tears began.
He felt it before he heard it; a deep rumbling at first, rising up, uncontrolled. It burst from him with such violence; a cry of anguish torn from his soul, filling the car, then overflowing. He was on public display, him and his broken heart. He didn’t care. He couldn’t care.

What was he to do? His wife? The baby? The bills? His dreams? His hopes? His future? Was it all gone?

Panic threatened his sanity. He felt as if he would burn up right there in that metro car. His face was on fire. The pressure that pressed down on him felt as if the city itself was falling on him, crushing him, burying him. The panic increased.
He could not let this happen.

There was no escape for him. Nowhere.

He had to get out.

His surroundings suddenly thrust itself upon his pain shrouded reality. The realization of where he was cut off his sobbing like a knife cutting out his heart. He raised his head in one quick jerk that brought with it a searing pain that pierced his head as if he had just been shot.

The car held some twenty passengers. Every eye was on him. Their expressions ranged from fear, to hatred, to concern. Embarrassment now took over. The only thing going through his mind was, GET OUT!

Even as the thought entered his consciousness the train came to a screeching stop, throwing its doors open as if demanding this rude passenger to leave, no questions asked. He responded to the invitation, trying to hide his face from the relieved passengers. He darted out the doors like an animal suddenly released from its cage.

He had to get out. He had to escape this grave. He had to breathe. There was no comfort here; only more despair.

He ran for the escalator. Too many people. What were they doing out this late. He felt annoyed at them, angry. He wanted to shout at them. He changed course and aimed for the stairs, taking two at a time. That’s when the question hit him.

Where is God?

How could he be allowing this to happen? That’s what he believed wasn’t it; that God was in control of everything? Did he have to strike some kind of bargain with God to change this? Make some kind of sacrifice? Would that make a difference? Why hadn’t this God of love and compassion respond to his pleas?

Am I doing something wrong?

As he cleared the first set of stairs there was no lessening of the oppressive feeling that pushed upon him. The panic still threatened to tear him apart just as the air seemed to be torn from his chest as be laboured for breath. But the pain in his lungs barely registered as he attacked the second set of stairs with the same urgency as the first.

People stared. He didn’t care. In fact, he didn’t notice. He was lost again in his anguish.

God! The name left his mouth as an accusation.

Where are you now? Where are your promises? The questions came back empty as they bounced off the station’s walls.

You claim to be loving. Prove it! No words, just thoughts. He was daring God to become real.

Answer my please! Show your mercy! The screams ripped through his mind. Where was God?

He cleared the last set of stairs and pushed through the metro station door, escaping the stale air of despair, gasping for the fresh air of hope. All he found was thick, repressive air. He took two steps then bent over in pain.

What was hurting more, his lungs or his heart?

He gasped as his lungs sucked in the life enabling warm, moist summer evening air. He gasped as his heart desperately tried to suck in anything that would be life enabling, anything that would sustain it as the last of life seemed to seep away.

He stood.

As he stood he suddenly seemed to turn to stone on the spot. His eyes were fixed straight ahead. His heart stopped beating. Tears began to well up in his eyes as he read over and over again what he had desperately needed someone, anyone to say to him. There, across the street, stretch out on a banner that was fixed to two great pillars of a large church was the one word he had been longing to hear.


Everything seemed to slow down. Everything became silent around him. Everything became hushed.

There, in the middle of the sidewalk, he closed his eyes and allowed that word to wash over him. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, he received from his God that one thing that no one else was willing to risk giving him. He took it, grasped it and made the decision never to let go of it. There, in the middle of the sidewalk he began to dare to believe there was hope.

And it made a difference.

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