I suppose people hate riding the subway. It’s stuffy, jam-packed with strangers, usually filled with the worst of modern society and there is never an empty seat. It’s one of the things I enjoy about my day. I cling to a hook on the ceiling standing still, leaning on my bicep. I don’t rely on music to entertain me as others tend to do. The music of people is enough for me. I have been called nosy but it’s not for selfish purposes. I simply am interested because I want to know everything there is to know about human lives.
I stare constantly; to the point, it makes others uncomfortable. I ask random questions to strangers. Sometimes I get replies, other times I don’t. It is only in this atmosphere on the subway that I open up. I am not in the eyes of my peers here. I do not feel judged and weighed. I am not less of a being amongst the lot of travelers. We are equal in our destination. Though they may think I am homeless with my grunge appearance, I do not feel any less of a person in this cab.
I have tried to reason why I feel so unworthy at college. Perhaps it is schools in general where my confidence drags.
Saint Thomas Orphanage became my home after the death of my parents. I clung tight to my bag of clothes dressed in a black suit, coming straight from the funeral parlor. It wasn’t that my father and mother didn’t have friends. My nanny assured me that once everything situated they would come for me but people were fighting and problems occurred. It was best if I remained at my deceased mother’s behest in this environment.
My room consisted of eight other cots, where boys of various ages stared at me, standing beside their mattresses with blank, impassive orbs. No smiles or laughter existed in that hollow place. I remember planting my feet, refusing to step further but the hands of the nun forced me forward.
The adjustment from an all-male Catholic school to the Orphanage hadn’t been different in the beginning. Classes began every day at the same time, teachers were dull and brutal, and homework kept my mind from focusing on my parents’ murder. Within a month’s time however, the changes became obvious. They slapped my knuckles with a metal ruler when they saw me write left-handed. Such an action was a sin, a constantly repeated sentence I would hear thousands of times from then on. Yawning, wrong answers, rolling eyes, laughing, smirking; all constituted as a sin.
Instead of being able to go home, express to parents what an awful day I’ve had and gain their pleasant sympathy and their irreplaceable compassion, I curled up in cold, lumpy, lonely cot at nine o’clock when they ordered my bedtime and cried myself to sleep.
I step off the subway and arrive on the outskirts of Queens. The City University of New York is a few miles from here from which I just left. I spent most of the morning with Isabella and though we broke up, it doesn’t mean we aren’t friends. We went back to my apartment where I returned a few of her special trinkets, bathroom products, and clothes. I took her to lunch, making her laugh when she began to cry and loving her as she should have been loved while we had been together. I was right for breaking up with her. I should have never been with her to begin with.
I’m not scheduled to work today but I know my boss could always use an extra hand. I am a stocker at a self-owned, all natural grocery store. My boss is Indian and tends to get bullied by the locals, hence the reason he hired me. He thought I could scare off the kids considering my build and my accent. I’ve managed to kick a few punks from the store without causing much of a hustle which impressed him. I’ve been with Vasu for five years this September.
As I expected, he’s happy to see me and readily puts me to work. He’s old and can’t lift the heavy boxes, which there are only heavy boxes in a store full of cans, fruits, and vegetables. I begin stacking straight away, relieved to be doing something.
It is only a few more days until the anniversary of my Parents’ murder. Fourteen whole years of living without them. Would they be proud of me? Would they be ashamed? I figure they would be more ashamed than proud. Sure, I was able to overcome my tribulations and work hard enough to pay my way through college with help from the state by having good grades and outstanding recommendations from teachers and such. Does that replace the violations I allowed to happen?
When four months rolled by and I received word that I would be staying in Saint Thomas Orphanage, I didn’t feel trapped or scared. I had made friends despite the conditions and the strict policies reminded me a little of my mother’s constant care. I could survive.
That very night everything transformed. My warden, Father Fredrick summoned me to his office after my last class ended. I was sure I hadn’t disobeyed any stringent rules. When the door locked, I should have realized something was wrong, but I was naïve. I was innocent.
I had never taken into consideration why some boys didn’t come to bed. I thought they were being rebellious. I remember thinking, how could they defy our mentors? They sacrifice their time to care for us; the least we can do is be obedient. All this time, they longed for the comfort of the crappy cot.
A shove upon my shoulder pulls my concentration. Vasu glares at me. “What you do?” He growls, his English is terrible at best, pointing to the shelves. “Pay attention!”
I focus my gaze upon the shelf and find I’ve been stacking apples where only canned items are supposed to go. I smile holding up a forgiving hand, “I’ll fix it.”
“You crazy.” He slaps me on the arm, a fleeing grin floating on his thin lips as he passes.
He greets a customer with false niceness. An old slumped black man limps heavily on his cane, beaming back with a bright, “Hello!” I return to my duties as they go about talking business.
I was only thirteen when Father Fredrick began his games. What could I do against such a giant of a monster? Those are the words my therapist use to say and after so much time, I’ve now come to terms that there really was nothing I could have done. I did not rely on anyone to save me. I did not cry out for help to anyone corporal. The only one I begged to silently on a constant basis was God.
They say God only comes to those that have pure hearts. God only saves the righteous. God will only help the weak willed. As a child, did I not count for any of those? Yet He did not come then. I figured I wasn’t important enough to be saved. None of us were. As I grew up, I decided that God wasn’t going to step in because God was not around. I was the one that had to do something. I was the one that needed to get up on my own two feet.
We all fight back but it’s different when you know how to fight. I baited my time; I got strong, working out every day in the courtyard, doing things wrong so they would have to beat me. I became immune to whips and leather straps, and punches and kicks. They were ignorant to my goal. They saw my acts as a means of rebellious intent.
When I was sixteen, Father Fredrick intended to give me a birthday party where only he and I celebrated in the luxury of his suite. I can still recall the fear in his eyes when the door locked and I bawled my fists. It was the best day of my life. I walked out of that room on my own with no pain, no tears, with a huge smile on my face.
I thought that he would learn his lesson in such a moment. Warnings came from various friends, all telling me to run but I would not leave them behind and I remember thinking, why should I be afraid? I won. I was the bigger man now. Father Fredrick should be running from me.
It took only a few hours for orderlies and nuns to come strutting into our small bedroom and trap me in the corner. They injected a serum into my veins and I remembered nothing after that. Except waking in the infarmy, in pain. Fighting back lost much of its potency.
The bell rings again, another visitor comes into the small shop. I glance casually. A middle-aged white man, with glasses upon his nose pays attention only to the book in his hand, walking perfectly around the items we have laid out in the store, waving mindlessly to Vesu. I know I’ve never seen him before but he manages to make it through the maze of fruit stands as if he has a map in his mind.
I watch, as nosy as I am, peeking through the shelving as he steps to the back of the store and makes it beside the black geezer from before. My brows knit. I wonder how they must know each other. I make up some wild fantasy that they fought in Vietnam together, becoming best friends in the worst of situations. I crane my neck to listen in.
“Fancy meeting you here.” The white guy greets, removing his glasses. He tucks the book under his armpit so his hands can tuck into his pockets.
“Ahh… sarcasm.” The other chuckles adoringly. “It is fun, isn’t it? Is it my turn? That vest looks devilishly handsome on you.” A wide grin spreads upon their lips.
“You have gotten better.” The white guy approves, his eyes flicking toward the door, glancing back toward me.
I shrink, quickly continuing piling the cans of tomatoes. Their conversation is odd which is keeping me entertained. I flicker my eyes through the cracks again.
“Why are you here, Adam?”
Switching his cane to the other hand, Adam reaches into our cold freezer and pulls out something, holding it up.
“You’ve come to the middle of Queens for apple juice, have you?”
“I can’t get this where I’m from.” He absurdly states.
“No, I guess not.” He sighs, “Let me ask you. Does this have anything to do with the reason the Supreme Chancellor’s dire need to speak with me?”
Opening the bottle of juice, he murmurs, “Perhaps.” He takes a sip, smacking his lips. “Ahh, good stuff.”
Adam glances toward my direction but avoids my gaze. He shrugs casually and ignores the question.
Gripping his friend’s shoulder, the white collared man fearfully orders. “Do not linger. Fifteen minutes is all I can afford you.”
“You worry too much, little lamb.”
He steps around him, “As always, you worry too little.”
I solely concentrate on my job feeling guilty for spying on such an unimportant and yet seemingly personal conversation. I can feel the stranger’s eyes upon me but I ignore it. It’s strong and intimidating yet I refuse to meet his gaze as his footsteps tap on the wood panel making his way out the door.
I relax the moment he’s gone. Some people have an effect on you and there is no reason behind it, they just do. I can usually link it to some foul reason in my past. My confidence had been chopped in pieces by the creatures of the Orphanage.
When I managed to get out at eighteen, there was nothing else I wanted more to do then forget it ever existed. Alcohol and drugs would have been too easy. I figured I owed my parents more than that. I went to free meetings. There are plenty of places like that in New York. From there I got private sessions for free after I made friends. They got me a place to live and soon I got a job. I saved up enough money to start college and with grants, I managed to make it all the way through.
I did it all without God. I don’t need Him. I love Him. He created me. He created all of this and I am grateful because my parents were amazing people and there really are amazing people in this world and remarkable sights to see. But I am strong enough now to the point that I don’t need Him. I guess that’s what it all comes down too. I struggled a long time dealing with fact that He hadn’t come and wondering when he would. Now I don’t care. I’m okay. I’m going to make it. I’m doing just fine.
“Apple juice.” I swing around wide-eyed and heart panicking. “It’s delicious.”
A hand rests on his cane while the other holds an open bottle of organic apple juice, which he takes a swig, waiting for a response. A dirty hat twists sideways on his head. His unshaved beard mixes with white and gray and extends midway down his chest. His eyes twinkle and catch my attention more than anything else about him: They are surprisingly blue and beautiful.
“Yea.” I reply unsteadily.
“You work here?”
I force myself to continue stacking, guilt bubbling for spying on their conversation. “Yep.”
“Ah.” The old man’s throat constricts into violent coughs that years of smoking produced.
“You really shouldn’t smoke.” I tell him after he’s finished hacking up a lung.
From the corner of my eye, I catch his grin spread wide across the old man’s mouth, showing his white teeth, full and undiluted by age or disease. I hadn’t been expecting that.
“Thank you, you’re right.” He sits down with a great heave on a box of canned goods, using his cane to help most of his weight. I attempt to stack the shelf and watch him at the same time in case I have to catch him if he should fall over in the delicate process of sitting.
I sense his stare. I wonder if this is how the people on the subway cars feel. “Can I help you?” I awkwardly question after a short time.
Sadly, his black bushy brows knit and he shakes his head, “No. Some things in this life are incapable of mending.” I shift on my knee, facing him. “But humans,” He smiles lovingly, “Humans constantly adapt and improve. They can benefit from your help.”
“Years I have watched you, suffered with you, loved you, and admired you, all for this moment. For you to realize the strength that you have within yourself. You have never needed me, Sable. It is I that needs you. What I ask of you now, is to use the strength that you have gathered and help save the human race.”
I lean back against the shelving, my knees coming up as I land on my butt, “You’re a crazy old man, is what you are.”
He chuckles, his whole body shaking with the strain, “It would all make sense then wouldn’t it. If I was crazy? This whole world that I helped create? I can see that now.”
I point at him in my lunacy, “You want me to believe you’re God?”
He leans back and pulls something from his pockets, “You already do. What stops you is human logic, which is something that I have never been able to understand. The human mentality is lost to me and has been since I first created man. Your Soul knows what I am. It is screaming to you and you are not listening.” The creature holds out his hand and from his fingers drops a chain. A silver cross extends from the end of it. “This will help if you chose.”
It’s familiar. It almost looks like the cross my mother was buried with.
“And if I don’t?”
“I know who you are, Sable. From the day you were born, watching the world from your bedroom window, you knew you were connected to them. Each and every one of them. They are yours and you are theirs. Now you must lead the way to their salvation.”
He rests the necklace upon the box next to me, hauling himself up upon his feet with a groan, coughing as he does so. With most of his weight heavy on his cane, he grunts and moans, shuffling through the store.
With my head shaking, “You’re insane!”
He barely glances back at me, “Aren’t we all?”
A slap over my head wakes me and I flick my gaze all around, finding Vesu sneering down at me from his standing position. I’m laid out on the floor, curled against the shelving units with my fist wrapped tight. “What you do?” He growls. “Sleep? Sleep? No pay! Pay NO!” He kicks, ranting and raving, pacing back and forth while I stare at the cross in the center of my palm.