I have it in my hands. My left hand turns it over again and again in the hands, pressing the points of it hard into my palm. It hurts, but only in such a way as to accentuate my victory over myself.
The man, the elderly man. He was in the cafeteria. I saw him eating, and I knew it was the same person. He ate in that same meticulous, slow manner. I watched him, saw him chew his blocks with what I can only describe now as a light pained expression. His gums must be damaged or something like that.
Anyway, that day he wasn't wearing his medal. Without it, his shirt clung to his skeletal frame like a loose skin. In fact, the gray of his shirt was not entirely dissimilar to his natural skin tone. It was interesting to note.
I watched him, this naked-looking revenant of a man, and I felt a boiling inside myself. I almost doubled over right then and there, overwhelmed by a wave of hate and sadness. This man is what we saved, what we preserved from the old world. I wouldn't be surprised if he was preserved, if he bathed in formaldehyde every day, drank the shit every meal. This decrepit waste of space, the mummified remains of a man who once existed but no longer had the gaul to occupy this space, share in the collective pines of all those who heard the world get tenderized like a slab of meat. He had nothing to lose when the bunkers shuddered, when the killing code ran its function and he has nothing to lose as we sit here waiting for the end result.
But he did have one thing to lose.
He got up, moving his tray to the far wall, then disappeared down one of the many hallways. I trailed him, keeping behind him just enough as to avoid glances. After a few minutes of walking, he suddenly tripped and fell. He gave a yelp of surprise and groaned softly. He cried out for help in a surprisingly even tone, perhaps in fear of breaking the perpetual silence.
I was behind a corner. I waited about thirty seconds, then opened the door closest to me and closed it again to give the illusion of my having exited that room. I rushed over to him and helped him up, slowly as not to cause further harm. He thanked me, and I offered to walk him over to his room. He hesitated, and politely declined, but I was insistent on this point, and so he eventually relented.
When we got to his room, I opened the door and moved him over to his bed. His room was very much the same as mine, save for the desk, which traded a notebook for some wartime paraphernalia.
He thanked me, then we exchanged silence for about half a minute. He said something else to me, after stumbling on it initially.
You've kept that human kindness
He turned his eyes away to untie his shoes. I left after that.