14 Jan Watching
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Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Have you ever noticed an ordinary person simply standing somewhere that was obviously unreasonable? Like an elderly woman idle near a pub’s back entrance or a child motionless outside a bank. Yes, I know, I too thought, “Well, there’s got to be a logical reason behind it. So what? They’re probably waiting for someone or something like that”. But that’s my point. What explanation is there when you realize the individual is still there, hours later, silent and unresponsive? Where is your logical excuse? You may think I’m being dramatic, but hear me out before you judge my sanity.
One day, as normal and uneventful as any other, I was on my morning commute to my bottom-of-the-bucket job as a dairy goods stocker at (insert generic supermarket name here) when I saw this middle-aged Asian businessman (assuming by his corporate attire) standing by a bus stop. Yet, he wasn’t exactly next to the stop as if he was waiting for the quarter-hourly Q60 like a handful of other folk were. He was a good fifteen feet from the sign itself. Odd? Yes, but not enough for someone whose subconscious is trained to be oblivious to the world around them while getting from destination A to B as quick as possible. As I speed walked by him, a queer sense of vertigo suddenly washed over me, almost like that feeling you experience when you’re on a plane that dips downward. This snapped me out of my spaced-out trance and I just…stopped. Still confused over what I had experienced, I scanned around me for anything out of the ordinary. My eyes fell on this man, whom of which gave no interest in return. Now that I was much closer to him, his features, or lack thereof, became more definite. The man’s face was void of expression. I would say it even seemed forced, because it wasn’t the “default” frown that we anatomically show when we aren’t trying to express ourselves. His eyes were horrifically sunken as if he were an insomniac. Also worth noting is that his suit looked ancient; the threading was frayed in several places and there were sickly colored stains that were far from fresh. After pausing to take in his strange appearance, I finally realized that I was wasting time and shrugged off the whole event as weird but unimportant.
I went about my usual dull and depressing work day. I would love to say that punch-out time came before I knew it, which that wouldn’t happen even in a dream, but I digress. The evening sun is making its descent as I make my way home with the hope of having a decent meal and a shower before getting to likely past-due Sociology homework. Queens Boulevard was less jammed than usual, so I decided to take the bus. A few minutes behind schedule, the rundown Q60 screeches to a halt at the stop. I board, swiping my college student fare card as I pass the driver and find the least crowded spot. I see my block rapidly approaching, pull on the ragged stop request rope, and exit. Lo and behold, this guy is still standing in the exact spot as when I passed by this morning! My mind explodes with questions like how has no one noticed him stationed there for so long or what in the world is he doing in the first place. Curiosity overcame me and I attempted to get him to explain his behavior.
“Um, excuse me. Is everything alright? I uhh…saw you this morning standing here and I uhh…well…have you been here this whole time? Hello? Sir?”
Somewhat agitated for being ignored, I pressed on.
“Look, buddy, I just thought that there might be something wrong and wanted to know.”
“Do you not know English or something? I know you can hear me; atleast look at me so I know you’re just being ignorant. Well?”
I’ll admit I was being harsh, but the guy was acting like I was invisible. But then I noticed something. He wasn’t acting ignorant at all, in fact, I don’t think there was anything going on in that head. His eyes had this absentness that was way beyond being spaced-out. It’s like he was an empty shell wearing clothes. The best thing I can compare him to would be a zombie, without the ravenous hunger for flesh of course. At this point I couldn’t help myself; I did the logical thing and poked him. Nothing. No “What was that for?” or sign of agitation. My worries started to grow, as I was out of ideas.
“LOOK, YOU WANNA BE ALL PYSCHO ZOMBIE, DO IT IN YOUR OWN HOME, OK? YOU’RE GONNA GET IN TROUBLE FOR FREAKING PEOPLE OUT EVENTUALLY!”
Other passerby looked at me as if I were a crazed lunatic. Realizing I took it too far, I just continued onward, occasionally looking back over my shoulder half expecting the man to move or something along those lines. He was as quiet and motionless then as he was nine hours ago.
I opened the door to my hallway-shaped apartment and entered the kitchen to pop a frozen dinner into the microwave. My head started to throb as it usually does around this time, thanks to the permanent damage I got from that near-fatal incident with a ladder two years ago. I open my bathroom’s medicine cabinet to take my meds for the pain which reminds me to be thankful for being alive on a daily basis. The microwave’s beeps echo throughout the apartment; tasteless turkey and mashed potatoes await. I force down the unpleasant dish for nourishment, take a calming shower, and turn in for the night.
Its Friday, or as I and probably 99% of other folks with jobs like to call it, payday. I go about my regular morning routine and depart for work. The October weather is not yet chilly enough for long-sleeves and coats, so everyone is dressed in normal clothes. I turned onto the boulevard and was immediately faced with four squad cars, some ambulances, and two practically obliterated vehicles. The first car, a navy blue Honda, had looked like the Incredible Hulk tried to fold it into a taco-like shape. All windows were shattered and the driver’s side door was completely off its hinges and laying a couple feet away. The car was empty, which means whoever was inside probably survived. This was confirmed when a cop assisting a young injured guy, probably about my age, came from around the side of the car. The cop helped the guy into one of the vacant ambulances as an EMT emerged to inspect him. The second vehicle, a stale vanilla SUV, was in much worse shape than the Honda. Have you ever seen a crash test video that manufacturers use in commercials to show how safe their vehicle is? Well multiply that damage by ten, and that was the current state of the SUV. I would go into detail like how there was what seemed to be long matted hair stuck in the jagged windshield, or how there was definitely a thumb just sitting next to the left tire, but I’ve always had a weak stomach for gore. I don’t have to tell you that whoever was driving obviously didn’t make it. The other ambulance had two EMTs inside, pulling a sheet over a woman’s body. I caught a glimpse of the side of her face and gagged before they completely covered her. One officer was idle on the sidewalk, trying to keep passing pedestrians from gathering to see the accident. I walked up to him with my hand raised to signal that I wanted to talk for a second.
“I know it was a car crash, but what happened exactly?”
The officer first scolded me for my curiosity then explained. Apparently the young guy had took his eyes off the road and reached under the dashboard to find a water bottle that was rolling around so it wouldn’t accidentally get stuck behind the brake pedal. He went right through a red light, and well, you can tell what happened next. After telling me what happened, the officer rushed me to continue on my way. It really was a tragic scene, and it’s a shame someone had died due to another person’s negligence. While pondering this, I caught a familiar figure across the street out of the corner of my eye–it was him again. But this time something was different. No, I’m not talking about the man’s expression or stature. That remained the same as the day before. No, this time…he wasn’t alone. Call me crazy all you want, I don’t care. The image of that woman’s grotesque face will forever be burned into the confines of my mind. They just stood there, side by side, spectating the scene of the collision as if they were captivated by it. Goosebumps creeping up on me, I once again bothered the cop for reassurance.
“Sorry again, but…that man over there. You…you see him, right? You see that lady next to him too, right? Isn’t she the one that…died?”
The officer, now annoyed by my questioning, briefly looked towards where I was pointing.
“Look sir, there isn’t anybody over there. Enough with these pointless interruptions, please go on your way and let me do my job.”
Something told me that they would say that. That there is no one physically standing on the other side of the street and that I am just imagining it. But they’re wrong. I know what I saw. I watched as the two figures slowly turned and walked away, and as they went, their bodies became more and more transparent. Almost as if they were slowly phasing out of existence.
From that day on, I gladly took my medication that kept me going, thankful to be alive and well. However, this flicker of understanding was just a ruse to hide the truth. That constant reminder of fear of the day when it’s my turn to walk with the strange man to someplace far from this world. The microwave beeps and I snap back to reality, just like every other night after getting home from work. I take one look at the distasteful meal before me, a tear forming in my eye, and begin to eat.
Credit: Perfect Flaw