On a balmy Friday afternoon, right before the dawn of a New Year, Craig pushed through the revolving glass doors of the skyscraper downtown, where he used to work. Beneath the massive plastic snowflakes that hung from the ceiling in the lobby, he was a slender figure, with glasses and an attaché case, barely a speck of sand, in a sea of nameless strangers.
Relieved to finally free himself from his slavery as a number crunching peon, ensconced in the clouds, he charted a reckless path across LaSalle Street, ignoring the blinking Don’t Walk signs, and the blaring horns of the daredevil cab drivers. He decided to turn a deaf ear to the vibrant heartbeat of the city.
Once upon a time, he had enjoyed the constant hustle and bustle. The blaring horns, the emancipated workers, the gawking tourists, the bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, it used to give him life. Back then, he was in good health and optimistic about his future. He felt confident and able to persevere in a cold city that showed little mercy for the weak and naïve.
But he was different now. The illness had changed everything.
The anticipation of reaching his destination consumed his thoughts, and he crossed a mere second in front of a bus that lumbered across the crowded intersection. Leaning from the weight of too many passengers, it barely missed him, yet Craig was oblivious to the near catastrophe. This time, nothing or no one would deter him from his destination.
Craig turned up his nose, smelling piss on the subway stairs, as he descended into the clammy darkness underground. He was fed up living in this filthy city filled with nasty, heartless people who didn’t give a damn about anybody but themselves. He was So tired of the assholes that made his life tedious. Even the people at work seemed happy to create roadblocks to his success. He was so painfully aware of his hopelessness, and he knew things would only get better if he made a change
He used to feel claustrophobic, surrounded by invisible walls that were built when he learned his prognosis. There were specialists, oncologists, 2nd opinions, and then a third. Although they all offered him a thin veil of hope, he knew it would eventually end with a slow, and miserable death. But today he felt free after confirming his decision. He gave little notice to the panhandlers that begged him for change. He saw far beyond their dirty faces and pitiful stares.
His final journey home this evening had special meaning if only to him. He stood on the subway platform with other commuters as the headlight and screeching metal heralded the oncoming train. He stepped inside the cramped subway car and was jerked to and fro with the other passengers. He found a seat but was too tired to read although he opened the warn and tattered bible in his lap. He carried the worn leather book with him through the tunnels like a magnificent jewel.
The subway car pulled in the station, and he departed the train. He waited for the bus to take him home as a shoddy girl stood lost beside him.
“Does this bus go to south shore?” she asked
“Yes, the Jeffrey Express should be here in about…”
But the coughing spasms bent him over. His sickness had shamed him once again, with a constant dry hacking that forced the shoddy girl to back away.
The bus was packed to capacity when it arrived, and Craig scanned the aisle for a space. He was relieved to see Mr. Shephard. The kindly older man had been a stranger just a few short months ago. He had saved him a seat on the back row of the bus.
Craig was hesitant to take the cramped space. He would have preferred to sit up front near the driver, but he was glad to see Mr. Shephard because it would be for the last time.
“Feeling better?” Mr. Shephard asked him.
The bus made a high-pitched noise, as the brakes screeched to a stop
Craig forced a cavalier laugh. He always laughed nervously when he lied.
“Much better, thanks for asking.”.
“You ain’t got nothing to worry about. Son, I Wish I was yo age again.
Ooh-wee!! I was something else back in them days. Plenty of life left in ya till the good Lord call ya home.”
His words were hopeful, and the baritone's southern drawl was warm and smooth like dripping honey. It was like a day fishing and listening to Uncle Murdoch tell stories. Both men had mingled gray hair and smelled of Old Spice aftershave and peppermint candy.
A sadness washed over Craig’s expression and a space deep inside him wanted to cry. Uncle Murdoch had died years ago when he was in grad school.
‘Gonna miss you next week. You deserve a break. Going to Vegas, right?”
“Yep, six days, seven nights, can’t wait.”
He had bought the tickets but left them at home. This morning, before leaving for work, he contemplated his fate for the last time. He would place the airline tickets on his bed on top of a sealed envelope containing his final words. In text and voice mail he had called his tiny crew of neighbors and colleagues and told them the same lie. How long would it be before they learned the truth? Would they even care?
He was done with indecision and his attention was drawn to the sound of the black south shore beyond the bus’s windows. The lake water splashed against the rocks in jagged frothy waves, and a stealthy dusk had settled along the shore.
Craig pulled the cord to signal the driver to stop.
“Keep your head up young fella, and have a good time, ya hear?”
Craig threw him a smile and a wave as the bus lumbered away. He took his last steps to his destination as the lonely pier stretched above the lake like an arm reaching out into heaven.
This story is in no way meant to advocate suicide as a final solution. Craig is a fictional character. Although his pain is real, I urge anyone contemplating suicide to talk with someone and immediately seek help.