James finished packing up his things, shuffled through one of his drawers to find the keys to his car, headed for the front door of his apartment and went outside. Locking the door behind him, he turned right on his heels and headed down the hallway, after which he set off down the stairs of the building. His right leg was hurting him and he was not in the best of moods. He took steps two at a time, ignoring the pain, in a hurry to get to his candy shop and open it for the day. He’d slept too late in the morning and had had to skip his morning coffee. He was still drowsy as he got to his small car and turned the ignition on.
The drive to his candy shop took five minutes, and upon arrival he quickly sifted through his set of keys, struggling to find the right one. Once he found the correct key he clicked the door open and walked inside. It was light outside, the sun shining fiercely overhead, and families were walking about, observing the stores in the outdoor mall as they passed by them. Many had small children jumping around in excitement and James waited expectantly for the families to begin strolling into his store to peek a look around.
He walked behind the counter and sat on his stool. People continued walking by. Some couples, many families, the occasional lone stranger wandering the mall aimlessly. Finally someone noticed his shop and walked inside. He greeted them heartily.
“Good morning to you!” He exclaimed to the pair of children that had walked inside his shop. They looked no more than ten years old, one boy and a girl. They looked at him briefly and proceeded to run around the modest candy shop in excitement. Their parents were trailing behind, looking James up and down. A forty-year-old man managing a candy shop always proved to be an odd sight for people. They continued staring at him as the children scrutinized every piece of candy ecstatically, moving along to the different assortments and displays.
“May I be of help to you?” He asked the parents, trying to be as polite as possible. His eyes followed the children who still were jogging around the store. They had yet to pick out a favorite candy. James enjoyed watching them as they made their decisions, shook their heads, debated to each other about which was the best candy, agreed to disagree, and continued meandering through the shop.
“No, thank you,” they smiled. He knew those kinds of parents and of their clear over-protectiveness of their children. The father ran up behind the boy, picking him up in his arms and plopping him on his shoulders. The boy let out a rage of wild laughter. James smiled in spite of himself at the sight but quickly stopped when he caught the woman eyeing him uneasily. He walked behind the counter and sat down on his stool. He rested his hands on his chin.
The children made their decision and brought the candies to the counter. James smiled. “Ah, yes, those are very good ones. Good choice,” he said amiably, typing in the price on his cash register. The children beamed. They waited anxiously as the man behind the counter checked in their candies, resisting the urge to grab and devour them right then and there. He avoided making eye contact with the parents. They were still gazing at him curiously, not knowing exactly what to make of him. He fumbled with the candies, dropped them in a plastic bag that had the logo of his candy shop on it and handed it to the children. They didn’t bother saying “thank you,” simply sprinted out the door, dragging their parents by the hands after they had paid the check.
“Thank you for your purchase and have a very nice day!” He called out as they were leaving the store. They didn’t hear him. He sighed and sat back down on his stool.
The day wore on. The blistering sun penetrated his windows and rendered the room agonizingly hot. He stared out hazily through the windows. The people in the sidewalks continued on through the day, shopping for their summer paraphernalia. No one noticed his shop. On a scorching summer’s day such as this one people didn’t bother to eat candies. They all flowed in the direction of either the food courts or the soda machines, shaded under the roofs. They sat there drinking their sodas and laughing, all deep in conversation.
James felt lonely. He missed the days when he could enjoy a family day out by the lakes near his old neighborhood. His child smiling and leaping into the water, his wife sitting next to him and enjoying the day under the sun. Going out to a restaurant after coming home and drying up. Reading stories to Timmy as he slowly drowsed into a deep sleep.
That had all vanished years ago, causing James’s life to become a swirling vortex of pain and suffering, never to end and having abolished completely his formerly idyllic life in which he had a happy family and a stable job. The divorce had been the root of James’s misery, soon to be augmented by a tragic loss that would make him believe life to be useless and a painful paradigm through which he had to trudge incessantly.
Five years later, he had lost his former job after having his work habits go down the drain, opened up a candy shop and now resorted to selling candies to children every day. He loved kids and was happy every time a new one strolled into his shop, and they were the only reason that he still bothered to open up each day, even though it reminded him of the absolutely devastating event that had taken place years ago. He had improved over time, both in attitude and motivation, but the gaping hole in his heart still lived on, and he was forced to undergo the constant grievances in life with no remedy to lessen his pain.
He closed up for the night. He had gotten few more customers, all families that he had gawked at. He started up his car and headed for home. He was exhausted and once he got to his apartment he flopped down on his bead, ignored the fact that his clothes were still on. He soon drifted off into the world of dreams, where his constant ache was not present.
James was excited. After three long, dragging months, he would finally be able to see his child. He quickly got his keys and headed for his car. He revved up the engine, flying down the avenue towards his destination. After the divorce, he had scarcely ever seen little Timmy and he prized every second he could spend with the boy. He loved him more than anything in the world.
Finally he arrived to his ex-wife’s house. She lived in a big home, accompanied by another man that she had soon married after the divorce. He hated her and could hardly tolerate the few moments he had to spend with her. He shut the door behind him and walked up the driveway. He knocked twice and waited. After waiting for a few minutes, a woman opened the door.
“Hi. Where is he?” James said, trying as hard as he could to bottle up the brewing emotions he had for her.
She stared for a minute and answered dully, “He’s upstairs. He’s packing up his things, he’ll been down in a second.”
James didn’t want to have an awkward conversation and he restrained himself from opening up a discussion. He waited impatiently, anxious to see his son. They would do the same thing they did every time they saw each other: go to the zoo, go out to eat at a restaurant, and drive back home to stay up late and watch movies until the small hours of the morning. James was aware that it wasn’t healthy to lose sleep like that, but he treasured every moment that he had with his son and couldn’t help but accept his pleas to stay up for just a few more hours, and then a few more, and a couple more until the sun began to rise and they were so tired that they simply crashed on the couch. In those circumstances, they always ended up having lunch at three in the afternoon. Timmy loved staying up late. Tonight they would watch his favorite Disney movies. James couldn’t wait.
At last, Timmy came running down the stairs. “Bye!” John, his ex-wife’s husband, yelled down the stairs at the boy. Timmy didn’t respond and flew up to his father’s arms. He smiled and dropped to the ground.
“What took you so long?” He asked playfully.
“Sorry little buddy, I had some work to catch up with,” James smiled back at him, “You ready to go to the zoo?”
“Always!” He bellowed.
“What do you want to see first? The bears?” He looked at Timmy and grinned, snarling as he said, “Or the lions?”
Timmy giggled. He loved the lions, even though they scared him to bits. It would be a wonderful day.
“Well, bye,” James said to her.
There was no response as she slammed the door shut.
They went to the car and got in, Timmy in the passenger seat. They soared down the streets towards James’s apartment. They would go to the zoo by subway, only a three minute walk from his apartment.
Once they arrived at his flat they pitched their coats and such to his couch, heading out the door immediately after. After the zoo they would go eat at a restaurant so they didn’t need to take any snacks. In any case, they always bought some candies at the zoo’s small grocery store that was situated by the entrance
“You excited, Timmy?”
He nodded happily. James couldn’t help but smile. He loved being with his child, as scarce and brief as those occasions were. The divorce had been rough. His son was the last thing left in the world that he cared about and he would do whatever possible to keep him happy.
Soon they were walking down the steps to the subway. Timmy always loved going by train, another one of the reasons that they decided on this mode of transportation rather than by car. They hopped down the steps, walking quickly to get their tickets. The train would leave in about fifteen minutes. They wouldn’t waste any time and they boarded the train. There were few passengers inside, everyone still outside shuffling to get their tickets. Among the passengers were a woman searching for something inside her purse, a man with a hoodie and earphones on looking at the ground blankly, another child sobbing softly as his father threatened to punish him immediately as they got home, and a group of loud, rambunctious teenagers messing around. James ignored them and focused on his son. He sat down on one of the green seats, giving off a soft whoosh as he plopped down. James sat down next to him and they waited in silence for the train to take off, counting the minutes.
Slowly and one by one the passengers advanced into the train. The train was still quite empty but more crowded than it had been before. Soon every seat was occupied and people saw the need to stand up and hold on to one of the poles stretching from the ceiling to the floor.
James performed a perfunctory inspection the passengers on board. His eyes trailed from east to west, taking in the sight. He was curious and studied the people. Some played on their cell phones, others were listening to music, and others stared blankly at the windows and what lay in front of them.
Suddenly a commotion at the far right side of the train broke out. One passenger had created a disturbance and several people moved away, uneasy. Then the real trouble broke out. A thief had stolen a lady’s purse and was heading for the door. He was moving passed people, pushing them aside to get to the entrance of the train. Some tried to stop him but he pushed passed, throwing them aside. One man fell to the floor. Women screamed and children backed away from the scene, terrified and wide-eyed. The man was only about a few meters away from James and his son when he decided to take action. James stood up and planted his feet firmly on the ground. Women continued to scream as the man approached, struggling to get passed the dense crowd. Soon he was right in front of James and he eyed him threateningly.
“Get out of my way!” He yelled. Hands grabbed at him but he punched them aside, desperate to get away.
James said nothing, simply stared at the man, determined to stand his ground. The thief tried to push passed but James shoved him back. The man continued bellowing obscenities when he saw the child sitting next to James, frightened, his fists clenched and at his chest. He barged forward in an attempt to get the child and he grabbed hold of him. Everything happened in one second. James surged forward, enraged, his fists ready to lash out at the thief. He wouldn’t let him take his child. He wouldn’t.
With a quick movement of hands, the thief expertly drew from his jacket what looked to be a knife, glinting under the dim light of the train’s overhead bulbs. He picked the boy up and held him with his left hand across his throat, the other gripping the knife tightly, aiming at the boy.
“Don’t move,” he said.
Where were the hell were the guards? thought James. He looked about frantically, calling out for help but receiving no reply. Some passengers gasped. Others continued to back away and watch the scene cautiously.
“Dad!” Cried Timmy. He was sobbing uncontrollably. “Help me, please…” His voice trailed off as the fear caught up in his throat.
“You shut up,” snarled the man. He squeezed his throat and the boy yelped.
Then a group of armed guards were running down the steps, uniformed in black outfits. They sprinted towards the train, guns at the ready. There were about three of them, trying to get past the crowds of people still by the ticket stands. They yelled for them to move aside.
The thief was still grabbing the child by the throat. The guards were too far away. They wouldn’t get to the vehicle in time. James rushed forward impulsively, reaching for Timmy. But he was too late. As he saw him reaching for the child, the thief quickly slid the knife into the boy’s chest. Tears were flowing down Timmy’s cheeks. Then he gasped and in one lone second, one ugly, revolting second, James’s world fell apart. The thief twisted the knife inside the boy’s chest. It was too late.
It was too late.
James felt his knees buckle. He fell under the weight of his own shock and he stayed there. He stayed there, on the floor, his fists flying through the air in rage and coming back down to hit the ground. He screamed. He screamed again. And again.
Time seemed to seep out of his hands, a merciless goo that determined his fate. Movement around him slowed to a crawl. Out of the corner of his eye he was able to make out the guards racing for the thief that had run away. Then he lost control of his vision and everything around him crumbled apart. His little Timmy. His precious, innocent little Timmy. The only person he loved in the whole world. His reason for trudging on day after day, to be met by the same monotonous grief that had overcome him years ago. “Timmy…”
The heat was making him drowsy. He was beginning to fall asleep when a group of teenagers walked in the store. He eyed them wearily.
“Yes?” He inquired.
They didn’t answer. There were three of them, one girl and two boys. The girl stayed at the door and stared at James. The other two went down both aisles of the store and took as many compartments of candy as they could. It all happened in less than ten seconds.
“Hey! Stop!” It was no use. Soon they were out the door and vanished into the crowds of people. Some stopped to look at them and some moved away as they shuffled through. James looked down the concrete path. They were gone. He sighed, angry. Without thinking about it, he locked the door behind him and he began walking. He left the outdoor mall and came to a stop in front of a road. Three blocks down and to his right was his destination. He strode down the sidewalks and not long after the subway was in sight. He was oblivious to his surroundings, determined to get to the train station yet not knowing why. His mind was blank, his movements were empty and lifeless.
He felt the ground give way to a flight of stairs. He almost tripped but caught himself in time. He took a step down, and then another. He continued down until he was able to spot everything around him. The ticket stands were to his right, the entrance to the trains to his left. He headed towards the latter. He was surrounded by people of all kinds. Most of them were gibbering away with their friends or families. He was alone. He followed a group of adults that were heading for the trains. They took no note of him as he walked clandestinely and quietly behind them. They were talking about their jobs and about how annoying and infuriating it was to have to take their boss’s insults every day, but they had no choice because they had families to feed. The other ones nodded in agreement. They all looked solemn and concentrated on getting to wherever they were headed. Their motions were robotic. They walked quickly. Soon they were upon the entrance to the trains, and as one of the men squeezed through the small entrance, James was able to slide in behind him. There were few guards around. None of them noticed him slipping in without a ticket. The group of adults met once again and headed for the train. He trailed behind them but broke off, leaving them be. One of them turned around and caught James staring at him. He looked him in the eye for a few seconds and then turned back around, gathering with his group. They were all wearing suits and ties, some carrying briefcases. James slumped his shoulders and continued on.
The doors hissed open before him. He walked inside and turned right. There were few people inside, most of the seats adjacent to the windows empty. He held on to one of the poles jutting out from the ceiling. He rested his right hand awkwardly against his thigh as his left held on to the pole. He was looked out one of the windows in front of him with his back facing the doors to the train. He had lost sight of the group of adults that he’d followed. He squinted, trying to spot them outside. They were nowhere in sight. The doors behind him slid open, letting a passenger in.
James began turning his head when he felt a piercing blow to the back of his upper neck, and before he had the time to think about reacting, he was on the floor, unconscious.