The Most Livable City

The Most Livable City

By Danyel Deran

All the way in the most livable city, the most unlivable man lived. 

It’s so hard being me. I’m so very lost in this world, but I should be grateful because a homeless man just walked in. He’s dressed like a chimney, smells like one too and head to toe, every viable piece of skin on this scarecrow is lacerated with an open sore. What a miserable existence. Oh god, now this miserable existence is approaching me.

‘Do you have any money, mate? I just need like fifteen bucks to see my kids.’ 

My taxes already pay you. Go away.

‘Just like a dollar or two, mate.’

The stare ahead is not working. 

I want to say, ‘Hey bum, I have more problems than you, so why don’t you give me some dosh,’ but what I really do is turn my head and say, ‘No, my deepest sorrows.’

I tried to be sincere; did he not hear my heartfelt, ‘my deepest sorrows’? The goober stands there idly and now I’m praying he doesn’t spit on me. 

But it seems I’ve been a good boy because he keeps his acid tongue in check, mutters something and walks away. I think he might’ve called me a scumbag but I’m not sure.

He floats away like some kind of sick smoke monster, clearing his annoying throat every time he asks someone else for money. How humiliating for this man. If I ever hit rock bottom—just scum of the earth, bottom of the barrel like that—I’d loiter in front of a train, not in one. He stumbles towards this nerd in the back, who’s reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and asks, ‘excuse me, mate, do you perchance have any money? I just need to visit my sick mother.’ The nerd hurries to his wallet. Gross. Is that what your holy book teaches you? To bend down at the will of a bum?  

I go back to looking out the window, disgusted by what I’ve seen. Tough, it’s been tough recently for me and when I spot a smiling face in this sea of people, I can’t help but feel targeted. The happiness of others has always hurt me. It’s mean. It’s disrespectful to smile so wide in front of me. Especially knowing what I’ve been through. To top it off, I woke up with cockroach in my mouth this morning and I think I heard it say, ‘God doesn’t love you’. I tried to wake up, thinking it was a dream, a nightmare, but it wasn’t. 

How could I ever be comfortable with this smiling face down the nape of my neck? I know it’s wrong to wish poorly on others, but you started it by showing your teeth. And so now I’m imagining the smile on your face fading as grandpa whoopsies down the stairs, or the swell of your tears as your beloved mother takes her last breaths. Yes, I’d pray to see just one tear fall from your face. Hallelujah, the smiling face is taken away by a crumpled jacket, all praise to my old friend, the bum.

Engulfed in his own twisted sense of importance, the homeless man, that once was, creeps closer. His smoke takes me under, and I try to shield my eyes, but he has consumed me wholly. The wretched life has surrounded me.

‘Give me all your money, fucker!’ he shouts.

I haven’t felt good in a long time.

‘I’ll stab you, give me money!’

‘Do it,’ I say. It just came out. I didn’t want to say it. My voice was commanded by something beyond me. 

The disgruntled man lunges at me. 

I feel nothing. A knife stuck in my throat, and it’s just another day. Screams in the carriage and blood on my shirt. I sit stoically like a soldier.  

‘Fuckin’ scumbag,’ the junkie says, running away. 

People faint but I sit stoic like a goddamn soldier.  

My stop comes and people ask if I’m okay, I don’t feel anything. I get off the train and walk the usual three blocks to work.

A knife stuck in my throat and I walk to work. People stare, some laugh. I guess they think I’m in some kind of clever costume or maybe they’re sadistic denizens I’m envisioning as half my soul begins its journey to the depths. I check my watch. Quarter to nine. Damn. Mr. Shterben’s really going to chew me out. It’s the second time I’m late this week and I’ve well and truly breached the corporate tardiness policy. 

Was I apathetic or stoic? I don’t know and what difference does it make? Either way I’m a battle-hardened soldier and with a knife sticking out my throat, I’m ready to pass on from this life and receive my purple heart. But it beats on and so the office will get to see its very own working-class casualty.  

Now I’m grateful that man stabbed me. I have a good reason for my lateness and probably won’t be shitcanned. I enter my building and hear walkie talkies sound off behind me. Police. I haven’t done anything, but I feel guilty. All I deserve is sympathy. It’s so easy to pity me. Why won’t anyone pity me?  

I enter the elevator and up I go. Before entering the office, I give a quick salutation to God.

‘Thanks, God,’ I say. Heaven knows I need him on my side. 

I see Mr. Shterben, and I want my purple heart now. I’ve earned it.

And that fortune cookie from last night’s chow mein was right. ‘Your road to glory will be rocky but fulfilling.’

I don’t normally believe in that spiritual gobbledygook but today is different.

And I want to spit in his eye but it’s the holy month of Ramadan, so I hold back. I don’t know how but I’m out on the streets again. It’s getting blurry, a ghost’s suffocating me blind. 

I can’t see but I can hear.

They all want to help me; ‘sir’s and ‘are you okay’s and ‘we’re here to help’s.

But where were they before? When rent was due or when I stood valiantly, holding back tears as Mr. Shterben lambasted me for wasting office toner.

Where were you when I was in the cubicle throwing myself against the soiled walls, howling at the obscenities of my life?

I might sell life insurance, but I still know my rights, and I aced year eleven legal studies, I know that if I want to die, you cannot stop me. 

These people won’t stop me. They grab for me, but I refuse. ‘Get your hands off me, you bastards!’

‘Sir, stop resisting!’ a nice citizen says, grabbing for me.

‘To hell with you. To hell with you!’ 

I’m on the floor slugging around, it was this world and its cruelty that poured salt on me and this lingering death is beginning to sting, but I refuse help. I will go out with dignity. 

‘I might be society’s punching bag glossed in TRESemmé hairspray but not on my worst day, pal,’ I say, dry heaving after every word.

I’m not suffocating anymore, I’ve already drowned. Next time be wary of who you try to smother because drowned bodies tend to float and rise.

An emergency team pick me off the floor and fasten me to a gurney. They try to ship me into an ambulance, ship me back to life, but I’m having none of it. I cradle as hard as I can side to side and the EMTs lose control of me. I feel like I’m ten years old again, loose in a shopping cart going down a hill. All I can do is look up but I can’t see the sky because it’s polluted by skyscrapers. I can hear cars weaving between me; they’ve all hit me before but they love to dodge me now. Beeps and horns fall away to the sound of my heavy heart that ticks away. I’m overwound, far beyond my years. It’s home time. I shut my eyes, and feel my spirit rise as I submit myself completely to the most livable city.



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