Featured post

All Nighter

Irene and I are still at work even though it’s 10 pm on a Friday night.

“Why do I keep dating assholes?” She asks.

“Because you have low self-esteem.” I reply.

She glares at me, “I do not.”

“I told you not to date people you work with.” I say smugly.

“But you dated Jennifer!” She replies.

“I dated her after she announced she was leaving in 30 days. And she wasn’t on my team. In fact, she didn’t even work on the same floor as me. You on the other hand sit right beside your ex. How’s that working out for you?”

“Horrible. Why can’t I find a nice guy to be with? Where are all the nice guys?”

“They’re behind the assholes that keep finishing first.”

“What?” She looks confused.

“Because nice guys finish last…” I explain very slowly. “And assholes finish first… therefore nice guys are behind the assholes… which is why you can’t see them… makes sense?”

“Oh.”

“You’re not the brightest bulb in the chandelier are you?” I laugh.

“Assholes like you are the reason it’s hard to find nice guys.” She says.

Nice guys, in my experience, are easy to make money out of. I take the train to work everyday and if I don’t feel like reading a book, I’m usually playing poker with other passengers that take the train regularly. The nice guys I play poker with are predictable, risk-averse, and extremely easy to read. They can also be bitter and passive-aggressive.

But what I find fascinating is that whenever these nice guys I play poker with are doing well and have made a lot of money, they always keep playing until they lose everything. They’re never content with what they’ve won and I don’t think it’s because they’re greedy and they want to win more, the real reason is that they have low self-esteem and they truly believe that they don’t deserve to win. It’s sad right? They believe they’re losers and they keep playing until that belief is confirmed.

“Don’t blame me.” I reply. “You had a perfectly nice boyfriend in high school. Until he started sleeping with his sister.”

She cringes, “Why did you bring that up?”

“Do you remember walking in on them–”

“Stop!”

“And the best part was when they went to Comic Con dressed up as Jamie and Cersei!” I laugh.

“I hope they burn in hell.” She says, her voice full of venom.

Irene and I have a lot of work to catch up on since we were on vacation last week. We were with our school friends in Las Vegas. Our trip wasn’t as crazy as the movie Hangover, nobody stole a tiger or got beaten up by a naked Asian guy. But it had been so long since we’d all been together so we just played cards and partied hard. Irene got so drunk one night that she paid a cabbie with a thousand dollar bill instead of a hundred. She realized her mistake the next day. She’s the only one in our social circle who doesn’t gamble but she lost more money in Vegas than all of us combined.

We work quietly for the next half an hour.

“Do you know about the girl who was killed in this building?” Irene asks, breaking the silence.

“How do you know about that?”

“I came across an old news article when I was googling our office.” She says.

“It’s a horrific story.” I say.

“The article I read was too short.” She says. “All I know is that a long time ago there was a girl who wanted to become an artist but her father wanted her to become a doctor. She wouldn’t obey him so he murdered her.”

“Well, that’s all there is to it.” I reply.

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“Okay fine. Jennifer told me the whole story. It’s dreadful.”

“You don’t think I can handle it?” She looks at me fiercely.

“It’s not that. It’s just that if I tell you, I’ll have to relive the whole thing.”

“Just tell me.” She demands.

“Okay.” I sigh. “So a long time ago this office building was a residential building. In one of the apartments there lived a girl who was exceptionally talented at drawing. Her dream was to go to art school. Her room was filled with her paintings. She wasn’t allowed to keep any of her work in any other part of the apartment because her father disapproved of her artistic pursuits. He was a doctor and wanted his daughter to become a doctor as well. He was obsessed with raising the best doctor the medical field had ever seen because his wife had died in childbirth and he couldn’t save her, despite his best efforts. He wanted his daughter to become a better doctor than him. But she didn’t care about medicine and just kept drawing.”

I pause for a moment before continuing, “One day he walked into her room and saw her standing in front of a blank canvas. She was getting ready to draw something. He lost his temper. He started beating her. He punched her in the nose and her blood splattered onto the blank canvas. Then he said, “That looks better than anything you’ve ever drawn.” Then he kept beating her until her face was unrecognizable. Her body looked like butchered meat by the time he was finished.”

“What happened to him after?” Irene asks.

“He called the police and confessed to murder. He waived his right to have a lawyer. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death.”

“Poor girl. But I’ve heard worse.” Irene says.

“Yeah but what makes this disturbing is that the murder took place in this very building. Maybe the apartment she lived in was on the same floor as us. Maybe her bedroom where she was murdered was right here where we sit and work every day.”

“Okay, that is a creepy thought.”

“Exactly.”

Irene and I continue working.

I have so many emails to read. That’s the worst part about going on vacation, you have to come back to hundreds of unread emails and some of them are as long as the essays I wrote in school. I hate reading too much on a computer screen. It bothers my eyes. I decide to print out one of the longer emails.

But there’s no paper in the printer. Fortunately I always keep printer paper at the bottom of my drawer. I open my drawer only to be greeted by an assortment of stationery. There are notes, staplers, scissors, tape, files, binders, clips, pens and pencils. As I go through the mess in my drawer, I finally find the printer paper, which is still unopened and neatly packaged. I open the package and take out a blank sheet of paper.

Then I see something out of place.

There’s blood on the paper.

Lovelina

Oscar and Lovelina are driving home from the movies. It’s cold inside the car. The heater isn’t working and the temperature outside is well below zero.

Lovelina’s gripping the steering wheel tighter than usual. It’s been a long day and it’s about to get longer.

“I need to tell you something.” Lovelina hits the accelerator and the car picks up speed.

“About the movie? It was terrific.” Oscar replies

“That it was.” She nods her head. “But it’s not about that. It’s about us.”

“Us?” He asks.

“I’m… this is probably not the best time to say this but – I started seeing someone else. Behind your back.”

He doesn’t reply immediately. Then he laughs nervously, “You’re tying to be funny right?”

“This isn’t a prank. I’m serious. I’m really sorry.”

“Stop the car.” He orders. “I don’t want to talk about this while driving.”

She pulls over on the side of the road. “We probably shouldn’t stay here for long. The area isn’t safe.”

“That’s your main concern? Not the fact that you absolutely betrayed me?”

“Oh come on.” She snaps. “We aren’t the same as before. Things have gotten stale. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were seeing someone too.”

“I’m not!” Oscar yells. “Just because things aren’t as intense anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the same way about you.”

“I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. But it’s just not working out.”

“Get out.” Oscar says quietly.

“Excuse me?”

“Get out of the car.” He says again.

“This is my car, Oscar.”

“I don’t care!” He yells, reaches over to her door, opens it, and pushes her out. Then he shifts to the driver’s seat.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” She screams. “You can’t just leave me here!”

“Fuck you.” He drives away.

 

An hour later he reaches my flat and rings the doorbell.

As soon as I open it he says, “I did something drastic.”

“What happened?” I ask as we go into the living room.

Oscar tells me what happened.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask. “You left her in the most dangerous area in town!”

“She texted me a few minutes ago. She was mugged at gunpoint and her purse was stolen. And she almost froze to death while going home, she had left her jacket in the backseat and didn’t get a chance to grab it before I kicked her out. Shit, I feel really guilty.”

“You should feel guilty.”

Oscar shakes his head, “She broke me. I can’t believe she’s seeing someone else.”

“What she did was absolutely wrong. But what you did was still unacceptable, you know that right?”

“I do, I do…” He says. “I just thought she was the one. I thought I would marry her again because… it felt like we were married in a previous life.”

Then he removes a small journal from his pocket. “Read…” He starts flipping pages and stops somewhere in the middle. “This. I wrote it when Lovelina and I were doing long distance.”

I start reading:

I’m in love with someone I’ll meet in the future.

We live alone on opposite ends of the world but soon we’ll be reunited in the center.

I’ll write her a letter today. The best part about being in a long distance relationship is actually letters. Letters are personal because your handwriting makes you unique. And sharing that uniqueness with someone you love is very special. Her handwriting is so beautiful that I want to use it as a font on Microsoft Word.

Even when Lovelina and I used to live together, and whenever we had an argument, we didn’t speak to each other. We didn’t yell at each other. We simply wrote what we felt on paper and started reading. We kept writing to each other until the argument was resolved. She once told me that she never fully trusted her ex because his handwriting was sloppy.

I finish reading and all I have to say is, “Wow. I didn’t know you had a journal.”

Oscar grabs the journal from my hand and throws it in the fireplace.

“It’s over. Lovelina and I are over.” He declares.

“I’m sorry. I really wish it had worked out. You two were great together.”

He gets up, “I need to be alone right now.”

 

After he leaves I call Lovelina.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Yes.” Lovelina replies. “I should’ve picked a better time to tell him the truth.”

“You should’ve called me when he left you stranded there.”

“I was afraid you two would run into each other if he was driving away from me and you were driving towards me.”

“How did you get home?”

“I took a bus home. The asshole who stole my purse was kind enough to give me directions to the nearest bus stop along with bus fare.”

I run a hand through my hair, “I’m so sorry this happened.”

“Don’t be.” She replies softly. “I’m free now… Am I seeing you tonight?”

“Yes.”

Hostage

My girlfriend is being held hostage at a bank. It’s been 45 minutes since every media outlet in the country started covering it. I told Amanda to just pay her bills online but she said her laptop and phone were both too slow and it would be faster to just go to the bank and get it done. Her laptop belonged to her late mother’s so it’s quite old – Amanda uses it because it reminds her of her mom.

I’m right outside the bank, behind a police barricade. My sister told me to stay at home because it might be dangerous to be near the bank but I had no intention of watching the crisis unfold on TV. What’s made me nervous is that the bank robbers haven’t made any demands yet. I thought they would’ve asked for the moon by now but they’ve been silent.

And what really has me worried is that our country does not have a history of negotiating with criminals or terrorists. We’ve let hostages die in the past because according to our Prime Minister, “If the bad guys think they can do what they want just because they have a few hostages, they can think again.”

I approach a policeman to inquire about the hostage crisis.

“There are 50 hostages being held by three captors.” He says. “We’ve tried contacting the captors but they aren’t picking up the phone. They’ve also emptied all the vaults – if they walk away from this, and I doubt they will, they’ll have enough money to live like kings for a hundred lifetimes.”

“Sir, is there anything you can tell me that hasn’t been reported on the news?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Could you please just lay down your arms and let them walk away? These are 50 lives we’re talking about. We may have sacrificed two or three hostages in the past but this is a huge double-digit number, it’s unprecedented.”

“Do you know someone in there?” He asks.

“My girlfriend. I was planning to propose to her next month.”

“I’m sorry. If it were up to me I’d let the three robbers walk away as long as nobody got hurt. But I’m just one man. What can I do?”

I had planned to take Amanda on a cruise since she’s never seen the ocean before. Then we’d go scuba diving and I’d surprise her underwater with a sign with these words on it: ‘Will you make me the luckiest man by marrying me?’

As I’m fantasizing about Amanda being my wife, I hear several loud gunshots. Every police officer aims their weapon at the bank. Something big is thrown out of the door and lands on one of the police cars. That something is a human body. I rush over to get a look.

The police push me back but I had gotten close enough to see that it wasn’t Amanda. It was someone else. A journalist rushes over and climbs on top of the police car to capture the image. The police immediately drag him away but it’s too late, the image will now live online forever.

The image: a male corpse with a bullet hole in his forehead and a note in his mouth. Here’s what it says:

‘Police: leave the area for 30 minutes and no one else will be harmed. If you insist on negotiating, then we will only communicate via this method.’

The poor man. A part of me hopes he was a loner otherwise his loved ones must be going through the worst time of their lives right now. I really hope the police just do what these maniacs want. Nobody else needs to get hurt today.

And then my phone starts ringing. I pick it up and hear none other than Amanda’s voice.

“Is it really you? Are you okay? What’s happening?” I bombard her with questions.

“Please listen carefully.” She says. “My battery’s low and these guys might come back any second. You need to tell the media my name. Get in front of a camera and tell everyone who I am.”

“What? Amanda, why? What’s going on?”

“Pour your heart out to the media because it’ll raise public sympathy as it helps the public know the hostages personally. That will pressure the prime minister to give in to the captors’ demands so that no one else gets hurt. Now please, hurry!”

She hangs up. I make my way to the nearest the journalist and tell him that I personally know one of the hostages. He shoves a mic in my face and I tell the world all about Amanda, how we’ve been together for 10 years. We met in high school and went to the same college. We attended college in another country and experienced a whole new culture. And the best part is that we have so much in common – our favourite thing to do is stay at home and read. Most nights we’ll just read books in the same bed till we fall asleep.

After I’m done I just start praying. I’ve never believed in God but maybe he does exist. I don’t know. If he does, I hope he listens and saves Amanda.
About half an hour later the police go into their cars and start driving away. An officer tells me that I need to clear the area because the Prime Minister has decided to give the bank robbers what they want – the police are leaving the area just as the robbers demanded. One of the officers gives me a ride in his car.

He drops me off at a café nearby. We aren’t too far from the area the bank is in. An hour passes and then we all get the news from the TV in the café: The robbers have left the bank. All other hostages are inside the bank and are unharmed. Thank God. Amanda is safe.

I hail a cab and go to the bank. I see Amanda near a paramedic. I rush over to her and take her into my arms. She starts crying. We go to the hospital to get some tests done. A few hours later we go home. We’re in bed, safely under a blanket.

“I can’t believe you’re safe.” I tell her. “I expected to see a SWAT team raid the bank and blast those robbers away. I thought all the hostages were expendable. The robbers got away with millions of dollars. The Prime Minister had a change of heart, it’s a miracle.”

“I need to tell you something. The hostages, including me, are safe because… because of me.”

“I know! Your public sympathy idea worked!”

“No… that’s not it.”

“Then what?”

“When you told the media who I was, everyone knew I was a hostage, including the Prime Minister.”

“So?” I ask.

“I had an affair with the Prime Minister last year.”

The Punisher

The global surge in vigilantes has some worried and some relieved. They’re quite the polarizing group. Some people think they should be locked up for taking the law into their own hands while others believe they should get medals for making the world a safer place. Some feel that vigilantes with superpowers are a threat to the human race while others believe they are simply the next step in human evolution.

Personally, I wholeheartedly approve of them. I’m currently reading an article headlined, ‘Vigilante Epidemic’. The author believes that certain super powered beings cause problems which are solved by other super powered beings, so the world would be a better place if there were no super powered beings at all. I think that everyone who’s against vigilantes would change their tune if a vigilante saved their life or their loved ones’ lives. Or maybe not. You never know. Some people are shockingly devoid of gratitude.

I’m at work right now, yawning every five minutes. I couldn’t sleep properly last night. I had a nightmare – Someone had hypnotized me into robbing a bank and some random vigilante caught me. The police arrested me and threw me in prison. And prison was very depressing, because I wasn’t allowed to read any books. I don’t care about crowded prison cells, the bad food or the fact that the toilet is right next to your bed. But I do care when I’m separated from my books. Just like how a sword is an extension of a samurai’s arm, my books are an extension of my mind.

My friend Angela soon reaches office. She’s late, which is unusual.

I’m taken aback when I see tears rolling down her cheeks.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Dr. Strange was murdered last night. I found this near his body.” She hands me a piece of paper. It’s a letter.

Dr. Strange was Angela’s dog’s name.

I read the letter:

Dear Angela,

You’ll never hug me again. You’ll never play with me again. You’ll never see me again because I have decided to take my own life.

Goodbye,
Dr. Strange

Obviously a dog couldn’t have written a suicide letter and killed himself.

“I’m so sorry Angela.” I give the letter back to her.

“Why would someone do this?” She asks. “I wasn’t going to come to work today but I wanted to try and take my mind off what happened. I have too many memories of Dr. Strange at home, I’ll need to move. I’m staying with my sister right now. When I got home last night I saw him in bed with his throat cut open.”

“Whoever did this is one sick bastard.”

“Whoever this Pet Killer is, he has to be stopped.”

There’s a pet serial killer rampaging through the city. Dr. Strange was his third victim. He not only murders animals, but he also ransacks his victim’s homes.

“Is anything missing from your home?” I ask her.

“I haven’t checked yet. It doesn’t matter.” She says. “He just killed Dr. Strange and left. There’s absolutely no evidence of a break in, no evidence that someone was even there, the police don’t know where to start.”

“I’m sure the police will find him soon enough.”

“No they won’t.” She says firmly. “But you know someone who can.”

There’s a new vigilante in town. He calls himself ‘The Punisher’. He’s modeled himself after Frank Castle, and he’s a school friend of mine. I honestly thought he’d amount to nothing – he skipped class every other day – but here he is, actually making a difference.

Of course there are many who think he’s an out-of-control psycho murderer but those same people are protected from criminals because The Punisher kills criminals before they can hurt people. The Punisher truly understands that prevention is better than a cure.

I whisper, “I’m sure the Punisher is hot on his trail.”

“I need a favor. When the Punisher finds him, I don’t want the Punisher to kill him. I want to kill him.” Angela says.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let the Punisher take care of it.”

“Please. I only ask for things when I really need them. I need to look this Pet Killer in the eye and kill him myself. I just need the Punisher to capture him for me.”

I sigh, “I can’t promise anything.”

“Just try.” She pleads.

Obviously the Punisher is not going to entertain Angela’s request. And nor will I waste his time by asking him to let Angela do his job for him. Angela has enough issues to deal with and having blood on her hands won’t help.

Getting her to open up to me was a herculean task. I had to keep asking her over and over again to talk to me and finally when the floodgates opened, she told me everything in a sad, quiet voice. She was bullied as a child. She didn’t tell her parents or her teachers because she didn’t think it would make a difference. She’s never been in a relationship before because she always sabotages herself. She’ll usually tell a guy if she likes him but if the feeling is mutual, she’ll push him away.

She’s seen a few therapists but she says it doesn’t help because she knows what her problems are because she’s clear about her issues. She says therapy is for people who are confused. According to her, what she needs to do now is apply what her therapists have told her to do. Doing is the hard part.

Or maybe she thinks she has clarity about her issues but does not, and maybe she needs to find the right therapist to help her gain clarity and get her to take action on her issues. I don’t know. I just do my best to be a good friend to her – and to continue doing that I’ll need to show her that getting her hands bloody isn’t the answer.

“Look at this.” Angela grabs my shoulder.

I look at Angela’s computer screen. She’s reading some breaking news.

The headline: ‘Pet Killer Found Dead’

The article reveals the Pet Killer’s identity, a man by the name of Darren Jones. He was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his apartment. A suicide note was found in his pocket:

Dear World,

I regret all the heinous acts I committed. I wish I could take them back but I cannot. I do not deserve to be forgiven. I am beyond redemption. I am sorry.

Goodbye,
Darren Jones

“Well, that takes care of that.” I say.

“It won’t bring back Dr. Strange. I’m glad he’s dead but… I still feel empty.”

“The important thing is that there won’t be any more victims.” I reply. “Pet owners will be able to breathe easy.”

“Maybe I’d feel better if I had killed Darren Jones myself.”

I doubt that but I don’t say anything. I also don’t think for a minute that Darren Jones willingly took his own life. I wonder if Darren saw the suicide note before he was disposed of.

I’m not sure if The Punisher took care of him, but whoever did has my gratitude.

Life Simplified

I shut all my books. I can’t take it anymore. I need a break. It’s midnight and I’m in the school library again, trying to finish an essay by tomorrow morning. I promised myself I wouldn’t leave things till the last minute but that promise, like most of my promises, was not meant to be.

I also promised myself I’d work up the courage to talk to Olivia this year but so far I’ve been a big chicken. The thing is I have too much homework. Senior year of high school is a harder than I imagined, especially when you wind up doing most group projects by yourself. My back hurts from carrying all my good-for-nothing classmates.

If it were up to me to pick my group members, I’d have picked my friends but our teacher decided to form all groups this year because she said that in the real world you aren’t always lucky to work with your friends. I was tempted to retort that you’re also not always lucky to have a good teacher but I managed to summon enough willpower to keep my mouth shut.

I’m afraid I’ll fail one or more of my classes but realistically there’s a very slim chance of that happening because I’m usually the only one in the school library every night. I’m lucky it’s even open 24/7, most schools don’t provide that privilege. I wish Olivia would come to the library. The only time she did come was with her friends about three months ago and they made so much noise I couldn’t even hear the video I was watching on my laptop even though I had headphones on.

I open my books. My essay is on Hamlet and here’s a quote from it that’s been on my mind a lot lately: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Let’s take math class for example. Math isn’t good or bad. My best friend loves numbers. I, on the other hand, would rather cut off my hand than study math again after I finish high school.

I’m about to resume writing my essay when Olivia walks into the library. All by herself. She sees me and smiles. She’s coming towards me. Shit. I really hope I’m imagining things. I know I just wished she would come to the library but I take it back. There is no way I’ll be able to focus on my essay if Olivia sits beside me. She proceeds to sit beside me.

“Hi!” She says cheerfully. “You’re usually here aren’t you?”

“Um, yeah. All this work isn’t going to finish itself.” I laugh nervously.

“Sadly it won’t. I’m here at this hour because I was looking for – oh there it is!” She nods her head towards my copy of ‘Hamlet Simplified’.

“It’s useful.” I reply slowly.

I don’t understand a word of Shakespeare. Hamlet Simplified, a translation, is my savior. It also happens to be the only copy available. If the English teacher knew about its existence he would do everything in his power to remove the book from the school library.

What’s frustrating is that the school has only been removing books in the past few years rather than adding any new ones. My English teacher insisted that all of Mario Puzo’s books be removed because in his scholarly opinion, they weren’t very good. What a moron. His taste in books is nearly as bad as his taste in clothes. He wears such bright tacky clothing that I always feel like wearing sunglasses in his presence.

“I’ve heard there’s only one copy.” She says. “Would you mind if we share it? My essay is also on Hamlet and we can work on it together.”

Actually, I mind! I’m uncomfortable being in such close proximity to a girl I’m interested in. I know I shouldn’t be so petrified and I should be thankful for this golden opportunity to spend time with Olivia, but the sad reality is that I am the biggest coward I know.

“Yeah… sure.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t distract you.” She smiles. “I’ll try and be quiet like you.”

For the next hour she keeps her word but I make very little progress on my essay. Everything about her is distracting. The smell of her hair, her perfume, the way she purses her lips when she’s trying to understand a particular passage of Hamlet.

“I’m exhausted.” She says finally. “Do you want to take a break? Maybe go for a walk outside?”

“I really have to finish this. I only started a few hours ago.”

“No problem! Let’s take a break later.”

We resume working in silence. Two hours pass by. This time I manage to write another page of my essay. I should be done in about half an hour.

Suddenly she says, “My dog is sick.”

“Oh… I’m sorry to hear that.”

“But the vet says he’s going to be okay. But what’s bothering me is how insensitive some of my friends are. They ask questions like, “How long do you think he’s going to live?” I mean how would they like it if I asked them, “How long do you think your grandfather is going to live for? How long do you think your little sister is going to live for?” Some people just don’t understand that my dog is a part of my family.”

I nod, “I know what you mean. My dad used to have a dog when he was in school. He has an entire photo album of pictures of just him and his dog doing all sorts of things. If your friends looked at that album, maybe they’d understand just how deep a bond can be between a human being and an animal.”

She smiles, “I’d love to see that album.”

“Sure.”

“Well, I’m done my essay.”

“I’m almost done.” I reply.

“I take my dog to a park on the weekends. You should come along.”

“That would be nice.” I nod my head.

“And you should call me some time.” She writes her number on some scrap paper. “I have to go now. See you tomorrow!”

She leaves the library.

I have no idea what just happened but I’m glad it did.

Calorie Arsonist

I just bought a ‘congratulations present’ for a friend because he achieved his weight loss goal. Two years ago Ajax weighed 350 pounds and today he’s a slim 150. He’s in his 20s now and the last time his weight started with a ‘1’ was when he was 9. Ajax jokes that he can finally wrap a normal sized towel around his waist. He says the secret to his success was selling his car and jogging to work every single day. And he made drastic changes to his diet. For instance, he’s vowed to never drink Coca-Cola again.

He doesn’t jog from work to home though. He takes the bus. I actually met him on the bus about a year ago. He was reading The Godfather and I struck up a conversation with him about the book. I never take the bus but I did that day because a drunk driver had recently hit my car. Luckily my car was parked and I was nowhere near it, but the damage took a few weeks to repair. I think fate, not a car accident, led me to Ajax.

We’re going to meet at Di Bella, a coffee house near his office. I reach first. He won’t be here for another hour or so. I like sitting in coffee shops as I work on my film scripts. I order a ‘Di Bellaccino’, which is supposed to be a specialty. It’s basically a sweetened cappuccino with two marshmallows. It arrives with a smiley face on it, made out of caramel sauce. The dots that make up the eyes are on the two marshmallows. As I look at the smiley, I can’t help but notice that I haven’t smiled in a long time. If I overcome this latest bout of writer’s block, my lingering frown will turn upside down. Until then, it’s impossible to be content.

I start writing a script about Hector, a heartbroken old man who’s on his deathbed. He believes he outlived both his children because God cursed him for his sins. His firstborn drowned at the age of 5 when the sea went from calm to mayhem. He still remembers that horrible day on the beach, the skies were crystal clear and then a raging storm appeared out of thin air. Many others drowned too. God didn’t care about collateral damage, as long as Hector suffered. His second child died during childbirth and so did his wife.

Hector soon dies but instead of being sent to Heaven or Hell, he’s sent to a special ‘Grey Area’. The Warden of the Grey Area tells Hector, “You have committed heinous acts and if it were up to God, He’d lock you in Hell and throw away the keys. But I pleaded mercy on your behalf, because you realized the magnitude of your sins at a young age and turned your life around. You will stay in the Grey Area for a short time and then be reincarnated and be given a second chance at life. When you walk the Earth again, remember the lessons you learnt from your first life.”

Before I can write more Ajax walks into the coffee shop.

“How have you been?” He flashes a cheerful smile.

“Better, now that I finally thought of something to write.”

“Don’t you dare complain about writer’s block again.” He says as his newly athletic body slides into the chair across from me. He also orders a Di Bellaccino.

“Writer’s block is a recurring disease. It feels like I’m at war with myself. Every day is a battle. But today, I won! Take a look at what I wrote.” I show him my laptop.

He reads it and says, “Not bad. What’s Hector going to do with his second chance?”

“I’ll worry about that later. I’m just happy I have this much right now.”

“Hector’s lucky.” Ajax sips his Di Bellaccino with a look of disgust on his face. “Most people don’t remember anything from their past lives but he will. I think he should go on to achieve great things in his second life. But nothing should come easily. Hector should struggle, he should endure loss.”

“Yeah. I’ll make it a little tragic. After all, happy stories are boring stories.”

“Exactly.”

“I have something for you.” I hand him a small package.

I was waiting to give Ajax’s present to him the day he reached his goal of losing 200 pounds. I knew that day was today when Ajax posted a picture of himself on a weighing scale on Instagram.

He opens the package and smiles as he takes out a medium size black t-shirt with this caption: ‘The Ultimate Calorie Arsonist’

There’s also a handwritten letter in the package, which he starts reading:

Dear Ajax,

When I first saw you on the bus a year ago, I had no idea you’d become one of my closest friends. You aren’t just a friend but also a mentor, and that’s one hell of a task given how pessimistic I am. But because of your faith in me, I learnt to believe in myself. And today, I’m very happy and proud that you’ve achieved your goal of burning millions of calories and reaching your target weight. I have no doubt that you’ll go on to achieve more great things in your life.

Sincerely,
Your 2nd Favorite Writer

Ajax’s favorite writer is Mario Puzo. He puts the letter back in the envelope and smiles broadly. Then he stands up and walks over to me.

“Stand up so I can give you a hug.” He demands.

“But… we’re in public.” I reply.

“I know you’re against PDA but the occasion requires it. Now stand up.”

I reluctantly stand up and Ajax gives me a bear hug and doesn’t let go for what seems like forever. Everyone’s staring but Ajax doesn’t care. Finally he lets go and we sit down.

“You’re a good friend.” Ajax says.

“Not as good as you.”

As soon as that embarrassing but affectionate moment is behind us, a guy wearing a dark green hoodie enters the coffee shop. I swear I’ve seen that hoodie before. And the way he’s walking, hunched shoulders and head hanging low, I’ve seen that posture somewhere too.

The guy in the hoodie slowly makes his way to us and pulls out his gun and fires several shots up into the ceiling. Several people scream. The two waiters drop their trays and the coffee mugs fall to the floor and shatter. Coffee spills everywhere but I’m hoping blood will not.

The Gunman suddenly grabs Ajax and throws him in the corner of the coffee shop. Our coffee table was unfortunately situated near the corner, and I’m regretting choosing such a vulnerable spot. But how was I to know some madman with a gun would make an entrance?

“I’m about to make all of you an offer you can’t refuse.” The Gunman sneers. “If you want to live, get out now. Except you.” He points at me. “I have unfinished business with you.”

Everyone rushes out as fast as their legs can carry them.

“You don’t remember me do you?” The Gunman asks.

“I do.” I reply.

I can never forget that scar on his face. That’s why he walks with his head down, so the world doesn’t have to look at it. He’s my ex-girlfriend’s brother. I haven’t seen him in years. The scars were a gift from my dog who protected me when he tried to kill me the last time I saw him. He blames me for his sister (my ex) committing suicide. She killed herself hours after I broke up with her over WhatsApp. Before she hung herself she texted me a hundreds times and gave me dozens of missed calls. She begged me to at least meet her.

But I just shut my iPhone off and threw it in the swimming pool in my backyard. The iPhone was a gift from her and the case on the back of it was engraved with a loving message written by her. I ended the relationship because she cheated on me. As soon as her brother Fredrick saw her body hanging from the ceiling fan he drove to my house, kicked down my front door and tried to beat me to death. Luckily my dog defended me and Fredrick ran away. But now Fredrick’s back and my dog’s faraway.

“Fredrick, let him go.” I tell him. “This is between you and me.”

“No.” He replies coldly. “You took away the one person I cared about. And now you’re going to understand how I feel.”

“I cared about your sister too. You’re not the only one who lost her. I lost her too. I wish things would’ve turned out differently.”

Truthfully I had no idea she would kill herself if I broke up with her but even if I had, I would’ve broken up with her anyway. I can’t live my life under the threat of someone killing herself if I don’t do as she wishes.

“You’re a goddamn liar.” He yells angrily. “You never cared for her. She started seeing someone else behind your back because you didn’t treat her right. After she met you her life went downhill. You put her on such an emotional roller coaster that she couldn’t concentrate at work. She ended up losing her job because of you! Then she stopped eating. And she refused to speak to me because I didn’t approve of you!”

She and I used to fight a lot. That’s true. It was emotionally draining and tears were shed on both sides.

“Look, please let my friend go. Kill me instead. Make me pay for my sins. Just let Ajax walk out of here in one piece, okay?”

“You’re not going to die today.” He laughs. “Like I said, you’re going to get a taste of what it feels like to lose someone you care about.”

Suddenly Fredrick shoves the gun in Ajax’s mouth. Ajax tries to struggle but Fredrick whacks him hard on the head.

“Say goodbye.” Fredrick smiles.

Before I can react I hear a gunshot. But Ajax is still alive. Fredrick is not. There’s a bullet hole in the center of Fredrick’s forehead.

I rush over to Ajax, “Are you okay?” I ask him.

“Yeah… I think so.” He replies. “The police must’ve shot him.” He gestures at Fredrick’s dead body.

In a few seconds, several armed policemen storm the coffee shop. They make sure we aren’t hurt and ask us various questions about Fredrick. Soon Ajax and I are taken to the hospital, the police captain wants to ensure we’re okay. I guess that’s protocol when it comes to hostage situations. After a few hours we’re allowed to go home. Ajax decides to spend the night at my place.

We’re both sitting in the living room. The TV is on and some random movie is playing but we aren’t paying attention. Ajax is wearing the ‘The Ultimate Calorie Arsonist’ t-shirt.

He’s also rereading the handwritten letter I gave him.

He laughs, “Your writing is never going to improve is it?”

“Blame technology. I’m on my laptop all the time. No time to practice the fine art of handwriting.”

“Don’t make excuses.” He replies.

“I’m just happy we’re alive.”

Ajax nods pensively.

After a few minutes he says, “At least you have some inspiration for your next film.”

“Seriously?”

“Why not? The best fiction is based on reality. Write about today. At least I won’t have to listen to you complain about writer’s block for a while.”

I laugh, “Okay. I’ll get started as soon as I finish the one about Hector.”

“I’m going to bed.” He says. “It’s been a long day.”

Ajax goes upstairs to the guest bedroom.

I just stare at the TV and continue watching the movie. One day I hope I make one.

50 Word Story: Back to Square 1

The cute girl he’s had a crush on forever adds him on Facebook. Unbelievable. He’s been too scared to even speak to her but this latest development gives him the courage to finally interact with her. His first move: poking her on Facebook. A few hours later she unfriends him.