In the still of the night, the sound of the city seemed almost as primal as the sound of animals passing time in the wilderness until morning. Buses sped by, cars honked impatiently, and even though the hour was late, the sound of footsteps on the city sidewalk barely slowed.
He stood, nervous.
Because although he lived in the city just like everyone else, although he worked a job he didn’t seem to love but didn’t fully mind just like everyone else and although he was just trying to make his way home, just like everyone else; he was different.
His shoulders always seemed to be pulled up a little by his ears, the muscles in his back tight and tense. His eyes looked everywhere, wanting to see everything, yet never met anyone else’s. His words were mere mumbles falling off his lips, instead of being shot out into the world.
He was different, and he was nervous.
Standing there with his head slightly down and his hands in his pockets, he waited. The streetcar would be along soon, he would sit on it and listen to his music, or maybe he would watch a funny video. It would make the ride seem shorter and before he knew it he would be getting off and his stop, walking the short distance home.
To where it was safe. Where he felt just a little less nervous surrounded by the familiar faces.
Everything seemed to slow and speed up at the same time.
From the corner of his eye, he saw them coming, but he didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t prepared for something like this.
His breath caught in his throat as he jerked forward, someone’s hands shoving him down onto the floor. It lurched his heart up, stopping it for a single moment before causing it to race uncontrollably.
Their feet kicked at him, but he felt nothing.
His mind screamed. It screamed for everything to stop even though his mouth was frozen, his tongue unable to utter a single sound.
An eternity seemed to pass in a way. But looking back he could easily say he blinked and everything was over.
“I got a watch.”
“I got his phone.”
Would they brag about it later, to other people hidden in the shadows waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting, waiting to prey on the vulnerable? Would they use the adrenaline they had gained from him, to push them towards someone else? To take something more valuable?
A watch. A phone.
As he pushed himself up to his feet and looked around at the city streets that seemed to turn it’s head away from him, pretending not to see what had just happened, he wondered why they hadn’t said anything about his strength, about his faith, about his security.
He was only sixteen. In his life he had already had a few phones, even more watches. But he had worked hard for his confidence, it was something someone had to teach him. He had worked hard not to shutter at raised tones, not to break when someone puffed their chest out and walked at him with challenge. He had worked hard to understand what faith was, and those he loved had planted a small seed in him that had blossomed into faith in humanity, and the belief that maybe people weren’t the villains he thought they were.
Strength was something he never felt. He was large for his age, and he had two older brothers. One towered above him, thin as a beanstalk, but with the strength and confidence of a lion in his heart. The other was massive upwards and built outwards. He had the strength to lift weights and spirits.
He longed for that.
And with practice, he felt he had learned how to have a little bit of strength.
In this world.
Brushing himself off, he walked with his head a little lower than before. His blinked back the tears that welled in his eyes and ran his sleeve along his face.
It had lasted forever, or maybe only a second.
And now it was over.
But his mind replayed it over and over, a black and white picture on the wall as he stood there watching as what little strength he had learned, the seeds of faith that had blossomed and the security were stolen. Taken from him, so rare for him he had been lucky to come by them in the first place, so valuable he would part with anything else.
What evil grew there? In the hearts of people who took because their hands could take. In the minds of people who laughed while other’s hearts break. In the soul of someone who could sleep at night soundly without waking. All the while holding on to the strength, faith and security they had stolen.
He had never wished ill, but he wished it for a moment as he screamed himself awake.
Steal from them, he wished. From those who take because they know they can take. Steal from them their confidence to break down the strength of those they attack in the still of the night. Steal from them the joy they feel as they hold someone else’s possessions with a smile and pump their fists at their victory. Steal from them the adrenaline that beats in their hearts, the quickness of their feet and the friends who think time is best spend pushing people down instead of picking them up.
Let them wake with screams as they realize what was stolen.
And weigh down on them with fear that makes them unsure of going outside at night alone or even at all. Weigh down on them a guilt that stays with them long after their reckless twenties and into their final years. Weigh down on them with random anxious moments as they walk the streets and someone walks to far.
God forbid when they have settled down and had children of their own, that those children are not living in the world they helped craft. Who will also have irreplaceable things stolen.
Evil beasts who pave paths for even more evil beasts. Ones that even the most primal animal would turn it’s nose up to.
He was different.
Yet now he was not nervous, now he was afraid. Afraid of a world where such things could be so easily stolen, as people stood by watching, pretending not to see.
He was no longer the person he was. Although that person was not perfect and he had to work for things that seemed to come naturally to everyone else, he was him and happy enough for it.
Without the smallest fraction of strength, faith or security left.
A watch and a phone… and who he was.