It was a week ago, I went to get my eye looked at. I stared up at the ceiling of the doctor’s office. It’s too much to look at her, to meet her gaze without my eyes traveling lower. If she had noticed from the paltry few feet between us that my eyes drifted down from the lock of blonde hair behind her ear to the nape of her neck, I’d lose this game. She called my attention back. I locked eyes with her. She spoke, “Mr. Bolosan?”
“Well, the spot on your eye appears to be a melanoma. It’s small still, but it’s why your right eye is blurry.”
“Like a cancer?”
“Essentially yes. Just to be sure, I’m going to refer you to a specialist and run some tests. It’ll take a little while, but we’ll call you.”
My eyes made the trip down the lapel of her pristine doctor’s coat to the first few open buttons of her lavender blouse. The tops of her freckled breasts parted her shirt and coat just enough for me to see the hint of a tan line. Lucky tan line, it gets to linger there as long as her skin will let it. I stood up, raising my eyes to meet hers, and extended my hand. “Thanks doc. Am I good to go?”
“Not quite yet,” she replied. “I’m going to send in the nurse to draw some blood, then you can go.”
She shook my hand and flashed me a soft courteous smile before leaving the room. I wondered if she noticed me admiring her chest. Maybe she let it slide in light of my condition. I guess it doesn’t matter now. The nurse came and drew my blood while I attempted to keep my eyes away from the v of her scrubs. I didn’t want to lose again. The nurse had trouble finding my veins, and called me a tough stick. I left with some extra holes in my arms. Funny, I didn’t feel very tough waiting for the bus.
I’m lying on an old lumpy mattress, no box spring or frame, and on gray blue covers stained by sweat from my naked body. I like to be close to the ground. You can’t fall out of bed if you’re already on the ground. Never mind that beneath my second floor apartment lives a Samoan family, or that beneath them is a drainage system where the cockroaches live. Music echoes in from their radio through the grimy jalousies of my bedroom. This is ground control to Major Tom; you’ve really made the grade. The man at the radio has good taste; he knows what’s worth blaring on a Monday morning. Here I am, an overweight 29 year old, balding on top, waking up to Space Oddity.
My phone is buzzing on the floor. Prone, I reach out over the edge of my bed and get it. There’s a picture from my ex, her pale curves wrapped in black lacy panties. Her curves I could trace from memory; the cream in those curves I remember stirring. I text her back: “Good morning to you too.”
Baiting, she’s baiting me I can tell. She won’t text me back for another day or so. I haven’t given her what she wanted. What did she want? Does she know my hand instinctively slid down to my crotch? I’ll never tell her. She’s hungry for my poetry, my show don’t tell.
The waking blurriness in my eyes gives way to a different kind of lack of focus, a soft gasp as a little bit of life leaves me. A wisp, a breath, rises from my open mouth the way spirits leave corpses, and I make a mess. It’s warm, sticky, not so easily wiped away on a used work uniform near my bed. After cleaning up, I stare at her picture a moment longer. I close my left eye and leave my right open. Her image becomes hazy; her body melts into the screen, the screen into the ceiling.
I can’t shake the feeling of something lost, of something I can’t get back. An orgasm is a short reprieve from this feeling. The tension in my belly, the sensation that rolls in waves along my quivering body. It’s enough to fight the sinking for another day. Will I still dream if I can’t see? Will her body or anybody else’s fill the void without the clarity of both eyes?
I’m naked under my towel as I leave my room. The cats are waiting outside my door, harbingers of everything outside my sanctum. They want their food; the masters demand to eat. Pluto, the white and black cat, eyes me up and down.
“Go ahead and judge if you want, your clothes are attached to you,” I say to her.
She meows a shrill reply.
“You damn right I’ll do as I please,” I respond back.
Thea, the black cat, doesn’t judge. She doesn’t care who you are. If you have the food, you have her attention. I pour some dried tidbits in their bowl, and rub Pluto behind the ears. She won’t start eating until you do. The towel slips from around my waist leaving me exposed in the kitchen. The cats only look up at me for the briefest moment before continuing to eat, a cursory glance as if to say, move along fat boy, no one wants to see that.
I take my time in the shower. My favorite place to think. Will the world be different if I can see only out of one eye? There are places I’ve always wanted to go, things not yet experienced. It’s just an eye right? I mean, I’ll still be able to see. Then I feel it, a voice nagging in the back of the random shower thoughts. Will everything still look the same? The next few minutes I stand there under a cold shower, my hands pressing firmly on the lime crusted tile, my feet rooted in place.
I finish my shower and put on my uniform. As I get ready to leave, I notice my room mates are still sleeping. The cats, their breakfast devoured, are now curled up on the bed with them. Nathan stirs, his hand sliding beneath the waistband of his boxers. His legs make a curious butterfly fluttering in between staying erect and flapping with the weight of sleep. Marcus is trying to spoon him, but Nathan is keeping him at bay with his wings. Marcus and Nathan, the butterfly and the spoon, they are my odd couple on the queen sized bed. I close my left eye and peer through my right. They’re a wash of blues and browns, like staring at a mosaic too closely. Will my vision always be like this, or will one side suddenly just black out?
As I walk out the door I hear the first riff of Run to the Hills. Iron Maiden never sounded so reassuring. I should listen, but my course is set. I should run, shouldn’t I? Instead, I walk down the stairs and across a side street to the main road. My bus will be here soon. Run to the hills. Run for your lives.
It isn’t here yet. Instead, I face the scrutiny of a dark shirtless man with red eyes. He’s licking his lips the way dad did when he’d come home in the middle of the night and lock himself in his room. This man probably has no room to lock himself in. He inhales deep and holds his breath for a second. He wants something. Did dad hold his breath too when he called our mother and beg her to let us visit?
“Ey boy, I can bum one stoge?” he asks.
“Shoots, uncle,” I reply.
Boy. That’s what dad calls me. Boy. I reach into my pocket for my smokes, and pull one out of the box along with my lighter. The man sighs softly at my extended hand, and reaches out slowly. My step-dad likes to play the hand slap game. Red hands and laughter, he was unbeatable. My hand is palm up with the cigarette and lighter in it; this man’s hand is in striking distance. I wonder who’d lose this game.
He sits back on the bus bench with his lit cigarette, and his gouty toes wiggle on bare feet. His toenails are as cracked and yellow as his smile. I wonder if his addictions extend past a cigarette. Addiction, what am I addicted to? The menthol smoke, the plume he exhales, coalesces around him. He is otherworldly, a djinn that smells of days of unwashed sweat and stale smoke. Happiness always looks like a lit cigarette. Countless cigarettes have met these lips, yet they never made me smile like him.
“Ey tanks ah boy,” he says. “I was jonesing bad.”
“No problem uncle, I’m jonesing too,” I reply. “I’m always jonesing.”
“Ain’t dat da trut, but das how you make sumting of yo’ self.”
The bus is here forty minutes late. I give the old man another cigarette and get on board. As it pulls away, I see him get up and walk away. I put my hand over my left eye and watch as his outline bleeds into the background like a tar stain on one of Monet’s paintings. He’s another pigment in the gray from an overcast sky, a brown spot in the moving portrait of the bus windows. My phone buzzes in my pocket. It’s a text message from my ex with a reply: “It is isn’t it?”
The bus is mostly empty save for some of the same people I see every bus trip around this time. We’re all late together at least. I make my way to the warm rear corner of the bus, my favorite place to people watch. The man in the back glares at me as I sit. Oh how I love it when they glare to show you the pecking order of the bus. I wait until his eyes make contact with mine just so I can smile. He quickly looks away and shifts in his seat. Here it comes, he’s going to do it. He fakes a cough and clears his throat. I knew it. The remainder of his bus ride he’ll stare out the window away from me. If he looks my way, he’ll see me smiling. Please look my way, I plead with him silently.
The bus passes by miles of fields, crops owned by some corporate entity, and worked by people much older than me. I can see them in my mind, dark wrinkled skin and eyes sharper than their age. They’re hunched over somewhere in those fields, pulling the weeds and breaking the earth. In the distance, concrete pillars jut out of the ground like a line of crosses. I can count them, the pillars for a railway, and number them for each of the things that’ll go wrong in my day. I lose interest somewhere around ten before the man next to me stirs.
“Dey spendin’ all dat money on dat buggah, and fo what?” he says, turning to me. “Da bus come mo’ late. Watchu tink boy? She wort it?”
I wish I could say I was a horny teenager when we first started dating. Instead I was already twenty, and she was a seventeen year old nymph. I met her just before graduating high school, and then again because our circle of friends was the same. It was chance that we spent the night in my friend’s bedroom. She lay on the bed, and I lay on the floor. I spent that night stealing kisses on her dangling hand. I knew she was awake, uncertain if I’d climb into the bed with her. Instead we passed the night that way, me pressing every ounce of my being into those kisses, and her feigning sleep, but never pulling her hand away. The years spent together found me seeking solace in her hips and thighs. As our relationship dragged on we lost the innocence of that first night.
“I hope she is,” I say. “I heard they already over budget.”
“Das right ah?” he replies.
Curious, his eyes look the same as he talks to me, glaring as if to pierce the black nylon cotton blend of my uniform. Maybe that’s just the way he looks. Maybe he didn’t know if he could talk to me. He chuckles as I point at the pillars. “Dose fuckahs are wasting our money,” I reply.
He gets up at the next stop and before getting off flashes me a shaka. I return his hand sign, smiling from my seat. His eyes are still glaring, but my smile is well met with his own. He’s getting off in front of a monstrous cheapy-mart that services the west side of Oahu. As we pull away, I notice he’s wearing the khaki pants and navy blue shirt that mark him the way my uniform wears me. It’s his uniform, his battledress. No, it’s his sacrificial garb. He’s about to be swallowed by that cheapy monstrosity, only to be spit back out eight and a half hours later on to the concrete. I press my left eye shut. It’s too late. He’s already been swallowed by the automatic sliding glass mouth of the beast.
I get off of the bus further down, and make the short walk to my own store, a lit cigarette pressed between my lips. I’ll need that little bit of nicotine before my store can swallow me. Sometimes I wish the store could choke on me, and spew me out from its dusty tacky gullet. I’d stare up at the sky from the concrete and laugh.
Today though, I’m going to let Supplyhut eat me. I’m going to let it digest another part of me and not struggle in its throat. My manager pulls me into her office as I walk in for the ceremonial talking to. She’s short, maybe about 5 feet. Her long hair, bleached and highlighted dangles just past the curve of her hips. I explain about the bus and promise to do better. In the back of my head I think it might not matter any way. Its been about a week, I should be getting a phone call soon. I start my shift at the register and settle down for a regular day. I can hear the sound of rain start to patter on the window. I turn around and watch the agitated sky start to crack. The store will probably stay empty while it rains. I close my left eye slowly and watch the rain blend the blurry figures of cars and people into the drab watercolors of the parking lot.
It’s the middle of my shift; my eye is aching and a wave of customers thought it would be the perfect time to buy office supplies. The rain has become a downpour. Thunder booms softly in the distance, but does little to dim the cacophony of voices from the soaked people loitering around the aisles. The lady at my register smiles as I ring her up. I make eye contact the way I was taught. She seems a little too eager to follow my gaze, to see if my eyes will find something of her interesting. Slowly in the voice I honed from years of working in retail, I ask her if there’s anything else she needs.
“Well yes. I had called earlier to see if you had the pack of water in stock,” she asks looking away from my still wearing her grin. “You know, the one on sale for two dollars?”
“I apologize mam, but we’ve sold out for the day.”
The corners of her neon pink lips dribble down from their smile while the skin around her the bridge of her nose and brow crinkle into an orange tanned pinch. Her clumsily mascaraed eyes stare into mine as she cocks her head with a small jerk making her platinum bleached ponytail bob.
“Excuse me?” her voice rises. “I called less than a few minutes ago. You mean to tell me in the short time since I called, someone bought all the water?”
“Ma’am, since you’ve called we’ve had other people come in. Some of them are still walking around with the water in their baskets.”
“Do you have any more?”
“I’ll radio someone to check, but I’m sure this was our last pallet,” I reply as I motion to the empty pallet not too far from us.
She leans back in her spot crossing her arms over her chest. I have no problem keeping my eyes on hers, she doesn’t have anything I’d want to see. I press the button on the microphone of my earpiece and call out, “Can anyone check if we still have the sale water?”
No response. I call one more time. My ear piece buzzes and a coworker whispers, “Everyone is busy, we’re watching this guy in the laptop aisle. Try look.”
“Well?” she hisses.
I stare past her, looking at the man perusing our computers. I recognize him. He comes in a lot, and every time he leaves some bit of merchandise goes missing leaving a discarded security device behind. The lady snaps her fingers in front of my face.
“Hello? I’m talking to you,” she says dragging out the syllables of each word. “Don’t ignore me.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, we have a situation. I don’t have anyone who can look, but if you wait a few moments I’ll be happy to get someone.”
My phone starts to buzz in my pocket. I’ll answer it later. It’s probably me ex again.
“I don’t think so,” she shrieks. “I’ve spent thousands of dollars at this store. Stop lying to me.”
“I’m not lying ma’am.” I soften my voice to a whisper. “There’s a suspicious man in the store.”
My phone is still buzzing in my pocket. It hasn’t stopped since it’s started. Someone is calling me.
“I don’t care!” she crows.
I place my hand on my phone; I need to answer it. There’s no one else. They’re all watching the man in laptops. I stand there with a line of customers watching as the lady shrieks her complaints.
“I want to speak to your manager, you have been very rude.”
I look past her to see the hands of the man in the laptop aisle, one hand bracing the screen, the other reaching behind for the security egg.
“I’ve had it with this place,” she growls. “Every time I come here it’s the same shit.”
I turn back to her cocking my head and jerking my chin the same way she did.
“Excuse me ma’am, but please shut the fuck up.”
I feel the butterflies explode from in my chest as I leave her, the register. I dash the few feet to the door, to the glass maw that swallows me every day. I can hear her crying, but she’s no longer in my line of sight. The alarm blares; the man in the laptop aisle cut the cord on the egg. My eyes are on him.
He rushes at me lowering his shoulders as he charges. He licks his lips and grits his teeth, glaring at me from his red eyes. The phone is still buzzing, it won’t stop. My earpiece crackles, everyone shouting, trying to talk at the same time. Static and bits of garbled noise hurt my ears. I hold my breath, wanting him to stop. He waits for me to move. I stand, the way my step-dad taught me to, shoulders squared. I shove the man back with both hands. He flinches, but throws a punch hitting me in the left eye. I fall, my breath caught in my throat. My head bounces once on the welcome mat in the vestibule.
I try to open my left eye, but it hurts too much. I turn my head to look at the lady through my right eye. I can make out her outline sitting on the ground. It looks like her hands are covering her face. Her legs are open so her knees point forward and the inside of her ankles rest on the ground. She’s sitting the way my ex used to. I turn away and pull my phone out of my pocket. I can’t read what it says or see the buttons. My hand drops to my side, my phone with it.
The customers are starting to hover over me. I hear my coworkers talking to me, asking if I’m alright. Someone’s called an ambulance. My boss kneels near my head.
“Did he get the laptop?” I ask.
“No, he didn’t,” she replies. “He’s gone.”
I turn off my radio and take out my ear piece. From the breast of my uniform I pull off my name tag and hand it all to her.
“Hey boss? I quit.”
Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Introduction to Creative Writing