Ricky took the stairs and entered the corridor bouncing a soccer ball. An old lady stepped out of the corner apartment and walked toward the elevator. She gave him a disapproving look and he caught the ball.
“How are you doing, Mrs. Henley?” Ricky asked smiling and pulling his gray hood back.
Black Nike shoes complemented his striped track pants perfectly.
“I was quite well, thank you,” she said.
“Arthritis?” he asked sympathetically, not failing to notice the past tense.
She stiffened and directed a piercing glance at him. “That, a migraine and noisy neighbors. And not in that order.”
He shook his head and quietly went to unlock his apartment door. “Phew! And I thought I had it tough!” He peeped into the bedroom but it was empty. With a sigh, he sat on the edge of the bed and bounced the ball one foot at a time, frowning. The ball rolled away and he fell back on to the bed swinging his legs up. Before long, he heard the apartment door being banged shut and the unmistakable heels of his fiancée, tapping on the wooden floor. Ricky pointed his toes to the ceiling.
A pretty young woman entered the bedroom and exclaimed, “Whoa! Ricky! When did you come back?” She peered around his legs to catch a glimpse of his face and dropped her heavy tote onto the beige carpet with a thud.
“Last night,” he answered cryptically.
“Oh! How did it go?” she asked.
Ricky swung his legs back to the floor and sat up. “Like a funeral,” he said, looking grim.
“Oh baby, I am sorry. Think about it this way. Your mother didn’t have to suffer anymore.” She sat down beside him placing her hand on his thigh.
“She would have suffered even less, if she let me take care of her. Instead, she chose to let that piece of scum back into her life.”
“Hmm. So your stepdad was at the funeral too?”
“Yes, of course. There was no getting away from him,” said Ricky, gritting his teeth. “He had the nerve to say to me, ‘Tanya went peacefully.’ Peace? With him around?”
“I guess she loved him.”
“I don’t think so. It was just habit.”
“Well, at least, you will never have to meet him again.”
“You think not seeing him is going to make me forget what he did to me? And what he did to mom?” She patted his thigh and stood up. “I’m being a jerk, aren’t I? Sorry.”
She smiled before walking away.
“Wasn’t yesterday your day off?”
“It was supposed to be,” replied Rachel, opening the closet and recoiling. “Shit, I hate this,” as she picked up a shirt and stuffed it back in. “Francine asked me to stand in for her.” She paused in the act of rummaging through the drawers. “The ER was crazy yesterday.”
Ricky went to the window and Rachel stole a glance at him.
“I didn’t expect you to be back so soon actually. I thought you’d hangout with your sister.”
“I couldn’t stand the place. And I have an appointment with my boss.”
“You mean ex-boss.”
“I am positive he will take me back. Oh and thanks again, honey. I will pay you back as soon as I get a job.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She grabbed a towel, and went into the bathroom but returned quickly. She hunted in her tote and finally retrieved her phone. She looked up and noticed that Ricky was watching her, brows raised. “Francine was going to message me,” she said, clutching the phone before turning away.
It was a quarter past three, when Ricky reached Chase Plaza. Even as he was showing his ID to the guard, his phone vibrated. It was a short text: ‘Sorry, Richard. The position has been filled.’ Ricky swore under his breath.
He left the secure lobby and stepped onto the street. The glass panes on the opposite building caught the sunlight and blinded him momentarily. He stumbled onto the sidewalk, just managing to recover his balance. He had failed. Once again. Will he ever find a job again? he thought despairingly.
Ricky walked aimlessly for an hour. Eventually, a debilitating fatigue overtook him and he made his way into a bar that was nearly empty. Soon, he pushed his glass away. The whisky only managed to intensify the painful memories he had been trying to push back. Mom, I wish you gave me a chance. You didn’t have to die. He laughed bitterly. How could I have helped her? I didn’t even have enough money to pay for the funeral. How sick is that? If Rachel had not… Ah, Rachel! Where would I be without you, sweetheart? I don’t deserve you. Not one bit.
Trudging out of the bar, Ricky stopped at a crosswalk and leaned on a pole. The walk signal appeared thrice, but he didn’t move. He observed the busy traffic. Cars and buses raced away with determination. Streams of humanity strode purposefully toward their destinations. Everyone seemed to know where to go, what to do. Everyone, but he.
Rachel was making dinner when Ricky entered the apartment.
“Were you out celebrating alone?” she asked him, stirring the soup.
“No,” he said baldly.
She spun around and her smile vanished when she saw his face. “So you didn’t get the job.”
He shook his head and walked to the sofa. A vase of fresh yellow roses gracing the coffee table caught his attention. “Nice flowers. Who are they from?” Ricky asked her.
“That’s Francine’s way of saying thank you,” said Rachel turning back to the range.
“So you didn’t see my text?”
“Oh you messaged me? I am sorry. I couldn’t find my phone since this afternoon.”
“Let me call you,” said Ricky, taking his phone out of his pocket.
“That’s no use. The ringer’s off,” Rachel said, her mouth drooping.
Ricky got up to look in her bag.
“It’s NOT in there!” she yelled when she saw what he was doing. But it was too late. Ricky was staring at a card. It said:
Hope you like these flowers. Thanks for an incredible night. Can’t wait to see you again. – Kevin.
Ricky looked up, deathly pale. Rachel closed her eyes, unable to face him.
The Bay beckoned Ricky invitingly. He stared at the water far below, which now reflected several hues of gold from the setting sun. The distance made the waves appear like insignificant froth. Just like his life had been, he thought bitterly. How much more could a man take? It was impossible. He could not go on. He took one determined step forward and climbed up the rail. He paused for a minute, and it seemed, just for that minute, all thought was suspended. He lifted his head to look at the sky. “This is the one thing that I can do, to right all wrongs. The only thing!” he shouted in anguish. Tightening his slippery grip on the bar, he lifted his left foot but before he could climb higher, something pulled at his trousers just above his shoe. He turned around in shock and looked down.
At first, Ricky stared uncomprehendingly at the determined dog. Then he reluctantly stepped down onto the concrete. The dog released its clutch. Ricky fell onto his knees and looked into the creature’s eyes. There was a world of understanding there, no judgment, just an innocent look – something he had never experienced before, well, almost never. After what felt like a long time, he tore his gaze away to look up and down the walkway. He could blurrily distinguish the figure of a man limping towards them. When the silver-haired man approached closer, Ricky noticed that he had the most intense pair of blue eyes imaginable.
“I am so sorry, did she bother you?” the man asked.
“No, not at all!” Ricky replied, standing up.
“You see, she escaped her leash and there was no way I could catch up,” the man explained, pointing to his left leg.
“She’s a Tibetan spaniel, right? Haven’t seen one in a long time.” The dog barked as though in acknowledgement, and her owner nodded smilingly. “My mother used to have one,” said Ricky.
“Oh, I see!” said the man, picking up the leash before turning away. He limped a little distance and turned back. “Tanya, come!” he summoned her and tugged at the leash. Tanya obeyed reluctantly, and sped away wagging her tail. Ricky stood staring at their retreating figures, and continued, long after they disappeared.
An old couple strolled past him but he didn’t even notice them. The woman on the other hand, kept turning back to steal a few glances at Ricky. She waited to be out of earshot, before she asked her companion.
“Did you notice the expression on that man’s face?”
“Well, he looked like he saw a ghost.”
“Maybe, he did,” remarked her husband, dismissively.