Medium Writer’s Challenge 2021 Honorable Mention
The Rat Race Is for the Rats
“If you find your childhood dreams, you become a child again.” — Joseph Roth, The White Cities
I stepped back
The man came toward me. A dark greasy beard bristled under a grimy baseball cap. There was a needle in his hand, held in the air above him like a dagger, the infected point aimed at me.
My attention on the weapon he held, it took me a moment to realize he only had one leg. He had risen up from a wheelchair as I opened the door to his squalid room, the reek of old cigarettes and cheap stale beer and the indescribable smell of a large population of bedbugs moving with him out into the hallway.
“Stop it! Stop!”
There was a rising note of panic in the woman’s voice as she tried to hold him back. She placed her hands on his chest, pushing him while he hopped in place. With two legs, he might have been able to push her aside. But with only one, he couldn’t.
Instead, he waved his needle in the air, calling down curses upon my head for daring to knock on his door. I stood with one foot back, gripping the rounded head of my Maglite sticking out of the tool bag on my shoulder, right where I could grab it quickly. Exactly for situations like this.
“Go back inside,” I said, keeping my voice calm and level but firm as a brick wall. Not asking. Telling. “I’m not here to fuck with you. But don’t come any closer.”
Sobbing now, the woman wrapped her arms around the man. His eyes were wild as she pulled him back into the filthy room, the needle still in his hand, curses still rattling between his broken teeth. The door slammed behind them, trapping them both in their filthy little corner of hell.
I’d seen it thousands of times in five or six different cities throughout Western Canada. The kind of places only cops, social workers, and exterminators go.
Three weeks later, I quit and moved to Italy.