Photography by Devon Butler
I watched as train after train goes by Grand Central Station. I lay motionless, without a care for who pointed and snickered, or who stopped to take a photograph of the seemingly unfortunate man passed out in the filthy, piss-riddled pool of water. It wasn’t always like this. There was a point in time when I used to have some self-respect, some dignity.
“Mr. Windlay, could I have your autograph?” I raised my head slowly from the puddle that was beneath me. I could smell the urine in my hair, tainting the air with its distinct and foul scent. Who had the nerve to propose such a question? I turned my head slowly, only to lay eyes upon Constable Pearce: the one man who never gave up in searching for me when I fell off the face of the Earth.
I felt my cheeks embrace the abrasive exterior of his knuckles, cracking the frostbitten surface of my skin. And then I lost consciousness.
As my eyelids fluttered and I slowly drifted back to reality, I recalled a period in time where I was on top of my small, consolidated and sheltered world.
Cars, money, women? What more could an MIT graduate who was the owner of a multi-billion dollar company by thirty desire? Who knows – I had it all taken away before I could answer that question. Bad things happen to good people; terrible things happen to people who pretend to be good.
I could hear an array of noises, an ECG beeping, a medical attendant administering medicine into my IV drip. From what I could understand, I had a serious case of hypothermia and… I couldn’t feel my toes. I tried to wiggle them, but there was no response. I tried to pull my right hand up to scratch a sudden itch on my nose, only to discover that it was cuffed to the bed.
As I glanced down at the metal confines that roughly circumnavigated my wrist, I shifted my eyes to my right forearm. Written in bold, italicized black letters: Every Man Dies. Not Every Man Really Lives. That quote of William Wallace’s used to resonate within me. It provoked me, Charlie Windlay, to strive to become something extraordinary, to exceed the expectations of my oppressive parents, and break free from my less than memorable childhood.
By twenty, I had already graduated from MIT with honours and numerous prestigious awards, but those meant nothing. They were silly material possessions to rest on a bookcase until they were required for small talk. By twenty-five, I had begun my greatest feat yet: a software firm that specialized in military technologies. That was then, this was now. But what was now, anyways? Now, was only three years after the biggest financial scandal in the history of the United States stock market, eleven convictions of fraudulent behavior, and impending incarceration. Now, was the duration of time where I was a sewer rat who spent his days dwelling in the New York Subway system away from the mainstream population in fear of being caught by the police that had been tracking me for years.
Constable Pearce peered his head over my bed. “You put up quite the fight Charles.”
“Charlie.” I hated it when people acknowledged me by my birth name. Charles was so professional and stuck up, it made me seem like some snide prick, which I was. But that was not how I wanted people to think of me.
“Alright, Charlie. I’d like to tell you that the severity of your sentence has been increased.”
“Spare me the pleasantries, Constable. We both know how this works.”
Constable Pearce took a big breath. The final blow was coming. “After resisting arrest for three years from not only municipal authorities but federal as well, you have been sentenced to serve two life sentences in jail without option for parole until the second term.
“You know why people detest the police? It’s because of scum like you. You don’t give up. Sure I made some mistakes, but those are irreversible.”
Constable Pearce turned away and briskly strode out of the room. I didn’t have to see his face to know that it had a sheepish grin strewn across it. Once again, I gazed down at my right forearm. How could I have been so stupid? So naïve? So ignorant? This tattoo used to epitomize everything that I had stood for, now it defined everything that I had fallen for.