As the rain pattered against his hood, he hunched his shoulders, hoping to stop the icy rain from hitting his face. The coat was old and wasn’t as good at keeping out the rain as it had once been. The tired seams were more relaxed and the fabric itself was thinner.
As he walked through the gloomy weather, along a street from-which the rain had sapped all the joy and life, he came across a woman. She smiled kindly, and invited him into a nearby cafe for a cup of something warm.
The pair sat opposite each other at the café table. The lady looked kindly at this person on whom, it appeared, fate had visited unkindness. The man kept his head low, as if still trying to avoid the rain. He always did this. It was a defense mechanism in a world where some people were not kind. It also had become a habit.
The waitress came and took their order and within a few moments, returned with two mugs of hot, black coffee. After the waitress had left, the woman asked the man about himself. It had been a long time since anyone had done that.
He explained: “I am not a good man, I know. In 1990 I stole some candy from a small neighborhood store. As I walked out of the door that day, I felt a small thrill of excitement. The next day, on my way home from school, I entered the same store and took a larger item. The thrill was about the same.
“Within a week, though, the thrill had been less. Even if I tried to imagine the frustration of the store-owner, and how disappointed they would be at humanity, the thrill was still less.
“One evening I was out in a local park drinking cheap alcohol with some friends hoping to kiss the pretty girl in our group when her inhibitions were dulled. I drank more than I intended and lost sight of the object of my attraction just long enough for one of my friends to get there first. Disappointed, I stood up as best I could, and then swayed a lot. I focused on a vehicle parked along the side of the park, hoping that the distant object would help me gain my balance. Instead it gave me an idea.
“As I walked, I managed to get into a rhythm that fooled my pickled brain into believing that I was in control much more than I really was. I looked around and, seeing no-one in sight, leaned against the front of the car door, and swung my elbow hard into the window.
“Rather than breaking, as I had expected it to, I felt a dull pain in my elbow which quickly disappeared. I swung my head around to see what had happened. My head moved in a larger arc than usual and as the unbroken window came into view, I realized that I had not stopped moving my head. The momentum of my head pulled me down onto the ground.
“I pulled myself up, and rubbed the small stones off of my hand. I would discover later that some of the stones had not come off because they were embedded into my palm. I also did not feel the pain, or see the blood, that must have been there.
“I pulled myself up, using the car’s wing mirror. About half way up, the wing mirror came loose in my hand, and I fell down on my back. I crawled away from the car and laughed to myself, quietly. I thought the car was trying to hurt me. I stood back up, and ran at the driver’s window, raising my foot just in time to kick through it.
“I got into the car, sitting on cubes of broken glass, and realized, only at that instant, that I didn’t know how to hot-wire a car. I pulled the sun visor down, as I had seen done on movies my whole life, and nothing fell out. As it happened, the car was a stick-shift, so I pressed the clutch and put the car into neutral.
“My blurry brain did not think this through. I wish I could say this was only the alcohol, but I have often made decisions and then thought about the implications only while the implications were happening to me.
“The car started to roll down the hill and, unfortunately, there was nothing to stop it until the bottom of a very large hill where there was a parking lot. As the car rolled, the combination of adrenaline, pain and time started to sober me up. Not enough for me to hit the brake, but enough that I started to be scared.
“And now I have a criminal record and my life has not been blessed since then.”
The woman shook her head. The story was familiar – she had heard versions of it from many people. Sometimes it was stupidity coupled with bad luck, sometimes it was bad or absent parents, often it was parents intolerant of their children. But every person she came across had made their first mistakes while their brains were still maturing. Risk is badly calculated in people’s brains until they reached their mid-twenties, she knew, and the result was this unfair punishment.
The woman leaned over the table and stroked the man’s dirt-encrusted cheek. “This has been a dream,” she said and as she pulled her hand away from his face, the same man sat there, his posture improved. He was able to meet her eyes, and his clothes and skin were no longer exhausted and grimed.
“I dreamt of you when I was young…” the man said. His eyes covered with a film of tears.
“And now it was only a dream,” the woman said.