After growing up in a traditional and privileged household. Gregory Collins turns defiant against the despotic world that cultivated him. As tensions rise, the family grows callous against the disobedience. But as much as Gregory tries preserving his idyllic life from being unhinged, The escalating odds unite to smother his aspirations.
I am soul, mind, entity, and demon. I’m unrivaled.
It’s you reader that I tell a story of injustice.
Prove how I was tricked into thinking I was filth—and nothing more.
Do not abandon me on this journey to hell—for this is how it happened:
Saturday, April 19, 2008. 9.00 a.m.
I watched a towel spread bubbling foam across the window. The nametag read “Julie” and concern was creased on her forehead. I imagined what her troubles were as the American flag swayed in the distance.
Organic fair-trade coffee steamed between my hands as people walked behind her. Julie eventually came in with beads of sweat on her forehead, but that didn’t stop her from asking, “Is there anything I can get you?”
It was strange that I knew her name even though I was just another face in the crowd.
“Not at the moment, thank you,” I replied while stirring my coffee.
Her bright, hazel eyes burned from the distance. They revealed a damaged innocence capable of achieving her dreams, but couldn’t due to the lack of advancement. The job may not have required much skill, but at least she was performing her duties for the sake of something better.
She began wiping tables in preparation for people who’d never worked slave-wage jobs before. They never appreciated the cleanliness, yet always expected it. If the girl wasn’t wearing a smile like a machine, they were quick to write complaints.
I took the paper that headlined “Is the Economy in a recession?” The question had validity, but was anyone listening?
Halfway through the article, a hand pressed my shoulder.
“Is anyone sitting here?” asked the man with a scratchy voice.
I smiled and gestured toward the solitary chair.
“Please—I don’t own the place.”
He sat down and darted his eyes about the room. He wore a white beard with pale-blue eyes. His eyebrows were bushy with tiny eyes that could cut you with insult.
“It’s ten in the morning and people are already giving me the eye of inconvenience.”
The comment made me smile.
“It’s never too early to ruin someone’s morning. That should be expected these days.”
He looked at the paper and placed a heavy finger at it. “Anything worth reading?”
I slid the paper toward him.
“Considering the president can’t utter the word recession—the middle class withering—and unemployment skyrocketing. What’s there to discuss?”
Three chairs down, a man leaned back and intensely glared at me. I presume my comment irritated him, but when the man I was conversing with turned to see what I was looking at, the stranger with black framed glasses and fresh shaven skin leaned forward. He pretended to read the paper, but it was obvious the man in his mid-forties continued listening.
Outside, a dog owner let her dog urinate in the flowerbed beside the café. She pretended not to notice as she scrolled through her phone because she presumably thought everyone was too busy to care. Her expensive jogging gear was most likely bought using her husband’s paycheck since she was a stay-at-home wife.
“Would you look at that,” I said.
“The nerve of some people.”
He swept through several pages before his
finger lifted with a type of tension that seemed consequential.
“My wife and grandkids weren’t able to plan our usual vacation this year because the economy has been so stubborn. My family’s never experienced that before,” said the man.
A young couple walked in afloat with laughter.
“The decline will continue well into the New Year,” I said.
“How unfortunate,” said the man with a sigh. “But on a different note, sure is nice to have fifty-five degree weather in April.”
“Winter comes later every year,” as I sipped my French roast. “Did you order anything?”
“I had the barista make a fresh batch because she only had dark roast and I wanted a blond one.”
Every coffee drinker enjoys fresh coffee, but asking for a fresh batch when the place was busy with one staff member was inconsiderate.
The barista with curly black hair approached the table and produced the man’s cup.
“Is there anything more I can get you, sir?”
The derogatory sarcasm hung in her tone, but it was justified considering her pay wasn’t enough to cater to such people on a daily basis.
He didn’t look at her when he said, “No.”
She shuffled away and apologized to the people in line. The café had become crowded, and it was interesting that the girl was the only person with a name in the nameless crowd.
“You must like your coffee black?” I asked.
He tapped the ceramic glass with the spoon and placed it on the napkin.
“If anyone’s going to drink coffee—it must be black.”
As he drank, he coarsely slurped the liquid. I looked about the room for prying eyes, but everyone pretended nothing was happening.
Deeply embarrassed, I pushed my chair in. “It was nice meeting you.”
He took his cup and replied, “You as well,” and began slurping again.
Outside, a breeze rustled the trees as a group of laughing students walked by. It was ten in the morning and the day would fade just as it began. On route to an upper-crust outdoors shopping center. There was no escaping the billboards that advertised sex-enhancement drugs, weight-loss pills, breast augmentations, artificial tanning, cellulite correction, and hair removal. The pictures littered the highway like a debilitating disease, yet the disease had become such a norm that the only way to cure it was to make more propaganda.
When I arrived, a group of girls no older than sixteen ran through the crowd yelling, “The new Juicy Couture is here,” and vanished into the store. I looked around to see if anyone noticed the commotion, but indifference stained the crowd.
The premise of our story arrived when he appeared like a mirage from the crowd. His skin was like milk and his lips the color of blood. He moved with confidence and his body created an image too raw to describe. His eyes called with mysticism as he moved through the glass doors.
I couldn’t decide whether to pursue the challenge, but the more his eyes burned in mind—the excitement called.
Inside the store, an army of sales men and women wore three-piece suits. The agony was unmistakable in their faces as they trolled the sales floor.
The marble floors reflected the flat screens advertising false vices. The twenty-foot ceiling loomed like a cathedral above polished chrome fixtures that shined with deceit.
“Would you care for a sample of our acai fruit smoothie?” asked the sensual girl with a tray of assorted cups.
I declined and continued on my quest.
Jimmy Choos echoed through the designer-scented air while texting occupied the hands of overly tanned girls with poor skin wearing Bottega Veneta sunglasses with clothing that revealed tramp-stamp tattoos.
I sifted through tables and clothing racks until I stumbled upon a Raf Simons shirt for the evening. I moved toward the dressing rooms when a young girl with straight black hair and thick eye makeup approached me. She smelled sweet, as her heels suited her seductive demeanor. She was lucky enough to not be a part of the two million people who’d lost their jobs since January.
She took the shirt and placed it on a silver rack inside the room.
“I’ll be back in five minutes to see how things are going!”
Hip-hop music filled the rooms as I undressed. The lyrics foreshadowed that the end times were upon us.
The mirror embodied a blue light as I undressed. It turned my green eyes teal as I removed the shirt from the hanger. It flattered my arms and stomach since I spent considerable time at the gym. Weightlifting was a hobby of mine since high school, but now that I was older, the lifestyle kept my skin and physique youthful.
Satisfied with the shirt, I opened the door and the ambitious girl quickly asked, “How did everything work out?”
“I think I’ll take it.”
“Are we ready to check out then?”
“Not at the moment. But when I am. I’ll let you know.”
My thoughts were elsewhere when I turned the corner and crashed into the fellow I was looking for.
I imagined his bare flesh upon me, but I cleared my thoughts.
“Sorry for that. Guess I need to pay more attention.”
“Do you do that often?” he said loudly.
His seductive eyes roared with delight. “You’re quite good at it. Now I see why you did it.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” I said jokingly. “I’m here on a mission.”
It felt as if my apprehension were transparent. “So that means you’re here to scope out the competition to develop a complex?”
A group of guys whose legs and arms were decorated with tattoos talked about their weekend of promiscuity and drug use as they passed by.
“I’m afraid a complex is the least of my concerns,” he said.
We passed a row of girls receiving complimentary makeovers when a voice cried from the crowd, “Do me like Lana Turner!”
In the interim, I noticed that I was taller than him, but I liked that. One could also see he spent a substantial amount of time in the sun because he was more bronze than me.
“By the way, my name is Christian,” I said politely.
He held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Gregory.”
“Are you here with anyone?”
“Just my parents and visiting brother.” “That’s nice. Where’s he visiting from?” “The University of Toronto.”
“Really? That’s quite an accomplishment.” “I know.”
“I remember when me and a close friend went abroad for school. We did a year at the University in Zürich.”
“Wow. I hope you went to the museums.”
“I did. I even got to see Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can.”
Gregory smirked to the idea swimming in this head.
“My family’s taken us to Europe twice, but we never went to Switzerland. Every time we go I never want to come back,” said Gregory.
“Their way of life is different. More introspective.”
“Yes. I thought the same thing. If I could live there now, I would.”
“You should spend a semester abroad then,” I said.
“I wouldn’t be able to.”
“I still have two years till college.” Bewilderment consumed me.
After my reaction, he replied, “So I’m a junior. Get over it.” “Yes. But—”
“But what? We’re talking now, aren’t we?”
The knot in my throat felt ever so present as I looked around.
“That you should stop being paranoid.” “That isn’t as easy as it sounds.”
“So you want me to leave then?”
“Well, not this instant.”
“See. I knew you wouldn’t think anything of it.”
His nonchalant attitude calmed me when he smiled.
“I’m sorry for that. But what were we talking about?” I asked.
“Of course. And where was it you wanted to go?”
“Why there?” I said.
“After reading The Magic Mountain and Steppenwolf. It sort of gave me ideas.”
He rolled his eyes when his phone began ringing.
After the conversation, he placed the phone in his pocket.
“My brother wants to meet at the Apple store,” replied Gregory.
“Buying an iPhone, I presume?”
“Yeah. He’s taking advantage of the situation and my parents always take the bait.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing like that,” I said. “That may be. But I’m tired of shopping and want lunch.”
“I feel famished myself,” taking a peek at my watch. “I think I’ve kept you long enough. Your brother’s probably wondering where you are.”
“He can wait,” as Gregory pulled the phone from his pocket. “What’s your number by the way?”
“Why would you want that?”
“If you’re seeing someone. I understand.”
“Ha. If anything, that would be you,” I said. “So what’s the number, Christian?”
Floored by the proposal, his playful nature provoked me like a thorn. I understood the boundaries I would cross as I debated my thoughts. It was a proposal I’d never encountered before, but it seemed harmless. So after we moved to the registers to purchase our items, we went outside.
“Well, it was nice meeting you,” said Gregory as he put on his sunglasses.
“Maybe we can do something soon.”
“I would like that,” I said.
He smiled as a gust of wind rustled through the trees. But before I could blink, he disappeared into the throng around us.