“Are you fucking crazy?!”
He grabbed me with firm hands, jerking my shoulders to square up to his own. I could see his lips moving, his eyebrows were screaming, but all I heard was a deafening white noise. People were screaming, pointing at me. A woman was covering her mouth with both hands. Like I had done something wrong. Like I had killed a cat with my bare hands.
I pressed pause.
The bodies around me froze in place. Their gestures were still yet piercingly loud, hands and arms spread open to match their fury; the man gripping my shoulders had so much tension between his eyebrows I wanted to dig a finger into his skin. Help the guy relax a little. Good god, man, you’re going to pop a vessel.
I poked at his forehead, but it didn’t work. His face was scrunched into a rock solid, mean expression.
I clicked rewind, and watched the events play back. I could see myself jogging from down the block. I had on thin spandex shorts and a heavy black hood, and peaking from underneath were two green cords that coalesced together to plug into the phone in my pocket. My head was nodding to some Kendrick bit, and I was lightly bouncing to the rhythm, taking note of the blinking red crosswalk light. I still had time to cross. I waved to Jose, the neighborhood fruit stand man, and smiled at the little old lady at the end of the block, swiftly jogged onto the pavement of West 157th —
Like a homerun slugger splintering from impact, the metal body of a black Caddy caved against my frame. It dent sharply, like the exhale of a collapsed lung, cloaked in tar and years of bad habit. At maybe, 60, 70 miles an hour, the fuming machine rammed directly in my side, flipping my lifeless body in circles like dice in cupped hands. It crushed bone into dust as easily as a giant would a flea. As the screech of braking tires overtook the orchestra of horror, I pressed pause once again.
The Cadillac blared its horn as it barely missed my back. It skimmed so close to my body I could feel the whip of my clothing as the wind snapped my sweatshirt against me. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t react. I just kept running… until he stopped me in my tracks.
I faced the man then scanned the crowd once again. Their terror had quickly dissolved to anger, to shaking heads and disgusted faces. He let out, “Are you fucking crazy!?”
I mean, I think that’s what he said. (I was never really that great at reading lips.)
I removed my headphones in time to hear the rush in his voice, “You almost died. YOU ALMOST DIED.”
My heart was a steady 50, maybe 60. I shrugged. “I’m fine.”
I tugged my hood over my eyes and casually resumed my jog. The crowd shook their heads in a bitter grumble, and I left them in the cold clutter behind me.
I pulled up at the next red light, and removed my headphones once more. I almost died. I almost died?
There, standing alone, I shuddered.
I shook with fear — not because I was an inch from death, but because close calls have happened so many times they no longer phase me. This comfort I feel, is uncomfortable. My apathy makes me reckless.
After all, I’m the protagonist and the narrator — I can’t die. I have chapters I haven’t gotten to yet.
The signal turned white, so I returned the beat to my ears and my feet to the streets heading to Harlem. As I slipped past the row of cars stalled at the red, I could feel their headlights following me, testing me, watching the litter of emotion I was tossing behind.