Paula Shablo: Those Among Us

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Those Among Us

By Paula Shablo

Some days are harder than others, but the general rule is, they’re all hard enough.

What matters is, I have to work. I have bills to pay and kids to feed, and so I get up each morning and shower and dress. After I gather my things, I take a deep breath and leave my apartment.

Stella, my oldest, is very responsible at 14, and gets the younger kids up and ready for school since I have to leave so early. Thank goodness the bus stops for them so close to our place! I have a lot to worry about, and that is a blessing. They barely have to walk half a block.

I walk three blocks to the underground and take the subway. Until Jim died, I enjoyed the walk, and I enjoyed the subway ride. I would settle into a seat and read until my stop was called.

I can no longer relax enough to read, although I still open a book and hold it in front of my face. Behind the barrier of pages, my eyes dart around the car, trying to discern the living commuters from those among us who should have moved on, but haven’t.

Until Jim died, I was unaware of those among us. Now I see them everywhere. The city is full of them.

They make me nervous.

The first I saw was Jim, of course, but he quickly moved on. It seemed he was only there to say goodbye, and that’s fine with me. He was killed by a drunk driver, but it was never in him to hold a grudge, and so moving on must have been an easy thing for him. I’m grateful he took the time to wave and blow me a kiss before fading away.

But, as grateful as I am for that, it seems to have been a gateway for me to see all the others who haven’t been able to leave, for whatever reason. I dearly loved my husband, but I really wish he hadn’t opened that door, because those among us are disconcerting at best and downright frightening at worst.

Most of them make their ways down crowded sidewalks, walking purposefully along, just like the living, as if they have a destination and tasks to perform. Like most city dwellers, they look straight ahead and acknowledge no one. Unlike the living, though, they don’t have to make that sudden dodging weave to avoid bumps and the occasional dance with the passerby who wants to weave in the same direction you do. They just walk right through!

Those are the disconcerting ones. Sensitive living beings react to being walked through. Humans often stop momentarily, causing those bump and tussle chain reactions you see so often. Dogs bark, or growl at thin air (as far as anyone can tell). Cats completely flip out.

I’ve gotten to where I’m okay with those who have simply kept on keeping on, so to speak. They’re just continuing with what they always did, and except for some minor disruptions, they have no ill intent.

But there are others.

This morning, I got off the subway at my stop and made my way up and out to the street.

He was there. Again. The worst of the worst.

I don’t want anything to do with this crazy piece of work, but he insists on interaction, and he gets me to engage by doing the most outrageous things.

The first time I saw him, he noticed me seeing him, and made a “watch this” gesture before snagging a dog’s leash out of its owner’s hand and dragging the poor thing into a café. A waiter chased the scared animal out onto the sidewalk, where the owner reclaimed him, insisting that he hadn’t let go of the leash, it was yanked away.

No one believed him. It was a two-pound Yorkie, after all—how hard could he yank?

Over time, I have helped an old woman pick up her scattered groceries, helped a student gather her books after her backpack strap slipped loose, and helped a man disentangle himself from the raincoat that flipped up and over his head.

Mischief, at first. But it has escalated. Two days ago he shoved a kid into the gutter. Yesterday he pushed a little girl into the traffic light pole.

I kept an eye on him, shaking with anticipation. I knew he’d do something, but I almost missed it, just the same.

I was with a group waiting to cross at the light. I’d never made it that far without him doing something. I could feel myself bouncing nervously on the balls of my feet, my heart pounding with dread. I was surrounded, and kept losing sight of him.

The light changed, and we all started to cross. I could see a taxi coming toward us, and that was when the baby carriage pushed by the woman just ahead of me lurched into the path of oncoming traffic.

I didn’t see him push it, but I saw him clapping his hands as I rushed to grab the carriage and push it back at the screaming mother just behind me.

The taxi hit me.

I never felt a thing. The mother snatched the carriage away, and the baby is safe. That was all I could focus on.

It sure hurts now. I’m hooked up to machines. I’m broken and battered.

Worst of all, I can’t move. And he’s right here. Standing in a corner of the room, just behind my children, he’s watching and grinning at me.

Whatever he decides to do next, I can’t stop him.

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Please visit Paula’s blog at https://paulashablo.wordpress.com

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