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On the Way Out

by Okwudili Udeh 10 months ago in fiction
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A package from a previous life

New day, same as the first. Wake up, check my work emails on my phone, clean up, and boom, ready for another day of nothing. While the obnoxiously bright sun and I worked on step one, I remembered I can’t do step two because I still don’t have a phone, the hotel soap made step three questionable, and step four? I’d already had two weeks of that. I had enough of that. But until the trial was over, I had an endless supply of nothing waiting for me.

I don’t know if the Witness Protection Program likes to torture their clients but staying at the Sunny Days Hotel felt like a small retaliation for the crimes I got dropped for my testimony. I was facing the faded cream ceiling, chips of paint struggling to hang on. I hoped to God that bitter taste in my mouth wasn’t from up there. I knocked half the pillows and the comforter onto the floor while I was sleeping, and the tables were littered with takeout, chips, bottles of root beer, and candy. Made the room look as chaotic as my life.

Former life. I had to remind myself that each day. I celebrated my new life like I did the last thirteen or whatever times—did some jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, and sit-ups, walked into the worn-out bathroom, cleaned myself up, and plopped myself right back to bed. The officers didn’t allow tv, cellphones, computers, newspapers, no nothing. Except books, which I’m now reading out of desperation.

It took a few hours, which I spent trying to go back to sleep and fending off sleep paralysis, but I finally got a knock on the door. I rushed the door like a dog waiting for their owner. I expected to hear the regular bored “package for client 5543” spiel. I got nothing; there was nobody at the door, just the parking lot and a car driving out of it. I looked down and saw a small brown box. I was supposed to be a ghost, nobody was supposed to know where I was. There was a yellow folded notepad sheet on top, probably from the officer.

“Sorry”

I knew who it was from, but I never expected to see that. Why would the guy overseeing my WPP process apologize? It took a few seconds for me to realize why, and I almost chucked the box over the railing. I wanted to get rid of that box so badly, but my hands kept trembling. I could barely move. The pit of my gut felt it was just swirling, trying to figure out whether it want to come up or go down. Like a robot, I walked back into the room, sat back on the bed, and began opening.

The box had its address stripped away, I guess that was the officer trying to cover his ass. Inside the box was a picture frame, wrapped up brown packing paper. At that point I had a good feeling what it was and quit hesitating. I ripped open packaging and saw the photo. For a second, I thought it was me as kid with a big black helmet and a muddy blue uniform on, ready to knock it out of the park with the wooden bat. I genuinely thought it came from my mom. That lasted for a minute, then I saw the eyes, and his bigger nose, and that toothy grin he loved to make.

It was my son. This was my wife’s last attempt to get me back.

When I told the WPP office that I wanted to go into the program by myself, the reception was far from warm. Got a mix of laughs and disgust, like I was bonkers to just leave everyone I knew behind to live a new life. I got why: I’m a lowly crook who is getting by on technicalities and snitching. Without the help of good old Uncle Sam, I would have been lucky if my funeral had a body to work with after the mob was done with me. Why not leave my old life with my wife and my eight-year-old boy? Yeah, just completely uproot their life because their dad got in with the wrong crowd, got caught, and squealed.

I thought about it, genuinely did. Then I thought, why make them suffer? They did nothing wrong, except give me a ready to make more money no matter the cost. Don’t get me wrong, I didn't do it for them; I just couldn’t look at myself in the mirror knowing I couldn’t provide for my family. It was about pride. He would have never been able to play baseball with the other kids without the work I did.

But when I looked at that photo, that thought came back to me like a boomerang. How was he going to survive without me? How were either of them going to live a normal life, when all their friends have me to blame for their husbands going to jail? My wife stopped working years ago, who was going to hire her? If they came with me, we could all start over together, completely fresh. They’d hate it at first, just like me. But we’d all grow to like it, not just me.

I put the photo back on the table and lied back down. For that moment, the photo made the dilemma feel real. Any day now, the trial would end, and my new life would begin. And when my old name stops appearing on the papers, maybe their new lives will start too.

fiction

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Okwudili Udeh

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