The Walk

— An essay by Bernardo Guzman, of the Hopkins Spring IFN Writers:

He came from the south. Nobody saw him coming. With a long-sleeved black sweater, and a black leather jacket draped over him, it’s no surprise he blended into the night. Even the people who caught a glimpse chose not to notice. He had a skullcap pulled low over his forehead, yet his eyes wandered as he dragged himself north on Baltimore’s St. Paul Street. The man, hunched over, made his way through groups of drunken college kids. By the time he reached the corner of St. Paul and E 33rd, he was out of breath. The walk was too much.

He was surrounded now, students on all sides of him. The man couldn’t take the background noise. Students talking about how they couldn’t wait to go to Mexico for spring break, or wherever the hell their lake house was. He took another step with his left foot and tried to steady himself. He looked at one group of young men, and then he opened his mouth as if to speak. But he knew better and chose to remain silent, taking another step forward. The young men looked away and quietly laughed to themselves. The man put his head down and took another step. Then, he took another break, gasping for air this time. More students walked around him. They brushed against the man as they trickled into the Subway deli behind him.

The lights outside of Subway illuminated his pain. Sweat was trickling down his face as he kept one hand on his right knee, holding his leg straight. He was breathing hard now. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stand for much longer. He drudged on, trying to cross 33rd street, only to stop again.

“Why is he standing in the middle of the road? Super creepy,” one girl whispered.

“I don’t know, but let’s get inside Uni Mini. I don’t want to see what happens,” another replied.

The man was disgusted by their loud whispers as he tried to force himself to move on. Still in the middle of the road, he froze. Cars honked at him.

“What’re you, crazy?” one driver yelled.

“Get off the road, you moron,” another called out.

The man became the center of attention. His leg throbbed. He forced himself to keep moving, one small step after another. Every time a car honked, more people turned in his direction. By the time the man reached the sidewalk, he was covered in sweat. He forced himself to sit on the ground. He looked around. The students were now staring at him. Some of them with short looks of disdain. The man sat there, wondering how long before he could force himself onward. He looked up St. Paul Street, only to see a cop car draw near, flashing its lights. One of the cops stepped out and approached him.

“We’ve heard some complaints about a man in this area,” the cop said as he stood above him. “Is there any reason why you’re sitting on the ground?”

The man was cautious. He took several deep breaths before giving shape to his thoughts.

“It’s my leg,” the man said, looking down at himself. His left leg was pulled in so he could rest on top of it. The man tried to keep his right leg straight, but the cop could see that it was shaking.

“Union Memorial is only another block over,” the cop remarked. “Let’s get you there.”

The cop called for his partner, and they helped the man into the car. The man breathed a “thank you.” The cruiser pulled into E 33rd street, and drove off, as the students turned away from the scene.

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