Bookcase Short Stories


(c) Arike van de Water 2007-2009

Rich Young Man

The arid space needed an open window, badly. But since New York in the middle of the summer was not a place you wanted to open a window onto, the basement's small squares of light remained closed. Eight rows of sweaty Americans, from all races, religions and walks of life ran, walked and cycled as if their life depended on it. No place was as natural a melting pot as a budget gym. Especially in a city that suffered from a collective overweight complex.

One person did not partake in the quiet desparation that whipped everyone on in their monotomous exercise. It was a kid, mopping the floor for some pocket money. He got extra if he brought any items to the lost and found. His biggest worry was the sticky gum attached to the leg of one of the benches lining the back wall. His nail wasn't doing the trick; he'd have to find a scraper. He ran a hand through messy hair. Focused on the bench, he didn't hear the heavy pad-pad coming his way. Brown eyes flew up when a hand hit his shoulder.

The brand-name sportclothes registered first. They could do little else, being so shiny. Next was the fine chain of silver the man had declined to take off, probably out of fear for pickpockets. Fine muscles on the man's arms and legs made him a regular. The only two things out of place were the worn-out shoes and this rich guy's presence in a gym that served the low end of the market. Shouldn't he be somewhere nice blondes welcomed him with 20,000-dollar smiles? His face was marked with wrinkles, pouches under his dark eyes and a pinched mouth.

“Joshua, right? They told me you were a smart kid.” He knelt down next to him. “I've been asking many people, this, but no one's given me a straight answer yet.” The pinched mouth, now at an angle, almost touched his nose. Joshua only gave a small nod. He retreated further into his crouch, his hands coming up to rest, balled, on the frayed knees of his jeans. “Hey, no worries.” The man held up his hands and sat down properly, a little back so Josh had an escape route. “It's just a question, honest.” The man's eyes skittered away. “You must think I'm weird, but I ask this to everybody, until I get an answer I can do something with.” He angled his mouth again. “You have no idea how much garbage people talk, sometimes. So I figured, couldn't hurt to ask a kid, right?” He looked back at Josh, who shrugged. “So here it is.” He scraped his throat and went on in a teacher-voice, as if he was reading from a book. “If I want eternal life, internal peace, universal love, that kind of thing, what should I do? Y'know, like, the kind of thing that fills up the hole in the middle if your soul?” His hand clenched in front of him, as if grasping something invisible. His eyes became wide, a glimmer of teeth visible for the first time as he set his mouth.

Joshua bent his head towards the ground. After a moment he asked, “Why are you talking to a 'smart kid'? Shouldn't you really be talking to God about that?” He cocked his head sideways, so he looked like an inquisitive pidgeon.

The man let his fist fall in his lap. “Well yeah, I am, like, a believer, y'know. Went to the Crystal Cathedral, actually. Always tried to do the right thing, give to the poor, respect my pa and ma. Never be a bother to anybody. Never harmed anyone in my life if I could help it. Just lived my life the way God taught in the bible. Like a kind person. Did everything I could...” He trailed off. His eyes empty from the passion they'd had before, he turned to Joshua again. “Is that your answer, kid? Not what I expected, I must admit, but not as bad as some of 'em.” They were silent for a moment. “Maybe I'll just have to go on searching forever. Do whatever I can.”

Joshua put his hand on the man's fist, as if wishing to put in there what the man so desperately wanted. Then he led it slide onto the floor, circling a knot in the wood floor with a finger. “There is only one thing you haven't done yet,” he told him. “Giving up your stuff. Giving it up and giving it away.” He let himself fall forward on his knees, putting his small hands on the man's swollen biceps. “Leaving all this treasure on earth to earth, and being content. That's what's preventing you from following God truly.”

The man shook his head. “Following God truly?” His mouth was angled towards his nose again, forehead wrinkeled. “If that's what it, not for me.” With that, he stood, and made his way to the dressing room. Joshua watched him go, fiddling the silver chained around his neck and shining with the brands he wore.