Two men had beaten him up. Both had been much bigger than him as they still both had their legs. They wore jeans and hoodies. Sneakers. Nice sneakers. Sneakers that did not match the rest of their polluted clothes and harmful behavior. They had seen Anton waiting in his wheelchair. Waiting for what? Life to get better. Life to get worse, if possible. Though once the two men saw Anton’s aluminum wheelchair shining from the dim-lit alley, life did get much worse for Anton.
The assault was slightly fuzzy for Anton. He could only remember watching townspeople walking in and out of the shoe store across the street before getting thrown out of his wheelchair and having nice sneakers strike his shortened body.
Got so many strikes.
Stuck, now leaning against a brick wall down an alley off of Main Street, for the first time in a month, Anton was ready to ask for help, but no one wanted to look at a poor, dirty man with no legs. His fingers pressed against the red bricks of the building, steadying himself as he slowly sat up to keep the pain minimal. His hands trembled with worry and rage, the emotions a permanent perfume in his chest. The need to talk to someone grew that moment, realizing he could no longer survive on his own. He needed to contact a relative or something. Get a job. Get an apartment. Get a new wheelchair. Maybe even get legs. Though, the disabled man found reaching out to people difficult as he had thrown his cell phone away a month ago when he could no longer pay for the bill.
After getting kicked in the side a few times from the assault, Anton had passed out in the alley between the theater and the abandoned fabric store. Above the old fabric store were the leftovers of a bowling alley, which closed about fifteen years ago.
Who would have thought, a bowling alley upstairs! There were eight lanes. Or maybe ten?
Anton knew there were no more than ten. The one memory that stood out to Anton about the second-floor bowling alley was the day Anton’s league won the regional bowling competition that had given him the small step towards his twenty-year career as a professional bowling athlete. He remembered that about a month before the tournament, the fifteen-year-old had practiced how to get a strike every time he rolled a ball. What angle did he throw better from? What position should he start in? End in? Should he use his dad’s old rabbit foot for good luck?
Anton did not have his father’s furry trinket with him that day, and Anton did not have it now. Even if he did, the tiny thing would just add weight to him that he did not want to carry around. If he didn’t do something about his current situation, he would die in one of these alleys. But Anton could not walk.
Why did they steal my wheels when they already had shoes? It isn’t like I paid $600 for it.
From his midsection, a tiny rumble twisted into a large grumble, alerting Anton to the fact that he had not eaten anything since yesterday morning. Even though he did not need as much food as he did when he had legs, a human body still required food. Anton searched his pockets for the plastic bag of crackers that he had found in an un-open box in a different, nearby alley. Now, the bag had one cracker left. Anton could not foster the willpower to not eat the crackers the minute he found them. Now, he wished he had split the bag up, perhaps eaten half yesterday morning and the rest right now. If the man did not find food now, he would die. He was not thirsty as he had a water bottle that he filled up twice a day in the bathroom of a convenience store close by. The bottle was filled halfway. Still, this small detail did not make hurt, frustrated Anton smile. He also needed a hospital.
In the alley, there were stairwells and dumpsters. Anton did not dare eat anything from the dumpsters. There was no money in his ragged green coat, so he thought about how to get his next meal. Should he steal for the first time in his life? Or wait to find another clean package of crackers?
I’ve stolen before.
In this once-small town, Anton grew up with a community where everyone went to church, and everyone knew each other. He knew that stealing and murder were two of the Ten Commandments. Since six months ago, he has always felt that he had done both. Driving home from his best friend’s engagement party, he had not been drinking. He had not been paying attention. Two days later, Anton woke up with his legs gone from the mid-thigh down, and a lawsuit from a family who lost a child, a grandmother, and a father in the car crash. Since the death toll had been so high and entirely Anton’s fault, Anton lost much of the money he had gained from championships and athletic fame. With his legs gone, Anton could not bowl anymore, at least not the way he used to. With the guilt of stealing three lives, Anton did not want to bowl again anyways. Even if he could bowl, no company would sponsor him after the media coverage of the accident. Since then, Anton had slowly rolled into a life of begging and waiting.
Being an athlete meant being fit. Anton had exercised every muscle in his body. After the accident, Anton worked out a total of three times, upper body calisthenics. His motivation had disappeared. However, Anton still had some strength. Perhaps he could use it to pull himself out of this alley.
With a burst of food incentive, Anton placed his gloved hands on the foul pavement and leaned forward, putting all his weight into his upper body muscles. With the lack of nutrition, Anton rapidly realized his strength was not as good as he thought it would be. Of course, it would decrease. Still, Anton used the little energy he had to pull himself to the end of the alley.
Sunlight did not touch his face. Instead, grey clouds covered the large town. Anton remembered that the weather had been pleasant for the past few weeks. It was time for a storm.
Not knowing how much time he had before it began to rain, Anton tried to think of what he should do. The homeless shelter was close, though he could not see it in the distance, and without his wheelchair, he could not get there without tearing his hands and the end of his folded pant against the ground.
I need my wheelchair.
Outside the theater, there was a crowd of show goers, dressed up. They did not notice him, or perhaps did not want to. He refused to imagine being in their shoes and see what they saw when they looked at him. He used to be like them. Anton’s mind pulled down, wanting to lie on the sidewalk in self-pity and embarrassment. Though he already wasted the past few months doing just that.
As the crowd filtered into the building through the large wooden doors, Anton looked for the closest place for him to crawl. The fabric store had been boarded up for many years now. Anton turned down any internally forming plan of breaking the law, even if it meant he could have shelter or food. Anton loved his standards, knowing if nothing ever did work out for him, he would always have a heaven to go to.
Heaven won’t accept me now. Why should I keep trying?
Still, Anton could not bring himself to be bad for his own good.
I will be fine.
Anton decided crawling across the street would be dangerous. On the other side, there were the shoe store, the daycare center, and the balloon store. Even if Anton crossed the street, he would not go into the daycare for he would scare the children; balloons would not save him; he didn’t have money to buy shoes. He didn’t need shoes.
Droplets started falling.
Cold rain. Accelerating wind lashed at his skin, making his body shake. He could not sleep outside tonight. Anton thought about going into the theater, but a white-haired man wearing a double-breasted coat guarding the door was glaring at Anton, preventing Anton from pursuing the idea.
If only I had lost one leg, I could use crutches.
The rain started to fall harder, and his unkempt beard got wet and heavy. The water from the clouds soaked his dirty clothes. The extra weight would make crawling more difficult. Anton looked over to see the theater doorman had stepped inside the lobby, out of the rain. There were no roofs to protect Anton.
Finally, the hurt man decided that he could no longer wait for someone to help him, and he had to save himself. He began to pull himself along the street. He tried not to think about when his arms would get tired.
As Anton passed the window of the theater, he noticed the doorman watching him from inside the lobby. The doorman did not even look away when Anton saw him. Anton did not care. Tried not to care. He continued to pull his way along the sidewalk.
Time went by like it does when one is trying to ignore time while exercising or waiting. Anton could not be impatient, as he could not give up or say “Never mind” and call a cab, taking the easy way out. He had to crawl… or sit in a dirty alley between a cold theater and abandoned bowling alley. If someone were to help him, they would have done so by now.
When cars rolled by, they did not slow down. Anton tried not to imagine the passengers staring at him and saying how much they wished they could help him, but they simply did not have the time. Though when he saw a car, the wheels reminded him of the wheels on his wheelchair.
Pausing every minute or so to catch his breath, Anton began to see the gate of the shelter. The view was blurry from the thick storm. The feeling of wet, rigid cement pressed against the palms of his hands, and he realized his gloves had ripped open. A tiny shard of glass was sticking to his pinky.
Not life-threatening. I’ll get it fixed,
Anton continued dragging. His hands continued to hurt. His hands began hurting more. Anton took a moment to pause and catch his breath. He looked at his hands, seeing them ripped up by the dirty, solid ground. He leaned against a building wall.
Just give me a minute.
Breathing deeply, Anton pressed his hands to his jacket, compressing the many tiny cuts made on his skin. When he had given a speech during his best friend’s party, he had never prophesied such terrible events to occur. Anton thought that losing his legs had been the worse. But losing all his money! Life can always get worse.
For life to get good, it has to get really bad.
Finally, Anton reached dull gates of a homeless shelter. It was a new non-profit, though Anton refused to believe he had needed to go. He checked in.
During that time, the staff was able to spare an extra wheelchair. The pads on the seat of the wheelchair were uncomfortable, though Anton didn’t complain. The metal wheels creaked as he made his way from the makeshift infirmary to the cafeteria. There, he got a pleasant meal. He ate. He savored. Afterward, when he was putting his tray away, he saw a staff member handing out bags of fresh clothes. He wheeled over and took a bag.
At his assigned bed, he opened the package of clothes. Inside were a pair of used, clean jeans, a black t-shirt, and a heavy jacket. Thrown into the care package was a pair of shoes. Bowling shoes.