He moved like a ghost down the street towards the supermarket, his light brown leather jacket flapping its open zippered edges in the stiff spring breeze. Anyone walking by him, he was sure, would notice the moving zipper and nothing else about him. He felt removed, apart, a relic of some other time.
A time when his mind worked and allowed him to participate in this thing called life. A time when he wasn't afraid of everything and everyone, when the future didn't loom over him like the spectre of death.
He kept his gaze focussed on the sidewalk. He didn't want to see other faces, know anything of other lives.
He saw gaps in the sidewalk, clumps of dirt, and the occasional candy bar wrapper or chip bag. Other pairs of shoes passed his own, but he paid them no attention.
He moved towards his destination as if the destination was all there was.
He stopped at the intersection two blocks from his apartment building and waited for the light to change. This, unfortunately, necessitated his looking up from the ground so that he could see when the glowing red hand gave up the floor to the little white man-figure.
A young woman in a floppy red hat stood ahead of him and slightly to his right. In a time gone by, he would have tried to get a better look at her face, to see if she was attractive, but such thoughts did not emerge from their caves. He noted her presence merely in terms of how it might affect his progress across the street. Would he have to go around her? Would she move quickly, or would he overtake her right away?
"Hey, Mister. You look sad."
It was a child's voice. He wasn't sure who the child was addressing, but he found the voice startlingly loud.
He hoped the light would change soon. The child's voice was already becoming irritating.
This time the words were accompanied by a tug on his sleeve. His nerves jumped, and his brain spun in annoyance, but he turned to look. The child was behind him and to his right.
He looked down to see a young girl of about nine or so, with blonde ponytails and blue eyes. She wore a light blue spring jacket over a white top and pink pants. Her socks were white with alligators on them, and her sneakers were a very retro black and white.
"Are you sad, Mister?" she asked.
His stomach was tightening at the intrusion, but he resisted the temptation to be curt and rude. This was, after all, only a child.
"No," he said. "I'm just busy, that's all."
She cocked her head slightly. "I think you look sad."
He reminded himself to breathe. He'd be on his way soon.
"Um, thanks for your concern," he said, "but—"
"Here," she said, holding up a bunch of daisies. "These will cheer you up."
His hand reached for the flowers without his permission. He suddenly felt silly and vulnerable, standing in a public place, holding a child's bouquet.
"What's your name, Mister?" the child asked.
"Reg," he said without thinking, not comprehending for a moment why it was any of her business or why he was answering her. "My name's Reg."
His mind was beginning to form a question. He wanted to know why she had noticed him, why she had singled him out, why she was interrupting his errands, but he didn't get the chance to vocalize any of it. The sound of screeching tires and a sickening thud reached his ears before he could complete his thought process.
He whirled around to look at the intersection. A van was stopped, mid-turn. In front of it, he could just make out a red hat on the pavement.
The light had changed. The young woman had started to cross the street. The van had turned right and hit her.
He stared at the scene, unable to move, barely able to think. In slow motion, people around him began to move towards the van. Muffled voices reached his ears.
"Little girl," he heard himself say, "I think you just saved my life."
Reg looked around again, but the little girl with the blue eyes and ponytails was gone.