Jonathan stumbles out onto the street where the city air catches him in a chill embrace and the gritty textures are vivid against his blinking eyes. His dress shoes skitter on the hard cement as his mind reels with the possibilities of his flight. But the city is too much with its honking horns and squealing brakes, and he runs for the comfort of his vehicle.
He is desperate to disappear around the corner and down the alley to his parked car. But as he careens around the corner, he collides with a homeless man and is knocked against the alley wall faster than he had been approaching.
"What the fuck man!" The stranger stands unharmed in the alleyway as Jonathan rolls on the cement.
"Sorry," Jonathan blurts as he tries to get to his feet and push past.
His way is blocked with a splitting grin. "Where the fuck are you going?" the homeless man asks with a laugh. "Work ain't over. Go back to your stall."
Jonathan does not have the energy for a confrontation, and he tries to shove past, his emotions turning to anxiety. But he meets solid resistance and the man grips him by the shoulders. "Take it easy."
"No," Jonathan says. "You go back to your...dumpster."
Jonathan's weak attempt to fight back causes only amusement. "Listen here fuckhead, if people like you didn’t spew so much useless crap around, we wouldn’t even need dumpsters."
"People like me? You don't even know me!" For a moment, Jonathan wonders what he must look like. He is wearing the suit of a business man, but never has it felt like such a costume.
"Well let's see," the man says, "...fancy suit, dress shoes, tie--"
"Oh come on, what does that have to do with me?" Jonathan wishes he could somehow explain to this man who he really is, but he isn't sure if he could even explain it to himself.
"It means you value your appearance more than the children who sweat to make your clothes."
"No," Jonathan says, becoming defensive. "It means I work in a bloody office. I work. You know?"
But the homeless man cannot be insulted, and he responds casually. "Yeah, I know. You're a wage slave and I'm a free man. I get it."
Jonathan is beginning to regret having gotten into this fight, and a part of him would like to respectfully back out, but he doesn't have the courage to show such vulnerability. And so he continues with spiteful comments. "Ha! You're a free man?"
"Yeah, and you want some advice?"
"Advice from you? Oh, this'll be good!"
"Yeah, it might help you pull that hand out of your ass."
Jonathan blinks. "What’s that supposed to mean?"
The man leans back on his heels, his eyes looking to the sky with a shake of his head. He smirks. "You think you have freedom because you have money, don’t you?"
Jonathan pauses. He doesn't have an answer for the man, and he feels an unsettling sense of confusion. "Well, I could hop on a plane this evening..." he reasons.
"You could. But you never will." The man stabs Jonathan with a finger. "And that’s the difference between you and I. You may have more possibilities cause of your money, but you don’t ever take em. Cause you don't even know what freedom is. That’s the hand up your ass!"
Jonathan suddenly realizes his chance to turn the conversation around, and his emotions jump at the thought of standing up for his rash decision to abandon work. "Oh yeah?" he asks. "You're making all these swift judgments about me, and you don't even know what I just did!"
The stranger stops and reconsiders Jonathan. "What did you just do?" he asks.
Jonathan cannot help but give a foolish grin. "I just quit my job! My career! I quit! I stormed out of there! I slammed the door—and knocked over a coworker!"
A slow smile begins to come across the man's face as Jonathan talks, and he soon begins to laugh.
"That's right! They were horrified! They were astonished. All of their dirty looks, their arrogant eyes, their...I didn't care anymore cause it's all fake! I can't do a job that's fake! I can't fake it!"
The man's laugh soon falls into a few words. "You're so fucked, aren't you? I mean, you have no clue what you just did."
Jonathan skitters to a nervous halt. "No. But I did it! I did it because it had to be done!"
"Well good for you," the man says, giving Jonathan a pat on the shoulder. "Now what?" Jonathan doesn't answer. "You don't have a fucking clue, do you? Don't worry, that's the first step to anything."
Jonathan gives a bitter laugh. "I guess I'll find a new job. One that makes sense."
"What?" the man asks. He grabs Jonathan by the shoulders. "Is that the best you can come up with? A world of possibilities and all you say is, 'oh shit, I don't have a job anymore, I should get a new one'? You don't have a job anymore because you quit! You chose to not have a job! You chose to be free! Now you just wanna sign up for something new?" He gives Jonathan a shake and then spins on his heel and marches down the alleyway. "I might as well go back to my dumpster if you're just going back to your stall!" He marches with his feet up and his arms swinging. But he turns before Jonathan can do anything and walks back.
"Hey. Fuckhead. Why are you still standing here with a stupid look on your face?"
Jonathan frowns. "What would you suggest I do? I don't think the homeless lifestyle is quite up my alley."
"Man, you don't even have to worry about no goddamn alley. You've got possibilities. Are you really too goddamn afraid of losing your precious money that you can't dip below the ten grand mark? Fuck man, learn to live!"
"Learn to live?"
"Yeah, and do you know how to do that?" The man's eyes are sharp as he waits for a response.
Jonathan is hesitant as he ponders the man's words. "But it's not about money. Money isn't gonna buy me happiness."
"No shit man, you can read that on a fucking fridge magnet! Don't you have any original thoughts? Fuck, I already told you, if you want happiness, learn to live."
"What...okay what does that mean?"
Jonathan's question is like the green light the man has been waiting for, and he jumps into an active stance, his knees bent and his arms out in front of him. "I'll tell you what it means! You can't learn how to live from some fucking book, and some fucking teacher sure ain't gonna teach you. If you wanna learn to live, you gotta have experiences!" He pauses with a demeaning smile. "That's right, you gotta actually have some. No more driving to a nine to five crap job. No more being a sheep. And you can't be afraid of losing control. You can't control which experiences you get, this isn't like shopping out of a fucking catalog. Good, bad, fucked-up, it doesn't matter what kind of experience, so long as you're learning. You gotta experience what's out there! What's out there beyond you and your private little bubble!" He points beyond Jonathan's head and as Jonathan turns to look, the man flicks him on the forehead.
"Ow, hey," Jonathan says. "Do you mean I should just abandon my life? Go traveling somewhere?"
"Sometimes, sometimes," the man says with his hand on his chin. "Sometimes it's best to start from scratch. Purge your system out right? It's like you've got all these meaningless habits, all these distorted values, all these petty problems. You just gotta flush em out, get some perspective, all in one go."
"All in one go? That sounds rather rash."
"Maybe you need to experience what rashness is all about," the man says. "Mabye—maybe you need to do something goddamn fucking stupid! Just so you know what a mistake feels like. So you know that life goes on."
Jonathan is thoughtful as he considers the man's words. He feels the danger in them, and he tells himself to think carefully before doing anything.
The man slowly backs against the wall, giving Jonathan space to think, and a free alleyway to his vehicle.
Jonathan hardly notices, and after a while he looks up. "I was in a really...tough place in my mind when I bumped into you. Fragile would be the term a councilor would use. And so they would treat me as fragile. I was in pain, but I wasn't fragile. I just needed something real. You, with your rough words and criticism, are real."
The man doesn't even hesitate as he spits on the ground and says, "Fuck man. That's cause I don't treat people like victims. I don't care if their family just died, I'll tell em how it is. No tiptoeing around. No one needs that shit." And without skipping a beat, the man asks, "So what? Did your family just die?"
Jonathan is cold as he responds. "No. Some of my closest friends."
"Alright. Well, go on home then and rest. I gotta find some coffee."
The man brushes past him and out onto the sidewalk. Jonathan watches him go, his shoulders sagging and his face pale. He can hardly grasp the outcome of the conversation, but as the man rounds a corner, Jonathan settles into a bundle of ragged emotions. He turns to approach his vehicle. "Life goes on," he breathes. "And I just gotta keep on learning. Learning how to live."