CHARLIE HAD JUST GOTTEN OUT OF JAIL. He had been there for twelve years. He was Twenty when he went in; now he was thirty-two. He walked the once familiar streets, as if he had just seen them for the first time. Though some of the businesses had changed names, and changed owners, or were once knocked down, or burned down. Things were still the same for the most part. The laundry mats, the small shops, the gas stations, the restaurants were still there. But everything seemed smaller, and he was aware that he was not very young anymore, and the teenagers walking the boulevard reminded him of this fact. His build was a little stockier, his gait heavier, and faints of lines began to show on his face. Where did the time go? All that time in the pen, he was lucky to still be alive. So this was what freedom was like... He had forgotten what it had felt like. He watched the young kids walking around---they were so carefree, in their thoughts and bodies. They were young and soft: he felt the urge to want to slap a couple of them, to let them know what pain felt like it, in case they had never been introduced to it. He felt the violence increase in him. Some kid had nearly ran over his shoe on a bicycle. He wanted to run after him, grab, choke him….. But he better not do that… he had just gotten out of jail, remember. He thought that he better go into a local bar for a drink, to calm down, and to make plans for the future.
The bar was sparsely populated, which was the way he liked all bars. He sat down near the bartender and looked up at the television without seeing anyone. The barkeep eventually came over; smiled at him sarcastically. He ordered a screwdriver and sipped the thing quickly, not wanting to get drunk, but due to nerves. Out of his peripheral vision, he noticed someone watching him. They were also alone, or perhaps they were with someone who went to the restroom. The kid was in his mid twenties, and had an imaginative, curious, yet someone innocent looks in his face, which made Charlie curious. He made eye contact, and the kid smiled back. Charlie got up, and made his way towards him, and sat down next to him.
“My name’s Charlie, my man how are ya?”
He stuck out his had, and shook his hand firmly.
“I’m pretty tired, just a little bored, I guess. Not a lot of interesting things, or people around.”
“Shit, you can say that again. Mind if I smoke?”
Charlie pulled out his cigarette before kid could reply.
“I didn’t get your name, my man.”
“Well Tony, my man, I just got outta jail man. Twelve years in there. Can you imagine that?” Twelve years. I’m trying to get used to this newfound freedom. I’m used to people telling me what to do all day long. This freedom stuff is hard.”
“Twelve years? I can’t imagine doing twelve years.”
“And you don’t want to imagine it. Trust me.”
Charlie looked forward as if he was not seeing anything.
“Yeah, a long time man. In jail, I didn’t want a calendar—everyday is the same day, same building, same walls, same sex. Can you believe that there were no women around? Even all the guards are men. I’m not gay or anything, but being in there, something breathing starts to lookin pretty good.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t take it man. But you can be prison without being in prison—that’s what people say.”
“But shit, it’s not like actual prison. At least on the outside you can go for walk, or go to a mall or bar, ball game. But in there—you’re just there. I was eighteen when I went in. Now I’m thirty-two. And it seems as if the best years of my life were stolen from me. Early twenties, mid twenties, late twenties. Look around this bar for second. What do ya see? A bunch of people in their twenties. I’m just about the oldest guy in the bar.”
He took a long gulp out of the drink, and took a drag off his cigarette.
“May I ask—what did you go to jail for?”
“It was for robbery. I had a little bit of a drug problem, and made a dumb mistake of robbing a bank. Shouldn’t a did it. But when, you’re young and full of fire, ya think that ya can do anything. It’s crazy.”
“Sorry about your misfortune sir, but I think that a lot of people feel as if they are in prison, and like they are being held back, as if there’s a party going on in the world and you are not invited to it.”
“Yeah, you may be right. But you know the tragedy of being in prison. Is that you are not the same person, you were yesterday, as you were today. Know what I’m sayin? Like you are a different person when you are fourteen, as opposed to when you are twenty-one, and twenty-eight or forty. And a lot of my years were taken by prison.”
“But sir, what I’m sayin is I feel like I’m in prison too. A lot of people feel this way. but I don’t let it bother me. You know what my life is like. I get up and go to work, and go home, or sometimes go to a bar. And I seem like I never have enough money to buy things that I want or need. And the love of women is beyond me. We have all these desires and wishes and hopes and they go unfulfilled. But what can you do? Where can you go? I think we watch television too much. And see all the celebrities, seemingly living the good life or see people on commercials buying things and smiling. Then we think that we are missing out on something. We see people out and we don’t know them, and they seem happier, and more successful than we are, and we feel cheated. Ya know. Like the world is a big giant party and we are not apart it.”
“But shit, the years I can’t get back.”
“I think that we should forget our pasts. And think about the present, and live the best way that we know how, within our means. Ya know? And don’t worry about what we don’t have.”
“Well, I guess you are right.”
He took a finally gulp of his drink.
“Say, want another one. It’s on me.”
Tony motioned for the bartender to come over, and asked for another screwdriver. He gave it to Charlie and drank aggressively.”
“Shit man, there are a lot of prostitutes walking around over here.”
Tony began laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Those girls are not prostitutes, most of them are college students.”
“Dressed like that?” He said incredulously.
“Well that’s how they dress nowadays. I guess that’s just an MTV influence.”
“They not hoes?”
“No” I guess you have been away a long time.
“Know where I can get a hooker? A crack whore preferably.”
“Not really. Things around here, are rather clean and sterile. But if you hang around long enough; I’m sure they’ll find you.”
“Thanks man. It was nice talking to you.”
The two men continued drinking, and for duration of their stay neither man said another thing to the other.
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