When he was a young man, the world was different.
There was not an internet to waste time with. There were no websites or apps or social media to pass the time. The news was delivered daily, not instantly. World events were only available to those who had the means to keep up to date on them. Education was affordable, but exclusive; opportunities to achieve financial success even more so. The sands of time moved far more slowly than today, this world of instantaneous information and entertainment.
The old man remembers that world, of long distance calls and letters that took longer to be delivered. The world where the color of one’s skin meant the difference between opportunity and oppression. Where the presence or absence of one’s X and Y chromosomes meant the difference between teaching and typing. The days where the west was the destination and Washington was the reward.
And the stars were the limit we were blissfully unaware of.
In his bed he lies, reminiscing of the steps he took. The work he did at the pleasure of others. The money he made so others could make even more. The people he surrounded himself with, not because he enjoyed their company, but because he felt those people would make other people, mere strangers in the grand scheme, respect him more. The people who are now ghosts, whose memories may only be whispers, and whose presence is empty. The old man now keeps the company of his bed, the nurses who feed him, the doctors who look at their watches until the time comes for another to take his place in that bed.
The old man looks at the ceiling, seeing faint images of a life he could have led, and he weeps.
He weeps for the time he could have approached Cindy, the cute gal in the red dress, who smiled at him across the classroom and may have had a crush on him. Crushes were rare and smiles like hers were priceless. He heard she always talked about another boy she liked, with the same round cheeks that he had, but it was always assumed she wanted the football player, not the chess club kid. He would later try out for football, a sport he abhorred, and it was that day that Cindy–the gal with the green eyes, the gal whose voice was that of strawberries, the gal who he never approached–stopped smiling at him.
He weeps for the time when people were oppressed because of how they were born. He knows that it was wrong to treat other human beings differently. He was once hit by his father the time he asked why all the servants have darker skin than the house guests. He remembers that moment when he casted his ballot, when he smoked with his colleagues, when he laughed about the water hoses and the dogs and the strong trees with stronger ropes. What would the world have looked like if he and his friends told the old men on the horses that the young boys did nothing wrong?
He weeps for the trip to Europe he missed out on, because he had a meeting to attend. He no longer remembers that meeting. He no longer remembers the words that were on those endless stacks of paper. He no longer remembers who he was meeting with that week, or how much money he made while sitting in that smoke-filled office. He no longer knows the name of his boss. What did he sound like again? Were you in real estate at the time, or was it the paper company? All those memories are gone. He just remembers Europe, and how he never stepped foot on the other side of the Atlantic.
The responsibilities he made for himself are now a void in the ever expanding emptiness that is almost done consuming him. There are not many moments left. He can barely see the nurse and doctor entering his room as a calmness comes across him. He certainly cannot hear them. That part is gone now; the rest is inevitable. Yet he hasn’t stopped weeping. He knows there is no turning back.
He whispers a prayer to the god he never received an answer from. He apologizes anyway.
Not for the mistakes or sins he committed against others over the course of his time on Earth.
Not for the people he may have hurt by his inaction, or for eating so terribly, or for the time he got in a fight at a long-closed bar and lost.
He weeps for Cindy.
He never knew why she was smiling.
And now he never will.