He strode into the office just as the mob started to grow outside.
Cooped up in his small, but cozy office all day made him oblivious to the situation outside. Nothing could move him from behind his screen once he really got typing. He’d been clicking away at the keys like a madman possessed when the summons came. His editor wished to speak to him. He hummed dismissively at the messenger, but the young intern was not to be put off his course, so after a longing gaze at his shiny new laptop, he left the darkness of his office.
He squinted at the lights outside. Were they always this bright? He didn’t think so, but then again, his preferred his work environment to be dark, and quiet. He usually worked without disturbances but struck with curiosity chose to ignore the broken rule. His editor had never pulled him out of work before, and it could only be something monumental that had caused him to intervene.
The doorknob was warm when he wrenched it open and walked inside. The same pale blue walls and white furniture, but…more than just his editor was present; the public relations officer – they’d met in the elevator on a coffee run – the president of the newspaper, and oddly enough, the head of finance. Were they here to personally congratulate him on his last piece? And with the head of finance, would he receive a stunning raise and promotion? Slight irritation pricked at him.
He had made it clear on more than one occasion that he did not want to be the editor or the assistant editor because he liked being a journalist. He was far too in love with words, and the research, and the running up and down god’s green earth to give it all up for a position of all things. Despite that, he put on a charming smile, and mentally prepared to decline any offers coming his way. He would listen – a smart man always listens – but he’d decline. Before he could utter a word, his editor motioned to the windows.
“Look out, and tell me what you see.”
Bemused, he did as told.
“It appears to be protestors,” he carefully began, “but I can’t tell from all the way up here if they’re rioting or-
He was cut off by the public relations officer, “You. They are here for you.”
His irritation kicked up a notch, “Me? What could they have to do with me? Is this about the Pulitzer?”
The president sighed. “No. This is about your opinions on the…uh…the LGBTQ community.” He enunciated the letter rather fast as if he needed to get them out before they could infect him.
He was a smart man; he put two and two together.
“They didn’t like it. They’re protesting. Possibly prepared to…” he trailed off. He couldn’t jinx it, no. For a worldly man, he was a little more superstitious than anyone would have expected.
“There’s an emergency exit you can leave from,” his editor sighed, “the least we can do is offer you protection. Honestly, man, I should’ve never let you go that far.”
The journalist was speechless for once. What was he saying?
At his confused expression, the editor defensively folded his arms, “I was too excited about one of my journalists winning the Pulitzer, and I got too caught up in the adrenaline, and allowed you to publish…that.”
“What are you saying?” He could feel the color drain from his face. That last column was bloody brilliant! An eye-opener, they’d said, so what was this?
“Look,” the President spoke up, “We have to let you go. There’s no other choice. More than one life is at stake, the entire newspaper is under fire for publishing your careless rants. We’ll issue an apology tomorrow, and let them know we do not condone such liberations, and that we’ve let you go.”
“I’m the best journalist you’ve got,” he bellowed, “I’m the best-goddamned journalist in this entire godforsaken building!”
The editor grasped his arms and wrenched him back toward the windows, “Look at that! That’s not something the best do! Your liberal opinions, your reckless drive to be heard are why we’ll go down! You are not needed, you are not wanted! And you are certainly not the best if you’ve enticed a mob to burn down my building!”
The journalist shoved the editor into his desk and pulled back his fist, ready to pummel the living daylights out of him for suggesting he leave his job for something absurd but he was already fading from the present. Someone was shouting for security and as he pressed his hand back to the window to steady himself, he could almost feel the pulsating hatred from the mob downstairs. Hands were on his arms, and in a daze, security escorted him outside. Someone would have to bring his things back. He needed his laptop…for what?
He was brought to a back entrance and warned not to trespass. Dazedly, he stepped out into the chilling rain. It seeped into his clothes and left him cold and shivering; he despised the rain and the sudden clarity it bought. He couldn’t go the underground parking for his car; the crowd would accost him there. With a heavy heart and an impending sense of panic, he trudged toward his flat, which was thankfully not too far from his workplace. The rain continued to pelt him, and every now and then, he wiped his face with his hands. It was his hands that had done this, his stupid, opinionated, reckless hands. He was a block away from his flat when he saw them; the mob had gotten ahold of his address and was now protesting in front of his home. He would have to come back, but where to go?
An idea struck him. He’d go to his old teacher’s house. Old Lady wouldn’t deny him refuge, not for one or two nights, depending on how insistent the protestors were. His phone was still in his pocket so he pulled it out and searched for her contact. She was rather hesitant at first, but then welcomed him home. It was the place he’d run to when his own parents had pushed him out the door with nothing but a suitcase of his belonging and some change. The loft was where he’d spent his time whenever he wasn’t in college.
An unfamiliar woman opened the door.
“Here for Old Lady?” she briskly asked, and without listening to his answer stood back to let him in.
“Who’re you?” he questioned, a little miffed his mentor hadn’t come to the door like she always did.
“I’m the nurse.”
The rain had chilled him to the core, and a shiver went down his spine. Since when did the headstrong woman need a nurse? It hadn’t been that long…
“Just two years, Adam.” She answered his question out loud, as he stopped dead at the threshold of the room. She was in her bed, with various machines hooked up. Her head was covered with a silver scarf, in imitation of her real silvery mane of hair, and the wrinkles in her skin were set deep. Her skin had the pallor of a dying person. She was older than he’d ever seen her, and his hopelessness increased.
“Old Lady, you’re –
His voice cracked, and he had to clear his throat before he could speak again, but she didn’t let him get a word in.
“I am dying, yes,” she said in a matter-of-fact way, “it won’t be long now. You’ve got yourself in trouble haven’t you?”
She was purposefully changing the subject, and he let her. He’s let her get away with anything at this point, so he told her the whole story.
She sighed, more out of habit than circumstance, “Remember to lay low, keep your head down, and whether it out. I have money saved away that you could-
“I am not taking your money!” He said with abrupt ferociousness.
She just stared at him with those searching, onyx eyes of hers. Then, she sighed again.
“I’m glad you’re here.” She whispered. Her hand slowly inched towards his; she’d allow him this physical comfort for now. The nurse came back in shortly after that, and he went to his old room. All his clothes from college days were there, and he changed into them.
Old Lady passed away the same night.
Seven years, he was reminded of her eyes as he spoke to his customer, who sat in the back of his taxi. The customer was animatedly speaking of Dostoyevsky, as she’d done so many years ago. He had expressed his opinion on the literature too, and the boy was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t everyday Uber had drivers that could chat about anything except gas prices. When asked about how he’d come to be a driver, he laughed bitterly.
The mob had burned his house down, and Old Lady’s house had been seized by the bank; she was dead but the loans from her previous treatments hadn’t vanished overnight. After months of trying to find a job that would suit him, Adam had given up. And now, seven years later, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was driving a taxi.
The kid in the backseat reminded him of himself, so he warned him,
“This is what the world does to anyone who dares to speak against its virtues and vices; it tosses them aside, irrelevant and forgotten.”