Otieno (oh-tee-en-oh) feels lost, again. Lying on his bed, the Sixers game plays on the flat screen while the A/C forces the dust on the bookshelf to resettle. The bookshelf, really his wife’s bookshelf, encompasses both sides of the wall around the flat screen TV. A year’s worth of dust mars the spines. That must be her skin still existing in the world. On one of the shelves sit pictures of his parents, two of his best friends, and his beloved cat, Oliver. They’re all gone. Part of living as long as he has, he’s seventy-seven, has entailed outliving everyone he’s ever loved. Maybe he should have pushed his wife harder to have a kid. Then, at least he’d have someone, and he probably wouldn’t be contemplating how high to fill his rocks glass with brandy to wash down too many of the painkillers meant to manage his recent back pain.
Warm August air tiptoes through his apartment window – the apartment where he and his wife moved a few years ago when the house started feeling too big – while his eyes search the starless, moonless night. His shadow doesn’t reach up the wall as far as most men’s would, yet the shadow is enough for him to believe that the darkness isn’t just pressing in from the outside, but emanating from inside, too. He runs a hand through his gray, fading hair that sprouts unkempt above a receding hairline, as if present only to delay the inevitable. In the angled glass of the open window, the Sixers game reflects next to his face, which is so much older than the players’ faces on the screen. It didn’t use to be that way. Now his dark skin is worn down and sags away from his bones, away from him, as if it’s getting ready to leave him. He’s never used so many notches on a belt before.
Otieno doesn’t think about the TV being the only light in the room before turning it off. He lingers in his newfound darkness. Does it matter to have lights on when you live alone? The darkness speaks to his existence. He’s invisible. A retired insurance salesman living in Allentown, quiet Pennsylvania suburbia, with no reason to leave the house other than to buy groceries. Soon after his wife passed, he tried going to synagogue, hoping to meet people. The more he went to services, the more people talked to him about the importance of having God in his life, and the more it seemed God wasn’t going to save him. God appeared to have retired from burning bushes and parting seas. It seems modern day people don’t need miracles. They just need to believe in them. Continue reading