The Empty Eyes

A dark road. An empty street. A lone man. I could not ask
for more perfect conditions. I pulled up the hoodie of my grey sweatshirt,
hands shaking as I did so. I cursed myself; I could not, I would not, I cannot falter.
I sank deeper into the alley to quiet the roaring thumps in my chest. It was
too late to back out anyway; it would be a shame to waste this chance.

The man placed one foot in front of the next. Right foot. Can I really do this? Left foot. Stop it. Be quiet. Right foot. You
can still run away.
 Left
foot. No, I can’t. This is
justice
. That’s right; this is
justice, so there is no way I’ll do nothing again. It’s not just for me,
anyway; it’s for Ma.

A couple weeks ago, Ma lost her job. The restaurant
inexplicably shut down, leaving the staff jobless and without their paycheck. I
wanted to work, but Ma refused. Setting her confident gaze on me, she teased,
“Boy, I’ve raised you by myself for all your life. You just keep on learning;
this is nothin’. Nothin’.” Ma seemed confident enough, so I believed her. I had
no reason not to. We missed our rent for the month, but that shouldn’t have
been an issue. Ma would find a new job, I would go to school, life would
proceed as usual.

I remember watching TV while Ma was at the table filling
out a job application. She rubbed her temples, joking that the process was
giving her a terrible headache. The front door then shot open, booming like a
gunshot, before the landlord’s stout frame sluggishly slumped in. I jerked back
from my seat, nearly falling over. However, Ma stood up, hard as a wall. “I
told you, I’d get you your money soon. Now get out of my house.”

The landlord sneered. “Your house? I believe this is my house.
And some people who are willing to pay are looking to live in my house, so unless you
can pay up now, get the hell out of here.”

Without missing a beat, Ma shouted back, “I’ve been here
twenty years. Your greedy ass has barely been here five months, and now you
think you’re the king of the world? You better leave before I make you leave.”

Ma and the landlord locked eyes, neither moving an inch.
I could only watch, helpless like a cub in a struggle between two predators.
One second passed by. Two seconds. Ten seconds. Finally, the landlord dropped
his gaze. Ma’s dark face seemed to lighten for a split second –before the
landlord’s knuckles painted it red.

Setting his aggravated gaze on me, the landlord slurred
out, “Boy, if you don’t get outta here by next week, the police will be here to
make you get out.” My body stiffened, I somehow managed to nod. He swaggered
back out the door, a satisfied grin on his face. Even after he left, I didn’t
move. I didn’t have it in me to move.

The groan coming from beside me snapped me out of my
reverie. I felt tears streaming down my face, a river of anger, despair, and
shame. “Ma, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I should’ve done something, I should’ve
stopped him, I should’ve hit him back, I should’ve —”

“Hush, boy, there was nothin’ you could do. I’m just glad
you’re all right. I’m fine, just get me some ice.” Tears still streaming down
my face, I wordlessly grabbed an ice pack from the fridge and pressed it to her
face. We stayed like that for a while, Ma with her eyes closed, and me trying
to stop the bleeding.

I barely slept that night. All I could see was Ma’s
bloody face, swollen and cut. It haunted me, a specter wrenching me away from
the blissful peace of slumber, forcing me to cope with its gruesome presence.
At some point, I fell asleep; the next thing I remember is waking up to a
sickening crash. I rushed out of my bed as fast as I could, finding Ma face
down on the ground, still as a statue.

Throwing myself to her side, I shook her. “Ma, wake up,
wake up.” No response. I dialed 911, and as the paramedic arrived, I saw her
check Ma’s pulse. One second passed. Two seconds. Ten seconds. She then looked
at Ma’s eyes; one of them was dilated, the side where she was hit. Her eyes
looked empty, devoid of joy, laughter, love. Looking straight at me, the
paramedic softly said, “Son, your mother is dead. It looks like she died from
an intracranial hemorrhage, which means she had bleeding inside her brain. I’ll
call the police, and you can explain what happened.”

I sat there, stunned, hoping, wishing, praying that this
was just a dream. I would wake up, Ma would make me breakfast, I would go out
and play some basketball. No. No. No. This cannot be real. Ma would never leave
me like this, she was too strong to die.

The next few hours blanked in and out. Multiple police
officers asked me many questions, endless questions, that I didn’t want to
answer. But it would help find the killer, so I answered them anyway. Too many
faces, too many words, I just wanted to curl up and eventually wake up from
this nightmare. However, I remembered someone whispering, “We need to sweep
this under the rug. The man who did this is friends with the police chief, and he
doesn’t want the hassle. Say she fell and hit her head. Problem solved.”

I knew then. I knew that I was the only person in the
entire world who cared about why Ma died. No one will help me, no one will do
it for me. If only I hadn’t been so cowardly, this might not have even happened
in the first place.

That led me to this moment. A skinny boy, waiting in the
shadows for a stout man. A switchblade in my hand, blade more than sharp enough
to kill this man. Fear stopped me from impeding him before; fear will not stop
me today. Unleashing a guttural cry, I rushed forward, plunging the blade into
his chest. I felt his body stiffen, but I could smell the alcohol. He would not
put up much of a fight.

I ripped the blade out and plunged it in again, and
again, and again. I kept on going until I could no longer feel my arm. I stepped
back, drenched in blood. Inhaling deeply, I tasted the metallic scent in the
air. It tasted sweet.

Body shaking, I walked back down the dark, empty street,
utterly alone.

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