Walker

I see it in his eyes, a wild restlessness,
the mask he once wore melting into the surface of his skin,
molding crudely into the bloody flesh of his face,
a face that was always beautiful, always stoic.
These days he looked more raw muscle than human,
like the face he had before was just a curtain hiding the bare visage beneath.

“You haven’t seen what I’ve seen,” my mama tells me,
her eyes wide with horror, the thought still ripe from memory,
“people change like day to night,
they become something different, they turn into animals.”
Her wide eyes shrink back to their normal size
and they fill with sadness once her thoughts settle like dust on a table.
“People lose their humanity,” she says, her voice thick with disbelief.
I take her hands in mine and squeeze them for warmth,
warmth of yesterday, today, tomorrow, the next day.
“You were in survival mode,” I tell her solemnly, my voice so small I can barely hear it. I was speaking a lie and I knew it. She knew it too, and shook her head.
“It doesn’t matter how things are going, my darling,” mama explains, “you never lose your humanity for it. Never.”
Her words echoed in my head, distant here, louder there,
ringing around me like the aftermath of a giant gong.
“Humanity,” mama said after a time. “It wasn’t worth very much at the time.” She closed her eyes and nodded disapprovingly to herself.

I did see it in his eyes. Mama was right.
His face was one thing but the eyes another.
More potent, more terrible, more truer than the rest.
Every day he changed, the differences small and subtle but always there.
I know he killed that man, deep inside my gut I knew it.
“To survive,” I’m sure he would’ve told me. Only to survive.
But how does that make him less human than the rest of us? I thought to myself. He was only looking out for himself, he had no choice.
No choice? There was always a choice. Together they could’ve been stronger, could’ve survived together.
Together.
We’re selfish in varying degrees, I thought. He killed that man without thought of the consequences. He’s never had any sense of humanity.

Maybe that’s why he never made it out.
He took a life and lost his.
Any way you tip the scale, it was an even trade.
Humanity for humanity or in his case,
never having it meant never having to deal with its burden.
Then again, he’s dead and we live.

RTH

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