He wondered who she was. He didn’t know. He would never know. In a city of millions, she was just another nameless face, lost in the crowd, devoured by indifference. He often wondered, if he’d met her while she’d still been alive, if she would’ve liked him, if he would’ve liked her.
Probably not. He’d met plenty of runaways before, and they were damaged goods. They only saw him as a cop who hassled them, and they weren’t wrong. He did hassle them. He shooed them away from the places they weren’t supposed to be, even knowing that it just drove them deeper into the shadows, the forgotten places. He tried, every so often, to help one. It never worked.
He didn’t know why this one mattered to him. He’d seen dead people before. Kids and old people, junkies and the well-to-do. Everybody died. He tried to convince himself that it was just the way it was. It didn’t matter how you died. It matter how you lived.
She hadn’t lived well. She’d been used up, broken, tossed aside. By the time he found her, crying in that alley, it was already too late. She was dying. Finishing up dying. She’d been dying for a long time.
She had looked up at him with those sunken eyes, and he’d seen nothing but pain and tragedy, of a life filled with bad decisions and bad luck. Just another discarded soul.
“You need to get going,” he’d said to her.
She’d stood on trembling legs, and he’d thought about offering her some money. He didn’t. But he thought about it.
He found her dead, in the same alley, two days later. He wondered if he could’ve helped her. He wondered if any of it mattered. Since then, there wasn’t an hour when he didn’t see her face and regret not trying. Hadn’t she at least deserved that? Hadn’t she been a goddamn human being, and so what if he offered her a hand and she chose not to take it? It was her right.
He’d taken that away from her.
It was eating away at him, but damned if he could change it now. He had to let it go. Otherwise, he couldn’t do his job. But he didn’t want to let it go. It was the only thing inside of him that kept him human. Without it, he was only another machine walking these empty streets.
“Hey, man,” said a kid, couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen. “You got a buck?”
He considered the kid. Not many street people talked to cops. This kid must’ve been new. He’d learn.
“I got five bucks.”
He handed the kid the money, knowing it would be wasted, knowing there was nothing to do with it but waste it. What was the kid going to do? Start a savings account? No, he’d blow it. But it least it was something. At least it was an acknowledgment from one human being to another.
“Hey, thanks, man.” The kid walked off as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
He smiled. He couldn’t save the world. He couldn’t even save one kid, but maybe that wasn’t what mattered. Maybe guilt wasn’t the right thing. Maybe he could carry the weight of past sins without being burdened by them. Or maybe it was all bullshit.
But as the kid strolled the corner, whistling, he thought to himself, maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t.