How do you choose who will lead you?

Two men walk the empty streets, hunched shoulders separated by the length of a tall man. Their frail bodies stooped forward as if to carry the weight of the canyon of empty buildings they walked through.

“It’s time to decide.”

“I know. But I can’t. How about you?”

“All I know is that we need a change.”

“We’ve always said that.”

“I know, but this time we really need a change.”

“Let’s break it down. What do you want to change most.”

The other man strains his neck skyward, slowly taking in the full height of the dark facades around them.

“Kind of late to fix this mess, don’t you think?”

“No. I don’t think it’s ever too late. What we need is someone from the outside.”

“Outside our borders?”

“Don’t be stupid. I mean outside of the group of flyboys that usually control things.”

The first man kicks at a faded aluminum can lying amid the other garbage on the crumbling pavement. A smallish rat darts from the gutter toward the tinkling of the metal on the asphalt, sniffing the ground where it had been, perhaps hoping for a newly-revealed crumb. Seeing none, it eyes the men briefly, then returns to the side of the street to gnaw the remnants of a bit of paper.

“So you want a poor person?”

“I don’t know. I just know we can’t keep going like this. Maybe a business person.”

“The business people are already in charge. All they know is profit.”

“Not THOSE business people. I was thinking more like someone who has a smaller business.”

“Name one.”

“What about that guy who invented that thing-a-ma-jig last year? There’s a smart guy.”

“Bought out by the big business. Lives on an island somewhere warm now, I hear.”

“Maybe the gal who had that program that scanned the news and pointed out the lies.”

“That went over real well, huh? I wonder what happened to her?”

“Don’t think I ever heard.”

“What about the basketball guy?”

The first man snorts a little. “He talks a good game, but life isn’t a game. He’d just continue to make people choose sides — it’s all about winning to somebody like that.”

“Wasn’t there a doctor that maybe…”

The walk comes to an abrupt halt. “You don’t believe this all happened because of a virus, do you?”

“Well, sure. Don’t you?”

“Viruses have been around for millions of years. Plenty of them can kill you. But this?” the first man asks as he again lifts his eyes to the vacant streetscape. “We were headed here all on our own. The virus simply finished us off.”

“But the economy was booming.”

“Sure, for those who were really a part of it. Were you rich before?”

“I had a house.”

“Free and clear?”

“Well no.”

“So you had a mortgage and a place to live. How much you think the CEO of the bank that really owned your house made in a year?”

“More than me I guess. But at least I had a job.”

“You make as much as the guy who owned the company you worked for?”

“Of course not. That wouldn’t make sense. He built the company.”

“You think he had a mortgage on his house?”

There is a long pause before the second man answers. “Probably not. He had three houses. So you think greed caused this?”

“I think it was just one more thing for people to argue about. Honestly, I think it was the arguing that brought us down.”

“It did get pretty bad, huh? First the shouting, then the shooting.”

“And the pushing and shoving. That’s what I remember most. Endlessly trying to stay on my feet in whatever line I was standing in, waiting for God knows what, while being pushed by the crowd.”

“Until the shoving turned into beating.”

The first man strides to the remnants of a concrete bench, now not much more than a heap of concrete and rusted rebar, but it at least offered a spot for the weary men to rest briefly. Old habits kick in as they eye opposite ends of the concrete pile, carefully spacing themselves the required distance apart. The second man laughs a little and shakes his head. “I guess it doesn’t really matter how far apart we sit anymore, does it?”

“Not really,” smiles the first man. “You know, way back when I was in school, we had debate teams. I was on one. They took us on busses to other schools to hold debates. Remember school trips?”

The second man grins and closes his eyes. “For me it was band. I played the tuba. I’d almost forgotten.”

“The thing about staged debates was that you didn’t know which side of an argument you were going to be arguing. It forced you to actually evaluate both sides. You couldn’t win if you didn’t do that.”

“Sounds weird now when you think of it. That form of arguing sure fell by the roadside right along with the schools and the busses, huh?”

“Studying both sides of things before you open your mouth? Yup, I’d say it got ditched a long time ago.”

The two men sigh, almost in unison. “So who then?”

“How do you think we survived it all? You and me. People like us.”

“When we were in the thick of it, I always figured I must have done something really bad in my life to have deserved living through all this.”

The first man nods. “It felt that way for a while, huh? But that’s not what I really think now.”

“Nah, me neither. I always tried to be one of the good guys.”

“So who made us want to be good, do good things?”

“My Ma, God rest her soul.”

Without missing a beat, the first man utters the words that came automatically, “Sorry for your loss.”

Again, there was a heavy sigh as the two men consider all those they had lost, all those the world had lost, some without any accounting, any remembrance, any acknowledgment.

“My third-grade teacher.”


“Besides my mom, Mrs. Benson, my third-grade teacher is the one who taught me right from wrong.”

Together they grin. “So that’s it then?” asks the second man. “We need a teacher to get us out of this mess?”

“I’d like to think it would help.”

“Do you know any?”

There was a long pause. “Maybe it doesn’t have to be a teacher, maybe just someone who once listened to one. Someone who remembers what it was like to open yourself up to new ideas. Someone who isn’t afraid of asking for help when they don’t know what they’re doing.”

The second man lights up as if he has been given a prize for coming up with the correct answer. The smile fades as the men turn their heads to the sky, listening for the faint whir of tiny blades stirring the air. They were used to listening — all too familiar with the disturbance of the silence.

Together they rose from their perches, first separating a pace or two, then each taking hurried steps toward the safety of separate dilapidated doorways.

“So, we’ll start looking for someone tomorrow?” asks the second man before he ducks inside the shelter of a doorway.

“Nah, pipe dreams. I’ll do the usual and stick with the guy who’s in charge now,” the first man’s words echo unanswered across the canyon as the small white drone drops from the sky, hovering a few feet from his hiding place in the darkened doorway.

From deep within the crumbling structure, a third, older, more weary voice states the obvious. “What wouldn’t we give for a truly private conversation, huh?”

“Except that we have nothing left to give, do we?”

Written by

8x NATJA prize winner; #TBINchat host; pericarditis patient. Found on: Newsweek, Cruise Critic, MSN Travel. Writer’s Toolkit

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