A World of Guilty People
It’s funny how a life can fall apart in a day. In the screeching of tyres, glass smashing and then blood, blood everywhere and sirens. So many sirens, so much blue and red, and so many questions. Too many questions, too much guilt.
And now just stains, the stain of faintly pink water on the road, underneath a KFC sign. I approach it gingerly and there’s still shards of glass tucked away in the gutter, the fire hydrant unhinged from the high pressure hose they had to use to get the rest of him off the road. The smell of disinfectant, a lemon so strong you can feel the yellow burning your nostrils.
I sit down under the KFC sign, on the curb, close enough for drivers to honk but not so close that my body goes skidding along with his ghost. The KFC guy in the sign smiles blankly across the road and I remember all those time I smiled back, wishing I could duck in and share a bucket of nuggets with Oscar.
Now all I can think about is what those black eyes have seen. How his apron just looks like an off- shade of Oscar’s blood on the ground, flat and glistening red.
Did you know him? Did he seem upset beforehand? Did you catch the number plate of the car? Did you see the driver? How did you know him? Can you try not to blame yourself?
I close my eyes and breathe out. Feel the swish of a car passing a little too close, the adrenaline of it catching in my throat with the tears. My eyes open again with saline clung to the lashes, tears that blur the traffic pole across the road into a person. A girl, with long brown hair and a laugh as warm as her skin. She’s laughing, hair flicking about with the winking of lights. If I squint hard enough, she’s got Oscar on her arm too, grinning at his girlfriend.
“Did you know him?” The nurse in the white apron asks and it helps to watch her, keep his eyes away from that thing on the table that’s supposed to be Oscar.
That was an easy one. Of course. Everybody at school knew Oscar and he knew everyone. He was the kind of person you couldn’t help knowing. Oscar Gamble, with his extensive knowledge of musicals and TV shows, and the kind of personality that just seemed to conduct light.
“Did he seem upset beforehand?” It’s a different nurse this time, smiling with white teeth and a face that’s too friendly to be made of anything other than plastic.
Not any less than usual. Maybe. I don’t know, I couldn’t tell. Oscar was always sad, in a way. Or at least around me he was, and that’s not surprising in the slightest. Oscar was a stage-performer, you could never tell if he was wearing make-up and a false smile unless you leaned in close. Not enough people were close enough.
I lean back on the kerb, and watch the cars scrape past my shoes, imagining his voice among the loud noises, with his hidden sadness bleeding into his words. A perpetual regret that he once confessed to me on a night of uncertainty and love. He was filled up with a million paper concerns wetted with guilt, about being a good son, a good friend and a good boyfriend. About being good enough.
Maybe he had had too much guilt to bear.
“Did you catch the number plate of the car? Did you see the driver?” A policeman in a black cap, checked squares in a neat strip across the front. He looks serious in this stony way that isn’t melting or bubbling like everything else around here.
No, I didn’t. It happened too fast. They just hit Oscar and sped off, tracking his lifeblood behind them. Bastard.
I wonder if the driver feels bad now. If they’re looking at the same stars as me and feeling this hole burning into their heart. If they even know what happened. If it was their fault at all. If they’re guilty but they don’t feel the guilt, are they still guilty?
“How did you know him?” It’s Clarissa, with her warm, round face and eyes like fat, shiny raindrops, still in her pyjamas from when she got the call.
I look at the Clarissa across the road and smile at her. She’s dancing slowly around the traffic light, watching me with those raindrop eyes. I tell her the truth.
“I knew him like you did, Clarissa,” I say, words swept away by sleek cars, “Intimately, inside and out. Every inch of him, and probably more than that. I knew him like he was the world.”
She tilts her head at me as I take a breath that cracks, “I loved him. He loved me. We loved each other, secretly, when nobody knew. But he loved you too, Clarissa. He was always worried sick about you, he always blamed himself and felt guilty.
“He cheated on you with me, he made me feel loved when no one else did or could. But you know what? I don’t think anyone is guilty of wanting to love and be loved, in the end. Oscar loved everyone, and you and I both just happened to love him back.”
“Can you try not to blame yourself?” My mum glances across at me, watching me over the seatbelt. I had shrugged then. Is it possible to ever not blame yourself? Guilt is like this universal thing that transcends relationships and boundaries. Of course I blame myself. Just like the driver probably does. And Clarissa, and Oscar’s parents and all of his friends. The guy across the road, even. Winding guilt around ourselves because of all these things we ‘could’ve’ done.
I could’ve stopped him to talk for another second, asked him one more question. We could’ve missed the train, tripped on the sidewalk, loved him a little more. One second’s difference was all it took, one distraction, one person, for him to be here. Everyone could’ve done something. But we didn’t.
“Whose fault is it really?” The Clarissa across the street asks, across the stains.
“I don’t know.” I reply. “They’re not sure if he stepped in the way on purpose. But it’s the driver’s fault, for speeding off. And mine too, for wanting him to love me. And yours, and his family’s, for all of the ‘could’ve’s. And the universe’s really. We did everything and nothing. We’re a world of guilty people.”