I know it would be easy. My body is a collection of delicate bones and organs covered in a thin transparent membrane; a bump against the sharp edge of a kitchen counter could slice open my chest cavity like a bag of spaghetti. You could shake me to death. A gentle shove to the face would snap my neck. I could accidentally drown in a bathtub. The line between life and death for me is so blurred, so precarious, a gust of wind would loosen my soul’s grip on its vessel. Still, though it would be very easy, I urge you not to murder me.
There’s a neighborhood I pass through on the way to the public library, a dangerous poverty-stricken neighborhood. It’s the kind of neighborhood with no one on the streets after 9PM, no one except a scattering of rough looking gentlemen glaring at passersby. There’s the distant sound of police sirens, the shrieking of a couple arguing in front of an apartment building. The only vendors in this neighborhood deal in liquor, short-term loans, and cash for gold. When the citizenry of this neighborhood see me, I know what they’re thinking: there’s a boy who could be easily murdered. He could be murdered so easily, it would be a shame not to murder him, to let the opportunity go to waste, to see his life go unsquelched. I know this because if I saw me, even I would go, “I could murder him if I had the inclination.” I would probably rob myself at the very least. I’m a prime candidate for robbing. Everything about me says, “person from whom you could easily extract valuables.” But then once you rob me, you might as well murder me while you’re at it — it’s like a no brainer. It’d be like ordering pancakes and not getting syrup.
While passing through this neighborhood, a homeless man says, “Hey kid, got any change?” I say no, and then we both walk off in the same direction, alongside one another. I just happen to be on my way to an ATM. This is an unfortunate confluence of events. When we arrive at the ATM, the homeless man stops a few feet away, pulls out a cigarette, and looks around nonchalantly, as if he’s giving serious thought to something besides my imminent homicide. There are no other ATMs I know of in the area, no grocery stores or convenience stores where I can get cash back. I look at him. I look at the ATM. I look back at him. If I withdraw cash, my probability of being murdered will rise dramatically, will, on a graph, be dangerously far along an upward curving slope. For some reason — maybe an inability to conceptualize my own demise — I choose to withdraw the cash anyway.
And of course, the homeless man springs upon me as soon as I put the money in my wallet: “Hey buddy, got anything for me! I got no home, man. I got no home. I need to eat. Don’t tell me you can’t give me nothing now. Don’t you dare tell me you’ve got nothing for me. I need to eat. I’m starving out here. I’m cold, I’m starving, and I’m desperate.” I walk swiftly, without a glance in his direction, the way I’ve been taught to treat the Confrontational Homeless. “Oh,” he says darkly. “That’s how you wanna play it. You gonna do me like that, huh?” Behind me, I hear his footsteps accelerate.
It’s at this point that our encounter transitions from tense to terrifying. I become distinctly aware of my surroundings — this will be the scene of the crime. My long meandering sentence will plant its period on a dirty sidewalk in Chicago. Will there be witnesses? I scan the vicinity — no. Not a single solitary pedestrian in sight. My blood will be spilled in public with no one to call for an ambulance. What will the murder weapon be? The calloused fists of a homeless gentleman. Possibly a heretofore unseen knife. Somehow, he must sense that I use words like “heretofore” and “conceptualize,” the vocabulary of a victim of violent crime, the desperate lexicon of the defenseless.
He’s enunciating so sharply and so close behind me, a drop of spit hits my neck. When I glance back, his face is inches from mine, weathered, glistening with sweat despite the cold. His eyes are wide and his mouth is puckered in that way just before someone says, “Why I oughta…”
“I’m sorry!” I shout. “Please don’t murder me!”
I hear him stop behind me, and then his laughter. “Oh man, am I scaring you? Sorry, buddy. Just trying to make a buck, you know.” He then launches into a tirade far behind me, still directed at me though I can only hear snippets: “People scared of their own shadows,” and “I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”
Up ahead, I see the lights of civilization, the end of the block. I hold my breath until I’m on my own street. Like Orpheus, I must not turn around until I’m out of the underworld, the territory of the poverty-stricken damned. Though I feel a drop of moisture hit my neck, it must be from snow melting on a rooftop or a slight drizzle. If I turn around, I will see him, and I will be murdered. My goal for the next ten minutes is to not be murdered. Although I feel I kind of deserve it, I must not be murdered. Although it would be easier to let it happen, I must not be murdered. And although it would be a much more interesting death than cancer or heart disease, I must not be murdered.