A narrow band of sunshine pushed its way between the two curtain halves and into the small one room flat. It was enough to cause James to blink slightly then wake up.
He looked around the room for a moment, puzzled by his surroundings then remembered he was now a civilian, living in the civilian world. He rolled over slightly and picked up the half full pack of Marlboros and his lighter.
As he worked to light one of the cigarettes, he slipped his legs over the edge of his bed and drew in on the cigarette. He blew out the smoke and thought, “I need to quit these things.”
James recalled that he started smoking as a response to the stress he felt out in the arid desert of Iraq. He needed something to do with his hands after that first fire-fight and one of his buddies offered him a smoke.
“That’s been a long time ago,” he thought. James realized that he’d no longer need them as he wasn’t in a place where 10 to a 100 people got killed everyday by snipers or car bombs.
He smiled, knowing he had survived all that. ”Today’s a perfect day,” he James thought.
Now that James realized that he was back in the World, he relaxed a little and snuffed out the cigarette between his fingers. He resolved that this cigarette would be his last one.
He looked around his room and reached for his jeans.
After getting dressed, James walked to the window and peered outside. He still felt a small reservation about standing directly in front of the large piece of glass. His combat instinct always came on strong as he approached the window.
“After three weeks,” he thought, “You’d think I’d shake that whole idea.”
The street was busy; cars, truck and buses driving by. He could see the corner market from his place and a he decided to go over and buy a cup of coffee.
James had come to enjoy the sweet taste of a French-vanilla cappuccino. He had drunk the stuff the Army tries to pass off as coffee for much too long. The cappuccino was a benefit of being a civilian once again.
He grabbed up his camera, draped it over his shoulder and stepped out of his room and into the hallway.
Down stairs he stood on the sidewalk watching as people walked by completely unconcerned with the activities going on around them. It was something he had never paid much attention to when he was younger.
He was just 18 years old when he joined and after three tours in Iraq, he was the old man of the outfitted when he mustered out four years later. He saw that a number of things in the World had changed since he had been away or perhaps it was he who had changed.
Either way James was now a free man to pursue his dream of being a photographer. That’s why he was living in New York City rather than returning home to the farm in Nebraska.
The decision had been met as a scandal by his folks and friends back home. However James knew that he couldn’t return directly to a quiet life of farming after the three and a half years he had spent in the Middle East. He needed the excitement of a large city like New York, besides that is where his school was located.
He waited for the little green man to appear on the crosswalk light across the street. When it did, he moved with the mob of humanity from one corner to the next. He repeated the action again to get to the market.
James poured his coffee and paid the clerk for the hot brew. He stepped outside and wondered what he would do with the remainder of his day.
“I think I’ll just walk around and snap some photos for the hell of it,” James thought.
It was about that time that a young white man walked up to him and asked, “Hey buddy, you got a light?
James placed his cup of coffee on a yellow pole that was employed by the market to prevent vehicles from driving through the large glass doors and windows and reached into his shirt pocket, searching for the book of matches only to realize he had left them on his nightstand in his room.
Then he awful realization came to him; he was about to be mugged by the white man asking for a match. This realization was too late.
Without warning, he was facing a pistol and the man was yanking his camera from his shoulder. James grabbed the strap, hoping to hold onto his prized-possession.
James saw the flash of the gun barrel but never heard the report. He felt a heavy punch to his chest and that the punch had knocked him down. James was surprised by the lack of pain.
When he awoke, he was looking down on an ashen-colored black man. It was his body, laying flat across the sidewalk as a small crowd had formed around him.
James recognized himself. He was confused by the sight of his lifeless body. He saw a small wisp of steam rising from his cup of coffee as it was still resting on the top of the yellow pole. In the distance was the sound of sirens.
James felt a warm sensation envelope him as he floated ever higher. Then suddenly his view went dark and knew he was dead.
It was the ending of a perfect day.