"An Arbitrary, Beautiful, Tragic Life"
Some people like to think that the sum of our present actions will influence future fates. They think that what goes around comes around, to be trite. They believe—or try to, at least—that being a good person is something that will necessarily garner a reward eventually. But is this the only reason for humans to display compassion for one another? The prize? What if no reward was guaranteed? Would people continue to be selfless?
Edward Thomas is only one person, so it would be unfair to base the expected actions of all humans on his deeds and subsequent destiny. But Edward Thomas is human, if there ever was one. Ed was a police officer for the San Antonio Police Department. He was 31 years old, married with two children, and actively religious and spiritual. Ed coached little league baseball, he recycled, and he never complained to his next-door neighbor, Don, about the fact that Don’s oak tree regularly shed leaves into Ed’s swimming pool. He generally drove the speed limit, he rarely raised his voice at anyone, and he always gave his spare change to Bruce, the homeless man that sat outside of the McDonald’s on San Pedro Avenue.
To say it quite frankly, Edward Thomas was a kind-hearted man. He always held the belief that everything happens for a reason, and this had always comforted him through hard times.
That is, until today.
Today was just another day for Edward Thomas. It was a Thursday. It was hot, but sunny and pleasant. Ed was walking down Commerce Street at 4:27 pm, casually observing the humdrum buzz of downtown San Antonio, waiting for 5 o’clock to pass so he could return home to see his beautiful wife and two precious daughters, Annalise and Sadie. His car was parked at the intersection of Market Street and Navarro, so he figured that by the time he reached it, he could drive back to the station and prepare to call it a day. Home not long after 5:15. Edward sighed peacefully. Nothing out of the ordinary had taken place today. And Edward was content.
Suddenly, the serenity that Edward was feeling dissolved as a slim, yet athletic, man tripped and fell while sprinting across Commerce Street. The man’s left elbow broke his fall, and his ink-black hair draped over his eyes as his mouth formed a pained grimace. As the man fell, he dropped an unwrapped cardboard box, about half the size of a shoebox, into the middle of the street. Edward, who was keenly aware of his surroundings, noticed a bus driving down the street at a speed that didn’t suggest the intent to stop.
Edward uninhibitedly sprang into action by leaping into the street and taking hold of the man’s torso with his right arm. He even had the wherewithal to snag the fallen box in his left hand. He knew the man was afraid based on the tension his body exerted in this perilous situation. He lifted the man with the breed of strength that can only be achieved through pure adrenaline, and saw the utter terror in the man’s swimming-pool-blue eyes. Edward dove to the other side of the street with the man, safely. The bus sped by.
Edward glanced down at the face of the man he had just saved. He appeared to be in his early twenties or so. He had caramel skin, black stubble on his cheeks from two days of not shaving, and moist sweat forcing his coarse strands of hair to stick together. Edward heard him panting in short, rapid, successive breaths and he felt the fear-induced rigidity abandon the man’s body as he realized he was safe. He then took note of the thankful look on the man’s nervous face, even though the man’s eyes were closed and welling up with tears.
Edward absorbed the entire scene. He digested the weight of his heroic act. He had saved the life of another human being. He had stepped in between a man and death and had conquered the insurmountable. To sum it up with an understatement, he had done something good.
The man finally opened his eyes and they looked at each other for the very first time.
“Thank you… so much,” said the man in a quavering voice. “I cannot thank you enough.”
“It’s okay, sir,” said Edward Thomas. “What’s your name?”
“Scott,” he replied. “Just Scott.”
“You are not injured, are you?”
“I’ll be okay,” answered a distracted Scott.
“Just take it easy. You’ve had a rough day,” said Edward with a subtle smile forming at the corners of his mouth.
“God bless you,” the man said. Edward smiled and presented the salvaged box in his outstretched left arm.
“Here’s your box.”
At that moment, a voice from across the street called out in their direction. Both men turned their heads.
“Stop that man! He stole a watch from our store!”
Edward Thomas and Scott looked at each other again – this time, each displaying an air that bordered confusion and suspicion. Up to this point, Scott had yet to realize that Edward was a police officer. Scott’s eyes grew wide in slow motion, like a close-up in a Clint Eastwood movie.
In one quick motion, the man reached into his pocket and unveiled a small handgun. He pointed it at Edward Thomas and pulled the trigger.
Edward had a split-second of brain activity where his emotion could best be described as morbid self-satisfaction. He knew, at that moment, that he would not have acted any differently if he had had another chance.
He had no regrets.
He had no self-pity.
In this split-second, all he truly possessed was an ironic sense of fulfillment.
The bullet entered Edward Thomas’s body through his forehead and exited through a hole it created at the base of his skull.
Edward Thomas died instantly. He never got his reward.