A Change of Pace
And finally, it was done. John wiped shaking hands across his sweating brow, and breathed out a deep sigh - releasing all of the tension, doubt, and guilt. He'd done what he had to, and now it was time to move on. If things had been different... but they hadn't been. Sirens sounded in the distance, the high-pitched shrieks a grim call to action. Time to go.
John stuck his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking, and walked. He nodded to the occasional passerby; just another person walking the early morning streets of a downtown marketplace. And why not? He wore the same clothes as everyone else there. He had the same haircut, and even the notable discomfort in his body language was unremarkable. In a society of social discomfort, it's the relaxed ones that stand out.
The sound of signs flipping from "closed" to "open" accompanied him down the sidewalk. He was walking into a new day, and leaving the old ones behind. Behind him doors opened to their first customers of the morning, and the sirens stopped - their destination reached. John kept walking. Past more stores, and out of the market. The friendly facade of architecture gradually shifted into an ambience of looming office buildings, and elegant apartments - fenced in, gated, and hidden from the public like European castles of old; made to display an imposing image of self while hiding the actual person from view.
For blocks this went on, and then, in accordance with some invisible boundary line, the scenery darkened. Soaring skyscrapers of modern design gave way to much older buildings. Crumbling structures of brick - with boarded doors, and broken windows. Here, John stood out in every way. His clothing and presentation marking him an outsider. This was a place that showed the person - bruised, and raw. Here the trappings were stripped away, and the core was revealed - leaving nothing but humanity. Discomfort was ingrained in the very air, the people oversaturated with it until the very concept of comfort was lost to them - taken by forces beyond their reach. This was not a place for those who hid behind the fragile illusion of normal.
John had been a normal person. And now he wasn't. But he didn't fit here either. He saw the faces of suffering, more genuine than anything he'd seen elsewhere. He didn't want what they had, and he wouldn't return to what he had had. John kept walking.
Hours passed, and with them entire genres of city rolled by, and still John walked. He didn't know what he was looking for, but he knew that it was before him, and not behind. He looked back, watching the flashing lights of fire trucks reflecting from a plume of rising smoke. Within it floated the tiny particles of his old life. Memories and sentiment embedded in objects, gone up in smoke. With a final farewell to that which was no more, John turned his back on the city, and walked into the horizon. He didn't know what he was looking for, and he never would if he didn't try.