Short Story | Fiction

A Sidestory on a Sidewalk

We always talk of life as a journey— concrete highways and rugged roads and virgin pathways. We like that imaginary feel of the wind as the car races at 80mph: eyes on the road ahead, mind on the steering wheel, heart flying ahead to our destination.

But the fact is that life is most often a pedestrian tale, strolling through uneventful days and nights, weary steps out of boredom and lost directions. And as re-tied my loose shoelaces, I couldn’t help but admire all my fellow joggers.

How can they stay sane running round and round this park?

I shook my head. But then, the park was a better choice than a gym threadmill.

I looked around, hoping to spot a pretty face. And I looked around, hoping somebody more overweight would come along, just so I can feel a little bit better about myself. I was not so lucky this afternoon. Tugging at my socks, I got up and replaced the earphones on my head.

Then along came a caterpillar.

Shoo. I pointlessly thought towards the creature. Part of me wanted to squish it— look at all that pointy hairs! What if a baby touches it? What if it touches me? I shuddered at the memory of my childhood, arms and neck swollen from a bunch of caterpillar that fell on me from a talisay tree. It looked so helpless on the ground. So powerless.

I am your destiny, my evil side chuckled at the hapless caterpillar. My foot gingerly moved to stomp on it… but before I could argue with myself, I picked up a stick instead, coaxed the hairy crawler onto it, and as carefully as I could, transported it on some nearby bush, and…

My thoughts finally snapped back. It was late evening, and I was on the middle of the road.  Talk about sleepwalkers; I just daydream-walked on a green light. Just a few moments ago, I stood frozen, like a dog caught on the rushing headlights. Only this time, it was two pairs of headlights, just a few feet abreast of each other, just a hundred meters away from me.

Great, I’m going to die for something really, really stupid. That was the only thought I managed, as I hopefully stepped on that narrow space between the two. And without realizing, I prayed.

I don’t know what happened to that caterpillar. Maybe it got lost again, only to be squashed some less-sympathetic human. Maybe it was eaten by a bird, or by predatory insects. Maybe it will evolve and scheme of world domination. I don’t know. All I know is that I remember that very spot where I left him, just around twenty meters from where I was standing, before the two pairs of lights flashed and screeched around me.

And there I stood. Alive. Unscratched. And feeling really, really stupid. But grateful.

I wonder if the caterpillar thought the same way, too.

I wonder what would have happened if the drivers panicked as well, or if they didn’t slow down and swerved a bit in time.

I slowly walked to the sidewalk, heart racing, mind both blank and raging with self-depreciating thoughts. And noticed.

My shoelaces were loose again. So I tied them, looking around and hoping nobody witnessed what just happened, nobody to laugh at me.

Another pair of headlights approached, and this time I signalled it for a ride.

I hope the caterpillar is on some branch, trying its best to become a butterfly.

As the car slowly accelerated, I looked at that fateful sidewalk where our fates coincided: two surviving creatures of seemingly trivial worth, sharing a story that nobody would care to know. But being alive never felt as beautiful— even if it didn’t make sense for a short while.

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