I have always considered myself a nice guy and yes I know that, according to any number of pop culture references, nice guys finish last. So what? What does that actually mean? Last in what?
I contemplate this idea as I begin my slow trudge home from the bus stop. The concept of nice guys finishing last doesn’t make sense. Last implies a singular person but if there are multiple nice guys then we can’t all finish last can we? Nice guys have to win, or at least not come last, some times. Don’t they?
The bus driver didn’t seem to think so. He was surly, and only barely passable as a competent driver, but I still thanked him for his service as I disembarked. I like to acknowledge people that are often ignored by others, to let them know I appreciate their role in society. This particular bus driver, however, did not care for my thanks and instead he hastily shut the door before I had fully exited, jamming my foot on the way.
I stop to rub my aching ankle before commencing the last stretch of my journey up the darkened lane toward my parent’s home. My home. I always forget to call it my home even though my parents have been dead for over a year now and, through the magic of inheritance law, I am the not-so-proud homeowner of my parents rambling and run down home.
Not many 21 year olds have even started considering how to enter the property market and here I am with an entire house all to myself, completely debt-free. And all I had to do was lose both parents to cancer in the same year. Not really worth it in my opinion.
I have my nightly battle with the front gate. It puts up it’s usual early resistance before emitting a loud groan as it throws itself open under my heavy second push. I check the mailbox (empty except for a credit card offer for my parents) and as I turn to shut the gate I notice the shadowy bulk of a person sitting underneath the jacaranda tree by the footpath.
The unreliable streetlights are broken again and the only nearby light is the soft red glow coming from the stranger’s cigarette. His silhouette is large and muscular and I contemplate running inside and locking the door but his body language paints of a picture of despair more than danger. The nice guy beats the coward inside me.
“Hello?” The nice guy voice apparently comes fully equipped with high pitch and nervous waver. I clear my throat and try again.
“Hello. Are you alright?”. The figure blows his smoke out into the silence and suddenly turns around.
“Oh. Me? Are you talking to me?” His voice simultaneously frightens and comforts me. It has a strong and booming sound, almost too deep to be humanly possible but also calm and confident.
“Well I wasn’t talk to the tree.” I say, a little too snarkily.
“There’s no need to be like that.” He turns back to face the road and takes another puff on his cigarette. “I’ve seen some strange things in my time and talking to trees is not as uncommon as you might think….Wait. Why are you talking to me? People don’t normally talk to me.”
The overwhelming feeling of loneliness flows through his words and I find myself feeling sorry for him.
“Some people must talk to you.” I venture a few steps closer so that I am standing next to him but still far enough away to be out of reach in case he does turn out to be crazy and tries to attack me. This nice guy isn’t a complete idiot.
“Welllll. Sort of. It’s more that they listen to me and then talk to themselves.” He sits there, unmoved reminding me of a giant passive boulder. On impulse I decide he isn’t dangerous and I sit myself down next to him. His eyes, glowing red from the cigarette light, flicker briefly towards me before returning to their vacant stare at the road.
“Do you work at psych ward or something?”
He laughs a booming ironic laugh and I feel immediately uncomfortable again.
“Not quite.” His eyes flicker back to me again. It dawns on me that he is wary of me. Me?! The man looks like he could pick me up and crush me with one arm but he is eyeing me as if I might be the dangerous one. Silence takes over.
“I’m Peter.” I pipe up, never a fan of too much silence. As a reflex I also stick my hand out to shake and I immediately regret it. His eyes waver between my hand and my face. Like most of my socially awkward conversations I revert back to discussing work.
“I’m a barista…and a third year law student.” The stranger slowly extends his arm, as if it is a snake, but our hands eventually grasp and an extremely slow and awkward shake ensues. The touch instantly enlivens him.
“How many times have people made a joke about the barista who wants to be a barrister?”
“None actually.” I laugh.
“Oh. Damn. I had a good one too.” He takes another puff on his cigarette before realising I am looking at him expectantly. “OK Here goes…My name is…I’m…well…I’m The Devil and…well, you know, I’m The Devil. Name and job title all in one.”
The silence returns.
Am I dead? Did I just fall over and die somewhere on the way home? Or did my foot actually get caught in the bus door and my flailing body was dragged several hundred metres down the street before the surly bus driver noticed and stopped, my body just a bloodied mess? Probably not. I’d never die in such a strange and captivating way. I probably stopped to tie up my shoelace, overbalanced, fell, and hit my head on a hidden tree root. Quiet and unassuming, even in death.
I snap out of my reverie and notice the stranger is looking at me expectantly.
“Seems a bit unfair.” I muse.
“I thought I’d been pretty nice. Why am I going to hell?”
“Who said anything about going to hell?” He smiles, seemingly enjoying the conversation now. Meanwhile my frustration was building.
“I’m confused. You said you were The Devil didn’t you?”
“So I’m dead and you’re here to take me to hell right?”
“Yes I am The Devil but no you are not dead and no I am not taking you to hell. That’s not even my job. You’re thinking of The Grim Reaper.”
My head was swimming with a thousand thoughts and a million questions but they couldn’t form an orderly line and instead I merely ended up with a jumbled wordless mess instead. I examined my hands and they seemed real enough so I reached out to touch the so-called Devil. He felt real too.
“That is the weird part.” He remarked. “You’re alive yet you are able to see me, talk to me, and touch me.. That’s not good. I don’t like it.”
“Pardon?” My brain finally established some order and realised what he was saying. “Are you saying you wish I hadn’t seen you? That you wish I had not stopped to say hello and just left you out here to wallow instead?” I felt indignant. My stupid nice guy attitude had taken over again for nothing. This obviously crazy man just wanted to be alone. So be it.
“Well that’s enough of this nonsense.” I pushed myself up and distanced myself from the stranger. “I thought finding a stranger outside my house might have been fate or a sign from God but…”
“Ha!” His sharp laugh interrupted me as he shook his head. “God? Really?” His mocking tone made my blood boil. I hate being mocked.
“This has been anything but pleasant.” I made sure to take a few more steps away. “You sir are a wanker. I’m going inside now and leave you to…whatever this bullshit is.” I gestured airily around him before hurrying over to my door, fumbling the keys in the lock, and stepping inside.
Once I crossed the threshold in to the safety of my house I paused to turn around and look back at the giant crazy man, still sitting sullenly under the jacaranda tree He did look lonely.
“Mr Devil?” I called.
“It’s the The Devil”. He sighed.
“Get the fuck off my property.”