I had wondered how I would die many times before, through the course of a life lived under the sign of violence. But never had I thought I would meet my demise in such a fitting way.
And I had no doubts that this was the end of the road for me, alright. Too many wounds to vital organs, but just enough to leave me conscious for a small moment.
Around me laid thugs, groaning as they were bleeding to death. They were the members of a small, but cruel, gang that had been terrorizing the little town I had made my nest in. In their last moments, they were probably surprised and confused that the old man that had approached them had turned out to be so dangerous. But I couldn’t blame them. They couldn’t know that from my early teenage years until a few years ago, I had been dealing in sanctioned murder.
Well, ’sanctioned’ depending on who you asked.
My “career” started in a forgotten African nation, with me as a child soldier under the banner of “The Populist Liberation Army,” following the orders of an unhinged monster and ended several decades later as a respected member of the regular army, serving a whole other breed of monsters. One that would drink fine wine and wear shining shoes.
I left, not because I was disgusted with being nothing more than a weapon, not because of my body breaking down, but because I had found someone that made me believe that the rest of my life could be worth something. Which was quite ironic, considering I was dying for his future.
A young brat, that I had taken under my wing and decided to raise as my own. He was almost feral when I first found him, and now, standing over me with a face full of tears, he had become someone I was proud to call “son”.
He was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Still, I feigned understanding since I knew it mattered more to him than me.
I was dying. Whether I had heard his words or not would not matter. What mattered was for him to not live the rest of his life feeling like he didn’t get to tell me what he wanted to. So I held his face in my hand and did my best to smile as the numbness was overtaking me.
In the corner of my eye I could see his wife holding their daughter with one arm and crying to a phone she held in her free hand. She was a brave girl, and I was glad he had found her. They would be alright.
With the last of my strength, I looked into my son's eyes and focused all of my willpower into talking without slurring.
“Listen well, son... This is for the best. I couldn’t let them hurt you and your family. I know their type better than I want to admit. It would have only gotten worse. And I couldn’t let that happen.”
A coughing fit took me, squandering all of my efforts to appear strong and remain dignified in my last moments. When I finally regained my voice it was weak and shaking, and I knew he could see me as what I truly was: an old weathered old man at death’s doors.
“I lived a long and tiring life, during times I'm glad you can’t possibly imagine,” I continued. “I have seen many things and if there’s one goddam lesson I’ve learned it’s that what you kids have is something worth dying for ten times over... I am just glad I could be part of your family for a little while at least.”
Over the red and blue light show of an ambulance arriving too late, he spoke, and though I still couldn’t hear him, I could read his lips say: “Our family”.
The smile I gave him was a genuine one, “Stay outta trouble son, and live a happy life. One you won’t... regret.”
I died surrounded by my loved ones, which is pretty damn better than a lot of people get. I like to think I crossed to the other side with that smile still on my face.
Able to rest, at last.
... Or so I thought.