Eli the Hero

Contrary to what Eli had been told about the meaning of his name, he certainly did not feel as though he were a “defender of man”. He saw his existence to be a rather quiet one. He had at one point had aspirations of bigger things, but found himself working as a third shift data entry clerk at a big Internet company. Eli had little understanding of what his employer actually did, or what affect his efforts had on his employer’s ability to do what they did. Eli rationalized that he was not qualified for a more important job, perhaps one that paid a little more. Eli lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment on the South side of town. It was certainly not the kind of place one would want to bring a date. Not that this mattered; Eli had trouble even making eye contact with a member of the opposite sex. “What would someone like that want with me?”, Eli asks himself as he dodges the glance of a female coworker by quickly directing his focus to the computer in front of him. To call his workspace a cubicle would be a grand exaggeration. Eli and several of his coworkers sat at a long table. A space was allocated for each employee by carpet-covered dividing walls. The company added this carpet after an employee wounded himself on the metal barriers that used to do the job. According to witnesses, a coworker had moved this employee’s chair in an effort at a practical joke. When the employee, without looking, reached out to lean against the chair that had been there moments before, he lost his balance and fell head-first into the top corner of a metal barrier.
    Eli was not particularly good at his job. He spent most of his time at work just trying to stay off his supervisor’s radar. It didn’t take much to keep a job like his. You just had to avoid making any huge mistakes and getting caught not working. This was not incredibly difficult as supervision was rather limited. His supervisor would make the rounds twice a day, once at the start of the day and again after lunch. Eli had established that he could get away with pretty much anything he wanted as long as he was working when his supervisor passed at these two times. The lack of accountability was freeing in a way, and yet mildly numbing.
    Eli ached for human contact. He thought this job would be more enjoyable than his last. He left a position at a technical support company for this job. He figured the lack of interactions with angry customers would make up for the reduction in pay. Eli was not a confrontational person. On occasion, he found himself crying on one end of a phone call, unpermitted to hang up his phone, as a customer verbally abused him from the other end. The lack of human interaction was what made this job promising. Eli had failed to account for the all together lack of social interaction. Eli felt increasingly isolated. Life was no-longer enjoyable. He had fallen into a monotonous daily routine. His work involved no mental ability. It was one that could have been done by a computer, if only a computer had eyes and fingers. Eli contemplated killing himself, but lacked the courage to follow through with it.
    When not under direct supervision, Eli spent a lot of his time writing. He mostly wrote fantasy-romance type stories. They provided a huge escape from reality. He would spend hours creating fantastical worlds for his characters to live in. His protagonists were always timid men who, through tests of will, developed the courage to stand up for what was right and earn the respect and attention of their love interests. He saw this as rather pathetic. He knew he wrote these stories as a way of visualizing the change he desired in his life. The reality was much less inspiring.
    Eli walked to and from work each day. He spent most of this time playing out scenarios with his fictional characters. One Sunday night, while deeply engaged in his fantasy world, Eli failed to wait for the sign at a crosswalk and stepped right into traffic. He was quickly brought out of his daze by the blasting of the horn of an oncoming car. The car’s tires screeched and the nose of the car dove downward as the car came to a halt just inches away from Eli’s left shin. Feeling his heart pound in his throat, Eli waved a pathetic apology, his head down, refusing to make eye-contact, and carefully continued across the street. The car’s tires screeched again, this time as a result of over-acceleration, the moment Eli was out of the way. Once across the street, Eli turned to watch the car speed away.
    In the distance, Eli saw a struggle. A man was pushed into a pile of garbage bags as another ran in Eli’s direction. Eli quickly looked away and continued on his walk home. “Don’t make eye contact. Act casual. You didn’t see anything.”, Eli thought. Once behind the locked door of Eli’s second story apartment, he rested his back against the door, slid downward, and began to weep.
    The next week was the same as the weeks before: Walks to and from work, minimal time working when at work, and quiet meals alone. The cafeteria was much larger than was needed for the third shift crew. This gave Eli the ability to distance himself from anyone who might want to talk. His supervisor came to the far end of the cafeteria to sit with Eli one evening. He attempted to engage Eli in conversation, but Eli formed short responses to his supervisor’s questions: “Yes sir. No sir. I don’t know sir.”
    The next Sunday evening, Eli found himself the butt of a rather cruel joke. When Eli returned from lunch, the entire work room was covered with copies of Eli’s fiction. Coworkers laughed as they reviewed his writings. Eli quietly walked to the bathroom, entered one of the stalls, and sat, closing the door behind him. He mentally relived the incident over and over again: He enters the room and there they are. His stories, his personal writings are everywhere. He tries to envision coming back from lunch and going back to work as usual, but the reality of those few minutes following lunch keep playing in his head. A coworker must have located the stories on the computer’s hard-drive. Had he forgotten to lock his computer before he went for lunch? It was either this or his coworker, John had watched him enter his password when Eli logged in that morning. John was the only one close enough to catch a glimpse of Eli’s password. A knock sounded on the door of Eli’s stall. It was his supervisor: “Is everything okay?”. “Just feeling a little sick to my stomach.”, Eli replied.
    Eli stayed in his stall, crying at times, until the sounds outside the bathroom slowly died out. When Eli opened the bathroom door, the work room was darker. A field of blue computer screens dimly lit the room. On his walk home, Eli felt unusually tired. The hours spent in the bathroom crying had really worn him out. In spite of his tired state, or perhaps because of it, Eli made strong effort to pay attention to traffic and crosswalk signals, doing his best not to step out into traffic again. He relived the moment in his mind: The car’s horn blares and its tires screech. The feeling of adrenaline pumping through his veins. Then a hand grasped Eli’s right shoulder. Eli felt his eyes widen and threw his hands in the air. A sharp point dug into his back. Eli arched his back in an effort to elude this pain, but the sharp point followed him. “Give me your wallet.” a voice from behind him sounded. Eli froze. His hands wouldn’t cooperate with the voice’s command. “Your wallet!”, the voice sounded again as the sharp point dug further into Eli’s back. Eli flinched at the sound, but his hands remained raised as he felt tears begin to stream down his face. For some reason unknown to Eli, he kept imaging John, his coworker behind him. “No!”, Eli said in a quiet, defeated voice, “You’ll have to stab me.”
    Eli woke several hours later in the bed of an empty hospital room. Through the open door, he watched nurses pass. He felt the knife wound from where his attacker had inserted the knife. It tingled as his foot often did after a few hours of sitting at his desk at work. Eli felt very sleepy. He woke again to a nurse’s directions to fill out discharge papers. Eli’s wounds weren’t serious enough to keep him overnight. The nurse explained the attacker had missed any vital organs and that Eli should avoid any heavy lifting for the next few days. Eli laughed at the thought of heavy lifting. “You should consider yourself lucky.” the nurse said, “It is rare a stabbing victim suffers such minimal injuries.” Eli felt a certain disgust with himself: “Even as a stabbing victim I am sub-par.”
    Approaching the hospital doors, Eli saw a crowd outside. Cameras flashed and people shouted his name as he exited. Inquiries flew from every direction: “Why did you stand up for yourself? Are you willing to die to stop violent crime? How does it feel to be a hero?”

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