My shadow runs ahead of me. He grows into a macabre distortion of my self, before fading away, only to return directly to my rear. I stop walking at the streetlight, and glance to my left. There he stands half my height. I tip my hat to my shadow, and he returns the salutation. This is nighttime. This is walking home in the dark.
I never really liked walking home, especially after dark. Too many things flicker in the shadows; I am eternally ready for an attack. It wearies me, and gives me no time to ponder. Mulling over the day's events is an important task, one that I cannot avoid; no matter how much I dislike it. Walking at night only paints my memories with questions that I do not wish to ask. Questions of ulterior motives; questions about trust. There is also one question that remains unasked at any other time, dredged to the forefront of my consciousness only when the stars are shining.
Who am I?
I shake my head to dismiss the uncomfortable inquiry, and resume walking. My doppelganger of shadow sprints forward again, only to grow, fade, and return to my rear. Is this what life is? Blindly running forward, only to cower behind somebody when the light of authority comes too near? Why am I asking these questions? Who am I to ask?
I squelch that train of thought as quickly as I can, but the final question echoes through my head. Who, indeed, am I?
My shadow runs ahead of me, cavorting along the sidewalk. As is his lot in life, he fades and returns to me, only to repeat his exuberant dash. It is an endless cycle. I tear my gaze away from the fading shadow, and glance upwards. Dark, heavy clouds fill the sky; a bright splotch the only sign of there being anything beyond the foreboding atmosphere. It is late; there is nobody outside, on foot, or in cars. I step into the street.
I walk slowly, my shadow following, fading, wavering, and finally splitting as I stop in the very center of the street. Four lights illuminate me; four doppelgangers surround me. I am alone.
Who am I?
This time, rather than shake the thought from my mind in frustration, I welcome it into myself. I let it roam my memories; let it hear my desires. I tell it my accomplishments, and reveal unto it my shortcomings. My life plays out to the question like so many reels of film, and I watch as well, gaining insights into my personality, and learning why I do things in a certain way. I laugh as I watch my first steps taken as an infant, I cry when I watch my dog die.
I see myself as a teenager, dressed in an ill-fitting tuxedo, awkwardly asking the girl of my dreams to dance at the prom. I watch an older me, this time in a properly fitted tuxedo, kissing that same girl in a small chapel. I watch as the girl gives birth to a child, my child, in a sterile room of a hospital. I weep when the child dies three years later, from heart problems that had passed by unnoticed at birth. I see my wife in a black dress, and she closes the lid of the impossibly small casket. I hold her tight, and we cry into each other's shoulders.
I see her in a hospital bed, and she is older now. I am too, with streaks of gray at my temples, and smile lines etched into my face. There is no smile now. She is dying. I hold her hand in mine, and remain standing at her side. She tells me she loves me, and then does not speak. The machines squeal. She is gone.
She was beautiful in life, and she was beautiful in death. I tell her I love her once more, and I close the casket lid. There is a crowd of people in the room here to honor her memory, but I am alone. I keep the tears at bay, and leave the funeral home. It is night, and I am in no mood to drive. I start walking.
My shadow races towards me. He is a fifth shadow. Something has changed. There is a sound of tires on pavement, and my shadow gains speed and clarity, rushing to join me in an incredible burst of energy. He reaches me an instant later, and I am flung to the ground. I am staring at the sky, and the clouds part.
The stars are beautiful.
I can see her smile.