Written by Nandini Sethi
I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking. I don’t even know if I was thinking or not. But walking into the 24/7 diner, a pistol in my hand, mask covering my trembling face, I knew it was too late to back out. Because everyone had already seen me – they saw me lift the fun, they heard me yell ‘hands up’ and they could see through the slits in the mask, my eyes gave away from craziness.
It was in the late hours of the night, around 2:00 AM, and so the diner wasn’t crowded. The owner, standing by the counter, lifted his trembling hands, chanting a prayer I didn’t care for, the only two tables occupied, both by old couples, they got down on their knees, sobbing and screaming, apologizing to me for God knows what.
Watching them, seething vulnerability, and begging on their knees, begging to me, I felt contrasting emotions. One, power, I enjoyed being in authority for once in my life; secondly, I felt helpless, like I didn’t want to do this, but because I was already committed, I believed it was too late to leave.
I was in over my head. My thoughts had taken control of me, and my innocent victims, still pleading on their knees, were lost somewhere in their minds too. It was only when I heard a sweet jingling sound that I was broken out of my stupor. I turned to find a young man, much younger than everyone in the diner, looking astonished and slightly regretful that he had entered the shop. Like this was the cherry on top of a horrible day he had been having. Casual.
“Don’t move!” I screamed at him. He nodded silently and lifted his hands up. For a minute no one moved or even said anything. I was silently calculating my next move, wondering if I should shoot, revel in my dark guilty pleasure, or just walk out, giving these people a chance at a new life.
I didn’t have much time left to wonder. I heard the boy, the young one, jump from the door to the tables, grabbing the arms of the elderly woman. I don’t know what his rescue plan was, but I hated the fact that he wanted to play hero. “I said, don’t move!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
He walked a little closer to me, then took a few steps back. It was almost as if he knew I was hesitant to shoot. It irritated me. And you shouldn’t irritate someone with a gun in their hand.
I lifted the gun and pointed it towards him. He sucked in a deep breath. “I’m sorry”, he said, “I’m sorry, I won’t move!” He cried, lifting his hands up.
I shook my head. It was too late. I didn’t realize I had voiced my thoughts till I heard the elderly woman scream and fall to the floor. I ignored the tremble in my fingers as I pulled the trigger. I was so afraid, so clueless and helpless, such a coward that I couldn’t even keep my eyes open while doing so. I killed a man with my eyes closed. I laughed at the thought. Everyone must think I’m crazy.
I opened my eyes slowly, to watch the boy crumple and fall into a heap on the floor. I cried out, then covered my mouth with my hands. I just killed a man! I just shot him to death! The guilt was already beginning to eat me up alive.
I dropped the gun and ran out of the diner. My brain, still fuzzy from the guilt and adrenaline, fooled me into thinking I had gotten far away, but in reality, I was not even a block from the shooting site. I sank to my knees and sobbed.
I told myself I wasn’t a bad person. I deserved to be punished for what I did. I needed to take responsibility for my actions. Envisioning a life of delinquency for my near future, I ran back to the direction I was coming from – the diner. I expected to see blood and grime and the deafening cries of people been cheated, but when I flung the door open, once again met by the irritating sound of jingling bells, I covered my ears and closed my eyes. Then I realized where I was. Immediately, I opened them and surveyed what was before me. Nothing.
There was no body, no blood, no people. Shocked, I turned around a full 360 degrees, but found nothing. I wanted to apologize to the boy, whom I thought to be dead, but there was no trace of him. Only my gun lay on the floor. I picked it up and ran towards the back door. What I saw baffled me.
I saw six figures, including the young boy, running out the back alley, and towards a new life. They were running from me. I hadn’t shot the boy. I had missed. I had been cheated. I came to apologize for killing a man, but I realized I missed! Was this God’s way of telling me he was giving me a second chance at life too?
I laughed. Then I ran. Not for long, just enough to come close enough to the six outlines, close enough to pull the trigger and shoot wherever the bullet wished to land.
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