Does The Gunman Have An Identity?

This short story follows the form of Donald Barthelme’s “Concerning the Bodyguard.” It is written using questions only.


Did the young man bring his gun in the pocket of his khakhi shalwar, hidden under his khakhi kameez? Did the swish of his evidently new and starched kameez frighten the girl he now holds in his grasp? Did she see his eyes get larger and wilder, his breathing get faster, his jaw strain, teeth grind hard? Do any of the thirty-something people, now staring at the man and the screaming girl, in the Rocklit Café of Leader’s University, realize who he is? Do they know that the man is their peer? Do they know his name? His purpose? Do they care? Can they think beyond the fear?

What scares them? The thought of him pulling the trigger, a bullet piercing her medulla oblongata, ending her life instantly? Do they know the girl? Do they like her? The way her dimples appear when she smiles? The way she wears short sleeveless shirts with tights? Are they scared for her or for themselves? Do their legs shake because they could be next?

Why isn’t the manager of the café, standing behind the bar, calling security? Is she thinking of her children who could be orphaned if she tried moving? Is she thinking of the whiny customer’s Americano she once spit into? Are these little sins going to land her in hell?

Do the security cameras not see the glint of the gun? Did the guards not detect the weapon on its way in? Is the gunman invisible? Is the girl’s voice not loud enough? Was his voice not loud enough? Didn’t he tell her a thousand times, ten thousand times, to stop wearing the shirt, the tights, the smile? Didn’t he tell her to cover the arms, the long brown hair, the dimples? Does he notice the way the dimples still show as she cries? Why does she never listen, never do as she is told?

Why is the boy in front of the counter standing still with his tray in his hands? Why are the servers still holding the cappuccino cup, the pasta tray, the red velvet cupcake? Why are cursors on laptop screens still, typed Whatsapp messages unsent, boyfriends’ hands not clasped?

How long have they stood? How long has she been screaming? How long has the gunman been glaring at them? Who will move first? Who will die last? When will the gunman speak? Will he reply to her unintelligible apologies?

Does his gun have bullets? Is his gun real? How did he get it? Where did he hide it? Under his matress in his hostel room in Building 7? In the pile of more khakhi, white, black shalwar kameez, towels, naras, old t shirts on the corner of his bed? In the desk drawer with the tasbihs and booklets of panj surahs? Or the other drawer with the dumped Beats headphones and the vintage Darth Vader action figure? Did he hide the gun in his cupboard, the walls of which are still covered in remnants of stripped Iron Maiden posters, the eyes of Eddie the head looking towards the balled shorts and tank tops in the bottom corner?

What is making the gunman’s eyes water? What is making her screams stop? Is it sound of approaching footsteps? Can she feel his heart beat fasten? Can she tell his hands have started to shake? Can she tell if she’ll live to see another day? Will she live?

 

A day later, is the gunman’s absence felt at her funeral? How does the family remember him? As the cousin? The fiancé? The murderer? Or the savior of family honor?

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