It was one of those delis that are shoved into the corners of buildings. The kind of deli that is only open from 11 to 3 on weekdays. I push open the door, which is covered in sun-bleached signage, thinking of pastrami. Pastrami on rye with mustard. Damn I am hungry. I do a quick check of my watch and notice that I’m a little early; there should be time to eat. I hesitate for a second when I see that there is an Indian kid working behind the counter. He looks like he’s twelve but is probably closer to fifteen. He is at that awkward phase between childhood and adolescents when everything is long limbs and sharp joints. His pale orange tee shirt is at least three sizes too big. He has the glazed look of someone who spends hours a day playing video games.
His hand freezes where it has been lazily circling the counter with a rag. He stares at me like I just killed his dog. I know the look; I get it a lot. Maybe it was the fact that I am 6’2” and 250 pounds of solid muscle. Or it could be the fact that my face is covered in a tattoo of a traditional Chinese demon dog. With swirling eyebrows, flared nostrils, and fangs that curved down my chin. The boy’s eyes dart towards the statue of Ghenesh before snapping back to me. I know that he would be praying if he could find his voice. I don’t try to calm him by smiling; I know from experience that it only makes things worse. I wasn’t expecting someone so young. I was told that the kid working was in his early 20’s.
I walk up to the counter and say, as gently as I can, “Pastrami on rye. Lots of mustard. I wait for a second but the kid doesn’t move; he just stars up at me with his mouth slack. “Please…. Now.”
He sort of jerks upright and, dropping his rag, runs to make my sandwich. I hope that it doesn’t take him too long; I don’t have that much extra time.
I see the kid’s hand grip the knife that he had been spreading mustard with more tightly. He mutters something to Vishnu before turning back to me. It’s obvious that he’s figure out who I am. It’s not like I’m hard to recognize.
“You.” His eyes are accusatory and his voice comes out guttural and jagged. Not the kind of sound that you would expect from a kid. “My brother told me that you were coming but I didn’t believe him. I told him that you didn’t exist. I told him that even a kid like me knows that you aren’t real. It’s no fair. The doctors said that he was better. They’re doctors.”
“Why don’t you finish making me my sandwich then go find your father for me.” I put extra emphasis to my words and he can’t help but comply.
He goes back to spreading my mustard but his hands are shaking so badly that he can barely hold the knife. His shoulders are pulled up around his ears and I can tell that he is fighting the urge to attack me.
“Just the sandwich, kid,” I say.
“Fuck you,” he retorts. His voice comes out high and breathy, like a girls. It’s obvious from the way that he screws up his thin red lips that the word isn’t part of his normal vocabulary.
I hate to shot a kid but I will if he pushes me. Lucky for him, he seems to be too terrified to attack. He brings me my sandwich without trying anything. Feeling magnanimous, I even pay for it. There is a tensing around his eyes when I take my first bite. He tracks my hand as I bring the sandwich to my mouth. The whole thing is gone in less than five bites. I want something to wash it down with but know that there isn’t time; it will have to wait. I flick my hand at the kid propelling him to the back in search of his father.
Not even a minute passes when the man that I am here to see steps up to the counter. He is a short Indian man with shaggy hair. He is paunchier than I expected, with his sweater vest bulging over his gut. His thick-framed glasses cloud the look of his face. All I can see is his large mouth, weak chin, and neatly trimmed mustache. We don’t speak. Words are useless in such intimate moments. We both know what has to happen and why. One can only live on borrowed time for so long. There are three minutes left that are his. It is not my place to take them. He watches me, unflinching, and I am able to focus on his sorrowful amber colored eyes. We stand in silence watching each other. He is resigned to his fate. I knew that he understood the bargain that he had made months ago, even if his son doesn’t. Time passes until he doesn’t have any more. I draw my nine, unhurried. He will not run.
I flip the safety off and unload two rounds, head and heart, before he slumps backward. Falling in slow motion, the way only dead people do. Tucking my gun back into its shoulder holster, I turn and leave the shop. My stomach is cramping before I hear the door shut behind me and I know why the kid was watching me so intently.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED