A Midday Stroll
by Richard Rupnarain
Guyana Journal, May 2007
Jack (Western short for Jagdish) Persad goes for walks during his lunch hour every workday. His walk usually lasts approximately thirty minutes and takes him around a ghostly quiet neighborhood consisting mostly of stacked townhouses and a few bungalows tucked in among them. The neighborhood is ghostly quiet because most of the residents are senior citizens who hardly ever leave their homes. Jack treasures the peace and quiet of his walk because it allows him to think through problems and challenges he faces both at work and in life. And of course he loves the fresh air and not to mention the little exercise for bodily health.
It was the first Wednesday in August of 1985. Jack was almost halfway through his walk, just approaching the section of the neighborhood that housed a little park with a couple of benches and a gazebo, when he saw out of his periphery a car drawing alongside him. The car continued to move parallel to him, at the same speed he was walking, and after a few seconds he realized that the car was actually following him. He glanced furtively to the side and when he saw that it was an immaculate black Cadillac with tinted windows and chrome rims he figured it had to be some rich white man visiting an elderly parent in the neighborhood. The car raced up a few paces ahead and then the man who was riding shotgun wound down the window, poked his head out, looked around and called out, Sir, can I ask you a question? Jack looked up and when he saw a head draped with a polka-dotted bandana and the barrel of a Magnum pointing at him, he realized it was not a white man visiting his parents or someone asking for directions but that it was a man who gave meaning to the term riding shotgun. So he pretended not to hear and kept on walking. The gunman, annoyed that Jack did not stop despite the glaring threat to his existence, raised his voice, extended the gun outside the window, and threatened to shoot him if he didnt stop immediately and get into the car. Jack finally paused. The man with the gun jumped out and grabbed him by the collar.
Listen, (expletive), are you deaf or something? I told you to get into the car.
Jack remained eerily calm, like a drunk in the face of danger, as he looked at the gun and then up to the gunman. That gun in your hand makes you feel like a man, right? he said. What are you really like without it?
Shut up and get in the (really bad expletive to describe an innocent object) car. He grabbed Jack by the arm and pushed him towards the opened car door. Jack resisted, like a donkey being forced to do something he didnt want to, and the gunman came close to his face, pressed the gun into his chest, and said, Listen, (expletive, same as he used the first time), I dont know what your problem is but if you dont get into the car I will blow your (expletive) brains out, right here.
Jack looked at him and waived his hand.
Look, I will go into your car if you first answer a question, Jack said.
The gunman glared at Jack. The driver of the car leaned to the passenger door. What the (expletive) are you doing? Why cant you get the (expletive) in the car yet?
Because he wants to ask a question.
Did you hear about the Air India jet that crashed off Lockerbee in Scotland?
The driver stepped out of the car, looked around and came up to Jack.
What the hell are you talking about? he asked, really ticked off at Jack.
The Air India jet that disintegrated in mid-air off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board.
What about it?
Well, that Air India flight, AI 182, flying from Toronto to London with a stopover at Montreal was only forty-five minutes from London Heathrow when it suddenly disappeared from radar screens at 0816 BST. Airline officials said they do not know the cause of the crash but that they suspected a bomb planted by extremists caused its demise. That aircraft, a Boeing 747, plunged into the sea from over nine thousand kilometers and rescue officials did not find any survivors. It all happened so fast that the pilots had no time to issue a mayday message.
I think I remember something about that, said the driver. Is it not one of your turban people who blew up the darn thing?
And what does that have to do with you not coming into the car? asked the gunman.
It has a lot to do with it. You see, my trigger-happy friend, three of those people on board that aircraft were close to me. Very close! One was my wife, one was my daughter and the other was my teenage son.
I am sorry to hear that but I still dont understand what that has to do with anything.
It has! It has! You see my wife and children were all that I held dear in this life. I loved my wife more than Shah Jahan loved his wife. And my children, they were everything to me my life, my joy, my very soul.
Who the heck is Shah Jahan?
Dont you know who Shah Jahan is? Obviously you dont know about love.
I know love. I have a girl, he replied, quickly, defensively, gripping the gun even tighter.
Yeah, but do you show your love to her like Shah Jahan did?
What do you mean? I tell my girl I love her.
Well Shah Jahan did more than talk about his love. He showed it. He built her the Taj Mahal. Have you seen the Taj Mahal?
I saw a picture of the Taj Mahal, the driver injected. Its that big mosque in India.
Well, it looks like a mosque but it is rally a marble tomb that Jahan built between 1631-48 in Agra, the seat of the Mugal Empire, as I said, to show his love for his wife, Arjuman Banu Begum. With its thick walls, elegant arches, and heavy lintels, combined with an eclectic assortment of motifs from Persian and Turkish sources, it is a wonderful piece of Islamic architecture. The interior of the building, dimly lit through holes in the marble lattice, has that warm, cozy, romantic feeling. And the exterior of the building, made of marble, seems to change with the mood of the weather outside. An absolutely amazing sight that you must see if you really want to know what love is.
And there is a river there, too, noted the driver.
Yes, it is more of a canal and its acts like a mirror, reflecting the tomb.
I always thought that was a Muslim church or something, the driver said.
That is perhaps because you see the four minarets, set symmetrically about the tomb and which were scaled down to make the bulbous dome more prominent. The mosques by the way are far away and serve only as a frame for the mausoleum.
They looked at each, warily and wearily.
Look, sir, all we want is some money, the gunman said, clearly becoming more impatient by the second.
Okay, I will give you what I have providing you hear me out.
Fast, make it fast.
Okay! So when the news came that the plane had crashed and that there were no survivors, my heart melted like butter on a hot knife, and from that day my soul began to leak from the wound so much so that I wasnt sure what was left of it. I could tell you that I felt hollow inside, and even to this day the feeling of emptiness is still there.
Listen, I am sorry for your tragedy but all I want is some money. Get me the money, now and I will be on my way.
No, I dont want to.
You dont get it, do you?
What I am trying to say.
Look, my soul has already left me. All that you see here is a hollow man, an empty shell. For me to be complete I have to be reunited with my wife and children. So I want to die. And that is why I refuse to come into the car. I want you to shoot me.
Are you crazy?
Not at all! You see I cant wait to be reunited with my family. But I have a problem. I cant get to them if I commit suicide.
Because they are good people who have gone to heaven and I know that if I commit suicide I will go to hell and so my torment will last forever. So I want you to shoot me. In that way I will die and go to heaven to meet my loved ones and my pain will be over. And by the way you, being a murderer, will go to hell, so we wont have to meet up again.
The gunman put the gun to Jacks chest. Look, crazy or not, I am going to pull this trigger if you dont fork over the money right now.
Jack put his hand on the tip of the gun and turned it to face his heart.
This is the spot, Jack said. Aim it right here and shoot. In that way you will be sure to kill me. I dont want this to fail because then, not only will I not be with my family but I will have to wait here on earth as an invalid. Jack ripped open his shirt, pulled out a pen from his pant pocket and marked an X on his hairless chest directly above his heart. Here, he said as he pointed to the intersect, right here. Do it quickly before a nosy neighbor sees us and calls the cops. Jack closed his eyes and waited. Seconds passed. There was a sound, but not that of a gunshot. It was the sound of screeching tires. The gunmen drove off as if they had seen a ghost.
Phew! Jack sighed, as he turned to make his way back to the office. That was close! I cant wait to tell my wife and children about this when I get home tonight.