Ta-Rat-Ting

God, it’s hot. I think I’m going to melt, Insy. This constant heat! It burrows in through the nostrils. A snub nose like mine makes it even worse. Insy? Are you there? God, why doesn’t he do something, Insy? All he does is think. I hate thinkers. This brain stuff is ridiculous. Look, he’s chewing his lips again. Can you see that? I bet he’s thinking about his wife now. If not that, he’s doing that comparison thing. He’s so proud of it, he can’t stop telling all the others about it. And if not that, he’s thinking about the kid. It has to be one of these.

Suresh thought about the kid. The boy was dressed in a bright-red T-shirt on which was emblazoned a white-coloured logo of Marie Claire magazine, and below which it said in a pretty cursive font, ‘Let Me Be Me’. The boy had stood in front of Suresh’s car, sweat running down his face as he held the magazines up for Suresh. There was Better Living, Cosmopolitan, Pink! and a horde of other lifestyle magazines. ‘How To Make This Summer Special’ a woman pouted from one of the covers. Tell it to this kid, Suresh thought. The boy kept crinkling his nose, urging Suresh to buy a magazine. Then he put his head down on the bonnet of the car. Suresh turned his face away. Shit, this is not right. He turned off the car’s air-conditioner and rolled down his window to get a feel of how hot it was outside. The traffic light had turned green and the boy still had his head on the car’s bonnet. The other boys selling magazines collected around him. One of them slapped the boy on the back of his head and told him to stop play-acting. Suresh got off the car and shook the boy’s shoulder as the other cars behind him honked insistently. To his horror, the boy fell on the road, lifeless. 

I told you, didn’t I, Insy? He’s so predictable. He was fun earlier, when he was fearless. He reminded me of Sgt. Joe Friday. Did I tell you about Joe Friday? I’ll never forget his line, “Just the facts, ma’am.” But Joe never actually said that. He said, “All we want are the facts.” Hey, Insy, how can you sleep in this heat? I like being warm. Being warm is happiness, but I can’t stand this godawful heat. What was I saying? Oh, yes, Joe Friday. He was a character! Did you know the LAPD retired his badge number when Jack Webb died? Jack Webb was the actor who played Joe Friday, but you don’t know any of this, right? It was much before your time. 714 was the badge number that belonged to Sgt. Dan Cooke of the LAPD. These are the facts. Who says reality and fiction don’t have a connection. I wish our man here got a bit real, though. Look at him. He’s got that look on his face. Something tells me he’s going to snap today. Look at him. He’s looking at you. Why doesn’t he look at me? I’m telling you, he’s scared of me. If he looks at me he has to face facts. Oh, he’s taking out the book now. Oh, God, he’s going to do the comparison thing.

Suresh fished out the miniature Geeta from his trouser pocket. He opened it and shut it right back. Oh, to hell with the Geeta; it’s no better than a rifle. A rifle doesn’t give a damn about who uses it, and neither does the Geeta. Every shloka is just like a bullet. You load it into the chambers of your intellect and then ‘bam!’ you fire it at the targets that life offers you. What’s wrong with you? Focus. No time for fancy thoughts. Must try and keep my eyes open today. If only I could keep my eyes open. Why can’t I keep them open? Am I a coward? Everything will change if I keep my eyes open. Suresh could almost see the dogs straining at their leashes, maddened by his scent. He looked to where his mates had taken cover. He extended the fingers of his right hand thrice to let them know they would leave in fifteen minutes. Then he rested his back against the tree trunk and stretched his legs.

The luxury some people have! I mean, where would you and I be, Insy, if we had any time for all this reflection? Where would General Loan be? Did I tell you about General Loan ever? I’m sorry if I did. I have travelled a bit, you know. Besides, when you’re old as me, all you have is memories. But this one is special. My picture was flashed around the world. Around the world, Insy! The General and me and Bay Lop, the Viet Cong Captain. It was bright sunlight in Saigon. Not as hot as here, though. The Viet Cong Captain had just killed some of the General’s family in the Tet offensive, but the photograph doesn’t show that. Even photographs lie, Insy. All that the black and white photograph shows is the General pointing me at the temple of the Viet Cong Captain, moments before he shot him. I remember what Eddie Adams had to say about it later. He said, “The General killed the Viet Cong, I killed the General with my camera.” Those are the facts. But now I’m stuck with him. Rodin’s Thinker. Hey wait, he’s reaching for me! Ahhh, now it feels nice.

Suresh picked up the Smith and Wesson revolver and started filling it with rounds. Why can’t I just fill the goddamn thing and get it over with? If I had balls I would load it fully. I wonder if I’ll get the time to register anything. Will my brain explode instantly or will it register the bang, or feel the pain, or the numbness, or the white light, or whatever the fuck happens at that instant. But first, there would have to be the bang. Yes, there would have to be the bang. Why do I give myself a chance? Am I scared? If you’re really serious, just load the thing fully. Then it won’t matter if your eyes are open or not. Come on, load it fully. Don’t have the guts? Suresh carefully loaded all the chambers of the revolver, his hands trembling. 

This feels good. I’m all loaded and set to go, Insy. I told you, didn’t I? Something’s going to snap today. It’s this heat. Now all he needs to do is to pull that goddamn trigger and everything will be worth it. What’s this? I don’t believe it! Doesn’t this guy ever stop thinking?

Suresh put down the Smith and Wesson revolver. He looked at the INSAS rifle lying beside him, half concealed in the grass. Looks like a fat snake, he thought. No, more like an undiscovered species, waiting for the kill. If I look at it long enough I might even catch it breathing. Don’t be silly, it’s just a gun, a machine that will do as you bid. I wish I could do the right thing. Will someone tell me what the right thing is? Right now, the right thing is to get out of this place. What’s the use? After all this time, after all the killings, those boys would still be stuck at the traffic light. The lights never turn green for them. They’re probably still sweating it out in the summer heat, selling those magazines that they can’t even read.

What’s all this emotion? Just the facts, look at the facts. If you have to have emotion, have emotions like the General. Who knows, you might have your photograph in the newspapers, too. Hey, wake up Insy, he’s going for you! 

Suresh looked around. His mates were looking at him. The dogs sounded quite close. He picked up the INSAS rifle and signaled the group to go towards the river. Once at the river, he knew they could commandeer a fishing boat. It was unlikely that the police party would follow them through the elephant grass – they would be too scared to risk it, the sarkari cowards. As the group headed towards the river, Suresh pretended to busy himself with his haversack. Then he lifted the Smith and Wesson revolver and put it to his temple. Oh, he’s going for me Insy! Finally! Must keep my eyes open, he thought. A shiver ran down Suresh’s spine. Then he saw the face of the kid. The kid was watching him. He didn’t want to let down the kid, or his wife Suhasini, or his father, or anyone else. Suresh dropped the revolver. Hey, where do you think you’re going? He released the safety catch of the INSAS rifle and started running towards the police party. Oh, he’s going for you now, Insy!

Suresh emerged from the trees, shouting at the top of his voice, “The Right Thing! The Right Thing! The Right Thing!” Oddly it sounded like the INSAS rifle he was firing: Ta-rat-ting! Ta-rat-ting! Ta-rat-ting! Finally, he had his eyes open.

Insy, are you there? God, it’s hot. Why is everything so quiet?

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Salil Chaturvedi Written by:

Salil Chaturvedi writes short fiction and poetry. His stories have appeared in Himal, Indian Quarterly, Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), Out of Print, Antiserious and in various anthologies. His poetry has appeared in Indian Cultural Forum, Guftugu, The Sunflower Collective, Wasafiri, THe Joao Roque Literary Journal, and other publications. His debut collection of poetry, In The Sanctuary Of A Poem, was released in 2017. This year he released 'Ya Ra La Va Sha Sa Ha' a collection of Hindi poems. They are both available on Amazon India.

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