Vantage point

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

This is a short story I wrote sometime last year. One of my few attempts at seriously converting a 4 line idea into a story. If people like it, I'll post the others too.

A Tale Of Hate

I cleaned the table even more carefully. Business is usually brisk on Tuesday mornings. Satnam sat in his chair near the door, like he always does, watching the streets, gazing at the joggers, the people going to work and the odd cop. It's a wonder how Satnam never fails to annoy the shit out of me. He sat there like a king. Sardar Satnam Singh, king of the most irritating restaurant I have ever seen in my life. Located bang in the centre of the business district of Philadelphia. A bundle of dollars worth in real estate. But Satnam is content sitting like the old fogy that he is, perhaps imagining that Philadelphia is what it is today, because of him and his crummy restaurant. Just the way he takes a condescending view of me and thinks he owns me, just because of some crumbs of assistance he threw my way.

Ok, so I got in trouble with the immigration people. Big deal, I would have figured some way to squeeze out of it. And if I wouldn't have, they would have deported me to India. Big deal, as if Philly is any better. But then along comes the self styled messiah of the Indian youth in America. He gives me a job, paying me peanuts. I am to double up as his caretaker, cook, toilet cleaner, laundry boy and help him with his restaurant. What do I get in return? The regal sum of 30,000 bucks a year and his house to stay in. Oh and of course, he would keep the immigration people off my back.

"Karan puttar, don't worry. Hard work always pays. Work hard and I'll see to it you don't fall in trouble" he would patronizingly blurt out this line every few days.

For the first few days I had those misplaced emotions of gratitude and pity. The man's whole family had been killed in a marine disaster a decade ago. He never told me anything in detail about it. All I knew was that he had stayed back to tend to the restaurant while his whole family went on a cruise. The ship sank and Satnam was the only bastard in the whole bloody family to survive. Why god made such a wrong choice is beyond me.

The pity and gratitude disappeared as soon as I came to know he was just using me. I was a glorified male servant. He did say the occasional "puttar" and assure me that I was like a son to him, but I knew better. He reminded me of Shylock from that Shakespeare play that was enacted in our school or one of those stingy guys from old Hindi movies. He didn't trust banks for some reason and kept all his money and gold in a stupid safe in the attic. What stopped me from taking all his money and disappearing you ask? Well, He had my passport, my other papers, and besides I wasn't interested in living the life of a fugitive in America. The cops here may be dumb, but they are not as corrupt as Indian cops are.

Well, that Tuesday however I was at the end of my patience. Satnam had insulted me in front of many customers and called me "son of stray dog". He had reminded me as he usually did that I was at his mercy in this big bad land. And I took my pent up anger out on the table, in the process, cleaning it better than it had ever been. Satnam, the scourge of my happiness sat in an easy chair, peering at the street.

"Beta, TV laga dena." he said. It was about quarter to nine, almost rush hour. I turned on the TV and went into the kitchen. Satnam yelled at me to come out at once. Anticipating another public rebuke for some trumped up reason, I took my time answering his yells. He however had instead called me to watch what was happening on TV. I stood transfixed. The next few hours were like a movie. First the tower of the WTC burning, then the second plane crashing into it as we all watched. Then rumours flying thick and fast about the White House, Air Force One, State Department, Capitol Hill. I don't have to tell you what happened. You probably have your own account of where you were and what you were doing when it happened.

What caught my attention, as well as Satnam's were the reports that Sikhs were being targeted. It didn't seem to worry him much though. "Oye, this is not Delhi where people will get emotional and murder Sikhs for no fault of theirs." he proclaimed. For the first time in my life I felt lucky about being a Hindu. The day passed among discussions about the attack. Business, naturally suffered, and I got some time to relax.

A few days later came the report from Arizona of a Sikh being gunned down. Satnam's bravado however never flagged. He did not take any extra precautions, nor did he buy a gun or anything. I have always found Philadelphia a dangerous place. So I had bought a gun without a permit from one of the bootleggers in West Philly last year. I kept it in my pocket while working in the restaurant. You never know, what the twists of time churn out.

It was a couple of days after the Arizona incident. It was almost midnight and we were preparing to close the restaurant. The waitresses and the cleaners had left. It was just me and Satnam. He was, as is his habit, sitting behind the cash register at the end of the day, just to pretend that he had worked hard all day. Suddenly I heard the sound of glass breaking. Two guys, one white, other Hispanic had broken into the restaurant. The white guy was holding a knife at Satnam's neck. I could see my dream coming true.

"Please, please don't kill me, I am not a Muslim, I am not an Arab. I am an Indian. Please don't kill me." He pleaded, without any sign of the bravado he was displaying moments ago.

"Hell man, I don't care if you are Arab or Chinese or Russian, I just want the money from the cash register. You gimme the money man, and I won't hurt your Indian ass."

I had never been a slow thinker and that was my finest moment. I knew Satnam would just hand over the money. I looked around. The breaking glass had not attracted any policemen. Most of the Philly force was in New York helping with the clean up. I looked back at Satnam. As expected he started opening the cash register. The thief lowered his knife and I seized my opportunity.

"That's enough. Put your hands up" I said drawing the unused but functional gun from my pocket. The thugs were small timers, probably on their first heist. They stood transfixed instead of running.

"Get out, go away, or I'll call the police" I shouted and the two kids bolted.

Satnam looked as relieved as a murderer declared "Not Guilty" by the jury.

"Good thinking Puttar, great job. But why did you let them run away?" he said as he picked up the phone to call the police.

"Wait, don't call the police" I said as I walked towards the counter. I stood exactly where the white guy stood, and I still don't believe how easily I did it. I shot Satnam right in the head. He just dropped dead then and there. Next I took a hanky from my pocket, wiped my fingerprints off it, then with the hanky around its trigger, pointed the gun towards my leg and shot myself in the thigh in a portion where there would be no bone. Though the bullet just grazed my thigh, the pain was searing. I threw the gun towards the door, put the hanky in my pocket and called the police.

The next few days were hectic. The police bought my story of two white men who came and abused Satnam calling him a "bloody Arab terrorist" and shot him, then as I rushed to help him, shot me in the leg, but ran away as they thought they heard some sirens. The news was there all over the news channels. The President expressed sorrow. Vajpayee condemned the killing.

My wound healed enough in two weeks for me to go home. Satnam's lawyer came to take me home and in the car on the way back told me that Satnam didn't own much but had verbally told him in the presence of witnesses that he wanted me to have everything in case anything happened to him. He said it was permissible under the local law and there would be no litigations since there was no relative of Satnam to contest and there was no life insurance policy either. I got the restaurant, the house and the little money he had in his bank account. More importantly, unknown to the lawyer, I could get my hands on the safe in the attic.

He however told me that the head office of his firm was in Florida and I would have to go there and complete the formalities.

Today is 11th October, exactly a month from the day that changed my life. Once I complete the formalities in Florida, I think I'll stay back a day or two and enjoy the weather. Who said there ain't such a thing like perfect murder? I think its time to confirm my room with the hotel in Florida.


2 days later on CNN....

"Good Morning, Welcome to CNN's continuing coverage of the strike against terror. 4 cases of Anthrax were discovered in a hotel in Florida yesterday night. The police suspect that the bacteria came through a letter the hotel got. The 4 persons infected were at the reception desk when the letter was supposedly opened...We have received latest reports that one of the 4 persons, a Mr. Karan Mehta from Philadelphia has died in the hospital. Let us go live to the Sunville Hotel with our correspondent......."