Sunday, 27 December 2009

'If you have a gun'- A story by R.M. Rashid.

If you have a gun- you have a story.
                                                                                                        By  R.M. Rashid.

“If you have a gun- you have a story.”
I’ve window-shopped for guns since the age of 19. That is almost 30 years of window shopping.  Just lately, I’ve actually started going up to the counter.
“Say what?”
 This is a two-bit pawn shop. The little Chicano runt behind the counter is- what? 30? No, less.
“You have a gun-“ the weaselly little guy is hefting a pistol- maybe a Chinese .22- in his palm, “Boom! You gotta story. You aren’t just…”
“You know… an innocent bystander. You got a story. You somebody.  You goin somewhere. You got like.. theme music.. get me?”
Well, at least he hadn’t started singing ‘Shaft!’
 Still, I felt I was giving too much away. I don’t like being read like this. Not in a gun shop anyway.
The way I want to come across- when window shopping for a gun- is like I’m.. maybe not Mr. Patel, with a Motel, exactly… but like a shop-owner. Not a jeweler’s but not a plain Mom &Pop either.  Something technical. In the old days, it might have been computer stuff, satellite phones, something of that sort. Now… I don’t know. Maybe I could sell high end naturopathic medicines. Something ethical but recession proof.
‘Look,’ weasel guy looks bored. He wants me to know he’s just going through the motions- ‘You are… maybe, a rare book dealer? No, not books… collectibles? Got you pegged right? Well, let me tell you, in this State, you aint gonna get a permit for a concealed weapon unless it’s something like that. I can take care of all that for you. You see, you don’t want to be putting down that you carry gems or bearer bonds or anything like that. That’s just painting a bull’s eye on your back. Believe me, there’s no such thing as confidentiality now everything’s on computer. So what you do, get me, is say you’re in high value collectibles in a real shallow market. That way no one thinks it worthwhile to jack you. Say the word and I’ll take care of everything.”
“What’s my story?”
“What? Oh, right… well, say it’s cigarette cards from, like, Thailand or something…don’t worry about that, I’ll just see what’s going on Ebay with a high reserve and not a lot of bidding…get the picture? Shallow market, no fuss, no muss.”
“No. What you said earlier. You got a gun, you got a story. So I get a gun. What’s my story?”
“Whatever you want!” weasel guy is suddenly running for Governor, “Live free or die! You write your own story.”
“Writing,” I said, “Naw. Don’t fancy it. Never put things down on paper. You never know.”
“Tell me ’bout it.” Weasel guy is ringing up a no sale sign on his weasel face, but then he has a better idea. “This Chi-nee crap no good to you. Come round back. Got something you’ll like. Expensive. But maybe you want to put down a deposit y’know?”
Fuck, I thought to myself- but, at least the fucker didn’t sing Shaft- so I go behind and the first thing that hits me is the stink of stale curry- well, that explains that, I say to myself, coz I’m still y’know in  stream of consciousness mode and then next thing that happens is the fucker jacks me... straight up
Khabardar! Haatth uttha! Fuckin assume the position!”
I’m so shocked, I raise my hands and start babbling appeasement in Urdu- asking where he’s from- like maybe we’re related. He laughs.
‘Uncle, do you see any gun in my hands?”
“Then why do you have your hands up?”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s the story. You see, if you have a gun, you have a story. You didn’t have a gun- so you had no story of your own. You thought I had a gun, so only my story was important. Do you see what just happened?”
“Don’t worry, Uncle, you will understand everything when I show you what I have in my safe. Believe me, it is worth more than everything else in the shop. Just look at it, that’s all. After all, looking costs nothing.”
So, I thought to myself, it’s a con. Which one? The mythical ceramic Glock that can get through metal detectors? The snub nose that spins the bullet with a bias so you can shoot round corners? No, too elaborate. This would be Saddam Hussein’s gun. Or, no, the guy has spotted me for a fellow South Asian. So it would be a gun linked to some assassination in our part of the world. Why not? I would register awe and wobble my head. The guy was a story teller. Make him happy- costs me nothing.
The little guy had become solemn. It was a small gun wrapped in oil cloth. I suddenly had one of those out of body experiences.  I saw the bald spot on the back of my head. The little guy’s curly hair glistened with some fragrant Latino pomade. There was a calendar on the wall behind me with a picture of the Ka’ba.  So that was the direction of Mecca. I couldn’t see the prayer rug- but I had no doubt it was rolled up somewhere on a shelf.
Meanwhile we were looking at a gun.
Perhaps this was the story. This and nothing else.                            
Later, I talked to an old friend about it. The guy has a PhD in Arabic and high level security clearance. Back in ’81, we worked night security for a bonded warehouse an hour’s drive from campus. My memory is, I still owe him gas money.  Back then, neither of us could afford a full tank. Still, we thought we’d go the distance. Actually, even ten years back we weren’t worried. Now, we both know how far one gets on half a tank. Sure, it get’s you from campus to work. But it doesn’t get you home. For that you need to pool. And it isn’t home exactly. But close enough. Well, close enough to get to work which is the main thing.
But I can’t just end like this- or can I? True, I never bought the gun- so I don’t have a story. And the little guy- well he didn’t actually own it either. He was just minding the store for some second cousin twice removed who’d gone home for a wedding or a hip replacement or- coz of the dollar’s surprising rally against the rupee- maybe both.
As for the story- see if you can work it out for yourself. What’s a story about a gun might make it worth a lot of money to a middle aged South Asian guy? Someone with a big bald spot on the back of his head? Especially now with the dollar surging against the rupee?
You nailed it. Yup it was the gun in some Jersey dot-buster shootings back in the late 1980’s that were never solved.
Weasel guy watches me for a reaction. I try my best- but I’ve got nothing to give him.
So the story changes. It’s now all hints and innuendos rather than pandering to a graying immigrant’s gaudy revenge fantasy.
 I’m being told, the gun’s been used a couple of times since- once on the wife of a Punjabi Dentist in Seattle who was threatening a costly divorce, and the other time… well, you get the picture.
Pricey? Yes. But, it’s an investment. Just be sure to up her life insurance before pulling the trigger! And, sure, absolutely, you sell it back to us- no questions asked.
How about it?
So that’s what having a story is about. Lucky I don’t have one.
One time I used to pool and get to work paying for just half the tank of gas.  But then, for some reason, I no longer had anybody to pool with.  Maybe, I thought I didn’t need to pool- there was always some bonus supposedly coming my way or good stuff gonna happen with my 401 k- so, what did it matter so long as I had that half tank of gas to get to work with? And I did get to work- always been lucky that way.  Just didn’t have enough gas to get home. At least, that’s what it now feels like.
I’ve got a friend watches screens like he’s still doing night security in a warehouse. But that’s okay- it’s homeland security. I too watch screens- and maybe that’s financial security- except, nowadays, what I’m watching on the screens is everybody getting robbed blind.
Still, I’ve got me.  Sometimes, I can even look down on myself and see the bald spot on my head. So, I guess I’ll carry on window shopping for guns. Till, someday, someone spins me a better story. If that isn’t too much to ask.

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