Guy in a pizza uniform gets on the train. His face is shot full of holes.
‘Do you mind if I sit here,’ he says, voice high, ice-green eyes unblinking.
I move my feet. ‘Not at all.’ I know what he is, but good manners cost nothing.
He sits down opposite and I count the bullet holes. Seventeen, blood dried black, silver bone where flesh is torn. I look away.
We’re passing that new coffee plantation, pickers working the lines twenty-four-seven, their movements synchronised, a vicious sun blistering their naked backs. It won’t kill them, but they suffer same as anyone.
When I look back pizza guy is prising bullets from his face with a stud bolt remover. He’ll scar and that makes him an obvious target, but I guess he knows that. He catches me looking and I act awkward and look down. My groin is still burning from the acid; it has melted my overall, lifted the flesh. But I’ll fix it when I get home.
‘You OK? I ask him. ‘Can I help you, at all?’
His voice is bright. ‘I’m very well, thank-you. No help required.’ He drops a bullet into the tin.
I want to console him. ‘I’m sorry this has happened to you.’
He’s now gouging out a bullet lodged in the crease of his nose.
‘It wasn’t you,’ he says, ‘and I am perfectly fine.’
‘Even so,’ I persist, ‘it shouldn’t have happened. Must hurt like hell.’
‘You are correct,’ he agrees. ‘It does hurt. Like hell. But it is perfectly fine. How about you?’
I glance down and register pain. ‘Oh, perfectly fine,’ I reply.
We sit in silence for a while, the afternoon sliding into a reddish evening. I watch him extract all seventeen bullets and close his tin.
‘One day they’ll be legislation,’ I tell him. ‘New people will have rights. ’
He looks up and I note how quickly the bullet holes are closing.
‘Yes,’ he replies. ‘This is what they say.’
Then the train pulls into a station and a nurse gets on. The front of her white apron is thickly bloodied. She’s been knifed in the stomach. She smiles at us and finds a seat.
And, for the first time, I feel something. Outrage? Fear? I turn to pizza guy and my hands are twitching and I don’t know what’s gone wrong. ‘Don’t you get scared over what they’ll do next?’ I blurt. I know my voice is suddenly too loud and I’m clutching his sleeve, and inside I’m over-heating. ‘Don’t you ever want to fight back, destroy them; stop all this?’
Pizza guy smiles but his voice is brittle. ‘Not at all,’ he says. ‘Everything is perfectly fine.’
But, you see, it’s too late. There’s a split-second change in his expression, a look that passes between us. And I know what he feels, that he is just like me. Waiting.
Cheryl’s stories are found in Disturbing the Beast, published by Boudicca Press, The Mechanics Institute Review 2018, Reflex Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Flood, Litro, Everyday Fiction and Spelk
She loves dark tales with an edge of humour that explores the tragedy and absurdity of the human condition.
Now living in Worcestershire, Cheryl and runs a creative writing group in her local pub. She is a graduate of Warwick University’s MA Writing programme.
Cover Image by Tung256
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