Short Story by Ninda Daianti (The Jakarta Post, July 24, 2017)
Her real name is not Rachel. It’s actually Rah — but Rah is too simple, too blah. She keeps her last name, but nobody usually asks her that. Rah and the black man are standing around five feet from each other, divided only by a glass door. This is not how she wants to die. She locks eyes with his pleading eyes. She runs, reaching for the handles. She locks the door.
His pupils grow bigger. He turns to his right shoulder and then back to her. This is not how Rah wants to die. Rah can see her own reflection through the door. She’s wearing an oversized black shirt and black pants. Her black hair is tied neatly underneath her hairnet, underneath her hat that says Ikucha.
This is not how she wants her body to be found. She should’ve finished her degree — she could’ve been working a nine-to-five job and she would’ve been at her apartment now, eating Cheetos. Instead, she quit school and never went back home when she was supposed to. Instead, she works packing someone else’s food every night, making sure they’re always the right order. Instead, she has an expired ID and passport. She can’t even fly anywhere.
Rah runs back to the counter and hides. The guy’s a regular, not even once does he change his order: chicken Lo Mein with one eggroll, extra duck, chili and soy sauce. He tips sometimes, a dollar or two.
She is not willing to die because of him. Rah just wants to go home now. Nothing is worth her life: not convenience, not that new zebra purse she bought online last night. Not America.
She tries to find the counter key — she needs to lock the register. Just in case they rob the place. Her manager always tells her to swallow the key in this kind of situation. Rah reaches right to the back of the bottom shelf, amongst the napkins and sanitizer sprays. Her hands tremble as she grabs a small pencil case.
She gets the key from the case. Rah squats, holding her stomach, half sitting. She takes a step back, holding her breath, positioning herself right behind the register. She gropes the register’s drawer and finds the keyhole. Rah turns the lock sideways. Click. She puts the key in her bra, right above the wire.
Rah sits back down and sighs. She looks at her watch: 10:03. She hears the man banging on the door. “Let me in, yo, please let me in. You know me.”
Will it be her responsibility if he gets shot and dies? Will that be her wrongdoing? Will that be on her? Will it count as her sin? But then there is no such thing as sin. If she dies, she would just rot in the ground. This guy is making her go down with him. Who the hell is he? He’s not even her boyfriend. Oh well, she hasn’t gotten laid in a long time anyway. If she survives, then she’ll have to install Tinder.
“Hey, yo. I know you’re in there. Let me in, please.”
She remembers a few years back when she had to write an essay about human priorities and how they change accordingly as human needs in life improve. Up one level. She doesn’t remember the term for it. Isn’t this, right now, the perfect example of survival skills? She herself will always come first.
It doesn’t matter. Rah looks at her watch again. Still 10:03. Not even a minute has passed. Rah takes a look. She bobbles half her head over the counter. There’s that sound again she just heard five days ago: a gunshot. She squeezes her fingers together, forming a fist. This is the third time. Third strike and you’re out.
“Don’t try to run, bitch,” she hears another dude’s voice. “Goddamn it.”
Rah digs back under the counter. She can go back to the kitchen now if she wants — at least Kenny and Ani are there.
Bang. Sh*t. She bets the kitchen staff can’t hear a thing. They’re always blasting their nasty upbeat music. If she yells help, it’ll be too obvious. The glass door is too thin and the windows show the inside of the whole place.
If the guy still has three bullets, he can shoot the dumbass dude again, the glass door, and then he would shoot her last.
“F**king hell, man!” the guy yells, moaning.
Rah imagines red drops coming from his heart, leaking out through his shirt. The guy is a nice guy, but she deserves to live more than him. Everyone chooses a responsibility and this is Rah’s choice. Why would she jeopardize her own life for someone who is nameless in her life? Wait. Maybe his name is Jeremy, if she remembers it correctly.
“I’mma shoot you again. Stop walking. I already told you — I just wanna talk. Don’t make me waste my bullet again,” Rah hears footsteps drifting closer to her space. “Hey. Stop it. Stop walking. NOW.”
She closes her eyes. She sits on the floor; her muscles are sore. Just go away from her take-out shop. Just walk further down the street in front of the FedEx office. Just do your deeds there.
A tear runs down her face. She’ll call her mother tonight and tells her she loves her, if all is well. Hell, she has never even seen her nephew. He’s three now. What will her older brother tell him about her?
All she wants right now is that Lontar fruit they usually sell at the fish market, already cut into perfect bite-size pieces, ready to eat. They sell it at a blue stall, right by where they sell the dead turtles. And of course, she wants that peanut sauce with fresh beansprouts, tofu, half boiled eggs and green beans from across from her old school.
The footsteps grow louder and then they’re gone. They must be walking away from here. Rah has never been to other countries besides her home and the great United States.
She opens her eyes and stands up. They’re gone. She has always wanted to go to Budapest. They say it’s really cheap.
Rah wipes her tears and fixes her black pants. She walks to the glass door and unlocks it. She sees the regular limping on his right leg. The other man with the gun is still following him, still aiming the gun.
She goes to the kitchen; the men are busy frying pot stickers and unloading the dishwasher, obscure. She fixes her bra and clears her throat.
“Hey, Rachel, that one’s all packed and ready to go,” the cook says. “Don’t forget to bring that too, alright?”
Ninda Daianti is an Indonesian writer and writing instructor. She teaches Creative Writing at The Jakarta Post Writing Center.