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Friday, November 13, 2015

Confession-- a short story

I killed a man.

I was heading south of the city on a moonless night. The asphalt stretched in a straight line beyond the reach of the headlights and the stars were sending secret messages to their neighbours.

Two hours out and I had encountered only a handful of motorist. It was a weekday, after midnight. I had delivered my cargo to the fish market in Bangkok. I don't like the city; no sky, no air, no sea. I turned around for the trip home; driving through to daylight and the call to prayer from my father's minaret.

I was caught in several police road blocks coming into the city. I rolled down my window and held out the customary bribe. I held the money in my hand, tightly folded so they could not determine the denomination of the bill until I had secured my passage. I keep a wallet full of small bills for such occasions.

The truck was overloaded; it always is on these runs. The back bumper threatening to hit the pavement at every dip in the road.

The shrimp were quickly unloaded; heading to tables around the world. I got my money, some coffee and noodles from a street vendor. They weren't halal but I was hungry and no one but God and I would know.

I slid behind the wheel, my seat readily complying to my body; its familiar companion.

Clear, dark, lonely nights-- they're the best for driving. I make good time. The road is magic under these four wheels; it disappears before the universe registers my presence.

The radio is on but there is not much I want to hear so I tune into silence. The night grows deeper and I don't mind. Nights are meant to be like that-- lonely.

The headlights of the truck reach out and caress a rider. The motorcycle has no lights, and the rider no helmet. There is a hitch in the stride of the truck and a brief shudder reverberates through the steering wheel. The bike and rider are gone and the night flows through me.

I roll down the window and drink the humidity, subconsciously listening for an animal's howl. I hear nothing. There's nothing now but I know there was something, someone -- and I know what I have done.

I am travelling 120 miles an hour on a straight, dark highway with flooded rice fields banking the margins. There is no surviving this. No need to turn back.

Doubt claws at me as the miles pass. I have a clear picture of a stunned bird flapping helplessly in the middle of quiet city street one fall afternoon. That was a different life. Another life that I failed to save. I watched the bird from the safety of the sidewalk. It was starting to rain; a cold rain in a northern city very far from this place.

I thought about rescuing the bird from its certain death but I didn't know what to do with that life. It would be a burden, a question, an inconvenience. I watched as a car turned onto the street and killed the bird. I could have at least done that-- I know about the killing of things.

But now I can't turn back. I could search the highway all night and never find the scene of the crime. It's a long, dark road reflecting back on itself mile after mile.

The rider, like the bird before, has died or will die soon. I killed them both. This is my confession.

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