HER WARM hand squeezed mine tighter for no apparent reason, a ring digging in, steps halting. I looked at her: attention fixed on the other side of the boulevard. A chromatic man in a t-shirt and shorts was wielding a rifle at a bus stop. I took a slug of my iced coffee barely conscious of the fact my girlfriend was now hugging my waist, that we’d stopped, becoming part-time statues, everyone else concentrated on walking where they needed to be, citizens rushing past.
Casually, I again sipped my drink, sweetness sickening, raising my shades to the top of my head. Shots fired. Two bodies fell like dead weight. No movie dramatics as gravity wrenched them down. A small train of buses rolled by obscuring our view briefly while two more bursts echoed, results revealed by the tail-end of a bus like a curtain being pulled back. Three more people writhed on the pavement with shards of perspex from the shelter bouncing rays.
‘It’s OK,’ I uttered, stroking Tamara’s hair, her face now buried in my torso. ‘He’s not going to kill us.’
‘How can you be so sure?’ she said, all muffled, pitch infused with fear.
‘Look. He’s on his way.’ Strolling away the rifle swinging by the mans side like a rucksack, crooked armed, with a phone to their ear – it was over.
Tamara peeked out testing my explanation for her own self. I could feel her shaking. Poor girl. So sheltered. So new to this country. She opened up her body, slurping on her coffee, ice clinking together, one arm still clinging to me. ‘Shouldn’t we…do something?’
I cupped an ear. No sirens. ‘Nah. Someone else will have called. Besides, if they’re dead already, what’s the rush?’
She looked appalled, stepping back, that familiar look in her eyes of various conquests. Then she hesitated, expression changed, words queuing up on her tongue. ‘You know what, that’s true, hadn’t thought of it that way before.’
‘See?’ I said all jovial. ‘How’s your coffee?’
‘About as good as their wifi connection…at least it’s cold.’
I moved to kiss her. A sign of affection was what I was going for, but she placed one hand on my cheek and let it linger, leaving me briefly lost in time: placeless.
‘You’re so brave…’ she whispered, inches away, smiling.
‘Hardly,’ I replied eyes rolling. ‘Once you’re used to it, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be fine. Notice nobody else stopped? And the people at the bus stop who didn’t get shot? They’re still there…Look, they’re about to get the 32.’
Just then a dispute broke out twenty feet away between a woman in a dress suit and a charity mugger. ‘You want my money? Fine.’ She pulled something out of her large black leather bag. That wasn’t a purse?! The bag hit the grey pavement and she launched at the man with a….knife. One hand on the chuggers shoulder, she thrust in and out in a flurry of efficient jabs, sending them down, blood visibly spreading through the light coloured clothing, running freely through their hands clutched at their stomach.
As cool as a Siberian wind, the woman flicked long brown hair from her face, squatted down plucking a wad of tissues from her bag, cleaned the knife, then tossed the tissues away to roll and flap in the wind along the ground, knife placed carefully back from where it came. And she strutted off, bag swinging, heels clicking, a look of fury as she marched past us.
Tamara broke the silence once the woman was out of earshot, lost in the bodies of high street lunchtime. ‘Do you ever think we’ve become desensitised to violence?’ We drank in unison, liquid lines of the clear plastic cups descending with our thirst.
‘As long as it’s not us — right?!’