Mukhtar Tarzan signalled for the bus to stop. One good thing about these buses is the bitches actually stop at their bus stops. You don’t have to go running after them. The bus’s automatic door opened and we got on one after another.
There were about ten women sitting up front and around twenty men in the back. The conductor was sitting by his ticket machine. You go up to him to buy your ticket. Conductors have it really easy, man. There was a chilly feel to the bus; it didn’t smell of paan spit or anything. Those buses don’t jolt along at every step either. Money buys the good things in life.
People are always saying you shouldn’t lust after money, but who lusts after money? All us suckers want the good things in our lives. Everyone lusts after the good life. If you could get whatever you wanted without money, why would anyone go around robbing banks, stealing cars or snatching purses?
Yeah, even I would go watch that what-d’you-call-it, you know, the kind of fancy dancing Sheema Kirmani does. I’d spend my vacations in a rented hut on the beach, have a nice car, a new model of mobile phone, a nice brand of clothes, shoes and perfume, Reynolds sunglasses. But! You need dough – bits of paper printed with Quaid-i-Azam’s face on it – for all that stuff. Not even the pimps will let you sneak into the red-light district without it.
I looked around one more time. How many of them would remember my face? Would the old guy in front? Hardly! He was probably trying to remember where to get off the bus. Or would that self-important man, sitting there wearing trousers and a shirt?
If I were sitting in his living room a month later wearing Benetton pants, a cotton shirt and film-star sneakers, asking to marry his daughter, would that asshole recognise my face? Bet you he wouldn’t recognise me even if he wanted to.
The three of us went and sat in the empty seats. I went over to the ladies’ section. Women’s faces look so dumb when they go pale. I love it when they say, “Oh brother, oh son, have mercy on us,” and when they get all scared and call me “rascal” and “bastard”. Kashif Virus went to the furthest back seats and Mukhtar Tarzan went to the middle section.
By this point I was getting kind of excited – like I had fire running through my veins instead of blood. Three of the women were wearing gold bangles. There aren’t as many women in gold bangles as there used to be, but you still come across a few. Go ahead and buy gold if you’re into it, but what’s with these women who think they look so amazing wearing gold?
One woman was sitting at an angle to me and I could only see her hands, which were heavily decorated with mehndi. She wore lots of red glass bangles on her wrists that were jangling around, but the sound just didn’t have that magic jingle gold bangles do, and she kept twisting the ring she wore on her right hand. Just one ring!
This woman is of no use, I thought. The ring was set with a gemstone. Probably won’t get much for it. But she was wearing a burqa, so it was possible she had gold jewellery on the inside. My heart pounded with excitement and I felt the fire in my blood.
Tarzan went over by the conductor with his head down. At first, the conductor looked pleased to see a customer. He probably thought mistakenly that Tarzan had come to buy a ticket. He wore a short-sleeved shirt and trousers, and was looking very respectable himself.
The jerk probably didn’t make more than four thousand rupees a month, but somehow he was able to look pretty dapper. His wife probably stitched clothing for the entire neighborhood and belonged to a community ladies’ committee. His children probably studied in a yellow government school or in one of those open-format private schools that crop up in neighbourhood homes, where the teachers earn a hundred rupees a month.
The conductor looked at Tarzan and smiled, and then suddenly his expression changed to a grimace and his eyes widened. He might not have seen a TT pistol before today, but seeing one on television or in a movie and seeing one right in front of you are two different things.
I totally get that – the first time I held one in my hand, it was like a volcano erupting inside me. That little piece of metal made me feel so powerful. And nothing gives you a bigger high than power. I knew then that I could have anything, anything that important people have. It was all mine! All of it! I slowly imbibed its coolness through my palm.
The conductor looked at me and then he looked at Tarzan. Three TTs. He whimpered. The bastard probably wet himself. Tarzan quickly turned toward the men’s section and I rushed over to the women’s section. He yelled, “No one make any noise! Quick, quick! Put whatever you have in here.”
He went running around, pushing a bag in front of everyone. The passengers must have been astonished as well. What just happened? That’s just how it goes, people. Fate, goddamn fate – it’s got you trapped. “Mobiles, mobiles. Take off the watches too.” I could hear him wheezing as he spoke. That jerk wheezes more than he works.
As expected, the women got all tearful when they saw me. Okay, for one thing, I just don’t get women. They could be happy or sad, frightened or doing something brave, but the bitches always weep and carry on no matter what’s happening. One time my dad threw me out of the house because he didn’t approve of some of my habits.
What was I supposed to do? I had nowhere to stay, so I spent my nights on the roofs of tombs. Whenever I heard a sound and woke up suddenly at night and looked around, I’d see women up to their black magic: one would be wiping away her tears as she poked a small effigy with needles, another would be sobbing while she filled a little bag with earth from a grave. Women love drama, whether it’s on Star Plus or something they cooked up themselves. So in a way, we were actually helping these women out.
The driver, the moron, turned toward me suddenly, like he was going to curse me out: “Hey there, son of a hijra, what are you doing in the ladies’ section?” But then he saw the piece in my hand and shut up. Maybe he suddenly remembered that hijras can’t have kids. I didn’t even need to tell him, “Keep driving; don’t even think of stopping!” because he completely froze. But I did it anyway, to impress the others: “Keep driving! Don’t stop the bus, moron!”
By now, the bus was already on Sakhi Hasan Road. The road was as clear as a bald man’s head – that’s how good our timing was. I quickly emptied the purses, or rather, grabbed them. I made the women take off their bangles and rings. Two wore burqas. There was no time to argue with them. I just took whatever was visible.
When I got to that woman who was twisting her ring, she looked at me questioningly, as if to say, “Are you going to rob me, even me!” I didn’t pay much attention to her meek face. It was showtime. “Give me your purse. The purse. Hurry.” She handed over the purse with trembling hands – and the ring – as I motioned toward her hand with my TT.
“It’s my wedding ring.” Dumb bitch, women go seriously nuts for jewellery. I was just thinking I ought to smack that red-lipsticked mouth, when someone screamed behind me, “Help! I’ve been shot!” I was on high alert now. Our plan had been to shoot no one unless absolutely necessary.
A woman screamed, “Oh, Allah, please help us!” At times like these, people always think of Allah. Why should Allah care about all these opportunistic and thoughtless people? If god listened to all the opportunistic requests, opportunists would be the only believers. I get that.
So anyway, that woman with the ring turned around immediately, and screamed as though she was the one who’d been shot. “Kamal!” she screamed and jumped up immediately. Our work was pretty much done. The boy who’d been shot had fallen to the floor, clutching his stomach. “Help, I’m dying!” He was writhing. Everyone else was cowed. That must have been why Virus shot him. The sound of a shot really lets the air out of people. Try shooting a bullet sometime and see what happens. Pow! Hisssss!
Excerpted with permission from the short story “Roll of the Dice”, Aniqa Naz, from Women’s Writings from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh: The Worlds of Bangla and Urdu, Edited by Rakhshanda Jalil and Debjani Sengupta, Bloomsbury India.