SunTrust Bank sits across the street from the Shell gas station. The worst place to put a bank. Just last week, a kid I went to high school with was murdered by pump number five. His killer still at large. Nobody saw nothing. Even at two in the morning, in a part of the city steadily flooded with flashing blue lights, the silence of sleep pierced by sirens, someone sees something, has to hear anything.
Through the narrow glass windows of the bank, I see his reflective construction vest first, made with neon lime and orange fabric. He stands in front of the gas grill hauled by the white pickup parked next to the sign that displays the prices—$2.39 a gallon, a crime itself. The man by the grill holds out a burnt black hot dog wrapped in foil, and it’s the desperation in the way he digs deep into the left hip pocket of his jeans, counts the change once, then twice, and then a third time, that tells me he’ll be coming to the bank next.
He devours the hot dog in three bites, wipes his hands on the front of his pants, and approaches the curb. I check the wall clock behind the teller’s counter. Two minutes to my lunch break, but I feel obligated to stay in place, to protect him from a foolhardy decision that will inevitable get him killed, another black body gunned down in the street by police, another wailing mother praying for justice.
The glass door swings open, and the sharp inhale of breath next to me tells me my blond coworker has already pressed the silent alarm underneath her drawer.
“Give me the money,” he says to me.
“Do you have a checking account with us?” I look into his eyes and see the soul of my own son. His sadness when he mispronounces a word on his homework. His dejection when his teacher gives up on him for being too slow to catch on with the rest of the class. His fear when the assistant principals follow him to the bus after school.
“Don’t do this,” I whisper softly so the others who dread him don’t hear. “There are other ways.” But he looks away, breaking our connection. The world has told him this all his life—there are other ways, other options—giving him no examples, no choices, condemning him either way.
“Just give me,” he says, raising his voice, then lowering it, “the money.”
During a robbery, we’re trained to empty our drawers, whether the suspect has a gun or not. I pray he does, that he’ll reveal it from behind his back the second I look down. Not having one won’t save him, but at least with a gun pointed to my face, my fear will be justified—handing over the money as a method of self-preservation. Instead, I worry for his life.
Two thousand dollars tucked inside his vest, he sprints back across the street and disappears inside the gas station as the distant echo of sirens draws closer.
My coworkers, cowering behind the counter and under the desks in offices, quickly crowd around me.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine,” I snap.
“Oh my god, my heart was pounding.” The blonde to my left beats her hand against her chest.
“I could tell he was bad news. He looked seven feet tall.”
My manager drapes his arm over my shoulders. “They’ll get him. Robbing a bank on foot? He won’t get far.”
I know this, and I try to hide my disgust, wiping the tears from my eyes. I turn my attention to the narrow windows facing the Shell, now flushed in blue. Lord, protect him, I pray. And protect his poor mother from ever learning the truth of his final moments.
Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Backstories, character sketches, outlines, and in the case of this post, prologues. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!