by Samuel K. Wilkes
Nirabadha pulled off the county road to check on his first gas station. The morning sun still hid behind Georgia, not yet bathing the small Alabama town with light. Only the fog and turkey hunters seemed to silently move about. Nirabadha looked at his phone as he climbed out of his Outback. He scanned the adjacent wooded lot, then walked in the gas station greeted by an electronic chime.
“Morning, Mr. Nirabadha,” said his employee from behind the counter.
“Good morning, Greg. How is everything?”
“Great!” Nirabadha nodded, then looked over at the stranger loitering by the coffee pots.
Greg noticed the awkward pause, “Mr. Nirabadha, this here is my good friend, Doug. Doug this is my boss, Mr. Nirabadha—he owns this store and the station outside Dadeville.”
The men shook hands briefly and re-introduced themselves.
“Yea, heard a lot about you from Greg here,” Doug raised his chin.
“Well, I hope it was all good reports,” Nirabadha said as he reached over to pour some coffee.
“Oh yea, says you’re a great boss. Nothing but good, gracious things to say about you. Yes, sir,” Doug smiled and sipped on his coffee. Before Nirabadha could respond or move, Doug continued talking as if he had nowhere to be, “Yep, Greg told me you was Indian and your family is from here. Now, if you don’t mind, let me ask you—was your ancestors part of the whole Red Sticks Horseshoe Bend battle?”
Greg reached over and slapped him with his folded cap, “I told you fool—he’s dot, not feather.”
Nirabadha rolled his eyes and smiled like a sage as the two men argued, eventually weighing in, “No, no, I am definitely ‘dot’.”
“I apologize, Mr. Nirabadha, I didn’t mean no offense.”
“Quite alright. Honest mistake. But to answer part of your question, I was born and raised here in Alexander City.”
“I’m from Notasulga, myself,” Doug said excitedly. “So I’m sure you’ve heard of the whole Horseshoe Bend an’ all that then.”
“Oh, yes, cannot miss it growing up here. In fact, I played a Creek leader in the reenactment one year.”
“Well, all be damned. See Greg, I wasn’t that far off, now was I?”
Nirabadha took the opportunity to move on to business and step behind the counter with Greg like he was entering their shared prison cell. A little grey radio with a long antenna sat on a stool next to them, releasing Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” into the small store.
Greg started to sing and tap his boot, but then stopped, as if lightning struck him, remembering to ask his boss something, “You already been to the Dadeville store, right?”
Nirabadha looked up from counting, “Well, no, not this morning, had to pick up something here first to take down there. Why do you ask?”
“Oh nothing. Just was wondering if you had seen Donna. Clyde came by here already looking for her.”
Nirabadha’s chest inflated as he drew in a large anxiety-filled breath, “You mean he came by this morning? Here?”
“Well, what’d he want?”
Doug piped in, raising his coffee as if to make a toast, “Prolly trying to find his wife’s whore ass.”
Both Nirabadha and Greg turned to Doug with cold looks.
“Well she is—was—prolly…I heard she’s runnin’ around.”
“You don’t know anything about that woman,” Greg said sharply. “Donna’s a great employee. Been working for Mr. Nirabadha here for over ten years.”
“Well, I was just sayin’,” Doug shrugged.
Nirabadha removed his glasses and looked only at Greg, “You think they were fighting again?”
“No idea. Didn’t say. I told Clyde she was working the Dadeville store today. I just figured he was on his way turkey hunting—had his shotgun with him an’ all.”
Nirabadha threw down the inventory clipboard and put his glasses back in his chest pocket. Greg shuffled backwards quickly as his boss darted out from behind the counter.
“Something wrong, Mr. Nirabadha?” Greg asked sheepishly. “Did I mess—”
The electronic bell chimed as the short man returned to his Outback.
“Thought you said he liked you, Greg. Seems like he—”
“Shut the hell up, Doug!”
* * *
Across the Tallapoosa River, fifteen miles down Highway 280 into Dadeville, Nirabadha pulled into the parking lot of his second gas station. It was a typical BP green and yellow station, with six pumps, an air hose, a car wash and a convenience store. That morning two sheriff deputies stood out front next to their patrol cars. A pink sky appeared as the sun finally climbed up for another Alabama dawn.
“Whoa, sir, you can’t go in there!” one of the deputies shouted to Nirabadha as he stepped out of his Outback.
“I own this store. What’s the matter?”
Silence swept across the lot as if the world had paused.
“Please, sir, just step over here!”
“Where’s Donna? Is she okay? Where is she?”
Both the deputies lowered their heads simultaneously. One looked up slowly, “I’m so sor—”
“Ah shit!” Nirabadha kicked gravel into the highway, his eyes swelling up with tears.
The deputies both took a deep breath.
“I need to see her.”
“No, sir, you don’t—trust us. You don’t want to see. There’s no need.”
“Oh God! This is all my fault. It should’ve been me,” he wiped his eyes. “Where is Clyde?”
A logging truck whipped by on the highway, the noise and wind slapping the men’s backs. As soon as the rural stillness returned, the sound of an electronic chime echoed across the lot. The men turned around as Clyde, the 6’5” brute, limped zombie-like out of the store, a quarter of his head mangled and dripping from the suicide shotgun blast that apparently failed to finish the job.
“Good God!” they all cried in unison, trying to register the scene.
The deputies pulled out their Glocks and pushed Nirabadha behind the car. They approached slowly as Clyde tried to speak, but only gargles came out as he collapsed like a redwood into the asphalt.
“Holy shit! I thought you said he was dead, Jake?”
“He was! I checked his pulse!”
“How the hell did he get up and walk out here? Jesus!”
The two deputies approached slowly, guns still drawn. One nudged the body with his foot. Clyde did not move.
“I ain’t never seen that,” one of the deputies spat as he holstered his gun.
The other deputy kept looking at the body as it spilled out into the gravel, “You know it’s really sad, man is the only animal that would take his own life.”
“I don’t need to hear that crap right now,” the other deputy smirked. “I don’t give a shit that he took his own. Not sure why he had to go and take her with him.”
A barn owl called faintly in the distance as the deputies listened to Nirabadha cough and heave behind the patrol car.
* * *
Months later he looked out at the Tallapoosa River from the psychiatrist’s window. His right leg bounced nervously as he took a sip of the stale black coffee.
“I’m sorry about that interruption, Mr. Nirabadha,” the doctor said, softly returning to the room. “My wife needed to know where the fuse box was,” he rolled his eyes. “Now. Where were we?”
Nirabadha cleared his throat, “Well, the contamination alone cost me eleven grand in lost inventory. Then an additional seven grand in professional clean up services. Blood and remains were everywhere, across the length of the store. The station had to be closed for two weeks, so that was a good bit of lost revenue. Let’s see, I also donated $20,000.00 to the clerk’s family for the funeral and so forth.”
“That was very nice of you. You’re a good boss—and a good man, Mr. Nirabadha.”
He did not respond, slowly taking out his phone as if to hide it.
“But I want you to feel free to open up here. This is not easy. You saw a lot that day. So, let’s really think about this, confront these feelings, and go back to my original question—are you sure that is all you lost from the traumatic experience that morning?”
Nirabadha looked down at Donna’s text message from the night before that horrible morning, the one he failed to read until it was all over; still saved on his phone like an old photograph.
“I can’t wait any longer. I’m telling Clyde. I love you!”
He pressed the delete button and swallowed quickly and deeply as if about to choke.
“Yes, sir. That’s it. I have all the receipts itemized in my briefcase at home,” Nirabadha replied firmly, looking out the window to the running river.
Samuel K. Wilkes is a 30-year old attorney, writer and musician living on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay with his wife, Libba, and plump wiener dog, Gus. He attended college at the University of Alabama and law school at Cumberland in Birmingham. The writers who have influenced him most are William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. His short fiction has been published in the Steel Toe Review, Crack the Spine, Wordland 3, Mod Mobilian Press’ anthology Tributaries 2012, and will be published shortly in the WhiskeyPaper and Nazar Look’s anthology Looking Back. About his home state, he says, “I have dealt with Alabama-born insecurities my entire short life and have a love-hate relationship with the state, but I will never leave her.”