The perks of taking public transport, apart from it being cheap, are the people, each more depressed than the last one. I listen to them sometimes, to their grumbles – always about their horrible jobs and horrible bosses. “Not everyone is fortunate enough, to do what they like to do for a living,” they say.
I am not everyone! It feels illegal to say out loud, what I do, but that’s because it is.
When a very specific set of people usually have a problem with someone, they bring me in to take care of it – preferably with a bullet.
I would be lying if I said that I don’t derive any pleasure from it, I do, and I am not ashamed of it because most of the people I deal with are not people at all. They are different. The people I am hired to exterminate are the ones that live off the grid, people who usually don’t have any social life and the kind that you, yourself, will gladly put an end to – if you knew what they have done. These are usually political killings and are the ones that pay the best.
Commoners are rarely targets, and even when they are, they usually have a relatively small bounty on their heads. These are targets handled by freelancers – who do it for a quick buck. These targets are usually like what these people are talking about – cruel bosses, people who are in a legal battle with someone, and so and so.
I say it out loud to these people sometimes about what I do, but no one notices…
“I hope my boss drops dead!” A guy once said to me.
“I’ll kill him for you if you like?” I said to him confidently.
“Yeah. Sure!” He sarcastically replied and dropped the conversation about it as soon as I brought it up.
If talking, as they say, is ninety per cent listening and ten per cent reacting, then I almost always happen to be the one doing that ten per cent. And if the conversations ever die out, then there is always the ever-changing view outside to look at. Like it or not, these are the perks of taking public transport – the chatty people and the constantly changing scenery. The view outside is great till you pass the fifth station. That’s usually where just about everyone gets off and gets back to their miserable, little lives. The scenery similarly gets more and more barren and gloomy as we go from one station to the next. The lively view of a living, breathing city progressively starts to fade away.
(2 hours left)
Having nothing to do, I brought out my assignment file and started to go through it. Usually, it looks something like a medical report, with all the necessary information about the less-than-fortunate target listed conveniently. This assignment is a bit different. There’s only a handful of the information listed in this file, and that too in a very amateurish way.
There is only a headshot of the man – a black-and-white photograph.
It doesn’t seem like it was taken with the man’s consent. He is in a very uncomfortable pose, as if someone is forcefully taking a picture of him and is only a few inches away from the camera. The picture is also a bit blurry, and the lens flare in it isn’t particularly helping, which is fine. And to be completely honest is an improvement on the pictures that I have been given in the past, which are usually taken from CCTV cameras, captured from a mile away.
I am told the target is a writer of some sort. All I have on this guy is his name, location, and the exact time of his death. The plan itself is simple. Enter the building which is next to the subject’s building. Go to the seventh floor. He lives in the west wing, so enters an apartment that faces his room and lets the gun do the rest, which is a fairly simple assignment for such an insanely high-value contract.
This case is unorthodox, to say the least, which is also why no one else wanted it. Rarely has anyone seen a common man, who, for the record, doesn’t have a history of crime, be targeted with such a high-value contract.
(1 hour and 57 minutes left)
It was getting dark. It had been pouring all day, and the sky didn’t look half as tired as it was in the morning. The air was freezing my knuckles. My fingertips were numb. I started to pack the file I had with me to put it back in my case.
I noticed the man sitting across from me, grazing at my file from the corner of his eyes. I was sitting in booth 3-1-7. It was deathly quiet in there. The evening sky was getting darker by the hour, and dark clouds were brushing against each other when suddenly the air was lit a blaze as lighting struck at a remote distance. Everyone on the train was petrified by the sound.
I turned to the man sitting across from me and sarcastically said, “Charming weather!”
“Isn’t it?” he replied with a not-so-subtle nod.
He was silent the whole journey. “Somebody’s outdoor wedding reception just got ruined.” I jokingly added. He laughed.
“So where are you headed?” he asked me.
“Next station,” I said to him.
“Trip?” he asked, raising his brows.
“Work,” I replied.
“What do you do?” he asked me.
“Well,” I said. “I kill people….”
He paused and then asked, “And how much do you make? Considering the risk, I’d hope you earn handsomely.”
I liked his sense of humour!
“So, what do you do?” I asked him.
“I teach philosophy.” He replied.
“You’re a philosopher?” I said in surprise.
“I don’t think I have met a philosopher before.” “You’re too kind…” he said. “That’s like calling a physics teacher, a physicist.” “Well, since you are the closest thing to a philosopher, I think I should ask you this,” I said. “I was thinking of quitting my profession.”
“The profession of dealing with skulls, you mean?” he asked to make sure. I nodded.
“I think I should get a free lesson, on ethics, from you,” I said. “You may end up saving a life or two.”
“This ought to be interesting.” He responded. “Continue…”
“Is taking a human life wrong?” “Yes.” “Well, riddle me this then, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, then does it make a sound?” I asked.
“Yes.” He responded with a hint of frustration in his tone.
“How?” I asked. “Sound is a perception. Its existence is entirely dependent on it being perceived. Similarly, right and wrong are perceptions, as well. Why should I be restrained by something that doesn’t, to be frank, even exist? Justice is a thoroughly overrated concept. People only abide by it and care for it, because it is fashionable. I don’t care about what people think. I have no use of their opinions.”
“Your argument is very interesting. You certainly have put a lot of thought into it, but this argument of yours lives and dies on certain assumptions.” “Like what?” “Like the fact, that your actions aren’t being seen, they are.”
“By who?” I asked him, “god?”
“Yes, god!” He said with a light nod.
“Professor! You’re a believer? Didn’t take you for one.” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“I heard somewhere all philosophers sit on the fence, with religion.” “Really? Sorry to disappoint.” “Don’t be,” I said. “May I ask, why?”
“You may.” He said nonchalantly.
“Why?” “Well,” he began, “I believe something cannot come from nothing. There must be some designer who designs it all, some writer who writes it all, some witness who sees it all. And so in that case our actions are being witnessed and therefore have meaning. Now, that meaning may not benefit you and me, personally, but they do matter to someone.”
“And why is it that way?” I asked.
“Why is the world the way it is?” he rephrased my question.
“Well, everyone has a theory.”
“What’s yours?” I asked.
“I think our world is an epic, a story. We are all being perceived. We are someone’s perception. The story wouldn’t be complete without us, each and every single one of us, which is why every one of us matters.”
“What made you come to that conclusion?” “That’s a story, which is of no use to you.” “Come on, you can’t leave someone hanging like that. It’s anticlimactic! Be a good sport.” I urged him.
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said, pointing in my direction.
“I cross my heart,” I said, with earnestness oozing out of every syllable.
“So, I was sitting in my room.” He began. “Half-awake… my eyelids were wrestling to stay open. This is when, I wonder, people sleepwalk. I was half paralyzed on my bed, and I was looking up towards the ceiling fan as it spun slowly in a hypnotic rhythm. I had a slight headache, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. I wasn’t blinking. I was just staring up at the ceiling like it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
“That is when I suddenly started to feel a bit lighter than before – like someone was lifting my body off the bed. I didn’t move or make a sound, I was too tired to. I was certainly curious and wanted to see where I was being taken to.
“I was inches away from the ceiling. I reached out to touch it, to see if any of it was real. It was. Or at least it felt like it. My fingers caressed the white, clean surface of my ceiling. But it didn’t feel like concrete. It was soft, almost like a fluid that was tired of following the laws of physics. The feeling of touching that fluid can’t be put into words. That sensation was by all means alien to me. It started to tickle my fingertips, but I kept moving my hand over the surface of this otherworldly water as it made beautiful ripples that danced and collided with each other. It felt good.
“I plunged my hand in it to see how deep it went, and that was when I realized it had started to draw me in. First, my face went in and then my chest, and by the time I started to violently shake my body, to set myself free, that substance had already devoured me. There was absolutely nothing there except soul-crushing isolation. It was a void, a vacuum, a pit filled to every inch with nothingness. I truly felt helpless in there. It felt like I was there for a million years.
That was when I saw a tiny shimmer of light, a dot, glittering a mile away. But then it started to move closer to me. And by the time I realised that it wasn’t the dot that was moving closer to me but the other way around, it was already too late. That tiny shimmer of light turned into a massive tunnel. My body moved through it at light speed. My retinas were bombarded with bright, saturated colours of shades I had never seen before. There were kaleidoscope shapes in there, which were fidgeting and flashing endlessly.
“My body went deeper, and in the end, I ended up inside a man’s head. I could look through his eyes. I could feel every muscle in his body and every movement that they were making. For a moment, two of our consciousness had become one.
I could feel his fingertips typing words tirelessly on his old keyboard, they were hurting. His eyes were just as tired as mine, struggling to stay open. He was all alone in an empty apartment with no furniture but the table he was working on and the chair on which he sat. All he had, as a company, was a table calendar with “LAST DAY!!!” written over today’s date, kept at an angle from him. I remember seeing that very clearly. He was sitting at his laptop, writing something. At that moment, I didn’t realize what he was working on.
“I was still feeling terribly lonely – after all, I have been alone for a million years! We were the only two people there, but I felt the presence of a third. “Maybe, someone is behind me.” I wondered. But even before I could turn around to see who it was, everything faded to black, and then I woke up in my bed.”
“Who was he?” I asked with almost childish enthusiasm.
“He was the creator.” He instantly said. “I came to this realization after I was awake. He was writing our world into existence. I felt comfort in knowing that I was not alone, that someone was watching over me, and that my existence had meaning. But I couldn’t forget what I saw in that dream. For so many days, that dream haunted me.
“After all, why did he mark today’s date on his calendar out of all the other days? Why did he mark today’s date as “LAST DAY!!!”? What’s going to happen today? I have no clue.
“I woke up today, not completely knowing what to do. A dream had told me that today is going to be special. I don’t know, why! So, I thought about what that dream could have meant, what that extreme feeling of isolation could have meant. Maybe it was telling me that our world was coming to an end and I had wasted my whole life, being alone. Or maybe it was to tell me, that time is limited and I should spend the time I have left with my loved ones. Regardless, of both of these possibilities, I am going to spend this day with my parents. I haven’t seen them in a while…” he said with sadness in his voice. “Should be fun, no?”
I gave a light nod.
I knew it didn’t matter to him if this vision was real or not – it bought him comfort. That was where our weird little conversation ended.
(1 hour left)
When the train stopped at the station, I poked around in my pockets to see if I had everything I had brought with me. All I have is my briefcase with a sniper and a very suspicious-looking file in it, a ticket which I have no use after getting down from this train, an overcoat that I am wearing right now with a handgun in its left pocket, and a lighter in its right and unfortunately no cigarettes. I thought I would get a pack at the station, but even before I could, the seething rain washed away all my expectations.
“Too late, I should get a taxi,” I thought. I got on the first cab I saw after getting to the exit.
“Go!” I said to the driver as I landed my damp briefcase on the carpet. My coat was drenched from the heavy shower in a few fleeting moments. So, I took it off and sat in the back seat silently for the rest of the journey, with my head evenly rested on the headrest. I looked outside at the grey scenery. The dimly lit sky was making the buildings look grey, as the gloomy image of the pouring sky reflected on the pristine, clean mirrors of the towers that were ahead of me. The raindrops were dancing on the car’s roof, making a relaxing soundscape as I begrudgingly dozed off. It rained for a while as the taxi drifted through the dreary city – not making a noise – and by the time the rain stopped, I was here.
The taxi stops right under the neon sign of the tower, which is next to the writer’s building. “Fiddler’s Green”, it said. The two buildings are about a meter or two apart from each other, though there is plenty of space around them.
I check my watch to see how much time I have left before pulling the trigger.
(10 minutes left)
The wind is getting colder by the minute. Another storm is just over the horizon, heading my way. I bring out my wallet to pay the driver. He murmurs something to me, maybe telling me how much to pay. I poke around in my wallet, not seeing clearly due to the bright neon sign of the building changing colours every five seconds. I pass him the first note my fingers come in contact with. I gave him way more than I was supposed to, but I tell him to keep the change, anyway, since I had enough with me to buy a ticket back home.
I slowly walk into the building, and my presence is greeted with nothing but an unnerving silence. No one’s here, not even a guard. There is an echo from a leaking tap coming from around the corner – the sound of which is haunting the parking space.
I take the stairs and walk up very quietly, trying not to disturb the stillness. I keep climbing as the faint hymn of the city starts to disappear from the background to the point where the only audible noise gracing my eardrums is the sound of my leather boots hitting the dust on the floor. As I reach the seventh floor, I hear the sound of thunder, and instantly the power goes out. So, I bring out my lighter and keep moving forward. The faint orange glow of the lighter flame flickers in the dark as I take one step at a time all the way to the other end of the building.
I find myself at the end of a dusty doorway. All the doors have a thin layer of dust over their door knobs. I break into flat 7-1-3. I feel like my instincts are telling me that this apartment faces the writer’s room. I am not fully sure why.
(6 minutes left)
I start to look for some switches or a circuit breaker to restore the power. But by the time I do, the backup generators of the writer’s building start-up and, one by one, all of its windows light up. The windows of the apartment I am in are open, and since the two towers are fairly close, I can see pretty well from the light coming from the opposite building, so I don’t bother with the switches. I keep my half-empty lighter back in my pocket and start to look around the house to make sure I am the only one there. The whole flat is empty, but when I enter the lounge, I hear a clicking sound coming from the next room. My hand automatically reaches for the handgun.
I keep my index finger right on top of the trigger and start to walk toward the sound. The door of that room is open. So, I take a step back – holding my pistol firmly in my fist – and kick the door wide open. This room is empty, but this room has a tiny window, and it is directly facing the writer’s room. The writer, luckily, is sitting right in front of his window, with his back to mine. He is unhinged by the sound of me kicking the door open.
Maybe he didn’t notice.
I then took a kid-size chair, which was kept right beside the bed, and sat just beside the window. I keep an eye on him, and as I slowly bring out my sniper and start putting a silencer on its barrel.
The wind is rising.
I move my chair a foot or two from the window, and I land the barrel of my gun on the window frame. I look through the scope of the gun and adjust its lens. It is now that a small dirty table calendar catches my attention. It is kept in the corner of the writer’s table. I squint to see it a bit more clearly.
“LAST DAY!!!” I noticed is written right over today’s date.
“What an unholy coincidence?” I think, as my blood ran cold. It was all going so well!
(30 seconds left)
It is unprofessional to have cold feet at this precise moment. This is when most missions go wrong. I go through the files again and again and again, in a state of total panic – reading out loud everything that is written here in this file, maybe hoping to find something new, something that I might have missed.
(5 seconds left)
I have to get out of here, as soon as I can!
(4 seconds left)
Who is this man?
(3 seconds left)
Who are you?
(2 seconds left)
Who are you, Khairul Nadim Chowdhury?
It’s too late to be asking these questions…
(1 second left)
I pull the trigger, and the shell flies out of the barrel, creating a spectacular blaze upon its exit. It goes right through the writer’s heaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa|
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