Inside the 7-11 I was still shaken up. Everything seemed bright and, for want of a better word, normal. Unnaturally so. The modernity of the place, the strangely upbeat music coming from the hidden speakers, the cool, fresh temperature; rows of ready made meals and snacks. Beef and chicken stews, curries, cardboard burgers and pasta; sushi wraps, salads and yoghurt. I stood in front of the vast range of chocolate bars looking for something with a strawberry centre, trying to get rid of an image of a man with a severed arm lying beside a river. Focussed on what to buy my girlfriend.
Absent-mindedly I went over to the fridges, took out a Heineken beer can, opened it up and took a sip. My gaze flew over the shelves of noodles, stationery, pet food and bathroom essentials to the middle-aged female cashier. Busy with a clipboard, she didn’t seem bothered that I was drinking before paying. I took in her freshly pressed uniform and wondered if it was her first day on the night shift. The ice cold beer trickling down my throat felt wonderful as I took in another sip.
Looking around for other customers, I realised I was the only one in there. It was almost three o’clock in the morning; who would be around at this time of night? It wasn’t as if we were anywhere near the city.
“Okay,” I said to myself. “Calm down.”
It was none of my business and nobody had seen me. I came here to buy some drinks and snacks and that’s exactly what I was going to do. My eyes moved to the cashier, her clipboard, a stack of magazines and the wall of cigarettes behind her.
“Get some water, another beer, chocolate bar for the girlfriend, a sandwich or two …” I went over to the snacks section and decided on some peanuts for myself.
“Now, what else do I need?” I said loudly with a fair amount of false nonchalance. “Cigarettes of course, got to replenish my stash. And dried mango, that was it.”
I doubled back to the snacks section and picked up a packet of fruity goodness.
With my arms full of delights, I went over to the counter to pay.
“Couldn’t sleep,” I said.
“The middle-aged cashier replied with a disinterested, “Mmm.”
“Must be the heat,” I continued. “Summer, eh? It’s a killer.”
Shit, bad choice of words. I didn’t want to say anything suspicious. Didn’t want her to remember me. Why the hell was I speaking to her at all?
“Three hundred and twenty-six,” she replied, making eye-contact for a fraction of a second.
Shit again. Wasn’t expecting it to be as much as that. But no matter. Not as if I couldn’t afford it.
I pulled out a 500 dollar note; handed it to her as the till burst open and she scraped out my change.
Receiving the money into the palm of my hand we briefly made eye contact again: I felt like I should say something more to this lady; no doubt she’d know what to do. Call the police over; she probably even had a button behind the counter for emergencies.
“I found a body,” is what I almost told her. “By the stream. Over there, in that direction,” I would have said, gesturing and pointing wildly at the glass windowed entrance.
The sound made when the sliding doors are disturbed. Scared me so much, I almost dropped the change all over the counter. But it was nothing but an old man, stinking of rice wine and stumbling in for more. His feet were bare and purple. Sandals, loose shorts and a greyish t-shirt that had seen better days. Let’s face it, everything about the guy told me he had seen better days. His tufts of oily hair, his patchy forehead, his blistered skin and bony joints. His severed right arm dripping with blood. The guy went straight to the booze section, just like I’d predicted, and took up a bottle of the cheapest rice wine there. The really bad stuff that’s only really any use if you use it for cooking. The one that comes in a tall, thin bottle and if you drink the whole thing it’ll get you pissed soon enough.
Circles of blood patted onto the tiled floor, like dripping ice-cream. Pat, pat, pat.
About to approach us, the guy seemed to be struck by a sudden thought. Something he’d either forgotten or just remembered, and he stopped right there, about ten feet from my shadow.
“Noodles!” he shouted, then began to laugh. “Forgot the damn noodles, didn’t I.”
His voice was loud and rasping and I stood there, rooted to the spot. Open mouthed and staring, there was nothing I could do to pull my eyes away.