Tuesday afternoon: The class ended early, and I trudged out of the room and away from that fake gothic building. Outside, I saw my friend Mark; he’s in my philosophy class. To be honest, I am not sure about his name, but I never remember names. He was sitting on one of the broad stone balustrades with his laptop sitting on his lap. When he saw me, he smiled and saluted me with the metal horns.
He wore the same rags every day: a worn out black pea coat covered with white fuzzy lint, a pair of black Adidas tearaway pants with white metal snaps running the length of both sides of the legs, and a pair of white Nike that were no longer white because he had never changed them since he bought them. His face looked red from afar, but he was just a white American boy with pimples on his face, randomly distributed like blueberries on a muffin or a pancake.
I went to talk to Mark, or whatever his name was. Outside was cold, and so we went inside. The cafeteria was crowded and filthy—it would make a pig vomit, so we went to the student lounge downstairs. We talked about women. It was quite an intellectual conversation—we discussed the different dimensions of women’s breasts and rears. Also we talked about what was original in music. He did not know the band Slint, nor did he know Jesus Lizard—but what about Neurosis, Rodan, Wipers, Celtic Frost, and Hüsker Dü? No, he didn’t know them!
Yes, of course, he knew Coltrane’s Giant Steps—4 minutes and 49 seconds of improvisation in a rapid harmonic progression of chord changes—Coleman and The Shape of Jazz to Come, Monk’s Round Midnight, and Parker the “Bird”. They had something in common—jazz, of course. But also they were heavy smokers.
I never smoked, but Mark did smoke two packs of Marlboro Lights a day. He lit them with matches, but he also had a white lighter as a backup. He was a rather nervous guy.
Everybody has nervous habits, biting nails, touching hair, crunching fingers, clearing throat, shrugging shoulders, jerking legs, picking noses. He lit matches with his thumb—no big deal.
But it was a big deal for the petty college assistant who worked at the door of the student lounge on that Tuesday afternoon. Mark lit a match and she called security. But she lied, of course. Maybe she told the cops that we built a fire in the middle of the goddamn floor. We left the lounge quickly and walked down the hallway that led to the atrium. I marched toward the escalator, but Mark awaited there.
He was brave enough to face the cops, but irresponsible enough to overestimate their mental abilities; I walked away, instead. I took the escalator up and, as I reached the first floor, I bumped into a rotund female cop, who was frantically running down the escalator that went up calling for backup on her walkie-talkie.
I walked up to the first floor; I had a partial view of the atrium from up there; so, I knelt to see what was happening, and I saw Mark surrounded by cops—it was too fucked-up to be real.
The college assistant, the petty one, slapped Mark’s pimpled face and a six-foot- tall officer was holding Mark by one arm. The rotund lady cop pulled a pair of brand new handcuffs out of their holster and snapped them around my friend’s wrist.
Then, a noise vibrated the air abruptly: the trigger dropped a pre-cocked hammer to activate the firing pin that struck a percussion cap located at the center of a case head. The spark ignited the powder producing burning gases that pushed a projectile down the barrel and propelled it through the air. I saw a flash and the cop recoiled from the tremendous amount of energy transmitted back to him, which was generated from the weight of the weapon, the weight of the projectile, and the speed at which it left the muzzle. The music stopped.
The students went to school to learn on that Tuesday. After all, it was just an ordinary day to them. I didn’t know them all, but I’m sure there were Jack, Sandra, Pablo, Philip, Vanessa, Jose, Michael, and many others. Some of them maybe cheated on their tests, or plagiarized to write some insignificant essay with a thesis statement. The teachers, as usual, in their respective departments, were denigrating their students sipping their ghastly Starbucks potions. The janitors—oh, I forgot they no longer call them janitors—were mopping the bathrooms or emptying out the trash cans of some boastful literature teachers while they (the teachers) were assigning nonsense compare/contrast essays to their classes.
The cartridge case was automatically ejected from the chamber, but it had not yet touched the floor when Mark’s body, like a sack of potatoes, dropped onto the insipid olive green tiles in the atrium.
Mark lay there with blood bubbling and squirting from the hole in his forehead. In seconds, the blood formed a deep ruby red puddle that covered a few square meters of the aforementioned ugly floor.
For one million billionth of a millisecond, I heard Mark’s voice again speaking of Coltrane, Coleman, Parker, and Monk. And I saw his pimples, his tearaway pants, his linty pea coat, his white cigarette lighter, his thumb lighting that match, and his blood—but he was dead.