Susan Sermoneta on flickr.com
Two men have a confrontation in a convenience store. "One is forty-seven; the other is thirty-seven. One has a gun; the other has not." From the novel Budge by Tom Osborne.
In the town of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, about a half-hour’s drive south of Edmonton and at four thirty in the morning, stands a very angry man.
On the other side of the counter in the town of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, and facing the first angry man stands another angry man. One man is of Burundian descent (the Hutu tribe to be exact) from the small African country of Burundi that borders the other African countries of Rwanda, Zaire, and Tanzania. The second man is of possible Irish-Ukrainian descent but is a naturalized Canadian citizen, from Canada, a larger country bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the United States of America. The one immigrated to Canada from Burundi in 1998 to escape a violent civil war in that small African country; the other has lived in Canada all his life. One was an economic adviser for agricultural development before being forced to immigrate and take a menial job such as all-night clerk in an all-night PetroCan gas station convenience store on Highway 2A in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. The other has never really bothered to work. One is well educated; the other is “educated enough,” he supposes. One is forty-seven; the other is thirty-seven. One has a gun; the other has not.
Outside the store and waiting in a car with the motor running is another man, also a naturalized Canadian of possible Irish-Ukrainian descent and younger brother to the angry naturalized Canadian standing in the store. This third man, the naturalized Canadian brother, is not angry, however. This third man is, well, a dreamer. Butch Truman, younger brother to Gordy Truman, one of the two angry men in the store. Butch Truman dreams. He dreams of having things, all kinds of things, things he thinks will make him happy. In fact, that’s why he and his brother are in Wetaskiwin in the first place, home of the famous Wetaskiwin Water Tower (“the oldest functioning water tower in Canada”); they’re here because of his dreams. That’s why they’d checked out Wetaskiwin’s Dan Simpa Used & Collectible Auto Mart the afternoon of the day before after driving down from Edmonton, and that’s probably why they are now at this all-night gas station convenience store: some part of some part of one of his dreams. That and the fact they’d scored some crack earlier, smoked it, scored some more, smoked that and so on, and now they are needing another part of another part of one of his dreams. And Gordy had said he’d take care of it.
Inside the all-night convenience store, Claver Hakizimana, Burundian immigrant, is looking at the gun in Gordy Truman’s hand.
“You want all the money?” says Claver Hakizimana.
“That’s right,” says Gordy Truman. “Just give it an’ let’s be done.”
“All the money…” says Claver Hakizimana.
There is tension. (Gordy Truman will later tell brother Butch he could almost see it in the air, just like described in books.) But this tension is not the normal prescribed tension that’s part and parcel when you pull a gun on someone; this tension is something different, more palpable, Claver Hakizimana reaching into the till. Gordy Truman watches, sees bills in the store clerk’s hand.
“Now look see…” says Claver Hakizimana. “I now have all the money in my hand. And you know how much money this is in my hand? It is fuck-all money in my hand because we keep fuck-all money here just in case of fuckheads like you and now you want to take it?—”
“Look, asshole—” says Gordy Truman.
“And now,” says Claver Hakizimana, “I have this money in this hand and in this hand—”
The machete appears already raised, slicing down across the Plexiglass countertop. A jagged crack appears across the faces of assorted scratch-and-wins displayed underneath it, Gordy Truman stepping back, extending his arm full length and aiming the gun.
“I’ll blow your fucking head off !”
“And I,” screams the store clerk, “will cut yours fucking off, you fucking asshole…”
A pause here in the proceedings, the two angry men facing each other across the counter, an imposing display of red veins pulsing along necks, purple ones rippling across foreheads.
Gordy Truman: “Look, just give me the fucking money!”
Claver Hakizimana: “I have seen the blood of my people soak the water reeds along the fucking Rurubu River! What have you seen, you fucking ass-punk?”
Gordy Truman at a loss for a reply, the gun still pointing. Claver Hakizimana staring now not at the gun barrel but at Gordy Truman. The gun trembling, a methodic tick-tick from the hotdog rotisserie turning slowly on the counter. The Slurpee machine gurgles from the back wall. Gordy Truman sees the store clerk’s shoulders slump, just a bit. Muscles begin to relax, the dark eyes soften.
“Look,” says Claver Hakizimana, “we are both reasonable if unhappy men. Believe me, a bullet in the head would not be the worst thing that could happen to me right now. And I can easily see that you, yourself, are leading an equally unrewarding existence irrespective of the advantages you may have had and obviously ignored. I have thought this through, and this is what is going to happen, my sorry friend. I have two hundred and thirteen dollars only in my hand. I am going to give you only sixty-five, no, sixty fucking dollars, and I am going to keep the rest and blame the whole robbery of the two hundred and thirteen dollars on you. The fucking cameras are not working, so that will not be a problem. I will give an accurate description of yourself to the police, but I may lie about the make of your car, which I assume is the one sitting out there with the engine running with another asshole at the wheel. You will leave Wetaskiwin and be grateful for small mercies. You may be a little disappointed by this outcome, but disappointment, I believe, is not something new in your miserable life. This experience has given me an idea whereby I may make some improvements in my own wretched existence and for that I may even thank you, some day. Here is your sixty, no, fifty fucking dollars… Now fuck off.”
Butch Truman sees brother Gordy coming out of the store, not running, not frantic, Gordy Truman opening the passenger side door and sliding into the passenger seat. Some bills visible in one hand, a bag of potato chips in the other.
“The guy gave us these,” says Gordy Truman handing over the potato chips.
Butch Truman taking the bag and crinkling the cellophane, crinkle, crinkle, but doesn’t drive.
Gordy Truman looking straight ahead. “Some people are just fucking crazy. Let’s get out of here…”
Butch Truman releasing the brake, easing the car out onto the highway.
“What’d we get?”
“Fifty bucks,” says Gordy Truman.
But Gordy Truman is done talking and remains so. And leaving the town limits, a hint of dawn low on the prairie sky as the Truman brothers roll out past the goldskimmed farmlands, fields of wheat, canola, barley. Sugar beets, dairy cattle, hogs, and cottonbatten bundles of sheep, the rich warm colour imparted freely by the rising sun and painting all in the weave of a perfect picture postcard of abundance, beauty, and prosperity. On the seat between them, a brochure, Wetaskiwin’s Dan Simpa Used & Collectible Auto Mart, a small blurb printed along the top on the meaning of the word Wetaskiwin, from the Cree meaning “the hills where peace was made,” this peace made long ago between the Cree and the Blackfoot goes the story, and now for all intents and purposes appearing to repeat itself in the small encounter between two simple and angry men, two simple and angry men who, too, are but the random products of two mismatched tribes…