I just happened to be there that day. That’s all there is to it. My mother runs errands on the Thursday afternoon after she gets paid. Her routine is very predictable. She cashes the check at Fleet and does the grocery shopping for the week at the supermarket next door. The same routine every week. After the market, she gets the mail. See, we don’t have a mailbox like most of my friends. The part of the town I live in still gets mail through a post office box. When we want our mail, we must go into town. But that’s not important. I mean, we never made it to the post office that day.
That Thursday, my school had a curriculum day, and we were let out early. For those of you that don’t know what a curriculum day is, I’ll tell you. Curriculum Day is when teachers decide how they will bore us to death. Also, they sit around and tell each other what an amazing job the teachers are doing. Every one of them thinks they are the teacher of the year. But that doesn’t matter. I guess. What matters is that I was let out early and had to run errands with mother.
When Mother picked me up from school, she had not gone to the bank yet. Maybe if she hadn’t been late at work, the whole mess would’ve been avoided. She drove directly to the bank from school, so we arrived at noon. I remember because mother promised lunch after we got money from the teller.
I know I’m young, but I do understand how the bank works. You sign over your check, and they give you money. When you run out of money, you go to the bank and take some out of the ATM. I could never understand why Mother and Father fight so much about money when they just need to put their card into the machine to get more. I can’t seem to figure that one out. Maybe, I never will.
I decided to sit on the bench near the door while Mother got money from the teller. That’s why I got to see him when he walked in the door. I mean, I was the first to see him. I knew as soon as he walked in the door that he was going to do something bad. He was wearing dark clothing and a ski mask that covered his face just like in the movies. I watched him approach the tellers in a rush without even waiting his turn.
He screamed that he was robbing the bank and instructed the teller to throw all the cash into the book bag he brought. He tossed her the bag and pointed a gun at her head. The lady began throwing bundles of cash into the bag, but before she could finish, he grabbed the bag from her and moved on to the next teller. Repeating the orders, he gave the second teller even less time before he moved on. He’d been in the bank for about two minutes when I heard the sirens in the background.
I didn’t know what the man planned to do, but I knew he wouldn’t get out of the bank before the police arrived. That was for sure.
The man grabbed the bag and ran to the window next to where I sat. He stood closely to me, so closely that I could smell him. He smelled afraid. I learned the smell of fear that day though I couldn’t tell if that smell was coming from me or not. The man looked from the windows to the door quickly. I guess he was trying to figure if he could escape. He turned to me and stared into my eyes. His eyes were dark and angry, and I tried to look away. He reminded me too much of father.
The moment I looked away, he grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me away from the window. I heard my mother screaming, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. The commotion in the bank was too loud.
He dragged me into an office in the back of the bank. He pointed the gun at the person on the phone and told her to leave. She dropped the phone and left. The man slammed the door shut and pulled down the shade. I had a feeling I was in big trouble. He paced the room and cursed repeatedly to himself. When I tried to talk, he cut me off by placing his palm over my mouth.
I could hear people moving in the main room. By the sounds of it, the police were getting all the people out of the bank into safety. I was alone with this man—just us and the police. He took off the mask and looked at me once again. I didn’t know him; I was sure of that. He was crying, and for a moment, I felt bad for him.
“Why are you crying?” I asked. I didn’t know what he had to be sad about.
“You wouldn’t understand. You’re just a little girl,” he sniffed a few times and wiped his nose in his shirt.
“Why did you try to rob the bank?”
“I need the money,” he answered.
A deep scar below his eye twitched when he spoke, and his dark, greasy hair fell over his eyes. His nose looked as if it had been broken several times. He noticed me staring and looked away as if he were embarrassed. He pushed a hand through his hair and placed the gun on the desk next to the phone. His stare was telling me not to try any funny business with the gun. He finally seemed satisfied that I wouldn’t do anything.
The man sat in silence for a few minutes, not moving. Then the phone rang. He grabbed the receiver but didn’t speak. It must’ve been the police because he started to answer questions. I could tell the police wanted him to let me go, but he refused. After a few more questions, he handed the phone to me and told me the police wanted to talk. I knew what they were going to ask. I’ve seen it on television.
I was surprised to hear my mother’s voice. “Yes, Mother.”
“Are you okay?”
“Has he hurt you at all? Has he touched you?”
“I’m fine. He hasn’t touched me at all.” Not like father, but I didn’t say that on the phone.
“Thank God. Tasha, the policeman wants to ask you a few questions.”
There was a pause, then someone else came on the line. “Tasha, this is Sergeant Woodbridge. You can call me Phil. Is that okay?”
“Can you tell me where in the office the man is standing?”
I thought it over for a moment, but I didn’t want any part in what they were planning. I told him I couldn’t talk about it and gave the phone back to the man. He took it from me and smiled. He understood what I did or seemed to at least. He may have robbed the bank, but he didn’t hurt anyone yet. They wanted to shoot him, but I wasn’t going to help them do it. These situations always end up with the police shooting somebody.
He turned to me after he hung up the phone. “Why didn’t you tell them what they wanted to know?”
“I don’t think you deserve to die for stealing money. There are worse things in life than that. I can tell you that much.”
He opened his mouth to say something but didn’t. Instead, he watched me intently for several moments. “You don’t look afraid of the gun or anything else. I bet you know about those things in life worse than stealing.”
I sighed but didn’t answer his question. I may have helped him, but that didn’t mean I wanted to talk about my father or any of that business. He stared some more, but I kept quiet.
“It’s okay, little girl, you don’t have to tell me. I understand.”
“You’re right. I’m not going to tell you. But you’re wrong about thinking you understand. And don’t call me a little girl. I haven’t been that for a long time.”
At that moment, the phone rang again. It rang and rang, but the man didn’t move to answer it. Sweat poured down his temples, and he looked very nervous. Finally, I grabbed the receiver and said hello.
“I want to let you know we are going to come into the room, Tasha. Move away from the man when you hear the bang against the door. Can you do that for me, Tasha?”
“Yes,” I said and hung up the phone.
The man gripped the desk with his fingers, waiting for me to tell him the news.
“They’re coming in. They’re coming in for you.”
His head slumped down onto his chest, and I heard him sob.
“They’re going to kill you. I’m sorry to have to say it, but you know they will shoot you.”
“I can’t face it,” he said. “I didn’t mean for it to come to this. To be shot down by police… What will my mother think?”
I sighed again and put my hand on his head while he cried. The clicking of boots outside the door let me know the police would come into the room in moments. As the man continued to sob, I grabbed the gun with my free hand and put it against his temple.
I pulled the trigger and his brains splattered against the wall behind me. The police smashed in the door and swarmed the room, one man grabbing the gun from my hand. As they dragged me away, I tried to see if the man was alive or dead, but there were too many cops in the room. The one holding me in his arms carried me to an ambulance, and a medic examined me for wounds. I kept telling him that I was fine, but he kept on looking me over, too closely if you ask me.
A few minutes later a cop appeared at the rear of the ambulance and motioned for everyone to leave.
“Can you tell me what happened in there?”
I stared into his eyes, but didn’t answer. The cop’s watch ticked and ticked, but he didn’t ask me again. He just waited. Finally, I sighed and leaned toward him. I didn’t want anyone else to hear. “I shot him, sir. He tried to touch me, so I shot him. Some things in life are worse than stealing.”