“Difficult Questions” – Fiction by Zain Saeed

Wounded Man - Ilya Repin, 1913
Wounded Man – Ilya Repin, 1913

When a man jumps into your car pointing a gun at your head and asks how much your life is worth, what’s the correct answer? Find out by reading “Difficult Questions,” Zain Saeed‘s short story from our Summer 2015 issue.

{ X }

WHEN HE SAID HE DIDN’T WANT MY PHONE I WAS DISAPPOINTED, not because I’d kept an extra phone in the car just for days like this and men like him, but because I realized this was going to be one of those days. I was going to remain stuck here on this little street with a gun pointed at me while I pled theatrically for my life and probably be about two or maybe three hours late in getting to the stock exchange depending on this man’s experience and current life situation. I was especially annoyed because I’d already used two out of my three monthly “I got mugged by a man on Tariq Road” excuses and was saving one for the day after Ahmed’s birthday. And now this stupid man had gone and ruined everything.

“Please don’t kill me, please don’t! I’ll do anything,” I said through the still rolled-up window.

“Unlock the doors gaandu.

Fuck me. He was a Clinger and a Swearer. Three hours easy. I made a mental note to apologize to Ahmed. I then unlocked the door and he came and sat in the back, gun pointing at my head.

“Now drive!”

“Of course of course, sir. Where to?”

“Just drive.”

Fucking aimless person.

I began to drive. He took his mask off and lowered the gun, pointing it at my butt so as not to be visible to the people that would get to work on time, lucky bastards. He looked about 19. Clean-shaven, puffy eyes, probably six feet tall, wore camouflage trousers. I wanted to ask him what war was on, but I felt he wouldn’t get the joke. Or maybe he was caught up in too many to tell me which.

“Should I take a left here, sir, or a right?” I asked him as we came to an intersection.

“I don’t care as long as you stay on the main street.”

I obliged. A couple minutes passed before he spoke again.

“So, you rich piece of shit, how much is your life worth to you?”

Textbook. I had a special bank account with 10,000 rupees for just this sort of thing.

“I don’t have much money on me but there’s…”

“I don’t want your money, I want you to tell me how much your life is worth bhainchod!”

“I’m sorry what? I don’t know sir. See I have ten thousand…”

“What did I just say? I don’t want it.”

Then he shot himself in the leg.

I comprehensively lost my shit as the sound pierced my skull. I lost my grip on the wheel and the car swayed, but I caught it just in time before we rammed into a banana cart.

“Bhainchod what was that what are you doing why did you just shoot yourself?” I shouted, but heard only a muffled moan.

“Now answer my question: How much is it worth?” He spoke through clenched teeth.

“I don’t know I don’t know oh my god there’s so much blood.”

The bullet had gone right through his leg, leaving a gooey fountain of blood on his thigh and a dent in the floor. I kept driving but struggled to keep looking straight. My eyes kept darting back to the dent, partly to assess what the repairs would cost, but mostly because I didn’t want to see the pool of blood forming around my feet. Then the dent filled with blood. I felt wetness on my socks.

“Answer me or I will shoot your leg too,” he spat.

I had never encountered this category of mugger in Karachi. They were usually versions of the same person – someone trying to get back at the city for all it had taken from him, trying to make a living, feeding a burgeoning family. They were professionals. This one wasn’t one of them, bloody chutia.

We were now on the Korangi Expressway, driving by undeveloped land and one-room brick houses without any plaster or paint outside. The road stretched for ages in each direction, serenaded on the right by tall glass buildings and cranes trying to add one more brick here or another pane of glass there, and on the left by a mud-brick colony of forgotten people and, ironically, Iqra University. I wondered if someone inside knew the answer.

“I don’t know, please, I don’t. Em. Well, okay. Nothing? It’s worth nothing.” I didn’t know this game.

He shot me in the leg. I screamed as the car swerved, skidded off the road, and stopped into a mountain of garbage. The windows cracked but did not shatter. My pants turned a darker shade of gray as blood spread from the bullet hole in my right thigh. The pain in my leg throbbed along with the pain in my ears. Adrenaline made me giddy, unsure if I needed to vomit or laugh.

“Wrong answer. Try again fucker.”

There was now a pool of bright red blood in the car, deep enough to splash your feet in.

“Oh god! What was that? Ah what the fuck do you want from me? I don’t know I don’t know!”

People had come out of the brick houses around the crash site and were peering into the car at what they might have assumed was your average car accident. They approached with their arms crossed, heads tilted, squinting in the sun, only showing concern when they finally noticed the man with the gun. Then they backed away, but still stood there, staring, hands on their mouths.

“Try harder.”

“Aah. Oh god. Okay you fucker. It’s worth what god decided it was worth. Now let me go.”

Two shots rang in quick succession. He’d shot himself again, and also my other leg. Neither of us screamed; it would’ve been too much work. The dashboard, the seats, and the floor were now dark red. Everything was red. You couldn’t tell our blood apart. The people outside began to open and close their mouths. I couldn’t tell if they were screaming or yawning. They held on to their little ones but no one came any closer. We were down to speaking in whispers, or maybe we were really shouting out loud and our ears had given up. I heard lots of squishy sounds inside my skull.

“Wrong answer. You don’t believe that. Tell me what your life is worth madarchod!” He was swaying from all the blood loss. The gun bumped against my head once or twice and it was all I could do to stop it from poking me in the eye; I needed to see this happen or I’d never come to terms with it.

“I don’t know. I don’t know! Don’t shoot me please, I don’t know!”

He shot himself in the shoulder and the world exploded. The bullet went through him and shattered a window. A comforting breeze blew in, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of rolling down the windows earlier.

The crowd outside was growing.

“Oh god what are you doing?”

“Answer me.”

“I don’t know I don’t know!”

I slumped against the door. I didn’t have the energy to turn and look at him. I could see bone among the red in my thigh– or was it thread from my trousers? I probably wasn’t going to make it to Ahmed’s birthday. I heard a small laugh; could’ve been either of us.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. Please! Don’t shoot again. Please. What’s your life worth?” I asked, more breath than voice.

His shoulder burped blood.

“Thank you,” he exhaled.

With an almighty heave, I summoned the strength to turn, and looked him in the eye.

He put the gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger: click.


And finally: click.


He brought the gun in front of his nose, looked at it accusingly, judgmentally almost, and sighed. Then after what felt like years and many lives, he asked me for my phone.

{ X }

10911388_10155014744030564_4916377683227290055_oZAIN SAEED is currently studying linguistics in Freiburg, Germany. He has no idea why. His work has appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Eunoia Review, and The Freiburg Review, and is forthcoming in Third Point Press, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Unbroken and others. He was born and raised in Pakistan and tweets at @linguistictrain.

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