Dignity

This is an exercise in class where each of us get to retell the story of a bank robbery through the POV of one of the characters. I picked the inexperienced robber. In my version, I wanted to explore how an insecure person can be seduced by temptation of the sense of power over people. The inexperienced robber is extremely insecure, and the experienced robber manipulated him through his insecurity into joining him in the crime.

PROLOGUE

The morning breeze is strangely calming, Trung remarked mentally. Sunlight felt warm on his face as the air caressed his cheeks as he rode alongside the Saigon River on his motorbike. He felt calm and relaxed; the winds carried away the nervousness, the doubts, the what-ifs; only the boiling desire and determination to transform his life remain.

He has always been a nobody. An asymmetrical face with features as bland as wholesale fruits in the supermarket, short stature, skin over bones with barely a hint of the existence of any muscle… he has always been an exemplar of physical hideousness. The very antithesis of beauty. Ugly incarnate. Not only was his shell repulsive to look at, God also made of him as complete a mockery of a human being as history has ever witnessed: academics that hovered below the charts, no talents of use whatsoever, a total social inept, and unemployed. Trung has no friends, and his parents always reminded him that he himself supplies them with generous doses of disappointment everyday.

He is tired. Tired of all the looks that shout at him his insignificance and the occasional glances of pity. He does not want any of that. Can he just for once be looked upon with dignity and respect?

Yes, he can. He looked to his side; Van is on his own motorbike, eyes aglow with excitement, grinning with sinister mischief. The eyes and smile of power, Trung concluded. He will soon know that power for himself.

He met Van a month ago. Van is a thief that got away successfully with his many glorious “operations” many times already. Van has access to firearms. Van is on the run, out of the bounds of laws and justice: no one can contain him, no one get to tell him what to do but himself and the winds. Van is his own boss and badass, and Van wants Trung to help him. Can you imagine?! Van, a godly outlaw that bows to no one but himself, wants his help! Van wanted to up his thievery game as he’s done with petty steals. He wanted to go big – he wanted to rob a bank, and make a name for himself. And that means for Trung also, if he joins.

Of course Trung signed up. Oh the dream – people to stop whispering his name with twisted faces and rolled-up eyes; his name to stop being in one breath with “loser”. What’s even greater was that Van convinced him that he has it in him, that he’s totally capable! Van promised that Trung can see and feel for himself his own power when people tremble before his sight. An impossible notion! But then a gun is itself an impossible thing. Or used to. He can feel its metal against his back, already warmed up to his body.

He and Van parked near the tall pristine fortress; Vietcom Bank, white against the morning sky. Trung looked up at the building and took a deep breath. He trusts Van. A man that free, that powerful, that cunning must know what he talks about, right? How else could he have escaped the law successfully so many times already?

The building stood quiet, blissfully unaware of the storm Trung and Van are about to stir. Still looking up, Trung felt like grinning. And he did. Van was right; he could feel the power coursing through his veins, twitching his fingers. Today, he will rise with a bang. Today will be the day no one will look upon him without respect again. Today he will know the sky, and he will never have to look down ever again. Today he will know God. And become one.

THE ROBBERY

The call from Van came. Van has entered the bank as a repairman minutes ago to prepare, and the call was to signal Trung to enter and subdue everyone at gunpoint. Just what he’s always wanted. This is it, Trung thought, my time is now! He pushed the front door open, and before surprise can fully register on the faces of his victims, the cold metal of the gun is already firm within his palms. Holding the instrument of God gave him confidence – something as alien to him as ground is to fishes, and he firmly and loudly declared, “HIT THE FLOOR!!”

The sight he then witnessed was like an oasis to travelers lost in the desert for ages. Their eyes opened wide, and immediately got down on the floor as he commanded. They listened to him! THEY. LISTENED. TO HIM. HIM!

This must be what respect is, Trung thought, and boy does it feel good! His mind was foggy; this is unreal! People actually looked up to him and do what he said. He existed, no longer a nobody! He was too high on disbelief to notice the screams and sobs from some woman somewhere – who cares! He’s God now! He wanted to grin wildly, to jump up screaming of joy, but he remembered what Trung said about maintaining the air of intimidation, so he stayed very still, and as cold as he could.

He was, or at least looked, intimidating enough that when he caught the teller at the corner of his eye trying to reach for the alarm under her desk – Van taught him about that – and pointed his gun at her, she froze immediately, and her pale skin got even whiter. He needed no word to convey his command; pretty as the teller was, beauty is no match for power, and he’s holding all of it. He doesn’t have time to appreciate something as weak and inferior as beauty when he is standing on the throne of God, his hand holding what felt like the source of all that is strong and ultimate in the universe, commanding all of Creation to bow down to his will.

He was too lost in mental ecstasy to notice someone creeping up behind his back. WHAM! He turned around and out of reflex, shot the man in the leg. Before he could even start to collect himself, another man joined the first one and started going after his gun. The tellers screamed and his vision of heavenly rule under his reign started crumbling. He does not know what to do! Van said that no one dares to try anything when you have a gun, and Trung is totally not prepared for this!

Lucky for him because Van emerged from some room at the back of the bank, with his very own instrument of the Divine. The fight stopped and Trung is back on his mental throne, and he can feel the palpable respect they had for him as silence returned. His gunpoint commanded absolute obedience again. He reveled in the feeling, hung on to it as a fish washed ashore trying to reach for water while Van forced the tellers to fill his bags with all the money.

When the bags were full and in their hands, they moved slowly backwards toward the front door. Trung is trying to milk every last moment of this sense of power and respect, but then they reached the front door. It’s over. Trung exhaled, power still rippling through his skin. And now, with all this money, he will never have to be the lo–

Fear slammed straight onto him as they realized their motorbikes vanished. They are supposed to get on the vehicles and make a swift escape! Before they could come up with a plan B, the hounds of hell howled their death sentences, charging toward them at the speed of the Devil. At least that’s how police motorbikes sounded like to them at that moment.

This is not happening. This is NOT HAPPENING! Trung screamed in despair as he and Van made their last grasp on hope, dashing up the street toward the river. His vision of people looking up to him with respect, his sense of existence and significance, his power… all faded to the back of his mind as justice closes up on them, like those dreams that you can only mourn when you wake up to know that they were never meant to last.

EPILOGUE

Trung walked out of the court, eyes to the ground. The press was all around him, drowning him with with questions and probed him with some more. Flashes surrounded him like a cage upon a defeated lion; his face will be on covers across the nation and on every screen far and wide, embarrassment forever a mark on his face, and shame, his name.

As the van took him to his new home of stones for years to come, he felt empty. The look his victims gave him at the bank wasn’t respect. It was terror. As hot tears rolled down his cheeks long cold with despair and regret, his tongue tasted bitter. He did rise with a bang, and in that ephemeral moment, he felt like a phoenix amidst the flames of rebirth. Now he saw that he was no sacred bird reborn; he was merely a chicken caught on fire, all the while crowing happily as if filled with the light of salvation. But he was not saved. He did not touch the face of the Divine. He condemned himself straight down to Oblivion.

The bitterness he now taste is his own ashes and the dirt of the grave he dug for himself, which he used to mistaken for the altar of his rise to Godhood. He looked up but he knew no sky; stone and metal await him. He rose not for respect but pride and arrogance. He sowed terror and reaped isolation.

And now cold in six walls of concrete, he understood that he knew not God, but sank himself down the empty void of indignity.

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