The only time I ever needed to be really, truly afraid was a particular September evening when I was held up at gunpoint at a Subway sandwich shop. I blame it on the fact I’d had a couple of cocktails earlier in the evening and found nothing in the fridge besides year-old salad dressing and pickled okra when the drunk munchies appeared.
A few minutes later there I was, the only customer in the shop, greedily eyeing my toasted turkey breast on flatbread, with extra jalapeño cheese, extra olives, extra lettuce, and extra pickles. While the clerk was doing her best to pry it into the parchment wrapper without the insides spilling out onto the floor, I was leaning over the counter with anticipation, curiously watching her skill, which was remarkably like a cowboy at the Houston rodeo wrestling a bucking calf to the dusty arena floor.
I heard the ping of the doorbell and turned around. Two young men holding guns and wearing Scream movie Halloween masks entered the shop.
At this point my mind flashed to a scene from a half hour before. I was at my home, and the nightly news was on TV. The lead story was a customer shot dead at a Subway somewhere a few miles away in East Houston. I did think it was slightly ironic I was contemplating trekking down to my local shop at the exact same time I was half-watching the report. But no bother, lightning doesn’t strike twice, right? Damn my logical brain. Standing at the Subway counter, I decided intuition was a gift not only to be trusted, but revered.
Back in the shop, I watched one man approach the clerk and demand the money from the register. The second approached me, raised his gun in my direction, and whispered, “Don’t move.”
I’m not sure what prompted me to the conclusion these two young gentlemen were not very good robbers. Maybe it was the fact that out of all the places in Houston to pick from, they were robbing a Subway. Fifty bucks at most? Maybe a free sandwich at best? Mind you, those chocolate chip cookies are worth fighting for. Maybe it’s the fact he didn’t think to put the gun to my head, and instead stood there in front of me, a gap of at least three feet separating robber and robee, his hand shaking slightly as it gripped the black revolver.
It was at that point my attention settled on the gun. And after an intense half-second of deliberation, my mind returned the following thought, “That doesn’t look like a real gun.”
Now, how I would have known that was beyond me. Despite being from Texas, the only time I’d ever handled a gun was when my father won a rifle at the local church picnic (yes, I did say church). He insisted I learn how to shoot it, and after one shot I gave up when kickback from the butt of the rifle left a large, nasty bruise near my armpit for weeks.
The next thought was, “I bet you can run for it.”
I was in impeccable shape. Two power yoga classes a day in the run up to my wedding, scheduled for the next month. I’d recently quit smoking and had been laying off the queso, a feat near impossible in the undisputed fattest city in America. “What the hell,” I thought. The door couldn’t have been more than fifteen feet away.
I don’t think my robbers were prepared for a runner. There was no high-speed chase. No shoot out at the O.K. corral. I made it to my car, and hastily ducked behind it, just as my would-be assassins emerged from the shop triumphant with their small bag of plunder, and jumped into a black, dented Toyota Corolla waiting outside. I’ve always imagined the getaway car to be a Cadillac. Or a Lincoln. Crime just feels so much classier that way.
After the coast was clear, I made my way back into the shop. I looked down at my watch. The entire ordeal had taken a minute at most.
I first dialed 911, then turned my attention to the shaken clerk who needed a big hug, all the while peering over her shoulder at my sandwich that was just lying there undisturbed on the shop counter. Amazingly it had survived the ordeal unscathed.
I kept wondering one thing, over and over, throughout the encounter with the police, who eventually showed up 30 minutes later, didn’t bother to record any facts of the crime, and only asked whether the clerk was a legal immigrant.
Despite all the things I should have been thinking, the injustice of it all, how close I’d come to meeting the all-mighty something or other, the one thought I couldn’t escape was this, “Would it be impolite to ask for the sandwich?”
Fear makes a person hungry after all. But it just never seemed like the right time. I went home hungry that evening. I think I managed to pry open a rusty can of Chunky soup I found in the back recesses of my pantry.
A couple of days after the robbery I was watching the local news again. The breaking news was a CiCi’s pizza down the road held up by two young men wearing identical Halloween masks. I smiled as they seemed to have perfected their technique this time and managed to pick wallets and purses off the stunned customers. It could have been worse, I reasoned. Who wants to be shot dead at a CiCi’s pizza?
Shelley Pernot is an emerging Texan writer, who has been recently published in compilations such as the Concho River Review. She is also the author of Running on Empty: The Irreverent Guru’s Guide to Filling up with Mindfulness a unique guide on finding meaning and fulfillment in today’s crazy world.