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On the terrace of the Presidential Palace you lay glued to the scope for less than an hour before you have to take the shot. Tourist or terrorist: It was always going to be your call. You are applauded for taking the shot and saving the nation, although you are not allowed to rise off your elbows, the knobs of which have begun to ache. A hand—the same hand that occasionally guides a straw into your mouth—reaches around to pin a medal on your lapel. You keep watch for another twenty-five years, your elbows flattening into steady stands, when the same terrorist, or maybe the terrorist’s son, arrives with a bouquet of flowers and drops it on the site of the original killing.
You take the shot again and watch the paramedics carry off the body before the media can get there. They give your sniper scope another thumbs-up sign; you have done well, as a prompt second medal proves.
You begin to realize that you are profiling the visitors to the Presidential Palace on the crudest criteria: skin tone, nose size, turban or no turban, beard or no beard, a certain innate glower to the eyes. Every twenty-five years, you take another shot at a nearly identical looking man, never quite wiping out his recalcitrant line. It is as though his terrorist descendants are drawn to memorialize one ancient wrong on the birth of a male child every quarter of a century. You have over a dozen medals on your lapel; thanks to you, the nation is sure to last a long time. Still, you wonder whether you identified that first terrorist correctly; whether that first killshot prompted the descendants to become terrorists and necessitated all the subsequent killshots.
At last, forty medals later, the nation safe for a thousand years, the rifle is extricated from your grasp and you are peeled off your perch. The Secret Service wheels you upright into the Presidential Palace, where you join the rows of other snipers who have protected the President for millennia. A great triumphal chorus blasts from speakers in the four corners of the hall. Your arms, like those of your many predecessors, are frozen in position: one hand curled close, trigger finger pointed almost at your heart; the other flared above your head, cradling the absent barrel, index finger pointed almost at the ceiling. Your jaw is massaged until it lowers. Now you, too, look like a tenor, singing from the heart. You, too, are part of the choir.
Amit Majmudar is a poet and novelist. His latest book of poetry, Reincarnal, won the 2011 Donald Justice Award and he has recently had poems published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Review of Books. In addition, two of Amit’s poems were chosen to appear in the 11th edition of the Norton Introduction to Literature (“Dothead”) and the Best American Poetry 2012 (“The Autobiography of Khwaja Mustasim”). As a novelist, Amit is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Partitions and Abundance (both with Metropolitan).
Copyright © 2014 by Amit Majmudar