I have full faith in karma. I’ve seen it move swift and accurate right before me. How an ancient will attest to hearing the roar of God in an earthquake. So too I believe in the ebb and flow of karmic justice. A belief so embedded in personal anecdotes that no amount of scientific evidence to the contrary could ever change my mind.
The way a man, having just stiffed his taxi driver on the tip, is smacked across his head by the side view mirror of a passing bus. Not with the force to brain him, just wake him up. I’ve seen it. The way a middle school bully finds himself in the emergency room. Nothing serious, just a broken hand. I’ve seen it.
And this was on my mind the day Gunther asked me to hit him. He jogged up, sucking wind while I finished off a cigarette break. And he said, “Punch me. Hard and in the face. Make sure to leave a mark or it’s all for naught.” And I almost forgot to ask him why. Just let myself become a vessel of universal balance. Because this was Gunther. And karma’s a bitch.
* * *
There’s a reason Caring Christmas Charity won’t allow you to wrap Wish Tree presents. Gifts bought for disadvantaged children, likely they’ll receive nothing else this holiday season. There’s a reason Caring Christmas Charity requires all gifts be donated in their original packaging. And that reason is Gunther.
Two years ago Gunther selected three cards off the Wish Tree—a giant aluminum Douglas Fir that each year cast it’s shadow over the strip mall. Every card with the name and address of an underprivileged youth. Also, a present they hope to receive. The idea being: those whose circumstance permitted could fulfill the holiday wishes of a child. Like I said, Gunther picked three.
What these kids discovered on Christmas morning wasn’t a Tonka Truck and it wasn’t a Barbie Doll. It wasn’t a Gameboy and it wasn’t a stuffed unicorn. The three kids Gunther chose, what they received on Christmas was a box of coal. Kingsford self-lighting charcoal briquettes to be accurate. Maybe the only gift they got. So this year, when you give to Caring Christmas Charity, don’t wrap your donation. Thank Gunther for that.
* * *
Now, this much I’ll admit. For the longest time I had wanted to shake Gunther. Just grab him by the shoulders and shake him and demand to know what his goddamn problem was. For so long I’d wanted to do this, that when he asked me to hit him, I shot a quick uppercut before asking questions. This because I figured it wouldn’t leave a mark. A free shot.
“Fucker,” he said after his jaws clacked. “In the face bro. Bust my lips, blacken my eye, get my nose bleeding. No uppercuts.”
“Woah, woah. What’s the score here? What are you getting out of this?”
And funny thing was, Gunther thought about it for a second. Like he could say, “nothing,” and I’d buy it. As if this was for kicks on both our ends. But then, “I can’t be late. Maurice said I clock in late again and he’s gonna fire me. Just be a pal and bust me up. I’ll tell him I was jumped on the way over.”
So while his plan seemed pretty weak, I happily obliged. A quick jab to the crook of his nose, then a hook to the eye, then a slap or two just for the hell of it. And repeat until I drew blood. Because I figured, no matter how it ended, Gunther deserved this. Plus me, I was having fun.
* * *
Two weeks before, we had been out barhopping. Returning home down damp sidewalk, I figured I had bought a good three rounds more than Gunther. That, and I spent the whole night playing wingman. Still, only the two of us passing over the dark boulevard. This, at 2:30 in the morning.
“Check it out,” Gunther said and made a quick b-line up the stoop of some random apartment building. Like giving a high-five, he slapped the buzzers for all fifteen units. Even from the street I could hear the dull ring. The wrong letter guessed on Wheel of Fortune. Then, “Let’s go.”
And as we ran down the block a chorus of “Hello’s” and “Who’s there’s” and “What the fuck’s” called after us. Angry and part-asleep.
* * *
So things went like this: I finished my break and moved inside, commenced working. Gunther held tight, this to ease any suspission on Maurice’s part. But believe me, I stuck by the boss man’s side. Waiting for Gunther’s enterance.
When finally Gunther pushed through the revolving door, he looked even better than when I’d left him. Or maybe worse. What you see depends on where you stand. Anyway, he was still bloody and bruised but the guy had torn his t-shirt so it hung loosely over one shoulder. And he must’ve been doing jumping jacks or some such shit because perspiration dripped from his busted nose like a leaky faucet.
“Maurice, Maurice,” Gunther panted as he hurried to make audience with our boss. “Man, so sorry I’m late. But these guys, they jumped me in the park. Maurice, they beat me bad, they took my wallet.”
Maurice scratched at his beard. He looked at the caked blood and the purplish eye and the glassy sweat. And he said, “Well Gunther, this must be the worst day of your life. Because you’re fired.”
And karma caught right up with Gunther. Just how the man, counting dollars in his wallet, doesn’t see the oncoming bus. Just how the bully missed my face and cracked his fist on the locker behind. Karma caught right up with Gunther the way it catches us all. By our own invitation.