Stories No. 37 – Steven Gowin

Rwanda Suite: Gasoline
by Steven Gowin

I judge. I cannot help myself; I must judge.

In Kinyarwanda, Swahili, French, and English, the Fina has posted No Smoking signs at its pumps and around the station.

But when I arrive to fuel my motorbike, the station kid ignores me and draws deep on his smoke. Over a dull face, he sports the newest Butare youth fad, a logo bicycling cap.

I’m astraddle my Peace Corps moto when he finally removes the pump hose, twists the cap off my fuel tank, peers inside, and shoves in the fueling nozzle. The flow is streaming fuel into the tank and gasoline vapors out, and I realize the kid is still smoking.

Shocked, I tear the blazing cigarette from his mouth, throw it to the earth, and grind it to death with the heel of my boot. My rage could ignite gasoline, and furious, I cry in his face, Defense de fumer. Defense de fumer! On aura du feu. But he only grins a weak bovine smile.

Filling complete, he pulls out the nozzle and cradles it business end down, dribbling gasoline on my bike. And then nothing. He stands motionless, dumb, as if contemplating some hungry void, sucking my anger, emptying me of that, my only recourse to idiocy.

Furious, I scream and point for him to clean up the spill. But when he finally dimly understands, he’s got nothing handy to mop it up. Clean it, I cry again, now desperate and bewildered. He snatches the new cap off his head to soak up the accelerant.

When he’s done what he can, mostly smearing the fuel about, the cap’s colors have run, logo blurred, bill flops down twisted, the cap ruined. And although this devastation calms me, I begin to hate what I’ve done.

I replace the fuel cap myself, kick-start my bike, and pass the kid a guilty thousand franc note. Pushing back from the pump, I circle around to head away and give him a last embarrassed glance.

Still grinning, he’s pocketed the one-k note, re-donned the ruined cap, and is about to light a new cigarette.

Although I don’t know how or what to judge, I must, in white-hot impotence, judge nevertheless.


Steven Gowin is a writer and corporate video producer in San Francisco. Recently his stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Revolution John, The Camroc Press Review, and Literary Orphans. His work will appear in the upcoming 2015 edition of the Santa Fe Literary Review.

Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 18
June 24, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez