Footprints: What Happened in Vegas
By Bisma Tirmizi
It is 10:05pm and I walk along Las Vegas Boulevard, famously known as The Strip. Today I am going to take a selfie in front of the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign. It’s been 17 years since I moved to this city but this clichéd photograph is still missing from my collection.
I hear loud firecrackers … tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck. Every week, a music festival, or a convention, or something, is organised in my city and throngs of tourists descend — as if Las Vegas doesn’t already get enough. Were what I just heard firecrackers, or pyrotechnics from the concert?
Then comes the screaming — thousands of people screaming at once. The gunfire continues.
I stand frozen for a second, and then the fright, fight, flight instinct kicks in. I start running to get to my car, and there are hundreds of other people running too. The men are bloodied, women wounded, children traumatised. A woman falls, and I help her up; she is hysterical. I hold her hand tight and run. Perhaps she hasn’t noticed my brown skin; she insists that she must find her friends. But she is bleeding from the shoulder — I think she’s been shot. Around the bright neon lights of The Strip, a scene from hell is being played out. The blue and red lights, the emergency vehicles, are approaching — but where are the shots coming from?
I see a man pulling at a woman, who seems unconscious. I let go of Emma’s hand and help Chris and his mother. Chris is crying: “Is she dead, she’s bleeding from the back of her head….” Emma suddenly springs into action, and holds a jacket to the middle-aged woman’s head. Chris regards me with some hesitation, though; I assume he’s thinking the obvious. It appears that he wants to say something, but in that moment remains silent. I want to reach out, and say, trust me.
Amidst the screaming, the chaos, the blood, and the frenzy, I see two people hide behind a truck. Yes, it seems to be an active shooting scene and I’m in the middle of it. A truck stops and a man screams, “Get in the back, I’ll take you to hospital.” Chris, Emma and I lift the unconscious woman into the vehicle. I run south on Las Vegas Boulevard, away from my parked car and the active crime scene. I run alongside thousands of people; somehow, I make it home.
The TV tells me the full story of the evening. I stay up, traumatised, paralysed, hoping and praying that the shooter doesn’t turn out to be Muslim; I remember the mistrust I saw in some eyes today. I stay up till the wee hours, and finally breathe again on learning the shooter’s name. From the sound of it, he isn’t Muslim. However, the militant Islamic State group has claimed responsibility — which is immediately denied by the authorities. It seems that, for the time being at least, the authorities believe that this was a lone wolf attack.
I cry myself to sleep, cry for the dead and for the injured and for what my city has endured. I wake up to the phone ringing. It is my friend Asma.
Asma voices my fears: “My initial thought was, it has hit Vegas; it has hit home. And then the hoping began, hoping the maniac is not Muslim, a Pakistani, a converted Muslim! If such was the case, what would I say to my colleagues? Should I defend the country and the religion, or just detach myself from both, disloyal to faith and the motherland both?”
Later that evening, I speak to Asma again. She talks about being thankful that we don’t have to be on the defensive this time. “Everyone I came across today had a sad, broken spirit — yet the resolve in the face of adversity is remarkable,” she says. “Every time there is a violent attack, I think of moving back; this stress and anxiety means we live life on the edge due to the unfair and unjustified reactions towards us. But then, the goodness of this great nation makes one stronger and resilient. Fifty-nine lives were lost, with over 500 injured, and that is saddening, devastating, traumatising, and terrifying, all at once.
“I worry for the next generation that bears the burden of being Muslims with Pakistani roots, being judged in these times of senselessness — not accepted as American regardless of having American birth certificates.”
I mull over our conversation, and discuss it with an Indian-American friend, Radha. Her reaction surprises me: “You think it’s a Muslim issue? No, my friend, it’s a colour issue, and so much more. I am the same colour as you and I was hoping that the gunman not be Muslim or South Asian. The issue is bigger than we think.”
The issue may be bigger, but the blood spilt is the same as mine. I cry for all the victims of the Sunday night massacre, the real victims, the ones who died and bled; and the silent victims, you and I. – Dawn