Short Stories TerminalSeries

Friday, 8.10 am

He looked forward to his Fridays.  On that day of the week, after his morning prayers, he would not rush to his taxi beat in Besant Nagar.  Instead, he would go to the airport to pick up his wife of 20 years.

Theirs had been an arranged marriage.  They saw each other for the first time on their nuptial night.  Love did not strike them like lightning then. Rather, it took its own sweet time to take shape, like scattered clouds huddling tentatively to rain, much later.   First came mutual respect and understanding, and then came admiration and care. Love arrived, finally, not as a flamboyant downpour, but as a steady drizzle. Their love was intentional and consequential.

He was 12 years her senior. His wife never attached much reverence to his age. She respected him for what he was and did not cower to his age or his relationship with her.

***

She was mopping the last bathroom floor and that would end her shift. She was tried. After polishing the floor for the third time, she still could not get the dusty film off the floor.

‘Damn, the renovation’,  she thought as she mopped it for the fourth time.

She was still not happy with the floor. But her sight was troubling her. Everything appeared to be out of focus. She abandoned the dirty floor.

She was heading towards to the exit when she saw him. He was a faraway shadow to her eyes. She squinted to get a better view.

She knew it was him for she saw him every Friday.

‘Why are you here every Friday?’, she wanted to ask.

Obviously, she did not. She did not want to be intrusive. Only, her heart tugged every time she saw him.

***

He was a school drop out. Financial burden landed on his shoulder with a thud when his father died unexpectedly. He started off as an office boy at the local cab company. Soon he learned driving and was absorbed into the crew.  He worked tirelessly to keep the hearth burning.

After years of pestering, he finally agreed to get married. He was 30 and despite his friends egging him to get some ‘experience’ before marriage, he never yielded to temptations. He kept his lust under control.

His wife’s first question to him after marriage was, ‘Can we not do it tonight?’ and he respected her without out a second thought.

***

While waiting, her thoughts and eyes kept darting to him. He was standing there as if he was expecting something to happen, shifting his weight from one leg to another.

Would it be rude if she got closer to get a better look at him she thought and immediately dismissed it.

The dull pain on the left side of her chest was getting bothersome. It had been with her for a few months now.

***

He hated jasmine. The strong smell made him sneeze. His wife loved it. He made sure he had a string of the flower with him every time he went to pick her up on Fridays.

His wife did not like the smell of coffee. He woke up to the aroma of freshly brewed decoction every morning.

The couple lived with his mother and his sister in a one-bedroom flat. He left for work early and came back very late. He never woke up his tired wife. But she was there the moment he unlocked the front door, insisting on serving him the hot food, a meager spread of rice, rasam, and karuvaadu*.

During the first few years of marriage, sex could only be quick and hushed for the flat was too small for comfort. That was one of the reasons he had looked forward to Fridays. His sister would be away in the college. His mother would make excuses to leave them alone till the late afternoon. They had the house for themselves.

After finishing breakfast at the roadside eatery, the young couple would return to an empty home and would make full use of it. After several rounds of sex, they would fall into a deep slumber.

***

Shattered glass pieces were still strewn around here and there. She was very tempted to approach him. But her legs were ladened to the spot. As her wont, she continued to wait alone.  

***

They had it all well planned. Friday mornings were the busiest times at the Airport.  They just have to get past the first barricade without suspicion and they would be at the Airport arrivals.  He would detonate himself in the middle of the oncoming crowd.

***

Many years later, he still would pick his wife up from the airport every Friday, would have breakfast on the way and would return to an empty home for his mother moved with his sister after her marriage. Only now, sex was becoming a chore and was finally out of their Friday schedule.

They were happy in the warm comfort of their domesticity. She cut his toenails chiding him to take his hygiene seriously. He helped around the kitchen washing plates and cutting vegetables.  She oiled his receding hairline and gave it a wash every Friday. He took her to her favourite movies every Friday. On lean days, there were happy to be at home.

The love between them was never proclaimed. It was acted out, inherently silent.

***

She was hungry as if she had not eaten for a while. She was tired of waiting. Time weighed on her like stones around her neck. She tried to focus on things around her. When she tried to see, she could conjure only skewed images, beyond recognition. Contours dissipated and merged. Everything was bent and pulled and distorted. Colours kept switching between monochrome and multifarious hues.

Switch on! Switch off!

She squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened, she tried to see him again. But he was now a myriad-colored silhouette restless and dissolving, dissolving and forming.

***

The ‘chosen one’ was 15 years old. A mere boy. No one would be wary of a boy and his mother traveling together to the Airport. He would be dropped there at the car park and he had been trained to do the needful.

He was promised etneral peace and martydom for his courageous act. God would receive him with open arms, they said. The boy trusted them.

***

A few months ago…

The Arrival board showed 8.10. The boy was on the spot. All went well so far. All he had to do was press the button. And then there would be peace within him. He was nervous and involuntarily touched his spare gun.

The security noticed his discomfort and started observing him. The boy knew he was being watched and that made him nervous.

Then all unfolded in less than a minute.

He pulled out his spare gun and pointed it at the guard. The guard aimed at him. The crowd pulled away.

She saw the boy’s trembling hand reach for the button. She saw her husband of 20 years standing in the crowd anxiously looking out for her. Briefly, very briefly their eyes locked. And then she ran towards the boy to distract him. The boy, the poor trembling boy, turned to her and pulled the trigger.

In the melee, the security shot the boy through his temple.

***

It was 8.10 am on a Friday morning. She felt lighter, the immense weight had been lifted. She saw him again. She could not resist any further. She was pulled towards the lanky man. She glided towards him as if on trance.

That very minute, he took on a clearer image. She could see him coherently at last, those rheumy, forlorn eyes, that small dark patch of skin on his forehead, that quivering lips.

She saw his tears.

Revelation struck her like the bullet that pierced her heart.

Her formless soul wanted to hug him, tell him all the unsaid love, tell him that she wanted to come back home with him, tell him that she was scared of being left alone, tarrying here.

All she could do was give out a voiceless howl.

She knew that she was frozen in that Friday, 8.10 am moment, that infinite second, until he could join her.

***

The Arrival board showed 8.10. The jasmine fragrance that he had so hated, teased his nose and filled the arrival area. For that fleeting eternal bubble of time, he knew his wife was there with him.

He wanted to feel her work hardened arms around him, tell her that he did not know how to fill his empty hours, tell her that time stretched before him endlessly and tell her how much he wanted to join her.

In a minute all was over.

With a muffled sob, he turned and left abruptly.

‘Until next Friday’, he thought as he got into his taxi. He knew she would be there for him, waiting.

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* thin lentil soup and dried fish

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