8.07 PM. The green light isn’t as mood setting as the red in this hold up. The cars aren’t moving but that’s the way this city sometimes is – when you want it to rush it’s tangled earphone wires, and when you give up, sit back and let it roll, which is a process you think of later than sooner, the holdup dissolves and you are moving again.
It’s a weekday and I knew I was asking for this. The traffic jam was expected, the day had been ordinary and the mood was nothing, really. I’d left office sooner than usual because I needed to buy her a birthday gift – 25 years of friendship warrants some adjustments in an erratic non-schedule, so I can pick up something memorable for her, which a hunch told me I wouldn’t find, today. I checked the watch – 8.12 PM. The taillights of the Liva ahead reflected in the Casio and I couldn’t help but frown as the car moved ahead because that lane was moving faster.
My own cab driver was busy on the phone. With little to no movement to worry about, using the mobile while driving wasn’t so much of a hazard to road life. When the traffic started to slow down and his conversation had begun, it was with his wife, speaking of some contractor he was expecting home for the extra room. That’s when I slipped the earphones on. I didn’t want to pry.
8.15 PM. The tempo next to the cab was inching ahead, before it rode a yard or more faster, to come to a sudden halt – sudden enough for the driver of the car behind it to have to brake hard. The spontaneity of the moment distracted me from my daze of exhaustion and I looked to my left to see if the driver was pursuing the rant with the tempo fellow.
You looked back at me.
There wasn’t a point in looking away so I let your familiar stare sink in. A chill went down my spine. The now-red traffic light was painting your face a muted version of itself and your anger wasn’t living up to the drama of the moment. What did, was the flick of your cigarette out of the car window and the ashes floating gently on to the concrete road.
“You think a lot, don’t you?”
“What if we had met here for the first time?”
“Well, what if?”
“I don’t know. Would you have looked this way?”
“Why’re you asking me this?”
How can I hear you, and how can you hear me in this honking, bleeding jam?
Why wasn’t the traffic moving ahead?
“I saw your hair. The top of your head, actually.”
That’s the only part of me you can see mostly. It surprised me that you could identify it even in the dark and with so many distorting lights on the road. I let you take a drag of the cigarette, your expression when you do already memorised and just a replay of everything I see.
“I start thinking like you. You know. Naively.”
Naive. Always naive. Why does that hurt?
“What if, et cetera” – you balanced your cigarette between your lips and moved the car ahead gently – “you think of it all the time don’t you? I know you do. ” It’s not like you to chat so much about what is in your head. I wondered what made you, now, in this jam, where I would have never been had it not been my best friend’s birthday the next day. I wanted this to stop.
“Look – do you want to get into my car? Can I drop you somewhere?”
“I’m headed to the mall.”
“I live right next to it.”
Your lane moved ahead.
“It’s right here. You go ahead, your lane’s moving.”
8.26 PM. You nod. The frown returned for a second before you disappeared ahead with your car and I was still stuck in the lane, with someone I didn’t want to look into the mirror with.