The Job (The First Wok)

If it weren't for Basantada, I would have missed my stop. I did register the shops and the graffiti and the kerosene lamps of the shacks outside the station, and told myself I better start moving towards the exit, but then it was gone in an instant and I was back with the thick blanket of despondence. The bus had started moving like a well nourished madame by the time I reached the door, but there would be a speedbreaker just ahead, so I stood on the footboard and allowed the cool summer breeze to wash my face and arms. With the finish of a sea bird, the swell of the speedbreaker kissed my feet, and in a moment, the dust that chased after the noisy bus cleared and I stood facing the lane that led home.

What could I have said that would have made it different? If I had at least known that this was coming my way, I would have dreamed up some lie, some reason that would serve to buy me time if nothing else. Anyway, there was no getting away, we knew it from the time it began.

The rickshaw stand grumbled with the crescendo of the evening traffic, the mothers and daughters out to visit the pawn shops, the office colleagues who want to murder their boss over a drink and a smoke at the country liquor store before going docilely home to waiting wife and mother in law, the college student too stoned to walk and too broke to pay the full fare, all of this rustling like a badly spooled tape past my ears, like a view from under water when it is raining, I waved back at the son of the iron and steel shop owner who never forgot to remind me of the money he had lent me when we were in college together as I slowed down to light a cigarette.

Had I really expected it to be different? Not that I could tell with any honesty. The empty feeling at the pit of the stomach had been a constant companion over the last eighteen months, and none of the secret and occasionally guilty pleasure, none of the thrill, none of the adrenalin-laden escapades, none of the implausible dreaming had ever overpowered it. And it was not like we had not talked about it. Like a song that refuses to get out of ones mind, time and again, we had come up against the same question. And every time, we had gratefully taken refuge in the ambiguity and vagueness that comes from not wanting to know the truth.

I stepped off the asphalt to make way for a cow that had to make way for a rattling schoolbus that didn’t need headlights on. I could see our bedroom framed in dull yellow through the balcony door. A light colored sari put out to dry in the apartment next to ours swayed like a serpent repeatedly trying to strike at our windows, missing it by a tongue's width, coiling back and billowing forth in the twilight, and hissing forward again, like a spited woman, like a jilted lover, like a sinking patient, like an unreasonable child. The smoke from my cigarette stung my eye.

What will I say? What will I do? A gun in itself is neither good nor evil.
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