Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Last Ride Together

It wasn't the things you said that scared me away. Or the way you had of taking my wrists in your hands, your fingers curling around them as if feeling for a pulse. It was the way you looked at me - your eyes hidden behind the oversized dark glasses you always wore, your smile pointed tentatively in my direction but refusing, somehow, to focus. There was something wrong with that smile. I saw you practicing it in the rearview once, when you thought I wasn't looking, and it came out fine, it came out beautiful. But every time you tried smiling at me, or at someone else, it was always hesitant, always forced. As though it didn't trust human beings, only mirrors.

I wonder if you ever realised that.

The day I decided it was over I told you that I wouldn't be needing the ride anymore because I was quitting my job at the music store. I had a whole story planned to explain this - how my grades at school had been slipping, how my parents felt this was a crucial year and I should be spending my time at home. But you didn't ask me what happened or why I was leaving. You didn't ask me anything. You just said "Oh" and went on driving.

We didn't talk much after that. We just sat there, listening to the hum of the car accelerating between us, like something momentous and menacing that we could barely control. It was the first time we'd been silent like this. Even that first day you gave me a lift - when you'd seen me walking towards the bus stop and recognised me from the Sharma's New Year party next door and asked me if I needed a ride - even then, not knowing the first thing about each other, we'd managed to find something to talk about. It felt strange, sitting next to you without saying a word. It felt like I was riding with a stranger. When we got to the store I had to keep myself from telling you where to stop.

Only you didn't stop, didn't drop me off outside the store the way you always did. For a moment I felt panic. Where were you taking me? You pulled into an empty parking slot, switched off the engine.

We both paused then, like characters who had arrived late to their own movie. It wasn't that we didn't know what was going to happen next, it was that we couldn't define what had happened, what was ending. Or perhaps it was just that we couldn't decide who had the first dialogue. You sat defeated behind the steering wheel, nervously turning the ring on your finger. I stayed frozen in my seat, wishing you would do something, say something. Ready to defend myself against whatever it was that you came up with.

After a while I opened the door. The hum of the traffic flooded into the car, unfroze us, plugged us back into the usual machine of arrival and departure. I edged my way out, careful not to let the door touch the car parked next to yours. Holding my breath till I had got clear.

As I reached back in from my knapsack, you laid your hand on my forearm.

"Thank you", you said, looking up at me.

It felt as though you'd slipped a hand under my shirt.

I could have asked "What for?", could have pretended not to know what you were talking about, but I figured you deserved better. So I just looked down and nodded. Then I whispered goodbye to you very softly and shut the door. Then I walked away.

Half way down the block I turned back to look. You were turned away from me, straining to see the traffic coming up behind you, trying to reverse into the street in order to drive away. From the angle your car was at, I could see you were having trouble. You never could back properly.


Anonymous said...

simply beautiful... though it didn't trust human beings, only mirrors... [ too good]

take care falsieee

Fifi said...


I've been reading you for some time and I have to say, although I love a lot of the stuff you've written, this for some reason(maybe its tenderness?)...captivated me.

Good job.

venkat said...

Falstaff: loved it, especially the ending (I have the feeling many will not like the way you finished it...)

Revealed said...

Liked. Nice to see some fiction after a while. I thought it was a little too pat. Especially the ending.

sb said...

hmmm... nice!! what a wonderful way to start the day.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Took me off guard. Interesting the way so many threads were left untied at the close of this tale. Well written.


Revealed said...

Also, I think it was *for my knapsack and not from it. Cos that would have been funny :)

hatshepsut said...

i thought this piece did your ability to write much injustice. it was just far more trite than i've come to expect from you. painfully so, actually. everything - from the stock bus stop encounter, to the flashback to when you first met at a new year's party and the overused 'characters in our own movie' analogy.

i was especially irritated by the indulgent:
"So I just looked down and nodded.
Then I whispered goodbye to you very softly...
Then I walked away.
Half way down the block I turned back to look."
sappy and trite. i'm not knocking the experience described, just the uninspired 'then i brushed my teeth' style of rendering it.

the ungraceful exit was about the only thing that added a little character to the piece.


Falstaff said...

anonymous: Thanks

fifi: Thanks

venkat: Thanks. Yes, see revealed's comment.

revealed: I guess. That knapsack thing was clearly a mistake. Aargghh!!

sb: Actually, it was the way I ended my day, but thanks.

N: Thanks

hatshepsut: Ouch!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree.
With hatshepsut.


p.s. ok ok hey we are your "loyal readers" from almost 18 months...we can be pedantic cant we?;)

Anonymous said...

Falsie: You've met people who actually think like this? In full, erudite, grammatically correct, analogically rich sentences? That too at the Sharmas? More power to you! Its depressing to realize that I now have to polish my incoherent thoughts to metaphoric brightness.


hatshepsut said...

falstaff, n! - don't get me wrong. i think highly of falstaff's writing. and if my comment came across as mean-spirited, i apologize. i was not advocating for fully-formed perfectly grammatical sentences, rich analogies or dense erudition.

i'm all for fragments. simple sentences. the odd incomplete senten.

i just thought that this particular piece was not as interesting as falstaff's pieces so often, so effortlessly, are.
that's all.

Anonymous said...

Hatshepsut: Umm, my comment was completely unrelated to yours. I'm not advocating for or against erudition of thought in Falsie's stories. I was just surprised to read that other people think like this. Given the quality of my own thoughts, I felt like those loswers on the "Are you smarter than a fifth grader" TV program.

And anyway who knows? Today I read about two Georgian men who tried to commit suicide by hacking off their arms with a saw. The attempt failed because they couldn't find an appendage to hack off the fourth arm. Stuff happens.


Anonymous said...

Addendum: That should be "two losers". Maybe they have a spelling test on the "Are you smarter than a fifth grader" program.


hatshepsut said...

oh. :-)

N said...

Beautiful and sad. Loved the small observations that brought her alive.

Anand - Opinionated Mind said...

"as though it dint trust humans, only mirrors" and "felt as though you'd slipped a hand under my shirt." - splendid !!