Short story selected for the 2014 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Sitting in his SUV, at the open air parking lot entry, he patiently gestured for her to drive forward.
“You smug bastard, you don’t tell me what to do,” murmured Anindita under her breath inching her car forward. She noticed that the Hyundai behind her was also trudging along with her. What she didn’t notice was that her car had bumped with the WagonR on the side and was now making a slight noise. She hit the brakes when she felt the resistance from the WagonR on her left side. She rolled down her window and glared in the direction of the Hyundai. It backed up a bit. She also backed up and tried to maneuver her car on the acute L bend around the WagonR. This time, without touching.
The ‘smug bastard’ was sitting there, serenely looking at her. Now smiling. ‘I HATE men,’ she thought and quickly, as always, appended, ‘not my Dad or brother’ and … Oh! Stop it Ani. This is hardly the time to list men that you love! We shall not be embarrassed today. We shall drive out of this fucked up parking lot where people use the same fucking route for entry and “Exit!”
She hadn’t thought of the last word. In fact, she had yelled it out. The man walking past her car quickened his pace looking back at her nervously.
“Great, now even he thinks I am crazy. Yelling crazy lady in the parking lot barked at me,” she murmured. She put the car back in reverse again and inched back. That’s when she noticed the SUV guy in front of her who was now reaching for his seat belt.
“Don’t!” she thought.
“If you offer to drive my car for me like I can’t bloody drive out of this mess on my own, I will fucking break your knee!” Ani always wore her emotions on her face and her evident rage must have transmitted some sort of message to him telepathically because he didn’t take off his seat belt.
She finally put her car in the first gear, made three quarters of an L and snailed ahead only to feel the tires bump lightly onto the pavement. She took a deep breath, backed up and turned her car a little further so that the SUV was now on her right side. The Esteem that was now in front of her was showing no signs of movement. She craned her neck to look at the driver and possibly glare at him too but the night time darkness made it harder to see properly. She honked. Nothing. No lights, no movement, nothing! She realized that a group of men and women, standing on the pavement, were now watching her.
“No doubt, judging my capability of driving out of this situation,” she assumed.
She got out of the car to have a word with the resolute Esteem’s driver. The driving seat was empty. “Some idiot has just parked the car in the aisle and left to drink at one of the bars,” she thought rapidly formed opinions about this unknown man and the principal being that the driver was most definitely a ‘man’. Out loud she said in a slightly elevated pitch, “Are you bloody serious?” The onlookers now discussed the matter in whispers combined with smirks.
She prayed to God that the guy would at least have the sense to leave his Esteem in neutral gear or she would be in this parking lot till God knows when. She pushed the car tentatively. It moved. She took her slippery silk dupatta off her shoulder and put it around her neck so it would not fall off. The look on her face, of pure determination, wasn’t far off from that of a determined sniper sitting with a rifle on a roof top, just about to pull the trigger at his target. She pushed the Esteem with her full might only to realize that it was moving fairly easily. She got it out of her way as much as possible and turned around to go back to her car. The smirk on her face changed to a look of slight surprise when she realized that the SUV guy had gotten out and was standing right in front of her.
“You are leaving right?” he asked politely. She looked at his tall structure and handsome face looking down at her. His crisp white shirt added on to the intimidation she could feel.
“Yes!” it came out faster and harsher than she had intended.
“Well you can drive out now, there’s space.” He smiled.
But what Anindita heard was, “Any guy could have driven out of here much sooner.”
“Yes, I am trying, thank you very much,” she barked out getting in her car. He started to return back to his SUV but turned around instead. He walked back towards her open car window and said, “It’s alright,” with a full smile.
More than the soothing deep voiced ‘It’s alright’ it was the unnerving, honest smile that hit her.
“Could it be that she was needlessly on the defensive? That he had only wanted to help all along. Unlike those wretched onlookers who did not move a muscle to help”, she felt bad about her behavior.
He was still standing there covering the street light behind him, one hand still on her car. She meant to say, “I am really sorry,” but instead what came out was, “Aren’t you a lil too cute and young to be this humble? Don’t you have a boss or a job that you hate? How on God’s green earth are you so happy and nice to strangers on a Friday evening in this God forsaken parking lot?”
“Uh..no,” he said, a little taken aback at this weird concoction of appreciation and hostility.
“Yeah, well, that’s what I thought. Thank you.” At least she could manage to say this nicely, with an apologetic smile. Then she turned the ignition on, changed gears and drove off.
She maneuvered a few other cars, finally making it on to the main road. She turned on the air conditioning and switched on Bublé crooning about love. She changed the song to something a little more ‘vengeful’, a lot more pacey and took a deep calming breath. Free at last! She smiled to herself thinking about him. She had settled on calling him ‘Cute Boy’ in her head after having evolved through ‘Smug Bastard’ and ‘SUV Guy’. She thought of five other smart ass compliments – cum- taunts she could have delivered instead. She laughed out about the one that was about his sexy beard. That’s when she heard a loud honk right behind her that almost made her jump. She glared at the rare view mirror and saw a black SUV following her. It took her a split second to realize who it was. The same smug bastard was following her and smiling at her. She lowered her speed without really thinking about it. His car was now adjacent to her’s and his shotgun seat window came down.
“I do,” he yelled, smiling.
She would generally be afraid of a stranger following her in the dead of the night. But somehow she could not get herself to be scared of this guy. She lowered the volume and got her speed to below 10 and asked, “You do what?”
They had stopped. He parked his car ahead of hers on the road side so that the traffic wouldn’t be held up on their account. He got out and walked up to her car window. “I do have a job and a boss. I just don’t hate them.”
There was roaring laughter inside her head and a very warm hot feeling of happiness rose through her entire body. She turned the ignition off, unlocked the door and stepped out. She wished she had chosen her heels this morning while getting dressed for office.
She closed the car door and leaned back against it, looking directly into his eyes, smiling. Her continued silence moved him into speech again. “I….ah….said no before which was a little ambiguous in its meaning.”
“Okay,” she said, resolute on giving him a hard time.
“Umm…okay then… now that I have cleared things up, maybe I should,” he finished with a thumb flicking gesture that signalled departure.
“Maybe…” she agreed, nodding, smiling.
He turned and started walking towards his car.
She looked at his receding figure and half yelled, “Do you always chase people around, clarifying things?”
“Only when they call me cute,” he turned back with a hopeful smile.
“Caught that part too, did you? Next time this happens, lead with ‘So you think I am cute, huh?’ Much better chances of success.”
“I see. That was a nice tip, thanks!” He was now walking back to her. “Do you think…um… I could interest you in a coffee? I am hoping to pick up a few more tips”.
She stopped smiling at this suggestion. This changed his broad open grin into a tentative smile. When she spoke, she could not believe her own ears. “I am not driving into that fucked up parking lot again.”
“No problem,” he said. “Let’s just leave the cars here. The coffee shop’s right over there.”
“What? Here? On the road? What if it gets towed or stolen?” she shot back.
“It won’t. You have my word.”
She smiled at this desperate assurance. “Hmm,. but what if it does?”
“Well, it’s parking-at-owner’s risk even in that parking lot so your car could have been stolen from there as well. So what we are left with is the threat of getting towed. Hmm, if your car gets towed, I will help you get it back,” he offered magnanimously. She did not look impressed. So he continued, “but if that is not good enough for Miss, I will buy her a new car. In any case she has scratched this one in at least three places while trying to get out of there. She needs a new car,” he said, appraising the car from where he was standing.
“SHE HAS NOT!” she chided him with mock anger and turned around to look at her car.
“So will you have that coffee, Miss?” his voice was now almost a sexy whisper that sent a chill down her spine.
She opened the car to pick up her purse and rolled up her window. She locked the car, turned around and said, “maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Let’s see.”
Author’s Bio :
Ankhi is 29, single and exploring her long standing passion for fiction through writing. Otherwise, she works as a Digital Marketing consultant at Gurgaon, India.
Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)