Man on a swing by the beach

Male, Single | First and Last

As his Ola arrives, he asks me, “So, why aren’t you married?”

We are meeting right after school – after around 25 years. Of course, like everyone these days, we are connected on FB. We catch up over dinner. Over two hours of getting up to speed on classmates, schoolmates, profs, principals, marriages, kids, divorces, deaths. Yup, we are in our 40s, after all. Yet, he leaves this one for the end. Sometimes, the last thing you ask is the first thing you want to know. He is “happily” married himself, with a daughter. And mercifully, he left out “yet” from the question.

I give him the rehearsed answer. “I am not too hot about kids, and I don’t believe in marriage.” I have been doing this for 10 years or so. It comes easily. The real answer, even I don’t know. A mix of choice and chance? A case of the one that got away, and the one that never came?

He doesn’t seem satisfied, like I am refusing to share this part of my life with him. But, what does he expect? We met up for only two hours, after 25 years. And now, the driver wants to get on with the ride.

My friend and I will have to meet again. At least, he will want to.

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A smiley on a yellow sticky note against a blue background of frownies

Flash Fiction | Down, Down, Down

“Down, down, down…

Imti’s smile is down, down, down…

It’s more like a frown, frown, frown…

He looks like a sad clown, clown, clown…

Imti’s smile is down, down, down…”

His classmates’ mocking words loop in his head, as, tears rolling out of his eyes, Imti narrates this to his mom, sobbing and pausing after each line.

Holding his jaw in one hand, his mom pulls up one end of her dupatta with the other, and then proceeds to wipe his tears. Still holding his jaw, she turns it to face the dresser mirror.

“You know why your smile is…” she pauses to imitate him imitate his classmates, “down, down, down?”

Imti, Imtiaz in full, keeps looking into the mirror, his frowny smile remaining a frown.

“Your smile is down…” She pauses, caresses his chin, and goes on, “Because your chin… your chin, like mine, and like my dad… is a bit out…”

Imti touches his chin to feel whether it is indeed out.

Smiling, his mom adds, “It’s a genetic thing…”

“Jenny— what?” Imti looks at his mom. Now, his forehead is furrowed.

“It’s a physical feature in my side of the family…” She explains. “Some people say it looks odd, and so our smile always appears down.” She makes a mock frownie. For the first time in the day, Imti smiles.

Stroking his jutting jaw, she asks, “But you know what’s good about that?” Imti pouts, then shrugs.

“We are very good at taking problems on the chin.”

Imti doesn’t seem to know what that means, but feels it’s a good thing, so repeats goofily, “On the chin…”

Stroking his hair, his mom continues, “That means, we are good at handling problems and don’t get disturbed so easily.” She puffs herself up with pride.

Imti imitates her. Like mother, like son.

“Down, down, down…

My smile is down, down, down…

It looks like it is upside down…

But that’s because my chin is out, out, out…

So, nothing gets me down, down, down…

Or out, out, out…”

Imti goes singing past his classmates the next day, his smile as upward as it can be.

Interiors of a plush theatre

Flash Fiction | I Do Too

The production studio’s logo appears. The remaining lights come on. The tunnel of light-dust from the projector to the screen fades out. More cleaning staff emerge from the Exit doors, and wait.

I get up, dust the remaining crumbs from my t-shirt and jeans, quickly look around to ensure I haven’t dropped anything, and begin walking to the front of the row.

What do I see? A girl in a deep pink printed tee, faded jeans, silver tote, wavy hair falling gently on her shoulders, too walking to the front of her row, three rows ahead.

Is this possible? Another soaked-to-the-bone movie-lover?

I tentatively look at her, she returns the look, and smiles back pleasantly. I return a wider smile.

If we had been at the same level of rows, we could have for now at least walked down this aisle together.

A bearded man with glasses looking down into something

Flash Fiction | Passed

“Sir, could you check your details please?” The young woman at the counter asked him to look at the applicant monitor facing him.

He squinted at the screen. Putting his hand into his bag, which he had placed on his lap, he pulled out a spectacle case, clicked it open, spread out the temples of the glasses within, and put them on.

It was the woman’s turn to squint. “You have reading glasses…?” She politely inquired, remembering to smile.

He diverted his eyes from the screen, looked at her above his glasses, bobbed his head a couple of times, smiled back, and turned his attention again to confirming the details on the monitor.

From the corner of his eye, he saw her pick up his passport from the table none-too-discreetly (she was a young woman, after all), flip to the inside cover, and on reading his date of birth, widen her eyes and turn up her eyebrows. She couldn’t contain herself. “Sir, you don’t look so old…”

Looking at her again, his validation over, he smiled more than passport and visa snaps allow you to.

A slightly blurred image of a guy behind a wheel

Flash Fiction | Almost There

He wasn’t just proving a dream date, he was proving a dream guy. He was fine with them splitting the bill, he didn’t get up when she excused herself to go to the restroom, no sly peeks at his smartphone when they were talking, no holding the door open for her – not for the restaurant, not for the car – although he did gesture her to both go in and sit in before him.

Fastening her seat-belt as he started the ignition, she noticed what she had missed when they were on their way here: not a single god’s idol on the dashboard or anywhere around. Wow, could he be the mythical, truly liberal guy? Why, she could go ahead and uninstall Tinder after this.

Hope coursing through her and culminating in a smile, she asked, trying to keep it as cool as she could, “So, how come you don’t have any godly pix or idols like every other car…?”

Smiling, he pulled out a small idol from the recesses of the cockpit, touched it and then his forehead, put it back in, and replied, feeling he had salvaged himself, “Here you go. I just keep Him in here to avoid Him getting dirty and dusty.”

‘Damn,’ she sighed, looking away. ‘Our babies would have ruled the world.’