Ordinary People: Lay-by
Headlights search the road. Rain mists the windscreen. Wipers smear, left, right, left, right, condensation fogs, the vision opaque.
He’s excited. His mouth’s dry. His palms are sweating. Adventure fills the night. His heart is beating, blood pumping, he is truly alive. A hunter stalking his prey. He licks his lips, slowly, as if he can taste his prize. A little whiskey to steel his nerve. His first time. Punjabi dance music blares from the car stereo, to give him strength, to embolden him. The truth? He’s scared. First-time nerves.
He slowly rolls down the West Hounslow avenue, tree-lined, with little terraced houses on either side. Music pumping, arm nonchalantly out of the window. The lads told him where to go, where they walk. These damn misted windows, he can hardly see anything. His cousin swore he’d fixed the heater last week. Now he’s stuck with the condensation. As he cruises, he spots a little flash of white in the darkness. Slowing, he sees a young Indian girl, perhaps twenty, in a tiny white mini-skirt, white stilettos, and a tight black leather jacket. Her hair is curled and cascades down her back in ringlets. Then she is lost to the night.
He rolls on along the road, pulls in at the twenty-four-hour garage, turns around and parks on the opposite side of the road, outside a brightly lit chicken shop. He takes out a packet of cigarettes, taps them like a movie star to straighten the tobacco for a better burn. His hand is shaking as he brings the match up to light the cigarette. He takes a long drag and berates himself. ‘What are you a pussy? Man-up for fucks sake!’
He has worked hard at University. He’s a good student. He will soon qualify as a Doctor and fulfil his parents' dreams. He has worked all his life for the career about to begin. He deserves a little treat. Everyone has to let their hair down. Relax a bit. In Hounslow, there are precious few chances. He climbs out of the car, leaning against its side, surveying the street. He blows a plume of smoke up at the moon, like a wolf howling in celebration of life. A full moon, yellow in the glow of the street lights. He watches the smoke drift lazily through the drizzle up and away.
A plane crosses the moon on its lonely journey West. He thinks about the struggle of his parents, working at the airport all their lives to ensure his brother, sister and himself can achieve their dreams. He thinks about his bride, Ameena. She is beautiful and smart, a trainee solicitor. She has been chosen for him, although these days it’s only half arranged because the boy and girl will meet, go for coffee or a date to make sure they like each other before things get serious.
An Asian wedding is like nothing else; the colours, the smells, the food, the ritual, it's such a big deal, two families joining together. It reminds him of the scrum at Saturday rugby, both sides eyeing each other, then the lock and the bind as they connect. Her family was arranging matching purple tailored outfits for every single member of their side. That was crazy even for most Indian weddings. There would be five hundred guests - a slimmed-down guest list, her father would have had a thousand if he’d got his way. He wanted to celebrate his only daughter's wedding with the whole community.
He takes another drag and watches the smoke slowly drift skyward. In a couple of weeks, he will be married and he’ll begin the next stage of his life. The responsibility scares him but as the eldest, he had been preparing for this all his life. He will set a good example; marry well and then his younger brother and sisters will find it easier to find good matches. He will set the level. He drags deeply on his cigarette.
From the corner of his eye, he notices the white mini skirt approaching. It’s rocking side to side on those slender hips like a little boat battered in a storm. She’s watching him, he can tell.
“Gotta light fella?”
He pulls his matches out and lights one, cupping it in his hands to protect the flame from the breeze. She leans in and touches her cigarette to his flame, brushing his hands with hers as she does so. Her cigarette flares as she inhales.
His hands no longer shake.
“Whatcha doing out?” She asks breathing out smoke as she does so. She stands in the glow of the chicken shop, her face in shadow from the neon glow, maybe nineteen, pretty and slim. She has that way of standing, which girls alone seem blessed, crossing her legs just above the ankles, pivoting on the spot, one arm across her flat, naked stomach and the other tucked in at her side and holding the cigarette. She’s cold.
“Just driving, y’know.”
And that ...is that. The next thing he knows she is sliding into the passenger seat next to him and he is pretending the heater works.
They drive out of Hounslow under the M4, up the A312, to the A40 and then West. He doesn’t want to explain a beautiful stranger in his car to nosey aunties.
“I know a place we can talk,'' she says.
She directs him to a quiet lay-by off a dual carriageway with fields on the right and a steep hill on the left. Quiet. Few cars at this time of night.
She looks into his eyes with a gaze that conveys a million words. He knows what this is. It has happened faster and more smoothly than he expected. She takes his hand and slowly slides it up under her top. She is warm and oh ...oh ...so soft.
“So what’d ya want to talk about?” she asks with a sly smile.
The question throws him. Robin Williams he remembers once said ‘man was given a brain and a penis but only enough blood for one at a time’. At this moment his brain isn’t getting much blood ...and he is struggling to keep up.
“Errr, you tell me,” he says, very aware of where his right hand is resting.
“How about economics?” She says and leans across to kiss him lightly on the cheek.
‘Economics?” He replies totally confused. It is like the world is spinning around him, getting faster and faster. All these powerful emotions and now ...economics thrown into the mix.
He looks confused.
“Yeah, you know, supply and demand.” She whispers.
He still looks none the wiser.
“You know… I’ve got the supply ...and err … I think you’ve got the demand?”
“Oh...” He says.
When it is done, they both sit back in the car, light cigarettes and smoke silently together. A moment of peace shared. They both exhale smoke in little clouds into the crisp, fresh night air. She tries to ignore the crisp bank notes tucked by the handbrake.
“Whatya doing tomorrow?” She asked innocently.
God, she’s beautiful. That long neck, those dark perfect eyes. He could drown in those eyes, slide into the depths never to be seen again...
“I’m going to the Gurdwara for a wedding,” he says before he can stop himself.
She looks surprised.
“You know Kumla and Jared?”
“Her parents, ...live on ...our road.” He said slowly, dragging the words out.
“I’m his cousin, I go to ..school with his sister.” With those few simple words, his world begins to slip, sliding slowly at first then accelerating like on a rollercoaster. He feels sick. The tracks disappear below him into the void and there is no guarantee the track is complete.
He is leaning forward, head in his hands. What has he done? The image of that painting ‘the Scream’ comes to him. He feels like all the colour is being sucked out of him.
She watches the transformation with concern which quickly turns to shock. She sees how pale he has become. She sees the fear in his manner. He looks cornered. A cornered animal is the most dangerous. She remembers that from the National Geographic channel her mum watches.
He can see his world crumbling, his family honour, his brother and sisters wedding prospects, his wedding, the deposit loss alone could ruin his family not to mention his career. His career. His whole world, his family’s in tatters. The whispers that would start around the community; the aunties lived for gossip like this...
“His parents tried so hard with that boy and look how he repays them.”
“Going with a common street whore.”
“And a schoolgirl, didn’t you hear? So young.”
“She’s from a broken home you know. Now she’s breaking their home too!”
“On the night before Kumla and Jared’s wedding! Where is the respect?”
“It ruined their wedding day of course, ...and every anniversary.”
“I’ll be surprised if that poor couple isn’t divorced within a couple of years.”
“Terrible that the family should have to live with the shame.”
“What of the poor brother and sisters? Innocent but tarred with the same brush.”
“What was that boy thinking?”
“His parents won’t be able to show their faces in the Gurdwara. The shame.”
Their words swarm around his head like hornets waiting to deliver their fatal sting.
“You can’t tell anyone” he whispers through clenched teeth.
“Of course I wouldn’t. Don’t worry. No one has to know.” She quietly speed dials button 1 on her old Nokia phone.
“No, I mean you can’t tell anyone”.
“I hear you, don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul”. She says.
When he finally raises his eyes to hers, they are cold. Cold as ice. Like gazing into the darkest void. There is no humanity, just something animal and primal. She is frightened and reaches for the door release but he is there before her.
His hands close around her neck.
“You can’t tell anyone. Ever.”
His training as a doctor ensures he knows exactly how to perform his grim task. He knows where and how to press. He squeezes and watches in appalled horror as hands that don’t seem his own, force the life, the divine spark, from her eyes. It is the most sickening thing he has ever witnessed. In horror, he recognises her face will haunt him forever. This beautiful young flame. extinguished, her future withdrawn. All his years of studying medicine to heal and save, corrupted in an instant. White turned to black with the flip of a switch.
As a trainee doctor, he has seen death of course, but to cause death ...is different. When your own hands cause the death of someone you know ...intimately, it's unspeakable. He feels sick. He can feel it building in the pit of his stomach as he looks at her limp corpse slumped in the seat next to him, her eyes open and staring accusingly at him. The nausea built-in waves, he tries to hold it but loses the battle. He grabs her handbag and throws up into it, noticing with wide eyes the connected call on her phone screen as he submerges it in bile.
In that moment, that dark, impossible moment, he knows with complete certainty all hope is lost. A shiver runs through him. On some primal level, he’d felt there was a small chance of escape. Any chance to keep his old life was better than none. Cornered, he reacts with an elemental drive. The phone screen extinguishes his last delusional hope.
On a different day, a different decision, a different future, ...for them both. Today, he just feels sick, a black horrible disgusting sickness that eats at his very soul. He didn’t think he could ever kill.
With leaden hand, he raises his phone and dials the number.
He tracks the path of a single raindrop as it crawls its way earthward, down the windscreen in fits and spurts, and wonders absentmindedly if it will ever reach the sea. He becomes aware of blue throbbing light reflecting in that single drop, that single tear.
This is a fictionalised story.
I wanted to understand what could lead two ordinary people to this point.
Dedicated to Anita Kapoor RIP
https://www.swoopbooks.com/index.php/competitions/ Dec 2020