Home Fiction Life and Other Stories

Life and Other Stories

by Roberta

The heat is unbearable. The car’s AC isn’t working again and while the wind whipping through the window offers some relief, none is found when the car is not moving.

Like today, in traffic. At 5pm. In a car that had been left to the sun’s mercy for the best part of 10 hours. Stifling. Sweltering. Sweat trickles down my back, until I slouch, resigned, against the seat. My shirt feels damp. Penguins and the Arcticmy friend would say fanning her face with eyes closed. Penguins and the Arctic. Not too sure that works now.

Inside the car itself, everything is silent. The radio hasn’t worked in months. I got used to driving in silence. Allows me to think more freely.

Outside the car though, the world is stilled chaos.

No one moves much but every car is bursting to the seams with its own little world, its own created chaos. They contain stories, a plot, a setting, a narrative. And as every small world inches forward, it brushes against others with centimetres to spare. Chaos. But still. Isn’t that something?

I look out the window occasionally, wishing to peer into other windows and worlds. I hate it when people catch me watching as they’re lost in their own little atmosphere, minding their own gravitational pull. I feel I’m intruding and jerk my head away. But I love it. I love watching people as they hurriedly try to get somewhere. It’s our purpose in life it seems, getting from A to B so we can get to C and then D. So we brush against each other, try to get someplace before the next person because, well, because what else is there to do?

The steering wheel is hot beneath my fingers as I drum them mindlessly. I haven’t moved much further. A large white car slides in next to me and grinds to a halt. I peek. A girl plays with her ponytail, hair edged with an electric blue dye. She’s looking ahead but not seeing much. She’s thinking – of what? Of how she hopes the chicken has been taken out to thaw. Of that cryptic message her tutor left in her last assignment. Of… she slides past. Lives and worlds shift like particles in the air. The name “Daphne Caruana Galizia” blares from the radio of the car that wheezes in next. A man is at the wheel, well past middle age. He wears dark sunglasses and is looking right at me, expecting some kind of reaction to what the loud newscast is saying. I turn away. The voice on the radio becomes indistinct against the purr of so many machines. I move a few cars down and stop again. A woman talks into her Bluetooth set, windows rolled up. Both hands on the wheel, her mouth opens wide around the vowels, makes an effort to be understood.  She’s talking to her daughter about the massive stain on her new dress. To her freelance writer about his disappointing article for her company’s website. She shakes her head. Can people detect a shake of the head from the tone of voice? I don’t think so but I have to test it out. Electric blue girl is singing to an unfamiliar tune. Perhaps she grows self-conscious. At the push of a button, her windows slide closed. I pass a young couple in a small car. It has a fascinating string of tiny, colourful banners stuck around all the windows on the inside. The work of their five your old? He is nowhere in sight. They don’t talk. The girl has pretty button earrings. The boy looks tired. He leans his head on his hands, perched on the window. A small blue flag caresses the top of his head. A motorcyclist drives by. Then another. I glimpse infinite stories through other worlds.  Familiar and unfamiliar gestures from protagonists in their own little theatre. A tilt of the hand, a shrug. A gulp from a water bottle sucked dry. A window is rolled down and strands of hair flicked outside. A child sleeps in his car seat, mouth open. A grin from ear to ear. “Bella giornata oggi. Proprio bella.” I pretend to ignore.  Dust picks up closer to the intersection. Chaos, but moving. Everyone feels we’re getting closer as they rearrange themselves on their seat after a long wait. Closer to home, to work, to rest, to play, to the doctor’s, the dentist’s, to church or to school. Somewhere. Anywhere. It gives us comfort. Knowing we have somewhere to go to.

For what else is there?

Nothing – and everything. We can watch, perhaps. We can observe those around us also making their way in this world. Notice the traits in you that make you like me. Different yes, but more alike than we think.

We can realise that we are not just bodies driving cars, getting some place. We are human, carrying the world around us. I see you in yours. You see me in mine. There’s comfort in that too. An understanding. If we reach that understanding, maybe we’d be slower to be unkind, quicker to offer compassion.

We need to pause when we can. I find my destination to be a better place when I keep my eyes open on the way And see.

I get past the intersection. The wind picks up in the car. Home is close.

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