TUESDAY: THE ONE WITH BEAST, DAISY, AND A GAME OF COSMIC CARROM
Emil woke up on the passenger-side seat of Inora’s car, his arms wrapped around his legs, the seat reclined as far back as it would go. He raised his head an inch and peered out through the passenger-side window. He saw a river, some distant trees, tin-houses surrounded by farm lands. He closed his eyes and eased back on the seat. It had been many years since he had woken up without an alarm. It was peaceful.
He rolled around on his other side and peered at Inora. “Good morning,” he said.
Inora was scrolling through something on her phone, “Morning.” She said curtly.
It was not at this moment that his brain connected the dots and came to the horrible realization.
He shut his eyes again and tried to recall the dream he had been having. Was Inora in it? He stole another peak at her again. Reading something very attentively. She may have been. And something about a mausoleum. He could not remember. The car jerked a little and Emil readjusted his position. It was peaceful, so early in the morning. He could fall back asleep again, he thought. He wanted to know what time it was. So he properly opened his eyes.
And then, his brain did the horrible thing. It connected the dots.
Here is what Emil did.
He screamed. For about two seconds. Then he shouted, “Oh my god!” which was different from the two seconds of screaming, because he was forming intelligent and complex words that had meanings. He yanked himself up on a sitting position and performed the following four tasks: slapped the phone out of Inora’s hands (who, alarmed by Emil, was either unable to form words or entirely able yet unsure about which words to form), and shouted “Are you trying to kill us both?”, grabbed hold of the steering-wheel and swerved wildly, and finally, looked out through the windshield to see if they were back on the road.
They were unequivocally not on a road. Not even a little bit.[i]
Here is what he did half a second after performing the fourth task.
He quietly let go off the steering-wheel, adjusted his seat to a more upright sitting position, adjusted his sitting position, and said, “Oh, so we are on a ferry, are we?”
Inora said nothing.
“How long have we been on a ferry? I see land there, we must be getting close…oh no, not so. We moving away from that bank, aren’t we? Which away are we going?” Emil looked around from the car, but they were boxed in by larger vehicles and had only one unimpeded view.
Inora quietly bent over to pick up her phone and checked for scratches. “What exactly were you trying to do?”
“I thought you were on the phone while driving, and so…”
“You slapped the phone out of my hands.”
“Yes. I did do that. I am very sorry.”
“And then you grabbed the steering-wheel.”
“To avoid on-coming vehicles.” Emil said.
“There were no on-coming vehicles.”
“Of course not, we are stationary. On a ferry.”
“Yet you still steered.”
“First right. And then left.”
“I would have felt mighty stupid if I had the opportunity to and yet had not steered, and we were in a collision, no?”
“Go back to sleep. You’re clearly not ready to face the world.”
“That’s fine, I slept quite well. I always sleep easy during car rides.”
“It feels like I am being rocked to sleep. I love it.”
“Yeah. I noticed.”
“Where are we right now?”
“Where do you think we are?”
“I don’t know. I have been asleep for half the night.”
“I NOTICED!” Inora yelled, but held up her hand and apologized immediately, “I am sorry. It is not your fault.” She considered something for a few seconds, “It is my fault. I should have never brought you along.”
“What did I do?”
“If you have to ask me that, Emil, I am not going to tell you!”
“That is quite counter-productive, is it not?”
“I think we are done talking. Yes, we are done talking for now.” Inora said and turned away from Emil and faced the other way, which was impeded by a truck.[ii]
“Can you at least tell me where we are?”
Inora grimaced, “Which direction were we heading towards before you fell asleep?”
“Ok, I can do that. After we left my apartment, we took a left and then a right turn, then another left, and I think you made a U-ey at some point…”
“I said direction. North. South. East. West. Which direction?”
“How can I possibly know that? I am not…uh, I am not…”
“Aww…you just miss your cat! Is that why you are being so bitter? Because you miss Marco?”
“I will end you.”
“Go on, tell me. Where do you think we are?”
“I do not have a compass, Inora.”
“Well, let’s see. There is the sun, of course.” She pointed.
“What about it?”
“The sun rises in the east, remember?”
“Yes I know; Japan and all. But where does it go after that?”
“Did you seriously just ask me that?”
“It is just a question!”
“If I were to say we are heading north, where would you say…”
“That is in the east.”
“Everywhere except south.”
“But we are definitely going north?”
“I never said that.”
And then, Emil decided to say nothing further and Inora did nothing to change that.
Emil never liked it when Inora was angry about something he had done. But he also knew that it was smart never to disagree with Inora. She was almost always right. Maybe he did need more sleep to clear his head and face the day that awaited them both. So he yawned, reclined his seat back, muttered, “Good night, Inora.”, and dozed off. He woke up twenty minutes later after a truck barged into a car while trying to debark the ferry at the port. That led to an altercation and a mob formed quickly. But it was not a long delay because within ten minutes, a man with a purple bandanna and a stick appeared out of nowhere and threatened to beat up both the truck-driver and the car-driver if they did not stop arguing and got off the ferry. That expedited the end of the argument, which ended with a cussing match. The kind man then directed all the other vehicles off the ferry without any further incidences.
Inora was still not keen on a conversation. Emil had turned his phone off the previous evening and did not want to turn it back on and be subject to Sania’s calls and messages. So he was left alone to his thoughts. There were quite a few of them. For example, he had no idea how Inora’s grandfather knew about the apocalypse. But he was going to find that out soon, so he did not worry too much about that. He also did not know if the Proverbial boys deserved a proper farewell from him or not and decided to think about that more at a later time. He did not know what the best way would be to tell Inora that he knew about the apocalypse as well and he worried if what they were going to hear from her grandfather was going to make the task easier or tougher for him. But he was mostly occupied with the fact that he did not know how long it would be before they reached Inora’s grandfather. And he did not know if Inora would stop somewhere before that for breakfast.
Emil realized that there was a lot he did not know.
So he tried to concentrate on the things he knew already.
He had a throbbing headache, a dry throat and itchy eyes. In a few days’ time, he was going to have to leave behind the place he had made his second home and come to love. What else? He was also a little sore from having slept on the passenger seat of the car. He knew Zara would have vacated Masum bhai already and the AI was probably well under way.
That was the entirety of things Emil knew.
Less than a mile away, Inora pulled into a petrol-station. “I got this.” Emil said, and got out. The attendant was standing nearby, and Emil asked him to top-up the tank. He had gotten out so eagerly to stretch his legs and try to wake up but once out, decided to lean against the car instead and do some mental arithmetic. The meter was rising gradually, and he tried to keep up with it: at 95 per liter, if we take 15 liters, that is 950 plus…450 plus 25 equals 1,425. The needle rose some more. 20 would be 95 times 2 times 10, so 1,900. Needle went up. 25 liters would mean 1,900 plus 450 plus 25 equals 2,375…he noticed that the attendant was leering into the car. Emil did not like it. He cleared his throat, “Hrrm…Good morning,” he said, “very humid weather today.”
The operator nodded his head, “Weather here is always warmer than the rest of the country.” The attendant said while running his fingers through his silky soft, henna-dyed beard, getting rid of all the knots and tangles a good night of sleep had caused.
“Where exactly is here?” Emil asked.
The question was ignored, “You let your woman drive your car?” the attendant asked.
“It is her car actually.”
“You let your woman have her own car?”
“She is not my woman, per se.”
“You let your woman be her own woman?”
“I’m pretty sure that she made herself her own woman. No way she waited on anyone’s permission.”
“Are you not afraid that this vain creature will stare at her own reflection in the mirrors for too long and drive off the road and kill you both? You or I would make better drivers, brother.”
“I think we don’t need to make any more-small talks.” Emil said. But worried that the silence might encourage the attendant to revert his attention back to leering inside the car, and asked, “Where are we, again? What is the name of this place?”
His question was ignored again. “You are married? She is your wife, yes?” The attendant asked.
“No, she is not my wife.”
“You are married and running away from your old wife with your young wife?”
“Nothing like that.”
“It’s 3,896 taka.” The attendant said, taking the nozzle out, switching his gaze back on Inora, who was lost in her phone.
Emil took 4,000 taka out from his wallet and handed it over to the operator who took out a large wad of cash from his pocket and began looking for change, “Listen, brother, I will tell you one thing. Do not associate yourself with women such as this. Women who drive cars and paint their faces and freely mix with men other than their husbands. They are the worst kind.”
“What do you mean by paint face, henna-man? I have never seen Inora use make-up.”
“Bas! What sort of a name is Inora? You are riding with a harlot, brother. A zaaniyah! You are lost; you have truly lost your way.”
“No, no. We are not lost; I asked where we are because I fell asleep, you see and I don’t…”
“Let me help you get back on the right track.”
“Very kind of you to offer, but we are good.” Emil said, getting increasingly uncomfortable.
The attendant counted out the exact amount of change and held them forward to Emil, “There is still time to mend your ways and come back to the path of righteousness, brother. Drag this fornicating harlot out of your car right now and I will ride with you instead.”
“Why ride with a temptress when you can ride with a brother in arm?”
“Are you just asking for a free ride?”
The attendant pushed his hand forward, “Take it, brother. Take this money that is your, take this hand that is mine, and take me along with you.”
“You keep the change…brother.” Emil got back into the car and slammed the door. “Drive, Inora. Now.”
“What? Relax. What’s the rush? Let me finish reading this paragraph.”
“Have I offended you with what I said, brother?” the attendant bent down to the side-window, “Let me tell you this, you have offended your lord too, brother. Do not abandon me here. When the end comes, you will both burn for your sins…”
“Oh drab! The forecast said we were in for a cooler day…” Inora said.
“Drive Inora, please?”
“…with possibility of thunder-storm.”
“…and their flesh will be the fodder for eternal hellfire. It has been said.”
“Drive! Drive! Drive!” Emil almost reached out for the steering-wheel again. But one look from Inora was enough to dissuade him. She looked out at the attendant who had, by then, clearly let the heat of the day get to him. “And the sinners will say we did not know that we did wrong, we did not know and no one told us, and I will laugh at their faces and tell them, well, you should have taken my hand when it was offered! I am here, telling you brother,” he raised his hands in the air, one finger pointing up, and started prairie-dogging his tongue, “Alalalalalalalalala!” stopped, coughed, swallowed a hoagie, and continued “…alalalalalalala!” Groin-thrusted the car and continued, “alalalalala.”
Inora gently put the key in the ignition, stepped on the accelerator, and pulled away, “What the hell did you do now?”
“Only tipped three percent.”
“You tip at a petrol-station?”
“Now I know not to.”
“You are a fool, Emil.”
Emil, happy that Inora was at least talking to him again, did not argue, “I’m beginning to think that I truly might be.”
“And I am sure you did not get the receipt either.”
“Just tell how much you paid. I will pay you back once we get there.”
“That is not necessary…”
“Bullshit. It’s my car. I will cover the fuel cost. But you can pay when we stop for breakfast in about ten minutes.”
Now, there was one less thing that Emil did not know.
[i] In hindsight, Emil realized, he had performed the four tasks in exactly the opposite order of what should have been. He further realized, soon, that all he really had to do was perform the fourth task, in whichever order he wanted, as long as it was the only task he performed. He was further able to rationalize that he should have performed the fourth task even before he had shouted, and perhaps even before he had screamed. The first task was unfortunate in every scenario.
[ii] Why was Inora being so sulky?
She was not sulky.
What was Inora?
With. Inora was disappointed with Emil.
Why was Inora disappointed with Emil?
Inora was disappointed with Emil because when she allowed Emil to accompany her on the trip, she did so because she had thought company during an overnight drive would be really helpful. But, as it transpired, as Inora drove, all night, through a desolate highway, Emil slept. All night.
He also ate half of Inora’s dinner because he had forgotten to pack one for himself.