November Evening

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Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

Graphite clouds hung off the darkening sky of a windless November afternoon, almost reluctant to release their misty moisture. Somewhere in these clouds, droplets of water coalesced around unseen particles of dust and rushed earthwards in sprays of light drizzle. Ending their journey, they dotted the road with little stars in darker shades gray. In no time at all, the little gray stars merged into larger patches, making each wet stone look darker, fresher, cleaner, and more defined in outline. In contrast, the stones which were sheltered for the moment from the drizzle by the trees on the side of the road retained their coating of whitish dust, their outlines vague, indistinct, almost out of focus.

A woman in a straw hat and a pair of gray sunglasses scurried along the gray sidewalk, almost anonymous. A pair of jet black jeans and a peach kurta top completed her attire. Black heels tapping an increasing tempo on concrete, she hastened towards home and a cup of hot chocolate. As she hurried in her wish to escape the impending tropical downpour, she did not notice the young man approaching her.

“Very nice, good watch. You buy?”

She heard the hoarse voice before she looked up and saw the knock-off Reeboks, faded denim and green T-shirt in front of her. Anonymous to each other for the time being, four bling-bling watches curling around the fingers of an expectant hand and a sales pitch hanging between them, they sized each other up like hunter and prey.

“No, thank you!” She said.

“You not get beautiful watch like this in shop. This best watch. Only one hundred fifty Rufiyaa!” His smile lit up the fading evening. “I give you only one hundred. For pretty lady like you very nice. Special price.”

She already had a couple of perfectly good watches at home. The best of all watches in the world did not particularly appeal to her at that point in time. She smiled her appreciation of the effort but declined the generous bargain on offer. She said, “I am sorry. No,thank you!”

Something unknown about the interaction that been bothering the young woman suddenly became very clear to her: the young man had been speaking a stunted version of the English language to her. Could it just be that the insistent salesman was a foreigner doing a bit of illegal soliciting? She wanted to find out. Using her best smile, she asked, “Are you Maldivian?”

“Yes, yes! Hundred percent Maldivian.” The young man answered, his teeth gleaming in the dull sheen of the evening.

“I am ….” She started saying, but something caught in her throat. the declaration that she was Maldivian herself just did not come out.

For a little while, just a few short minutes, her spirit reveled in an almost pleasant feeling of freedom. She could not put a name to the feeling but she felt free of the mud of slander and libel that her compatriots seemed to fling at each other all the time. She felt free from the suffocating suspicion, distrust and malice that her native land appeared to be shrouded in. She felt herself flying free, released from the chains of hate and derision that was probably the most viable currency in the market. And she enjoyed the feeling! Of being a foreigner.

Like the forbidden comfort of some high-cholesterol, cloyingly sweet ice cream that any sensible doctor would forbid, she enjoyed the feeling of being out of it all for a while. She relished the fleeting feeling in full, savoring its uplifting headiness like a novice user on crystal meth, not caring if it brought her crashing down later. Like the sudden heavy downpour that soaked her straw hat and the young salesman’s best watches.

Like cheap watches that still could not make time stand still for anyone on that gray November evening.

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