The Booth

He closed the apartment door and walked down the corridor. While he waited for the elevator, he put his hat on and buttoned his jacket. Inside the car, a man and a woman smiled sheepishly at him. The fluorescent lights flickered. The flagrant smell of sex, tangled with cologne and perfume, clung to the paneled walls. On the ground floor, they exited first and he followed. Whatever they had going it wasn’t enough to last. He shrugged and stepped outside the building.

The dull light of dawn hung like a netting above the city. He headed west, toward Fieldston, carrying a brown paper bag and limping slightly in his usual manner. A flock of pigeons noisily took to the air a second after he trespassed on their sidewalk. They left sticky feathers and diarrheic droppings behind. At a street corner, he picked the morning paper from a kiosk and a pack of sugar-free gum. His mouth tasted of stale coffee grounds. He cleared his throat and spat.

3256659678_b6f411f885_b
Twenty minutes later, he entered the subway ticket booth. He exchanged a perfunctory greeting with the man he replaced. Five days a week, he spent forty minutes going to and fro, plus a quarter hour at the grocery store outside either apartment or booth.

Commuters with an attitude whizzed by. They hurried to their shops, offices and meeting rooms. He ranked them by the clothes they wore and pictured most in desolate, poorly lit cubicles. Some of them sat back and stretched their legs on mahogany desks in refined offices with large windows offering expansive views of the cityscape. All of them though, everyone, just like him, had nothing better to do but to go back and forth.

At noon, he pulled his lunch and a thermos out of the paper bag. He absentmindedly munched on a tuna sandwich. The lettuce was soggy and tasteless. He sipped the hot coffee. It was infused with a metallic tang that he had stopped to notice. Human traffic dropped from the thousands to the hundreds. The stress associated with his workload, that of accepting exact cash and dispensing tickets, went down a notch. He unfolded the paper and read, not paying much attention to the wars ravaging countries in other parts of the world. It certainly wasn’t his fault. Nor was police brutality, city-council corruption or vile presidential candidates. Once, some years ago, he read that anyone who was worthy of becoming president won’t run for the office. It stuck with him and made up the core of his political belief. That was the reason he won’t even vote. Disgusted, He shook his head.

Shortly before rush hour, when the second wave of humans flooded the subway, he punched his card and unlatched the booth’s door. A turbaned man nodded affably and took his place behind the thick glass. On his way up the stairway to street level, a discarded gum stuck to the back of his shoe. He cussed under his breath and limped east.

Advertisements

Sayonara

Sayonara 01

Overnight the gale quit. The breakers retreated from the battered beaches and joined the dying whitecaps offshore. At dawn the swollen sea was still brooding over its latest outbreak, taking deep, heavy breaths to calm down. It wasn’t the first time the sea got this angry, nor would it be the last.

Fish emerge from the depths to feed nearer to the surface after the storm. I, too, am jittery and need to take to the sea. I cast off Sayonara, my 18-foot boat, and ease her out of the cove. Once clear of the shallows, I open the throttle three notches short of full and head to the farthest fishing ground known to me or to any of the islanders. Tiller loosely held in the crook of my arm, I light up a roll of tobacco and savor the smoke and salt as they course through my airways in a hedonic twirl.

Halfway there, the archipelago disappears below the horizon. The boat has no instruments since I seldom take her this far out of sight of land. I glance at my watch then at the sun and adjust my heading. That’ll do! I always talk to myself when between the sky and the sea. We’ll be there in seventy minutes. This time I talk to Sayonara. I move forward to fetch the baskets. I’ll get the lines ready.

I dead-reckon our position and slow down into a two-minute counterclockwise turn releasing a half-dozen droplines laden with baited hooks. The floats bob with the swell in a perfect circle. As I reach for the second batch of lines the engine sputters making the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end. Before I could reach it, it falters and dies of starvation.

The reserve jerrycan under the bow is full, though. I fill the engine tank and bleed the air from the pipes. These things happen, eh! I attach the hand-crank and have a go at restarting the engine. My hand, slippery with squid and diesel, loses its grip. The hand-crank, jerked loose, barely misses hitting me in the head as it plunges into the sea. My fifty years of seafaring have finally caught up with me.

***

I set a piece of fuel-soaked cloth at the end of a plank on fire and wave it high overhead. This way, I have a better chance to be spotted at night by a passing freighter or a trawler. After a few nights, however, when no one comes to my rescue, I stop. I’d choose spending my life lost at sea over being grounded without giving it a second thought. All I left behind was an empty shack. I don’t even have a dog. I could survive out here for months, for years, or until the next big storm hits. I lay my back on the foredeck and open my eyes to the stars. The boat squeaks and creaks. We’ll be fine, I run my fingers over her weathered wood, Sayonara.