Flash fiction is an umbrella term used to describe any fictional work of extreme brevity, including the Six-Word Story, 140-character stories, also known as twitterature, the dribble (50 words), the drabble (100 words), and sudden fiction (750 words)
I froze, my hands extended towards the tray the old man at the counter was holding out. Someone had called my name. A voice I never expected to hear. Not here, where I had run away to get as far away from it as possible.
“Are you alright, miss?” the man at the counter looked concerned. He was holding on to one end of the tray. Perhaps he thought I’d drop the damn thing.
“I am okay.” I said taking it from him.
The initial shock had worn off, now I was calm, something I had learnt in the one year I have been here. I turned to scan the room for an empty table and walked towards it, ignoring the person altogether. We had nothing to say to each other, I was sure of that.
I chose a table close to the entrance and set my tray down. Soon as I sat, he was there, pulling a chair from across and seating himself opposite. The nerve. I could feel his eyes studying me, trying to gauge my reaction. Oh no, you can’t do that any more.
I steadfastly kept my eyes on the salad bowl. My lunch has been the same every single day for the last one year, a bowl of salad. It keeps me alert. Not for me the carbohydrates which induce drowsiness. One cannot afford to be drowsy while dealing with figures. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing… they earned me my daily bread.
“Is there a caterpillar in there?” His voice was mild, but it cut into my thoughts as if a motor had been switched on suddenly. “You have been frowning at your salad long enough…”
Flippant as ever. How attractive it had seemed once. But it didn’t take long for bitterness to replace it when life began in earnest and he failed at everything. What had he told me the time the baby cried from fever and exhaustion? You are beautiful, go out make money for the medicine, but for God’s sake stop the fucking child from crying. I winced remembering. What he knew but couldn’t accept was that I had a brain as well, a head for figures. His fragile ego wouldn’t let him make me use it to earn a living.
“Why are you here?” I asked without looking up.
“To apologize for…”
“Then do it and get going…. “
“For the better, yes.”
“Can we start again…”
His eyes had the same pleading look that made me go back on my resolutions innumerable times and then regret.
“No.” I whispered.
“You can live without me?”
“Stop it. It’s over between us.”
“Are you seeing someone?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“You whore! Is that how you’re earning money now to bring up our son?”
I stood up quietly. The salad lay untouched on the table. I could feel his eyes following me as I walked to the counter. The old man was winding things down. Lunch hour was almost over.
“I’d like some soup, please.”
“There’s only some tomato soup left.” He was apologetic.
The steam was coming off the bowl when he passed it over. I wondered if he had been heating it up for himself. I walked back to the table with the tray of soup and sat down.
“Look here, I’m really sorry, didn’t mean to call you a …… I came because I want you back with me. We’ll be happy again, you’ll see.”
I looked at him directly in the face for the first time that noon. The man actually believed what he was saying. Did he even notice the scars on my neck or remember how I got them? It still gave me nightmares.
“My answer is ‘no'”
“Don’t put on airs, you whore….”
He hadn’t completed the last word before the few people still lingering over their lunch were jolted from their reveries by a piercing scream of pain. The old man from behind the counter came running. Funny, I thought, I didn’t know his name yet. I felt sorry I had broken his bowl. While emptying the hot soup on my ex-partner’s head, it had slipped from my hands and crashed to the floor. I pressed some money into the old man’s hand before walking out.
Outside, it was raining, but it didn’t dampen my spirits. Soup may not be as hot as oil, but it was enough as payback.
©Shail Mohan 2017