Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Final Question

This is an old short story that I wrote 10 years ago. I just realized today that I left it unpublished.

The Final Question

She felt rather uneasy. In spite of the discomposure, she sat very still in the car seat, apparently still bothered by the question. He was driving quietly without even having the radio turned on. It was unusual, awkward at best. She slowly sank deeper into the seat, still without a word to say.

In the aftermath of the question, everything went silent.

Until moments later. The car shuddered momentarily as it was going over a rough ground. The change was too abrupt for him to react to. He was driving a bit too fast despite the peculiarly dark and bleak evening. She was tempted to bitch about it, but decided against it this time. He was anticipating her bitching as usual, but it never came.

And the previously enduring silence continued.

The streets were hollow, their inhabitants idle. Amidst the utter stillness, he still managed to catch a glimpse of a stray English beagle from the corner of his eye. It was apparently looking for food atop a massive pile of garbage. The sight was saddening and disturbing at the same time. Saddening because of the fact that such an adorable breed was left astray. Disturbing because of the existence of such humongous pile of rubbish in the middle of the metropolitan area. And the silence between the two of them only added a melancholic air that began to invade the tiny space in the car.

On the far horizon ahead, a set of bluish lights appeared. Moving closer to the source, they could discern a congregated group of vehicles in the middle of the road. A bunch of heavily built figures were standing alongside the cars. They looked at each other silently for the first time since the question popped up, albeit lackadaisically.

It was the police. He quickly slowed down his car to a complete stop.

Rolling down his window, he could see a menacing look on the officer's face. The officer gave him a brief but calculating stare, obviously not pleased with what he was seeing.

“Good evening officer,” he braved himself by greeting the copper.

The officer only half-nodded in reply, doing his best to appear grim and merciless. Then the cop turned to look at the passenger seat. Seeing the sweet but deliberate smiling face of hers, the officer grinned sheepishly. The officer then turned to look back at him, but the grin was immediately gone.

“Bugger off,'” the officer said, giving him the thumb.

“Thank you,” he replied mendaciously, unhastily hitting the pedal.

Bloody bastard.

He drove on. She was still in the very same sitting position as she was a half hour ago, still lost for words. Such was the compelling outcome of the question brought up by him. It stood to reason that he was biding time, devoid of haste. Let her think, the tiny voice inside of him commanded.

Five minutes later, he saw the usual signboard that read “MANHEIM - 15 miles”. For some strange reason, his feelings were suddenly overcome by sadness. It's close now, he thought to himself. She still had not uttered a single word. It was agony, a miniscule and insignificant portion of what hell was all about.

Still the deafening silence of self-repression persisted.

But he couldn't stand it anymore. His old man was right all along; silence kills. He wanted to turn on the radio, hesitated for a moment, then finally went ahead with it. He cast a furtive glance at her, expecting a response to his shattering the silence. But she just stood there soundlessly, like a frozen cryogenized figure, probably deep in thought.

The soothing voice of a female singer came out of the front and rear speakers. It sounded familiar indeed, but he couldn't quite make out who it was. The tempting thoughts of asking her lingered in the air, but he couldn't bring himself to commit it. He was about to open his mouth to ask, but his tongue was completely numb. Sheryl Crowe maybe, he speculated to himself instead.

They were five minutes from the destination. He deliberately took a left turn at one corner, buying more time by following a longer route. The melancholic air was getting thicker and denser, as they were approaching in on the destination. He could faintly hear her weep, but stopped short of glancing at her. Deep in sorrow, his breath got heavier, as the Victorian mansion was now visible around the secluded corner of the neighborhood.

As they arrived in front of the mansion, he stopped the car, turned off the engine and slowly turned to look at her. She was already facing him, looking surprisingly calm and quite at ease. An awkward moment of silence ensued, as he had a rather expectant look on his face. This is it, he thought to himself.

Then she took a deep breath, and deliberately said, “Yes”.

She then paused for a brief moment, quietly but calmly gasping for air. The answer sent a wave of strange sensation to his heart, then slowly down his stomach.

“I still do,” she added.

There was something about the way she uttered the words. It was rather reassuring. Finally, she kissed him gently on the cheek and immediately got out of the car, apparently teary-eyed and not wanting him to notice. He watched her as she walked slowly towards the front door, and into the mansion. She never looked back.

He left after a passing moment of contemplation. Driving home serenely from her house that night, he still managed to form a smile, even though he realized that he wouldn't see her ever again.

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