That radio was what he craved

Published: September 10, 2017
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As the radio show progressed, he slowed his car and parked it on the side of the road. And listened. PHOTO: PINTEREST

6:56pm

“Will I see you on Thursday?”

“Yes!”

She smiled and hugged him before exiting the car.

As he drove away, he turned on the radio, and waited.

FM100.

“Welcome back, listeners!”

That voice. Why did she say those words just when he turned on the radio? Did she know that he would be waiting to hear exactly that? He felt a strange form of pleasure, and embraced it quickly. Wholeheartedly.

As the radio show progressed, he slowed down his car and parked it on the side of the road. And listened. As she spoke, rambled, ranted and laughed. He laughed with her, from the comfort of his car. Their laughter bounced into the windows and the windscreen, escaping at times through the AC vents.

As her voice changed tone and pitch, his heart contracted and expanded accordingly. He was both afraid and excited about this bi-weekly ritual. It had been a month since he had stumbled upon her. Upon this radio station.

He had discovered her on an evening very similar to this. He had driven off after dropping Sofia. With a promise, of course, that he would see her on Thursday. As he had driven, he had once again felt that power that he used to feel when he had driven for the first time. To be able to accelerate, brake, and move at a completely self-determined pace – fantastic. And that he could turn, swerve, skid, and go in circles, that freedom to do and the power over this machine – incredible.

As his thoughts raced alongside his car in the faces of other drivers, on patches of empty space, and in the horizon, the radio somehow came alive. And he found his fingers shuffling through channels. FM100 came on. In retrospect, it seemed like the only possible reality. The only (possible) station.

And then she spoke.

And he knew. He knew she was speaking to him. For him. And that caress in her tone, varying pitch in her voice, and the texture of her speech penetrated his body, and settled inside so perfectly that he thought that a space had already been reserved for her.

And so, every Sunday and Thursday, Sofia became an excuse. He met her, spoke to her, listened and then waited to drop her, looking the happiest when she left. And then his anticipation began. For the clock. The wait for her. For her presence.

As he was tasting these different memories, memories he recalled frequently and with ease, his phone beeped.

It was her,

“Have you reached home?”

And as he read the message, he saw, 9:00pm.

Two hours since he had dropped her.

He was annoyed at her for messaging, for clinging on to him. For reaching out when he had been with her only two hours ago. And with annoyance seated comfortably on his passenger seat, he pushed hard at the pedal, relishing the engine’s roar. And for a moment, felt alone in his car.

 

Sunday, 1:00pm

“What time can you pick me today?”

“Around 5:00pm.”

“Yes! Excited to see your face. I hope you haven’t shaved. Love seeing your stubble!”

As he was about to respond, irritation returned. Why was she determining what he could and could not do to his face?

 

4:25pm

He was half-way there. Silence had occupied all the seats and as the weight had become unbearable, he had turned the radio on. Knowing fully well she won’t be there. But with a hope that a voice, any voice will uproot the quietness.

The radio’s light switched on. He switched channels. And raised the volume. And waited. No voice. No voice?

He raised the volume further. Maybe the show was in between a break? He switched to a different channel. Nothing. Maybe there was an issue with the radio service.

He turned the radio off. And on again. Still nothing. He pressed buttons. Bass. Loud. Mute. All. The light flickered. Was the entire radio station in mourning? What was wrong?

He stopped his car on the side. Switched off the engine. Tried again. Still nothing!
He banged on the radio. Then the steering. And he exhaled. Once. And then again.

The phone beeped.

“Where are you?”

On the top-right corner, he saw 4:52pm.

“Not coming. Need to get radio fixed.”

“What? Do that later. Come!”

“No, need to get it fixed now.”

“If you are busy, it’s alright. But this isn’t a proper excuse.”

He picked up his phone. Pressed the sides into his hand. And the sides pressed back.

“This is not an excuse.”

“Are you feeling okay?”

“No.”

“How can I help? Where are you? I’ll come.”

Why could she not see his anger? Did his message completely absorb it and reflect nothing? Absolutely nothing? And why was she not talking to him like he deserved to be spoken to? Why was she not stepping back? Why was she trying?

And then,

“You don’t need to,” he typed. And before he had read the 13 letters, he had sent it.

It was an ordinary sentence, he told himself again. But somehow he could feel the sting. The hurt. As the words stared back at him, he saw them as they actually were. Empty vessels, which we pack with meaning. With pain. And they unpack in extraordinary ways in front of others.

“Sorry. I did not mean that.”

Silence.

He looked at his phone. Stared at it. Waiting for the notification’s sound. For an acknowledgement. A response.

Somehow the image of a bow came to him. An arrow, forever shot.

He waited. The radio came back on. With volume. With voices. But he heard nothing.

Time continued to carry its weight forward. Only know he felt his heart was time. A giant clock. Unable to settle in his body. And every tick completely overthrew his insides.

And in that movement, he felt a new feeling. It was tiny. But it was moving. And as it travelled, it burned his insides, bit by bit. And though he would see the burns only over time, he recognised it somehow. And then suddenly, as if it had found a clearing, it sat down. Somewhere deep inside. And it was then he realised that regret had built a hut inside.

 

“Are you hungry?” She asked.

He looked at her. An old woman in her late 60’s with an infectious smile. And when she had smiled, dozens of wrinkles became one, solitary curve. And that harmony unsettled him.

“I’m sorry?”

Though he had met this woman on the bus daily, always acknowledging her, it was the start of their first conversation.

“Are you hungry for affection?”

He looked again at her. And then the question.

It had been 15 years. Was he still?

He nodded.

“You can unclench it now. It’ll create more space. I promise. ”

His heart shuddered. How could she see it. And so clearly?

He tried to take a step backward, but she put forward her hand, and calmly put it on his,

“I was talking about your fist.”

Zain Murtaza Maken

Zain Murtaza Maken

A teaching fellow at Teach For Pakistan, he loves to write and read.

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