This is the fourth in a series of ten microstories. These stories — vignettes, to be accurate — are set from dawn to midnight in an Indian metro. They follow different people in different settings over the course of a single ordinary day. Two of these stories have been published / accepted for publication in literary magazines. I’ll be publishing one piece per day over the next ten days.
This story was originally published in Flash Fiction Magazine: https://flashfictionmagazine.com/blog/2020/05/10/noon/
Noon is the longest hour. She’s packed off her children to school. She’s packed off her husband to work. Their clothes pressed, their breakfasts served, their lunches packed. She’s let in the maid, and supervised her through dish-washing and floor-sweeping and floor-mopping. She’s nipped down to the greengrocer and planned dinner. She’s boiled the daal and rice for her own lunch. She’ll eat them as is: with a dash of salt and a sprinkling of mustard oil. She likes plain food. Secretly, at her solitary meal, that’s what she’ll sit down to.
But it’s not yet lunchtime. She’s not yet bathed. It’s the longest hour.
When she became pregnant she told herself: it’s only a temporary break. I’ll return to work when my son’s two. But her husband wanted another child. So, when their son was two, they began to try. It took them another two years. She didn’t resume work. Might as well get the child-rearing over with, at one go. It’ll be a hassle to rejoin work, then take off again for my next child. They’ll think I’m not serious. I’ve never let anyone think that.
This is the hour she has to herself to stay in touch. With her books. With what’s happening in the industry. With her friends, who have put off childbirth. With her friends, who have been trying to have children for five years.
She wanders around the flat, putting things in their places. They’re already there. Dusting. The maid’s already dusted. She glances side-eyed at the pile of books well-dusted, waiting for her. Every day she eyes them. Terrified with guilt.
Her daughter was born two years ago. Her daughter is now old enough to leave with her parents. No reason, now, to put off rejoining her life. The life that was once hers. The life she wants again. She wants it with a wanting terrifyingly big. Then why does it terrify her to sit down and get back in touch?
She runs out of things to dust and put in their places. Blindly now, still stumbling through the spick-and-span flat, she can’t stop seeing in the corner of her eye the pile of well-dusted books.
“After lunch,” she promises herself. Heart already sinking.
Noon is the longest hour.