One Minute Fiction

Bite-sized fiction for everyone.

The Chase

Udaysingh tied the half full sack of peanuts securely with a jute rope and swung it over his back. The coarse jute rubbed against the side of his neck as he shuffled slowly toward the bus stand. The smell of dry mud, rubber, jute and sweat hung in the air. He was just in time to catch the 03:15 bus. His knees creaked with an audible pop as he boarded the bus. Crepitus, the doctors called it. He had been delaying treatment for over a year now.

He spotted a place at the back of the bus and sighed happily. The journey back home would take the best part of three hours and he was looking forward to a nap. The bus conductor came around and Udaysingh fumbled in his pocket for money. He only had two rupees, so he opened his sack of peanuts and took out the dented steel box which held his day’s earnings. He carefully counted eleven rupees and gave it to the conductor.
Bhaisahab, the cost of the ticket is fourteen rupees. The fares have been hiked”, the conductor remarked in a monotone.
Udaysingh piped up. “How is that possible? I travel this route every week. The fare is eleven rupees!”
“I have been repeating the same thing since the past two days. The cost of diesel went up three days back. Fares for all routes have been hiked since then. You must not have travelled in the past two days. Fourteen rupees”, said the conductor, arms outstretched. Udaysingh chewed his lip and cursed. His hand dove into the steel box and he handed over three rupees whilst muttering constantly under his breath.
The rickety bus rumbled along the highway and soon Udaysingh was snoring gently.

Half an hour later Udaysingh woke up with a start with an urge to relieve himself. He waited anxiously as the bus motored along a highway specked with sleepy bunches of mud-thatched houses. Fifteen long minutes later, the bus pondered to a halt at the bus stand of a neighbouring village. Udaysingh shot out of the bus and made a beeline for the urinal at the far end of the bus stand. He was basking in welcome relief when he heard the bus horn. He hurried to make his way back. Even so, he could only wave out frantically as the bus pulled out of the stand ahead of him. He cursed and cracked his knuckles nervously when he realized that his sack of peanuts and dented steel box were in the bus. He waddled as fast as he could to the adjoining highway and started waving out to passing vehicles. A number of cars zoomed past and a lorry trundled by without stopping. Presently, a truck screeched to a halt owing to his desperate waving. Udaysingh explained his situation to a droll-faced truck driver. The truck driver regarded him curiously and told him to hop in. Udaysingh hauled himself in the passenger seat of the truck and they set off.

They rode almost silently for a couple of minutes. Udaysingh was cursing and muttering under his breath.
“Where are you coming from?”, the driver inquired casually.
“Lohagaon. I got down to relieve myself at Ratanpur bus stand and the bus sped off without me. My peanuts and my money are in the bus. I must get my sack back! Hmmm. I hope nobody runs away with it. I had half a sack full of peanuts. And my money! Those are my earnings for this entire week! I only have two rupees in my pocket. We must catch that bus.” The words tumbled out of Udaysingh’s mouth in anguish.
“Don’t worry, we’ll catch up with the bus. It cannot be more than three kilometers ahead of us. Though you must give me two rupees when we catch the bus”, quipped the driver, glancing at Udaysingh.
“Hmmm”, grunted Udaysingh, eyes fixed on the road ahead. They drove for ten minutes without any sign of the bus. The driver kept making small talk and Udaysingh responded in monosyllables. Soon the only sound that could be heard was that of the roar of the truck engine.

Udaysingh spotted it as they were rounding a bend in the road. He smacked the dashboard excitedly, “There it is!” The driver saw it half a kilometer ahead and sped up. “Sohangarh is coming up in less than a couple of kilometers. We’ll catch your bus by the time we reach the bus stand.” They pulled in at the bus stand right behind the bus. Udaysingh jumped out of his seat when the truck driver called out, “Bhaisahab, my two rupees?”
“Two rupees for what?”, snapped Udaysingh.
“We spoke about it. You said you would give me two rupees for catching up with the bus and dropping you”, the truck driver reminded him.
“Look, but I will give you no more than a rupee. I can’t spare more than that”, shrugged Udaysingh.
“Well, you are an ungrateful one, aren’t you?” frowned the truck driver, and spat out of the window in disgust. The sound of the spit and the bus horn sounded as one in perfect harmony. They both looked up and saw the bus pulling out.
“Nooooo! Wait!” shouted Udaysingh and leapt out of the truck, showing remarkable agility in spite of his ill-health. The bus trundled off and Udaysingh climbed back hurriedly into the truck. The truck driver raised his eyebrows.
“Please, quick! Help me catch that bus!” pleaded Udaysingh. The truck driver smirked and said, “I’ll help you catch it, but now you’ll have to give four rupees.”
“Hmmm! I will. C’mon now!” urged Udaysingh.

The truck driver had had enough. He wanted to get Udaysingh to his bus, get his money and be on his way. He revved the engine and threw the truck forward into a violent acceleration, sending two children flying to the pavement in fleet-footed horror. The bus was only a couple of hundred metres ahead when they swung on to the highway. He floored the truck to top speed. Udaysingh grinned as they drew to within a few meters. Just then, they both heard a loud crack. The front tyres of the truck burst and the truck veered to the shoulder of the road. The driver struggled to control the vehicle, but it ran off the road and the passenger side struck a huge oak tree. The driver bounced on his seat along with the truck. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as the truck ground to a bone crunching halt. He sat there for a minute, ashen faced. He finally glanced over to his side. Udaysingh had cracked his skull against the dashboard at the exact spot where he had smacked his palm a few minutes ago. The driver slipped his hand into Udaysingh’s pocket and slipped out the two rupee coin. He glanced at it and wiped the blood from his nose against the back of his sleeve. He smirked and pocketed the coin wordlessly.

The Reluctant Barber

Elite Hair Saloon was an establishment older than its current owner, passed on to him by his enterprising, impatient and short-tempered father. The father had no flair for cutting hair, but back in the day money was hard to come by for a fourteen-year old orphan.
Abu Hafeez had to put food on the floor for himself, so he started shaving beards. He figured hair would never stop growing and neither would people’s laziness to shave on their own. Abu knew this from his own experience. The hair on his chin and cheeks kept growing back stubbornly no matter how many times he trimmed it. He didn’t mind it at all in the beginning, but after a thrilling year of self-discovery the novelty wore off as swiftly as his beard kept growing back. So off Abu went around the village, blade and scissors in hand, eager to shave. He often felt secretly pleased about overcoming the laziness of so many men.

For the first five years, he travelled daily to all villages in the district, looking for work, relentlessly pounding the same beat. In the sixth year he opened his own saloon in the neighbouring village. He bartered a lifetime of free shaves with the previous owner of the premises – a worthy daily investment of five minutes, considering that the previous owner was eighty-five years old. In the five years after that, he opened three more saloons, two of them in his village.
At the age of twenty-five he decided the time was right to fall in love and get married. So he duly fell in love with the youngest grand-daughter of the erstwhile eighty-five year-old, now deceased previous owner of his first saloon. A week later they got married. Within a year the couple was blessed with a hairy baby boy. The father proudly named him Hamza, a clever wordplay on “Hajaam“, Urdu for “barber”, thereby clearly outlining an intended career path for his son.

After thirty years of toil Abu Hafeez abruptly decided to take early retirement one day and handed over the reins of eleven saloons to an unwilling Hamza Hafeez. Hamza was all of nineteen then, and keen to make a career as a theatre artist.
All throughout his growing years, Hamza avoided his father’s saloon by going for a hair cut to the only other saloon in the village. This was a monthly bone of contention between father and son. It wasn’t Hamza’s fault as Abu started explaining the nuances of the hair cutting business to him from the time he was five. “Abu, please let me go play with my friends”, Hamza would plead. The first time he said this Abu lost his temper thinking that his son is calling him by name. He promptly realised Hamza was merely calling him “father” as per their cultural tradition, but not before Hamza had received two slaps in front of all the patrons and barbers.
Hamza managed to avoid the saloon on most days by devoting majority of his time to school activities and drama practice. The latter was frowned upon by Abu with a passion second only to the one he had for beards. Discontent manifested itself in various forms over the years, but Abu was confident that Hamza would eventually fulfil his wishes without question.

Meanwhile, Hamza’s stature as a theatre artist grew in concurrence with his father’s trade. He scripted and acted in all his plays. Hamza’s troupe travelled all over the state, earning plaudits for their performances. Impressed with his talent, Hamza received an invitation to join a leading acting academy in the city run by one of the finest theatre actors in the country. Overjoyed, Hamza promptly approached his parents to give them the good news. Abu in turn promptly hung up his blades and handed over a flat refusal to Hamza along with the responsibility of all eleven saloons. There was real drama on display at the Hafeez household that night, and anyone who would have witnessed Hamza’s pleas would be left in no doubt of his passion and ability for theatre. Only this time the tears were real and the ending wasn’t scripted by Hamza to his liking.
That night Hamza gave up theatre and sullenly took up his father’s profession. Travelling to all the saloons and overseeing their functioning became a daily, despicable chore for Hamza. Some nights he would visit the local theatre and wistfully watch the plays. Being the perfectionist that he was, Abu routinely berated Hamza for his general disinterest and continued exercising an iron fist over his professional and personal life.

One fine June afternoon, Abu decided to make one of his customary visits to the saloon. Hamza was sitting alone, leafing through the newspaper. The other barbers had gone out for lunch. It was summer time and people rarely ventured out in the afternoons. A bunch of enthusiastic kids were playing football on the street. Most of the shops had their shutters down half-way. The occasional kulfiwala passed by tinkling his bell, much to the delight of kids and old men fanning themselves outside shops. Abu walked in and sat down for a shave in one of the chairs. Hamza groaned, dragged himself up and wordlessly started with his job. He lathered shaving cream on his father’s face, changed the razor blade and started shaving. He looked at his father’s face – eyes closed, a half-smirk permanently plastered across his lips. The next moment a powerful stray kick rocketed in through the open door of the saloon. The football struck Hamza’s arm and bounced back outside. His arm slipped and the blade cut through Abu’s jugular. Blood spurted out like a merry, erratic fountain everywhere – on to the counter top, cascading down the barber’s cloth, on to Hamza’s arm, and all over the mirror. Hamza stifled a cry of disbelief and stood transfixed, watching with a growing sense of calm as his father choked and bled to death.

Foreboding

The rain fell steadily on that cold September morning in Prague. In spite of it being summer, rains often made an appearance in the form of a prologue to violent storms.

Precisely what Berta was fearing, she did not know, but as she read the morning newspaper, a familiar chill crept up her spine, not caused in the least by the gloomy weather. Her long, golden hair fell in a neat, beautiful mess behind her shoulders. She absent-mindedly kept stirring the tea in her cup, not realizing that the sugar had long dissolved.
At one end of the narrow cobbled street, the building she lived in stood wet and solemn, facing another structure of similar architecture and flanked by a dead-end and an identical building on either side.

At the other end of the street, a car rolled to a halt with a confident finality that belied the nondescript location of the street. A man in a dark grey suit stepped out from the back seat and pulled the overcoat tightly around himself, slightly nervous at the task ahead of him. His experienced eyes surveyed the lane on either side of him. Taking a deep breath, he set off towards the dead-end, his black leather boots echoing a dull, muffled thud on the wet cobblestones. He screwed his eyes into narrow slits as he gazed upwards. A solitary drop managed finding its way into his eyes nevertheless. As he pulled his hat further down, he looked around him. All the small buildings were colored in a consistent shade of beige. The dark, cobblestoned path and low, grey skies made the red tiled roofs on the buildings the only bright spot in Prague, he thought. He counted one hundred and twenty eight windows in eight buildings and tried to clear his mind. The suitcase felt heavier in his hand as he approached the last building.

Berta had finished her tea. The cup had turned cold quickly. She had just pulled her legs up from the floor into the relative warmth of the sofa and her thighs, when the doorbell rang in a shrill, long monotone. She jumped at the sound, the sense of foreboding within her increasing considerably. For a moment, she stood frozen near the sofa, not daring to move.

The man stood outside the door, alert and apprehensive. He rang the doorbell for the second time; this time a lot shorter. He hoped inwardly that no one would open the door, but the very next instant he heard the lock turning. The door swung open and he took his hat off and held it under the arm in which he held the suitcase.
Bowing slightly, he asked, “Are you Mrs. Berta Dvorsky?”
Berta whispered, “Yes.”
“Is your husband Captain Bojan Dvorsky?”
She nodded, her throat dry.
“Ma’am, I regret to inform you that…”

Berta collapsed and fainted.

Tiptoe

Ria clutched the door handle tightly and turned the knob downward very slowly, gritting her teeth as she did so. She didn’t want to wake up her parents sleeping in the adjacent room. Besides, gritting her teeth made her feel that she wasn’t making any noise, especially when she released the door handle and the knob let out its customary squeak half-way up.
She craned forward and peeked at the bottom of her parents’ bedroom door. In the darkness of midnight there was no sliver of light coming through. “Good. They are asleep”, she thought.
She was feeling slightly thirsty, but decided against walking to the kitchen and risk making more noise. Instead, she quickly walked to the living room, unplugged the charger from the wall socket and tiptoed back to her room.
She noiselessly shut the room door, plugged the charger into the socket near her bed, put the pin into the phone, plugged the hands-free into her ears, and breathlessly spoke into the mic, “Sorry love, battery was low…”

Job Hunt

Jeet was fast getting used to failure and disappointment. The global recession had cost him his previous job and he was getting desperate. To his credit, he left no stone unturned, applying at every company
that was hiring someone even remotely matching his qualifications. Four months, twenty-two interviews and a lot of misfortune later, he was still clutching at straws.
That morning, like every other morning, he turned directly to the classifieds section of the newspaper. As his practiced eyes browsed through the entire supplement quickly, he did a double-take. It was a walk-in interview listing for a job-vacancy in a Fortune 500 company, looking for someone with exactly his level of qualification, skill sets and experience. He could scarcely believe his eyes. He quickly got ready and left for the interview.
As he was crossing the highway near his house, he spotted Misfortune sitting in her car at the signal. There was no mistaking her. After all these months, he could recognize her in an instant. He quickly looked away, hoping that she hadn’t seen him. He walked to the railway station, intending to take a train for the official district of the city. Jeet spotted his long lost friend, Good Luck in tattered clothes alighting from the train as he was boarding it. He had half a mind to follow him, but Good Luck seemed to be down and out. Plus, this job offer was too good miss, so he got into the train.
As Jeet was commuting, many thoughts raced through his mind. He thought about possible interview questions from his recent experiences, checked to see if he had carried everything he needed and also spotted his fair-weather friend, Anxiety.
Half an hour later, Jeet found himself in the plush lobby of the skyscraper of the company headquarters. ‘The receptionist is strikingly pretty’, he thought, as he was directed to the fourteenth floor. He entered the elevator and Bad Luck got in behind him. He shifted uncomfortably and was on tenterhooks, as the glass elevator smoothly made its way up. The elevator stopped on the thirteenth floor and Bad Luck stepped out. Jeet let out a huge sigh of relief and looked smug as he got off the elevator on the fourteenth floor. He was informed that he was second in line for the interview.
Jeet looked at his watch. He was half an hour early. He removed the financial newspaper and leafed through it. He had grown habituated to this exercise before every interview in the past few months. It helped him calm his nerves and he saw no reason why he should do anything different today.
Soon, it was his turn. Jeet got up, said a little prayer and covered the distance to the entrance of the interview room in twelve measured strides. He knocked on the door and after a suitable pause, pushed it open. As he stepped into the room and looked up, he froze. For sitting in the middle of the five-member interview panel, was Misfortune.

The Green Bench

They lived across from each other. An old, green bench stood below their house. The youngest in their respective families, love was bound to blossom between them.

He saw her every morning before the first rays of the sun lit up her light, graceful skin. She would sway gently as she’d wake up and he would watch her fondly, as their rooms were right across each other’s at the far end of both their homes. She didn’t mind one bit because she loved the way he would gaze at her adoringly.

This went on for months. They both knew they shared a special bond, but in their world, the only way to be together was to break away from their families and ride away into the sunset.
That morning when she woke up, she saw him looking at her with the usual loving gaze, but she saw something else too. A purposeful, steely resolve. She knew the time had come and she couldn’t wait any longer either. With a heavy heart, she spoke to her family about her decision the same afternoon. They all rustled their agreement and wished her well. Meanwhile, he spoke to a friend to pass on a message to a mutual friend and made the deal.

That evening he broke free from his home, settled down on the green bench and looked up at her. A few minutes later she plucked herself from the delicate twig that had kept her away from him for so many months. The gentle wind carried her from the branch of the massive tree and into his waiting arms below. They embraced for a long moment, before a strong gust of wind carried them away into the sunset, clinging on to each other.