On My Way
Two hours on the freeway. It would take another three to hit New York. I needed to stretch my legs, to shake off stale memories and make place for new ones.
There was a thicket on the next exit, dark except for specks of light filtering through the canopy of parchment-like leaves. A cigarette was ready in my fingers when I stepped out; I flicked it in my mouth and groped for my golden lighter, a farewell present from the girl left behind.
I peered at the stocky trees flanking the road. Someone stood a few yards away, wearing a green checked shirt and brown trousers, face barely visible. A chameleon couldn't have chosen better.
As my eyes dilated, two black beads glowed at me from an angular face. And again, "Grapes?"
I snatched the cigarette from my lips and slipped it into my shirt pocket. My hand moved to the door handle.
Then I noticed the cascade of grapes: globules of translucent green, pinpoints of light twinkling on them. My fingers curled and caressed my palm as though stroking their smooth skins; I stepped towards them and licked my lips. I wanted to grab fistfuls and crush them into pulp, with sticky sweet juice flowing down my hands. I wanted to cram them in my mouth. My hands were clammy.
The grapes were stacked high at the back of a van. The van's gray was chipped, splattered with patches of rusted metal. A twisted dirty rag tied the front door to the frame.
"Fresh and cheap," the seller said.
The wheels of the van were flat. Twisted roots burst out of the tires and wove into the ground. Pale, thin stalks crawled out from windows and gyrated in an absent breeze.
"No," I mumbled.
Rip. The seller split vertically; castings of brown and green fell aside as he emerged, baby-pink. Shiny gray discs formed on his skin and then began to dull. He hissed, "And oozing with juice."
I was a couple of feet from the grapes. The air had a rich, heady tang. My head felt marvelously light though my feet were heavy, sinking.
"No, thanks," I murmured. I tried to focus on the future that beckoned me, on hearing the applause I would soon earn. I tried to feel the crinkle of newspaper, to smell the ink, to see my name splashed in boldface across the front page.
Summoning my energy, I stumbled to the car.
Low laughter followed me as I yanked open the door with slippery hands and sank in the seat. I rolled the windows; the sibilant voice became a mere whisper through thick glass. "Are you sure?"
The seller smirked against the backdrop of the strange green grapes. As I turned to the steering wheel, I caught a golden glint reflected off something at the spot where I had stood, lusting for the grapes.
Tendrils from the decrepit van waved to me as I drove away to the city of my dreams.
About the author:
Swapna Kishore lives in Bangalore, India. Her short stories, humor and essays have been published in Indian newspapers and magazines, and also in magazines and online publications outside India like NFG, Flashquake, the-phone-book, Flashshot, Bards and Sages, The First Line, A Long Story Short, Bloodlust-UK, Alienskin, and others.