We were working on issues of time in a narrative, and how to handle it. The task was to think of an event, and then pick one time point – 2 days before, 10 minutes before, 10 minutes after, 1 day after, or 1 year after – and expand on it.
I had originally wanted to write about a car accident or a plane crash or something equally disastrous, but then I realised I still wanted some sort of human conflict to play with, in which case would my event be the disaster or the thing which happened between the people? In the end I went with something completely different. I picked the timepoint of the day after.
She can’t find a dry bench to sit on and she isn’t wasting tissue to do the public service of wiping them dry, so she squats on one of them to eat breakfast. She keeps her knees together so she doesn’t look like a coolie; still, she feels the shaming gazes of passing joggers trained on her, all too apparent in the way their legs slow, measured gaits stumbling, as they pass her by.
She’s barely halfway through the McDonald’s meal when the burning in her thighs becomes unbearable. Still, she chews as slowly as she possibly can. Because finishing breakfast would mean having to put the wrappers away and crumpling the plastic bags and then finding a dustbin to put them in, and then– and then what? Maybe she can take a shower again but she doesn’t want to, and her towel will take ages to dry, she knows that now. She could get on a bus and go to town. Stay in air-conditioning, find a library, read a book. Her heart soars at the thought: It’s free, it’s all free. The 200 dollars in her wallet no longer feels like a stone weighing in her pocket, her conscience– more like a shallow dish of water she has to hold on to carefully, so carefully.
The moment she takes the last bite of her hashbrown her phone rings in her pocket and she nearly jumps off the bench. She lets it vibrate for several rings while her heart pounds. She wants to believe it’s Jo, regretting her freakout of the night before, saying it’s ok, you can stay with me, you can sleep on the floor. She doesn’t want to think it’s her mother, trying to say, Look, we’ll talk about this later, please just come home.
The phone goes silent before she can pick it up and she lets out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. The phone, too, would be out of battery soon. She crushes the hashbrown wrapper in her hands and puts it in the plastic bag. Gathering them up like they are the most precious things in the world, she hops off the bench drying in the rising sun.