There was something about that afternoon that gave it a sense of an impending story. I don’t know whether it was the oppressive heat which promised the reward of a cool night, or the swiftly passing scenes that seemed to race by faster as if they were shy of their own imperfections, or the music on the car stereo that magically played all the wrong songs, like it was offended by the continuous chatter of the company. Everything felt like a build-up. As if we were setting up each piece with excruciating effort, and were guaranteed the domino. I guess the car puncture was part of this odd currency we had to keep paying to earn that massive prize we had imagined.
Keeping with the theme of the day, the puncture in the rear tyre happened in the middle of the highway, near an unknown town, choosing the exact spot just across a car repairs shop. We crossed the street, confused about whether to feel grateful or grumble over this puzzle that had arrived pre-solved at our doorstep. It seemed too choreographed – too constructed. We chose silence. Parking the car in the garage, we alighted, taking refuge from the scathing heat under the shade of the trees.
The car seemed to levitate from where we were watching, with two boys sitting boldly under it, examining its wounds. The tyre had three punctures in it, the mechanic explained, from a nail that had bit in, gnawing multiple times, having left brutal gashes all over. They were at work immediately, apathetically unbolting the tyre, disengaging it from the car, taking it to their work station and looking for the tools. In the distance, the driver was trying to strike the right price for the job, because whatever had been quoted was obviously too much. There was animated gesticulating, pointing in the direction of the road to show how much further we had to drive, then at us – that we were three girls traveling by ourselves, and that somehow warranted us a discount.
Walking towards the scene of action, I noticed for the first time the boy who was going to ensure we reached home that night. No more than 17 years old, he was of a lean built, bent over the tyre, working at a piece of rubber that he was going to use to fix the puncture. His sturdy hands deftly worked around the rims, pouring hot glue, patching up the hole. Blisters and callouses adorned his palms, each of which would talk about their uninteresting conception upon asking. His unwavering gaze was fixed on the tyre, his already dark skin baking well beyond cooking point in the sun. He didn’t seem to notice the weather that was so tormenting to us. He had a family to care for, stomachs to feed and bills to pay. Finishing up the first puncture, he went on to the next, and then the next. In a matter of minutes, he was done replacing the tyre, fitting the bolts, and bringing the car back to the ground.
We paid what our driver had negotiated, and made our way back to the car, fantasies of being returned to our cool air-conditioned vehicle increasing our pace. That’s when I noticed the puncture that still hadn’t been fixed. The puncture on the back of his shirt. I wonder if he knew. If it had always been there, or if it had happened that day at work. Whether he never had the time, or the skill, or the women to repair it for him. Or if he wore it as some sort of a jibe at the world – a boy who makes a living out of patching up holes, wears a punctured shirt. I didn’t want to ask him. Instead, I sat back in the car, and continued to put together his incomplete story. Then I thought about this piece in our domino, about the heat, and the vengeful music.