A tiring day it was when the formalities finally got over; paperwork, money transfer and number plate selection. I walked towards the parking area for a final check on any personal items that might have been forgotten during the handover, asking the husband to untie the tiny stuffed teddy from the viewing mirror – a remnant from our humble days that I wished to salvage. It was noontime with the midday sun at its zenith. I threw a final cursory glance at the rows of used cars that surrounded us before retreating once more to the lounge area; watching potential customers engage with the salesperson with their queries. Leaning against the backrest of the black faux leather sofa, I let go of the stress, pleased at the deal we had got for ourselves.
The photographer motioned me – their newest customer to stand between the husband and our two kids. A relative, who had tagged along was politely nudged towards the background as we readied to pose, only to be discovered later peeking from behind us in the photograph. The instant photo magically transformed into a gift-wrapped memento – a display for the living room shelf. The occasion felt like a sudden upgrade to a higher status along with a boxful of sweets and a fulom gamusa (a woven symbol of Assamese pride) as accompaniments.
The captured smiles pasted within the confines of the photo frame as I wiped the dust off it, triggered emotions that had been brushed aside to cater to more urgent needs. My attempts at keeping the mind engaged through mindless errands and repetitive household chores, music, reading and some tv time, felt utterly defeatist. I sought ways to ease the turmoil yet the mood stayed adamant. It was silly to remain so affected by it – I reprimanded myself silently. It had already been a month and the old needed to be ‘let go of’ at some point in life.
I could otherwise never have imagined the attachment to be eating up my peace. That it could have the capability to drag me into a vortex of guilt and apart from my inability to overcome it, also made me self-conscious. I was embarrassed to confide in anyone. And as the guilt continued to grow, it kept adding to the loneliness. I went through the motions suffering it like a sentence alongside intermittent bouts of melancholia.
A few quick updates and we parted in nodded agreement. The day ended happily for everyone concerned. I had initially disagreed on the model, settling instead on a slightly upgraded version, which also meant ageeing to an extra 30k. Along with the expensive accessories also came the complimentary five liters of petrol for its first commute from the showroom to our home. The free servicing would either be three months from the date of purchase or upon covering five hundred km at least, whichever came first – the sales guy reminded us as we buckled up.
I was already imagining driving through chaotic city traffic – running errands, hauling groceries, school PTMs, tuition drops, outings and formal evenings, perhaps even an occasional drive beyond city limits. Pondering over how soon I could upgrade my driving skills in alignment with its still unfamiliar features, I became lost in another world.
As I sat at the front staring out at the passing traffic with the laughter and noise coming from the back seat, a strange kind of feeling set in. The realization that I was uncomfortable in a brand-new car felt queer. The emptiness was overwhelming; surprising and sudden, overtaking whatever jubilation that I might have been quietly enjoying. The brand-new acquisition was already losing its sheen, it seems, in line with my dwindling enthusiasm.
The partnership ended abruptly. It was only natural that people sought changes to their lifestyle as they crossed milestones. It should have been the same for me, except that my mind readily accepted what my heart could not. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t vouch for it feeling the same way at our parting. After all, it was only a mechanical object, an inanimate – a vehicle meant to make lives easier.
Severe nostalgia caught me at my most unexpected and left me to recuperate on my own. The memories tied to the old car were too intimate to be laid bare before a fast-paced, impersonal world. It was as if a part of me stayed trapped within the car which I chose to let go of without being aware that it also meant discarding a part of me, losing it forever. The sense of abandonment was intense both for the car and my lost self.
The initial days of driving were hesitant, shaky, full of blunders but audacious. Lessons learned in the art of patience without being reckless, confident without being arrogant – a rookie’s attempts at driving. The first test came in the form of heavy fog in the harsh of the north Indian winter. Navigating roads that disappeared into nothingness without the shine of fog lights required mustering up all the courage, resulting in nervous sweats. Then there was the instance of getting caught in a traffic snarl, owing to flash floods, during a particular commute from office to home and finally reaching safe confines in a city not known for its rains. Visits to the lawyer’s home through evening traffic to finalize important documents for a property deal while cruising through the discomfort of initial pregnancy. Also, the endless rides to the doctor’s during a difficult phase of pregnancy as it stayed parked outside the hospital to ferry me home as I steered at its wheel. Many such stories made up a mountain of memories.
Rushing past the cars in the basement to pick up the groceries ordered over the phone, I am standing in front of the barricade to make the payment. It is déjà vu again. A little later I make my way towards the flat and catch a fleeting moment to notice the film of dust settled on the windscreen of my car; obvious signs of confinement for over a week in a containment zone. It looked unattended, displaying dents and scratches from the years of driving which I hadn’t paid much thought to before. I could only remember it from the day it was proudly driven into the garage some seven years ago in contrast to the one parked idly at its designated slot today.
Zerine Wahid is a poet/author based in Guwahati and has been contributing her poems, short stories and articles in some of the city-based dailies for some time now. Her poems have been published in The Horizon of The Assam Tribune and Melange of The Sentinel. Besides that, her articles (nonfiction) and short stories have appeared in Newsmove, Gplus, Don Bosco Guwahati souvenir magazine and Tezpur University Silver Jubilee magazine, Telegraph, The Assam Tribune and in ‘Ode to a Poetess’, a digital platform