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Amita Basu


Old City, a quillng pattern by MidJourney AI from a prompt by Netha Hussain
Old City, a quillng pattern by MidJourney AI from a prompt by Netha Hussain

I speedwalk down the tessellated concrete tiles. I’m bored stiff, but my headclock says I’ve only twenty minutes left. I never bring a watch: that makes me impatient. I never count laps: that makes me rush. Round and round the flatblock walk my neighbours, plugged in to music, podcasts, or phonecalls, getting things done, avoiding eyecontact. It’s easier that way to race while pretending not to. Racing kills the time.

My hamstrings ache from yesterday’s Tabata. Monday stretches before me. If I cut my walk short I can lounge over breakfast before my 70-minute commute. ‘Two more laps,’ I urge myself.

The rubbishvan rumbles through the gate towards the communal rubbishbins. The two maskless, gloveless rubbishmen begin sorting through the dry-waste bin, segregating soiled items. Residents are supposed to wash and dry the plastic packaging that contained foodstuffs. But who has time? The rubbishmen unlid the kitchen waste and sanitary waste festering in the dark plastic bins in the sun.

Why has the rubbishvan come early today? The layered humid odour punches my mouth. There goes my walk!

Between the van behind me, and my flatblock looming ahead, I can still do one last half-lap. I slow down. Tamarind pulp and roasted curry leaves tickle my nostrils. Someone’s cooking sambhar. My stomach spasms: my walk’s cut short, so I can lounge over breakfast. Suddenly I don’t want to.

I turn my face into the balmy sun. A breeze strums the eucalyptus leaves and drizzles coolness on my cheeks. Upwind of the rubbishvan, my sniffing nostrils catch the oleander trees’ supervanilla. I’ve passed the eucalyptus and sun, the wind and oleander, on twenty laps. (Of course I’ve been counting laps.) Was I asleep all this while?

I pause and look back. This was my walk. I still had ten minutes left.


About the writer:
Amita Basu’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in over fifty magazines and anthologies including The Penn Review, The Dalhousie Review, Bamboo Ridge, The Bombay Literary Magazine, and Gasher. She is a review reader for Bewildering Stories and a submissions editor for Fairfield Scribes Microfiction. Amita Basu lives in Bangalore, has a PhD in cognitive science and likes Captain Planet.

Image: Old City, a quillng pattern by MidJourney AI from a prompt by Netha Hussain. 2023. Public domain.

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