Many faces of Bono

Writer: Shabbeedur Shuja Category: ছোট গল্প (Short Story) Edition: Dhaboman - Eid 2019


                                                                                               S. Shuja


He felt a tiny snake slithering up his spine, its cold rough skin brushed against his body, creating an uncomfortably chilly feeling that spread throughout his back, his neck turned stiff, for a moment he completely forgot where he was and what was he doing.

                “How long have you been driving?” A voice hit him from far away, dull, thick.

It woke him up from his strange slumber. He had been having these episodes lately, several times a day. He, however, knew what it was. Fear! Fear of losing everything he had. It had been 8 months he was driving rideshare, since he lost his white color job as an IT Tester and was having hard time finding another one.

                “Long! Seems like pretty long.” He said. He heard his own words, thick and dull as well. The words didn’t come out as he had intended them to be. The pessimism was clear. Not a good message to provide to the passenger. Rating was important. He had the power.

                The man didn’t continue the conversation. Bono knew, without even looking back, or in the rear-view mirror, he was staring at him, possibly with a smirk. The man, a tanned bespectacled person in his early fifties, had an appearance of a con man. The thought made Bono feel a little guilty. It wasn’t his nature to judge people by their looks. Perhaps it wasn’t the man or his crooked smile, but the fearful, disturbed mind of Bono looking for an excuse to hate people who looked happy, content.

                It was a short ride. He dropped the man at the gate of a mansion like house. With his expensive jacket, high end snow boot, latest Apple watch and Gucci sunglasses he seemed like a successful man. Bono wondered if he was jealous of the man. Maybe a little. Actually, a lot, under the circumstances, he had to admit. These long driving hours, street to street, passenger to passenger, switching rideshare apps in between was becoming tiring, the slow pace at which money trickled into his driver account was disappointing. As he drove fast to pick up his next rider, the snake returned.

                Ride to ride to ride. Short, local, quiet. He liked it that way. Chatty customers expected response, wanted to share a laughter or even deep personal secrets. He didn’t want any of that. He had too many of his own issues and concerns, things that he wasn’t comfortable sharing, especially not with total strangers.

                As he drove he had this strange feeling…something was skipping his burdened mind…something…

He tried revisiting in his mind all the interview materials he had studied the night before. After a long period of lull since his last interview with a bank despite his continuous effort to get some due attention from the prospective employers and hiring agents, he had finally landed two interviews to take place in one glorious day - today. His long nights of worries and constant massaging of the resume suspecting something in it, or absence of, was the primary reason for getting snubbed, could be coming to an end.

                Sitting inside his car, in a strip mall parking lot, he listened the time ticking in his hand watch, and waited. It was already ten minutes past two in the afternoon, the lady from the IT company didn’t call yet. She was his first interview. Unless she had forgotten or got engaged into something more important. Usually the agency would have called, in case of such annoyance. He waited. That curious feeling of something he was forgetting returned. He tried to snap out of it, but it clung into his mind like a two-dimensional cartoon character.

                The call eventually came, the interview was completed. She must have sensed his desperation as he overly emphasized on his experience and blathered about every minor technical reference. At the end her final words seemed like the echo of the past…More candidates to interview. His agency would get back to him.    

                Bono let out a deep sigh of relief. With ever changing technical requirements it was hard to be at the top of everything, a certain amount of deception was required. He had barely any working experience of many things he talked fluently about from just researching the web. After every encounter he felt a little bit free, a little unburdened.

                The second interview was scheduled at three. It was running late too. One James Hass was supposed to call. Did he forget? The whole world seemed to become oblivious when it came to his job. As he waited quietly and patiently, revising his notes in his mind, setting up the nodes, hubs and switches inside him to focus on the next set of requirements, to ensure robust execution and avoid mix ups, he realized this was as much a mind game as it was a job interview.

                He was forgetting something…that weird thought came across his mind again. Mortgage was due in two days, car payments in a week, utilities were all paid for the month…was it the next installation of the property tax? Credit card payments? A late payment would come with a hefty fine – hours worth of driving. What was it? He scratched his head, dove deeper and deeper into his memory, looking for that straw. The chilling sensation on his spine was back, his head felt light, frustration was building up. He wondered how long it was before he started to miss his payments.  

                James called him fifteen minutes later. He apologized for the delay and quickly got into business. Questions came in flurries, from this to that, James trying to have a feeling of his capabilities, Bono trying to impress him with his eloquence. James stopped it abruptly only into twenty minutes and asked for an in-person meeting. This was always a good sign. Bono offered to meet the next day, James the next week. Plenty of things could happen before next week but Bono had to settle with that.

He turned on his rideshare apps and was back to driving. Wife called. She was eager to find out how the interviews went. Any good news? A second interview was always more prospective. Bono did good. Something was sure to come his way anytime now. Her calm soothing voice warmed him up, gave him strength and energy to go on, ride to ride, passenger to passenger. At forty-five this ought to hurt, this sure feeling of demotion, the long hours of undervalued devotion, but her voice made it all right. He couldn’t wait to get back home and lay his eyes on her pretty face and hold her in his arms when the daughters weren’t looking. Open display of such affection was bound to bring the giggles out of them. Everything was good on the home front.

                When he finally returned home it was late. His wife had sent in the kids to their beds long ago, served dinner for two on the table and waited for him to come back. He was tired, she was sleepy, but they sat together at the table and ate a cold dinner, both too lazy to warm it up, and chatted quietly, about the day, the kids, the job opportunities, the bills. After the meal, as they habitually sat in front the television, watching some late-night shows, his body just gave up, his head on her shoulder he dozed off, and dreamt of walking alone in a deserted foggy street, trying to remember something that just won’t come to him.   

                It felt like transferring from one dream to another when a soft hand caressed his face and a gentle voice urged him to be awake. He held her hand and almost sleep walked to the dining room where her daughters in their sleeping dress and puffy faces stood next to a large white chocolate cake, his favourite, with two burning candles with the numbers 2 and 0 inserted into it and a cursively scribbled Happy Anniversary across it.

                “What is it?” He asked, still drowsy, not yet fully registering the events around him.  

                “Yesterday was our anniversary.” She said quietly. “They baked the cake for us and waited for you last night.”

                And then he remembered.

Time was bad, but he had still made some plans. She liked sushi and the kids liked movies. Shaken up from his grogginess he felt overpowered by shame. She sensed it immediately and held him into an embrace. The kids rolled their eyes and giggled.

“Blow!” They urged, together. “Both of you!”

And they did. The magic candles defied their first couple of attempts drawing some spontaneous laughter only to be given up on reinforcement.  Pictures were taken, pieces of the cake eaten, with the kids back to their beds Bono turned off the lights and kissed his bride.