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The Night Shift

When the phone rang again, Mark picked up and handed it to me with obvious relief on his face.

“Hi, is this a good time?” Naz asked.

“Sure. Just uuh, hang on a minute,” I said and held the phone away from me while I exhaled.

Mark gestured that he was going out as he grabbed his coat off the bed. I wanted to protest; he was certainly going to drink, but I also needed him to leave the room so that I could talk to Naz comfortably. In the end, I couldn’t decide fast enough but Mark read it on my face and mouthed, “Relax, it’ll be fine.”

Naz had called me unbidden so I thought it might be fine after all. I would be okay to drive in the morning if he came back drunk. I resigned myself to whatever outcome presented itself and let him go. At the door, he made a heart over his chest and smooching noises. I groped around for something to throw at him but found nothing suitable, so I took off a slipper and sent it flying across the room. Mark was already out in the hallway when it landed on the door. I heard him giggling before he popped his head back in just to say, “Missed me!” And then he was gone.

“Such a child!” I said, annoyed but laughing in spite of myself. I can never stay mad at him for too long; he certainly makes sure of it.

“Sorry about that,” I said to Nazir.

“Should I call back later?”

“No, no. I just eer… got out of the bath, but we can talk now,” I said settling in on my bed.

“How is the car running?”

“It’s great. Yeah. It was a smooth ride all the way.”

“I would’ve called earlier but I pretty much passed out after Luther left and now I’m back at work.”

“Right. Right, you’re working the night shift,” I remembered and felt silly that I’d worked myself up into such a state. “Uhm. I think I owe you an apology.”

“What? What for?”

“I thought you were helping me because you wanted something from me.”

He chuckled. “And now you don’t?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I’m the one who wants something.”

“Oh do tell.”

“I — No. I don’t know.”

“Well… let’s not rule anything out just yet. That instinct may still be correct.”

I chuckled. “You’re not being helpful.”

“I’m not trying to be helpful,” he said and then fell silent for maybe three seconds which on the phone feels like three millennia. Civilizations rose and fell before he spoke again. “I understand your apprehension. I’d say it’s even healthy.”


“I have been known to be a bit of a people pleaser. I was trying to impress you, maybe a little too eagerly. I thrive on other people’s approval.”

A stark admission cloaked in self-deprecating charm; he had my attention. I sat up. “Are you allowed to admit things like that to total strangers?”

“Sure. Strangers are the easiest people to spill your secrets to. Everyone knows that.”

I had hoped he would say that we weren’t total strangers anymore, but he wouldn’t let me back-seat-drive the conversation. His admission wasn’t geared towards closeness, which I in turn was too eager for. It was a tool for ambiance. He was simply setting the tone.

“You’re very self-aware,” I observed.

“I have a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts,” he said. “It’s a by-product of that.”

“No. No. It’s more deliberate than that. You strike me as a very deliberate person.”

“I suppose. You on the other hand…”

“Oh no.”

“What? I haven’t said anything yet.”

“Yeah but… Me what? What impression do I give off?”


“Oooh, skittish. That’s a good word.”

“Yes. So, skittish. You strike me as someone who is quite anxious but also potentially very excitable.”

“Why do I feel like I’m being compared to a horse?”

He laughed. “Not on purpose. But now that you mention it, have you considered that a horse may be your… eer… daemon?”

“What?” I laughed.

“It’s a —”

“No, I know what it is but, hold on just a minute. That is — that is a very niche thing to say!”

“I just remembered at the last moment that we’re not supposed to say spirit animal anymore!”

“So you went with daemon?”

“Yes, and it worked out. You know His Dark Materials.”

“I know it by sheer luck. Wow! Were you setting yourself up to drop some cool knowledge on me?”

“No! Not at all. Don’t make me sound obnoxious! Actually, I like that you know it.”

“You’ve probably read the books, haven’t you?”

“I have. What about you?”

“I’ve watched the movie.” Silence. “Oh, you’re frustrated by that, aren’t you?”

“I am! I really am. They miss so much in the movies!”

“I knew it. I’ve got you pegged now. You’re exactly the type.”

“I can’t help who I am. I take it you’re not much of a reader then?”

“I read for work. Not really for leisure.”

“So non-fiction mostly.”

“Mostly. I mean I’ve read some fiction but it wouldn’t be anything on your level I suppose.”

“What is the last thing you read?” he asked.

“That would be The End of The Affair by Graham Greene.”

“Ooof! That is an old book!”

“You know it?”

“Yeah. My mom kept a pretty extensive library in our house. She’d visit her sisters in London and come back with a separate suitcase just for books.”

“Aah, so that’s where you get the reading from,” I said.

“Yep, I am my mother’s son.”

“So you have relatives in the UK?”

“Yeah. Oh, this is what I was telling you this morning before we got interrupted. My mom’s family is originally from Tamil Nadu. That’s in the South of India.”


“They immigrated here in the 70s and then my aunties all moved to London in the 90s except for my mom, because she’d already married my dad.”

“Have you ever been? To London, I mean.”

“Sure. We visited a couple of times when we were kids. And then my older sister moved there for school so I’ve been there a few more times since then.”

 “Do you have a younger sister?”

“Yes, I am sandwiched between two girls. Like a hot dog.”

I laughed. “Are you trying to start the ‘Is a hot dog a sandwich’ debate right now?”

“Isn’t it? Isn’t a sandwich two pieces of bread with meat and veggies stuffed between them?”

“I… sense a deflection,” I said. It was the kind of thing I was always on guard for, it being Mundia’s weapon of choice in every confrontation.

“No, no I think it was my clumsy attempt to keep from oversharing. I’m talking too much about myself. I’ve heard that can be off-putting for some.”

“Not for me. I’m the one who asked the question so, if anything I might be the one who is prodding too much. Uhm, maybe let’s return to neutral ground.”

“Yes, let’s.”

I switched the phone, which was now running so hot it could’ve kept a pot of broth simmering, from one ear to the other. We had been talking for thirty eight minutes by then, and we hadn’t ran out of things to say. This was the stuff I lived for!

“Daemon, tsk! That was wild,” I chuckled. “Is that the kind of content you’re curious about? His Dark Materials, I mean.”

“I’m curious about a lot of things. Some of them are fringe but… it comes with the reading, I think.”

“Like what?”

“Things that I’m curious about?”

“Yes. Name three.”

“I’m curious about why we never see the other side of the moon.”


“I’m curious about why Americans haven’t gone back to the moon in fifty years.”

“Are they all moon related?”

He chuckled. “No, I just happen to be looking at the moon right now. Not much else to do out here. But it’s a beautiful night for stargazing, I can’t complain.”

“Yeah, clear nights are great for that.”

“Can you see it from there?”

I walked over to the window and parted the heavy, velvet drapes. We were staying at an old hotel that still had that imperial luxury décor — dark, polished wooden floors, tapestry wall hangings and brass taps in the bathroom.

“My view of the moon is blocked, but I can see Orion’s belt and the Sirius star cluster from here.”

“I can’t tell one star from another. They all look the same to me.”

“Hey, you can’t say that. That’s celestial racism.”

He let out a long, unhurried laugh that left me glowing with pride and satisfaction.  

I hadn’t realised it because it had been going on for so long, but I had become distant from myself. Remote. Like I was floating somewhere just out of reach. But when Nazir and I talked, I found myself being spontaneous, creative, witty, sharp and oh so light.

When Nazir and I talked, I started to feel like I was inhabiting my body again.


To be continued…