To Move On – short story by Samina Chaudry
To Move On
(Also published in Scottish PEN)
Riz came out of the kitchen holding an oven tray. He put two chicken legs on her plate. It was pink in the middle when she cut through it. He looked up from his plate as he forked a mouthful of the chicken into his mouth.
Spent the afternoon cooking, he said.
She nodded. I’m not too fussed about food these days.
Riz put the bone of a leg piece next to his plate on the table. I was just thinking, he said. Maybe we could take a short trip to Lake District?
I’m not sure.
The break will do you good.
I don’t know.
He reached over the table touching her hand with his. You better hurry up, he said. I’ve made something really nice for the dessert.
What is it?
Going to have to finish your main first.
She looked at her plate. She’d tasted the chicken but that was about all she could manage. Somewhere in the future the wish to become a vegetarian. Maybe that could be a reasonable enough excuse for not eating the meat.
Riz had dropped some gravy onto the front of his shirt. It left a yellow stain as he tried rubbing at it with his finger. She put her fork down and nodded towards the kale on her plate. She told him how she once made kale soup but it didn’t turn out to be so good a soup.
Riz got up to pick his cigarettes from the side of the sofa. He lit a cigarette, took a couple of drags and stubbed the rest into a plate.
Ready for the sweet dish? He asked glancing at her plate.
She smiled, lifted a bottle of water and poured some into a glass. From the kitchen she could hear Riz humming. The oven door opened and closed and a nice smell drifted in. She got up, went up to the living room window. There was a light drizzle outside. Lately the weather was strange. It was almost the end of April and still it was cold and damp. Riz said it would be milder out there in Cumbria. They would go out for walks, explore the countryside, but she couldn’t see herself enjoying the break.
She sat down and switched the TV on. A football match was being played and some noise the crowd made when one of the players scored. She pressed the volume down. Riz came back holding a wooden tray in one hand and an open bottle of wine in the other. He handed her a plate as he picked up his glass of wine from the tray. The custard although a bit lumpy had a nice taste. She took a spoonful of the apple pie.
Seems to be a great match, he said looking towards the TV.
Never used to watch much TV until recently, she said.
He sat down next to her taking a swallow of his drink. Has Sahil been in touch? He asked.
Seem to be happy with him.
Let them stay with him. After all they did choose to be with their father.
She didn’t say anything.
I wouldn’t say to you to go back being with him again.
She put her empty plate on the coffee table next to the bottle of wine. I don’t know, she said. All these years I’ve been there for him but now I’m doing this for myself, for my own sanity.
Her hand went down into her handbag, a slight panic trying to remember if she had her keys and her phone with her. She found herself doing this quite a bit when outside. Riz had poured himself another glass of wine and was staring at the glass then at the TV screen. A moment later he said, Some controlling freak that man of yours was. He was always looking for an excuse to put me down. If I was working in the office he’d send me over to the site. When I went there he’d be complaining that work wasn’t getting done because I wasn’t buying the material on time. Then he installed CCTV cameras on all the sites.
She looked at him. He did catch you going through the drawers in his office?
I’m not going to defend myself on that. Riz smiled. Sometimes you need to be in a team and what better way than to get some of the boys on your side. Should have seen their faces when I told them what they were getting paid compared to some of the other boys that worked there.
So it was you then looking for wage slips in Sahil’s office? I always thought it was never true that you did such a thing.
Riz was silent.
She stared at the carpet then looked up at him. The thought of waking up and going home. But what was it then? The truth of it being that there wasn’t any kind of familiarity that existed between them. She’d met Riz a couple of times at Sahil’s office but that was about it. When he phoned up asking her over she could have said anything and not come. That would have been it. Probably no more of the phone calls from him.
You sure you don’t want a cup of tea? Riz asked.
He turned to face her. She could smell the wine off his breath. She looked towards the TV. The picture on the screen had changed. A pack of lions were sitting around the half-eaten carcass of a giraffe, while another giraffe probably the dead giraffe’s companion stood nearby watching. She was wanting to reach over across Riz to pick up the remote when she found herself staring at a ring on Riz’s index finger. The structure of the ring as well as the dark red stone in the centre seemed similar to the ring that Sahil couldn’t find. He was told to wear it at work by one of the spiritual healers he went to. But the day he lost it he couldn’t remember if he took it with him to his office or misplaced it somewhere in the house.
She gestured at the ring. Nice, she said.
It’s for good luck, he said touching the stone on it.
Do you believe in fortune-telling and all the other stuff?
Riz glanced at her. Depends, there’s a lot of fake people going around proclaiming to have knowledge about the future.
Sahil believed a lot in these things but myself I don’t know what to make of it all.
He was mental. Riz shook his head. Once brought a yogi kind of person into the office who spent half the day saying prayers and rolling the rosary.
She looked at the ring again. It seemed to be loose on Riz’s finger, but surely it was crazy her thinking like this because what if it did actually belong to Riz. The problem being she was over-thinking again and yet she was trying not to. She pressed the back of her eyelids with her finger. She was tired. It was the early mornings. Not being able to go back to sleep again, just lying there, thinking, waking up to check the time on her phone, still a couple of hours before the morning broke through.
She looked towards the window. It was getting dark and the rain also coming down. What if no bus appeared? It would be no point waiting. But she could keep on walking and maybe find a taxi towards the main road.
Should be heading home, she said.
Riz looked towards the clock on the mantelpiece. Stay the night. I can drop you off in the morning.
I need to be at work early tomorrow.
I’m covering up for another receptionist. Said she’ll text me.
Riz took a swig of his drink. He got up and walked towards the window. He closed the blind, switching the lamp on. She blinked, her eyes adjusting to the dim light. Riz put his drink down and came up behind her, putting his arms around her shoulders. She noticed his nails rough and dirty at the rims. She got up and told him that it wasn’t possible for her to go on the trip to Lake District. He didn’t say anything and put his hands in his trouser pockets then took them out and poured himself more drink. She lifted her jacket.
It was cold and wet when she stepped out of Riz’s house.
You sure you don’t want a lift home? He asked.
She shook her head.
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