By M.S. Chari
Artwork by Alexa Gaffaney
The world is ending. The sun is dimming and the stars are going out. No one else is in the car dealership, because they’ve all gone home to their families. Raj is here because he has no one to go home to. The dealership is technically open, although Raj doesn’t like his chances of making a sale today.
Raj’s parents are in India. He left them four years ago, when an American business school offered him a scholarship. Too late, he realized that despite his A’s in undergraduate economics he didn’t have a head for business. He dropped out of school, disappointing everyone, and got a job at the car dealership. He was supposed to discover something he liked doing better. Probably he eventually would have.
Back before the phone lines went out, he called his parents a lot, especially during that shaky few-month period when everyone knew something was happening but it hadn’t yet been determined that this was the big one, the final call, the fat lady singing and the bell tolling for everyone. Once that became clear Raj, seized with the kind of soul-shaking need to do something that such news inevitably brings, wrote a letter to a girl he’d known once back in Kolkata. Poured his soul out, signed his name, sealed it in an envelope. In a Bollywood movie it would have reached her somehow and they would have watched the world end together or maybe even found a way to save it. In real life he never sent it. He didn’t know her address, and even if he had it probably wouldn’t have reached her. Now he is watching the stars blink out with only the pre-owned Corollas and Camrys for company.
As the shadows spread over the lot Raj wonders if that girl is married now, if she has children, if she ever became a doctor like she dreamed. He thinks about his parents. He wonders if his mother made tea and is holding his father’s hand in both of hers because although he’d never admit it he would be the one of them who was more scared. He thinks about all the lives he did not lead, in India and here.
There are no nice cars in this dealership, but there is a compact silver hybrid that Raj likes more than the others. It was the last car he almost sold, back when people were still buying used cars. A young couple, both teachers, took it for a test drive before deciding to buy a Honda from the dealership across town. Raj finds the key on his key ring and unlocks it.
As he slides into the driver’s seat Raj catches a glimpse of his reflection in the rearview mirror. His face is tired, but unmistakably youthful. Maybe, given time, he would have developed laugh lines, or maybe disappointment would have worn permanent creases into his face. He turns the key in the ignition.