The fog hangs in midair, thick as soup, obscuring everything more than ten feet away. Backlit by the golden afternoon sun, it is almost too bright to look at. Arbaab walks up and down the tracks, gauging the curves and stretches on the road. The manager of the place wrings his hands nervously as he talks to Bareesh, visibly torn between wanting to make a profit and worried about the consequences of letting these foolhardy “rich” kids race under such conditions.
There is a new girl in the gang, Sheena. With her blonde highlights and nose-ring and too-tight kameez, Arbaab has her pegged down for a ditz, a flavour-of-the-week kind of girl, and wonders how Bareesh will handle the situation when he’s tired of the taste. She keeps shooting nervous looks at him from under those ridiculous eyelashes that surely must be fake, licking her lips in a way that’s distracting. Narita would have … no, he is not going to think about her.
“It’s all set, dosto. We have till sunset, for five grand total. Oh, and we need to sign some forms so that he doesn’t get into trouble if we die.”
Bareesh smiles and winks at Sheena, all cocky bravado, but Arbaab notices him sneakily wiping his palms against his jeans. Poor Bareesh, the cautious one. Arbaab decides to give the big guy a break, and instead turns to the one other person crazy enough to go ahead with the plan. Zoheb. 3pm, and the kutta is already high as a kite, his pupils the size of dinner plates, hopping from foot to foot.
“Let’s go, man, lessgolessgolessgoooo!”
“Zo and I will go first. You and Rasel can keep Sheena company.”
Bareesh inclines his head ever so slightly to acknowledge the smooth move, but his eyes are worried. They’re not going to go all emo in front of the new chick, but he raises an eyebrow as if to dissuade the crazy khors from going through with it. Zoheb is already fiddling with his helmet and there is no more time for words.
The go-karts are sissyfied for family use, and can go up to 60mph max, but on a day like today, with the track slick from the mist, there is the added thrill of trying to get ahead without spinning out of control. Zoheb goes first, revs the engine and sets off. Arbaab snaps on his elbow pads, pulls down his helmet, and follows. Behind him, he can dimly hear Sheena cheering in that high-pitched woo-woo sound. This is replaced by the whine of the engine behind him as he slowly presses down on the gas to catch up.
A wet road causes tyres to lose traction. Without those forces to keep the wheels on the road, it’s easy to lose control. Arbaab has driven in worse weather, in actual rain. He bides his time, sticking to the middle of the road, using a light touch on brake and steering wheel to guide him past the curves. A car is only as good as its tyres in this situation, and Arbaab respects that. The state Zoheb is in, he’s bound to screw up sooner than later. All Arbaab has to do is wait. It’s something he’s good at.
He had gotten used to waiting for Narita at the coffee shop across from her workplace on Thursdays. It was her ritual, to grab a frappuccino after work, before heading back home, so he had made it his too. He would sit by the window, folding paper or bending paper clips until he spied her crossing the road, looking left and right before striding through an opening. She never rushed, clucking, like some of her colleagues did, on the days they accompanied her. Instead, she walked like she owned the road, her impressive behind swinging with every step.
That Thursday, she didn’t come. He waited for an hour past the usual time, and then paid his bill and got up. He knew she hadn’t left her office building so she must still be at work. He thought of casually driving past, if for nothing else, for something to do.
He was just nearing the open gates of the entrance when he saw them exiting from the elevator. Narita and some guy in a polo shirt. He had his arm around her shoulder, and she was smiling up into his eyes, like he was one of those bloody heroes from those bloody novels she was always reading.
Zoheb loses control at the start of the second lap. His kart starts to skid when he takes the second curve, and he breaks the first rule of driving on wet roads by slamming the brakes. The kart goes spinning out of control until it hits the embankment made of spare tyres with a loud thump, which is half drowned-out by the stream of abuse pouring out from the driver’s seat. Arbaab grins to himself and gently nudges his own accelerator. This is his moment.
But Zoheb, that SOB isn’t as out of it as Arbaab would like to believe. He steps out of the kart, rights it by hand, hops back in and comes zooming down the circuit in hot pursuit, trying to make up for lost time. Arbaab tries to take the curve before he is overtaken, and his kart begins to hydroplane. He eases his foot off the brake, steering into the skid, trying to align the kart, but the idiot with the remote braking system makes the same mistake that Zo did, and the kart careens towards the curb.
The kart hits the wall of tyres and slides upwards, vertically, and only a loose tyre falling out from the embankment and sliding under the vehicle stops it from completely tipping over. The seatbelt holds Arbaab in place, but the force of the impact rocks his head back, and slams it against the headrest. His vision splinters and blurs as he slumps forward. Voices call out to him, muffled by the roar in his ears, like they are shouting through water. He blinks as a fuzzy female figure approaches, calling his name. For the briefest second, he imagines it is Narita, who has come seeking him at last. And then he sinks under the velvety dark.