Little, fuzzy red lights in a row, aglow in front of her all along the curve of the road. Reminded her of Marine Drive back home. “Only it is ruby necklace, not pearl”, she thought to herself in the peaceful quiet of the car punctuated by the swish-click of the wipers. Her husband had sworn by I-95 and here she was on 485 and it was bumper to bumper. She had heard enough of the traffic report to know that she was not going anywhere at anything more than 5 miles an hour for at least another 30 min. She had switched off the radio and sat savoring the muted silence in the car. How different traffic here is, from India, she thought. There no matter how tightly you shut the windows and how tinted the glass, you could never have this feeling of isolation. When she had come to this country first, the very first car ride, from the airport to her husband’s one-bedroom apartment, she had thought her ears had not popped yet. Only later did she realize that sound was just muted here. Faint echos. Almost as if pushing their way through all that empty space, trees and lawns, and manicured gardens, they arrived at your ears, tired and exhausted, capable only of evoking a faint memory of their origin. Nothing was sharp, or distinct like she had forgotten to remove cotton wool from her ears. She had used the q-tips very generously those days. The TV was loud, the shower radio on high, anything to push back that stifling quiet.
Now, she welcomed it with open arms. It was like her own private cocoon, nourishing, keeping her sane, giving a rest to her ears. It spoke to her of the unknowable comfort, peace and safety people say the baby feels in the womb. It eased out the tensions, worries, panic and the go! go! go! that life had become these days. Her sanctuary, her little slice of heaven. Her girl friends were always on about “me time” that they snatch out of their busy lives. The spa, they said. Interminable, annoying music that no one in their right minds found relaxing, she thought. Mani-pedi, they gushed. Chatter-chatter and the nagging worry of being judged, she sighed. The mall, finding that beloved shoe, that perfect top, they rhapsodized. The crowds! the jostle! she shuddered. Traffic, she sighed serenely. Horrified looks they gave her before they broke out into the most vitriolic diatribe she had ever heard. Even religious bigots didn’t hate each other as much as people hated traffic. It should have been, “Traffic-the great leveler”, not “Death”, she thought, before shutting up and agreeing with them for fear they thought she was really weird. She knew better now to keep her little secret sanctuary to herself.
She had managed to convert only one person and that was enough for her. They took turns every other Friday to lose themselves in peak hour traffic on the way back from work. But there were rules though. You couldn’t take a detour to run into traffic. You had to choose a highway at the start of the journey and stick to it and take your chances.
“40 mins”! her husband said tight-lipped and bleary-eyed as he opened the door to her. She smiled triumphantly at him, noting the envy behind the irritation and exhaustion. “That ought to learn ya” she said in her fake southern accent as she picked up and tossed a squeaky toy she had stepped on into the basket. “I told you you can never go wrong with 485 on a Friday evening. You should have listened last week! Is he in bed?”
“Yes”, sighed her husband, her one convert, as he flopped onto the couch next to her.