This short story by Anita Goveas appeared in our second print issue which is available for purchase here.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and
paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize
anthology, most recently in former cactus mag, Litro, New Flash Fiction Review,
Porridge and Longleaf Review. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer.
How to cradle duck eggs while weaving through traffic
Prahba takes the sweaty cheese and onion crisp and smiles down at Oliver’s smudged face. She wants to make a joke about apples being a teacher’s preferred gift, but her sense of humour is wasted on five-year-olds. Her phone is buzzing against her hip, Rajesh telling her the washing machine is broken again, or one of the children forgetting their PE kit, or Martha asking for something incredibly specific like duck eggs or arnica. She places the softening crisp next to the half-pecked pine cone and the brown smartie, her haul for this morning, and looks out of the window. Her eight-speed, chrome-plated, white pearl vintage bicycle glints in the watery sun. She longs for it.
The next ride is flushed and pressured, in her lunch hour, to pick up the PE kit and Lila’s abandoned sandwiches. The twins are sharing their clothes again, one plimsoll each, a bare chest versus a white vest, traces of chalk in their thick hair. Their teaching assistant takes the bag, says “self-expression is so important at this age”. Prabha twitches her mouth, signalling “you don’t have children, do you?” and “what’s that about age?”
Lila is in the playground eating a scavenged Kit-Kat. She takes the lunch-box with a wheedling grimace.
“But I don’t like pickle.”
“It’s not a vegetable, eat them.”
Twenty minutes left as she weaves through traffic, eating the confiscated chocolate bar, to lie on the floor of their kitchen and adjust the loose pipe. Her hands come away coated in greasy suds and crumbs. Rajesh needs his hands for axonometric drawings, she only uses her brain.
After school, she pedals to Martha’s house in West Norwood, duck eggs cradled in an old cashmere jumper. Her ex-head teacher has no-one else now, so Prabha keeps the smile on her face as Martha explains that duck eggs are sensitive and easily spoiled.
“It’s a very smooth ride, this bicycle.”
“At least you don’t think everything old is useless,” Martha sniffs.
The last ride of the day is after Rajesh has crashed out and the mostly-clean children are asleep. The moon has emerged, glowing with pollution, bright as a volcano. Prabha rides past South Norwood lake, a silvery kiss. Slowly, then as fast as she can, haphazardly. She has no destination in mind.