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November 21, 2017 | Fiction

The Drive-Thru

Ashira Shirali

The Drive-Thru photo

     “WelcometoMcDonaldsCanItakeyourorder?” I say as I reach for a drink cap Tamanna has knocked over. I’ve never been assigned to the drive-thru before. Aman called in sick today, so Tamanna and I have to assure drivers that their chocolate-dipped cone will only be a second and pass grilled wraps through the booth window. I grab the cap, look up at the customer and – 

      It’s her.

      Rolling down the window of her blue Honda, Aaina sits next to her mom. All the breath gets sucked out of my throat. She sees me at the same instant, and her hand freezes on the window button.

   Aaina’s hair is mussed up. She’s wearing dark glasses, and the cut on her forehead glows crimson in her pale skin. My gut twists. I press my fingers into the worn marble to stop them from reaching forward, through the drive-thru window and into the car and running over the mark.

      The cap falls to the floor again.

      “Can – can I take your order?” I ask, looking down at the menu as if I haven’t seen it every day for the past year. She mumbles a response I don’t catch and turns to her mom, running her fingers through her hair.

      I pull my red cap lower over my face and try to stuff my fly-aways into my hairnet. I hope her mom doesn’t recognise me. She’s only seen me once before, and she doesn’t know that I work here, but I still cross my fingers under the counter. Aaina’s jaw is twitching. I’m almost certain she’s praying for the same thing.

      Before long, my eyes stray from the counter. They can’t help wanting to look at the ultramarine car, wanting to see the passenger seat where I’ve sat on countless rides to and from nowhere because Aaina got her license this past June; wanting to see the cluster of freckles that dot Aaina’s left collarbone, the one I always called her very own constellation. 

      I try not to look at the scab forming on her forehead, or the beads of blood peeking out from under its edges. 

   The scar on my face hasn’t faded either. I’ve been dabbing foundation on my right cheek every morning for the past three days. Although the cut is deep, it didn’t hurt very much when I got it. It was my chest that was crushed inward.

      Aaina and I were behind the rose bush in her back garden when her mom’s hand appeared, pulling back the sliding glass door, smacking me across the face and pulling Aaina in by the hair in the space of ten blinding seconds. It was the edges of her laser-cut diamond ring that pierced my cheek, the one Aaina told me she had bought in Dubai. Aaina’s mom collects shiny things like a magpie. The one time Aaina sneaked me into her house, I walked past rows of gold photo frames, silver handicraft elephants and raindrop chandeliers.

      Now I see that it was a stupid idea to begin with – near the glass door, the time her mom came back from her evening walk, two girls kissing. But we were floating too far above the world to notice. 

      I ran all the way back home that day. I splashed in puddles, made cars swerve. When I arrived, I threw my ringing phone under the bed and lay in the tub with the door locked till my roommate called the handyman to break it down. 

      Aaina and her mom have decided what they want to order. Two McChickens, two Cokes. Aaina says it like she’s confessing to a crime. 

      I move over to the assembly line. Grab lettuce, tomato, mayo. Fill the Cokes. The top of the drink looks like a stormy sea as my hand trembles. When I take straws from the holder, I see a bottle of surface cleaner. I pause. The potent blue liquid gleams, but before I can make a decision Tamanna shoves past me on her way to the soft serve machine with a hasty apology, and the spell is broken. I realise I have no way of marking the cups, so I turn away from the chemical. 

      Aaina pushes her glasses up into her hair as she turns to face me. A violet patch has spread from caruncle to brow bone of her right eye. The sight makes my head spin, but her eyes are blazing, even the swollen one. 

      My eyes begin to sting. I extend my arm to hand the burger over, looking determinedly at the road. The patty dances in the air. She reaches forward, and –

      The burger falls. 

      I see it escape my hands in slow motion with a vague sense of alarm. It sails through the air, pickle side down, and lands with a sharp pat. A glistening medley of white, red and yellow ooze out through the paper and onto the road in little runny lines. The lettuce falls out. 

      “Have a nice…” my mouth tries from muscle memory. The words flee, leaving me alone in the small red and yellow hut. 

      Her mom cries out when she sees her lunch soar past her window. She screams about server incompetence, screams as loudly as she was silent the last time I saw her. But all I can do is think – Oh no, the lettuce. I hear the car speed away as if it’s a car on a low-volume TV. Dust rises from the spot. 

   I pull off my apron as soon as the car disappears. I leave Tamanna in the cabin with her mouth open and a half-full packet of fries in her hand. I go to the parking lot and sit in my car. I meant to go home, but my bones have grown heavy. Aakash, our manager stands outside my car and yells. Eventually he repeats himself so many times that the words worm into my brain – leave. My foot presses onto the accelerator with a jerk. 

   The next day, I call Aakash to tell him I want to quit. He tells me I was removed from the rolls yesterday, and would I please come take the stuff from my employee locker tomorrow? I tell him that I can’t; I want to leave it all behind.  

image: Bryan Bowie


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