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Three For the Price of One, by Nigel Roth



It was at least one-hundred-and-eight degrees since the last time I’d looked at a temperature gauge that morning. Nothing had cooled me down, it was like being warmed by a microwave, from the inside out.


I ordered a Limca, still around since the nineteen-seventies, when Duke’s Lemonade’s refusal to share its formula, led Ramesh Chauhan to create his own drink to compete and eventually overtake the Pepsi-owned rival.


Three for the price of one,’ asked the waiter.

Yes, for sure,’ I said, sweating into my eyes and recognizing a good deal when I heard one.


I sat down, my soggy shirt meeting the hot plastic of the cafe chair, and looked around. A family was arguing a few tables away. The man was incredibly loud, shooting his arms up into the air and pointing indiscriminately across the cafe each time he raised his voice. The woman was angrily dismissing his outbursts with her own hand-waving and sharp, spitting words, as the argument intensified and everything else seemed to blur for me and the other Limca-sippers on this scorching Indian morning.


They paid no attention to any of the people around them, who all, like me, were transfixed with the ferocity of their increasingly-crazed remonstrations.


They paid no attention to the children either, a girl and a boy, sitting with them, who were maybe used to this cacophony of anger and vitriol, and quietly, dully, played with their napkins, folding them weakly and launching them toward each other in the vain hope of flight.


I sipped my newly-delivered ice-cold Limca and watched the endless line of cars and trucks and livestock that sped and trundled and crawled by on the road in front of me.


The couple's voices were even louder now, and seemed to mirror the diesel-grind of a line of gravel trucks that thundered past a few feet away, agitating the dry roadbed in stone-crushing shudders. Dust clouds sailed towards us and I covered my bottle opening with a thumb.


The argument carried on through the smelly murk, with hands seen vaguely and voices furious, and in the confluence of noise and dust the children wandered away from the table.


When the clouds cleared and the trucks disappeared around the bend ahead, the couple were standing up shouting into each other's mouths, a terrible fright of very red-hot angry faces and very off-white gnashing teeth.


Seeming to anticipate an escalation, a few diners had stood, and had taken a few steps closer to them.


And, then it all happened.


The man lunged for the woman. His chair crashed over, and she kicked it back at him and made for his face with an outstretched claw. Diners sprung up to get between them, but collided with each other in their singular purpose. The man came at her again, and the woman jumped back, knocking over a table and the breakfast that had just been placed there by the waiter, who had now retreated into the cafe.


The diners recovered their footing and came towards the arguers, but didn’t get that far. Because behind us, as we stood on the verge of rescue and the arguers on the edge of madness, there was a terrifying screech of brakes, the dragging of tyres on the gritty gravel, the clutchless engaging of gears, and a dull, deathly thud.


As one, we turned.


There was a small white car at right angles to the road. Its tyres smoked, and the driver and passenger sat perfectly still inside. There were plumes of dust and an intense rubber smell. And finally silence, other than the noise from the brakes of the vehicles slowly coming to a stop behind the scene.


We watched the driver push his door open with a creak, get out unsteadily, stand there in the doorway, and peer over the hood in shattered eyeglasses.


As a group, we all stepped forward, maybe hoping we'd see an injured dog, or a chicken, or even a cow.


That’s not what we saw.


He, the boy, was sitting still in the middle of the road, a napkin in his hand. He looked confused and dusty. He stood shakily, and began