In a tiny attic in the outskirts of an irreversibly polluted city, Bitumen and Petrol found themselves in the company of ageing, ragged tools and other Materials, including Acetone.
A once-happy couple, Bitumen and Petrol now led estranged lives. The bitterness they felt was mutual, with neither particularly appreciating the other’s presence. Conversation was bound to be an uncomfortable affair. As so often transpires in social gatherings, pleasant conversation soon veered to a game of one-upmanship.
Bitumen began enlisting his wondrous properties. When someone asked him about his parent, Crude Oil, he dismissed them nonchalantly. He was also quick to dismiss affiliations to Tar, who he tended to look upon condescendingly. An epitome of viscoelasticity, he enthralled the uninterested audience by twisting several times, often ending up in dangerous positions. When he bent his head over backwards – twice – to face his audience, he was greeted with heavily controlled displays of approval. Loath to giving up the opportunity of composing a self-directed paean, he rambled on.
When introduced to inconsequential companion aggregate materials, he assumed the persona of Asphalt. Often spotted sunning himself on roads, he was incapable of death, even when 5-tonne trailers steamrolled him, as they did regularly. Less-flexible spines went stiff with fear at this boast. Here was a formidable fellow indeed, thought some.
His smart ex abruptly broke Bitumen’s soliloquy. Bitumen wasn’t impregnable, Petrol boiled. She let out a hitherto closely held secret, much to Bitumen’s chagrin. During recreational fornications and oily sleep-overs, she had discovered that Bitumen crumbled, lost his identity and turned into his parent, Crude Oil, the following morning. Petrol confessed to feelings of sheepishness and unease, at this metamorphosis.
Stung by the open insult and with black froth brimming from his mouth, Bitumen blamed their estranged relationship on Petrol’s uncontrollable weakness for Fire. The two seemed inseparable and he had caught Petrol red-handed several times, warming progressively to Fire’s advances, eventually losing herself completely in his hot embrace.
Petrol didn’t take kindly to this allegation. She let out another brutal secret, which thoroughly exposed Bitumen. Bitumen might be very strong but a whack from a crowbar/sledgehammer, falling perpendicularly on his head, was enough to kill him.
Bitumen was stunned.
In an attempt at tangential meandering – a technique taught extensively at business schools – Bitumen changed tracks. He was the undisputed adhesive of Antiquity. He was the magic ingredient behind the Towers of Babel and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He was instrumental in immortalising Egyptian kings through Mummification. He accentuated the aesthetic beauty of women of yore, who used him as jewellery.
Did Petrol have such a colourful resume?
Under Pressure, Petrol exhibited a ready eagerness to explode. All that was needed to set her off was a spark. Bitumen’s jibe could have served the purpose…but for the intervention of Acetone.
Bitumen hated Acetone. Apart from a blow from a sledgehammer, Acetone had the power to exterminate him by dissolution. Acetone long nurtured a secret admiration for Petrol. This, of course, did not endear him to Bitumen, who seethed in silence due to Acetone’s superior powers.
Irritated at the jibe-slinging match and sensing an opportunity to attract Petrol’s affections, Acetone decided to quell tensions permanently. With an uncharacteristic display of gravitas, Acetone turned to Bitumen. With Godfatheresque menace, he reminded Bitumen of the fate that awaited him, should he, Acetone, decide to exercise his vast powers. Bitumen, unwillingly but prudently, backed down.
Petrol went weak in her liquid-y knees. She knew she could forge a useful relationship with Acetone.
…in the quiet confines of a petrol engine.