Dedicated to a new friend and a few old enemies.
"I am he that aches with amorous love;
Does the earth gravitate? Does not all matter, aching, attract all matter?
So the Body of me, to all I meet, or know."
― Walt Whitman
It was Friday evening and was already the time of the day when the birds started migrating back to their nests. The glaring sun receded as the sky took over the color of a ripened orange. Dusk was setting in and the SEZ bustled with activity. The weekend was almost always a dramatic event as every employee in their respective firms basked in happiness in a near soiree that resembled a posse of school children.
She emerged out of her office in a totally out-of-place traditional costume, complete with jewelry that ranged from earrings to the whatnots of an ethnic ensemble. Stares ensued as co-workers jeered and mock-teased her as she valiantly explained to them that she was heading for her bestfriend's Sangeeth that gave her no time to even head back home and change.
"What yaar! I am already feeling strange...Give it a break..I'll kill you on Monday!" she continued grinning like an idiot making empty threats at all her colleagues who wolfed at her making her feel more moronic than she intended to feel.
He revved his bike and waited for her, asking her one more time if she needed a lift to the function hall that was situated on the outskirts of the city. She politely declined his offer not because she didn't like him- she liked him too much, that was the problem, and for some reason she felt that the exhibition of love was in other words, the biggest exhibition of weakness. He pleaded with her again, but even after his trite persuasion, she continued to wait for the cab that she had booked earlier. He continued to flirt with her and his humorous nonchalance always amused her. But she didn't want to let him come too close to her heart. She had bitter experiences in the past and she couldn't afford another heartbreak.
Not now. Not now. Maybe later, sweetheart.
"Are you sure you don't want me to drop you? My bike is begging you!" he flirted again.
"You are so cheesy, you know that?" she replied suppressing a smile.
"Everything is better when served with cheese!" he pleaded innocently.
"Give it up already. Your jokes are no longer funny, their are puny. They make me cringe" she said, secretly bemused at his erogenous sense of the mundane world.
He finally gave up as he saw the sole taxi appear from the boisterously wide road paving towards the SEZ.
"You'll be safe, right? Call me once you reach the place." he said peeping into the cab's window as he adjusted his helmet and kickstarted the bike.
"Yeah. I will catch up with you later" she said and felt a sudden sense of longing and fear that he was leaving her.
Its just a simple cab-drive. Forget him, go ahead and enjoy.
"Take care, okay?" he said and the masculine sound of the bike changing from Neutral to the first gear buzzed in her ears.
"Bye" she said betraying no emotion whatsoever.
She looked at the cab driver and instinctively felt bizarrely eerie. His eyes were visible in the rearview mirror and they were stone-cold, they were lifeless and distant. Her body started to assimilate an abstract sense of emotion- an emotion she never felt before, a subliminal primal fear. His eyes, they were dramatically undramatic. He continued to drive as he looked once or twice into the rearview, perhaps to catch a glimpse of the cars in the background or subconsciously trying to induce an unspeakable fear in her. Her heart skipped a beat whenever he looked at her in the mirror but she remained as calm as possible. She noticed his hair, it was long and well kempt. Not a taxi driver's hair. She even noticed his flamboyant wristwatch. Not a watch a cabbie wears.
"Do you have a lighter?" she asked him, patting on his back as he continued driving.
He did not reply, he was zen-like in passing her the zippo he had in the glove box. Certainly not a transporter's lighter!
She tried to appear as calm as possible and lit a camel cigarette from flip-up pack and took a deep drag filling the cab with smoke.
"Bhaiyya, how far is the place?" she asked him trying to be as unimposing for some reason as possible.
"Few Kilometres more" he said without even batting an eyelid.
She was an alien to the city. The culture shock she had expected when she first arrived was at best, minimal. The people were friendly and they weren't even remotely xenophobic. The only problem was with the continual stares. But then men stared everywhere. They were born to make women uncomfortable. With the seething and distraught act that happened in the Nation's capital few weeks ago, the safety of women had become a burning issue. Everyone pressed on the need to rope in measures to decrease the barbaric acts of crimes against women but very few voiced their opinions about the biggest problem of it all - the manic male psychology. Unless the problem was addressed from the grassroots level, there wasn't going to be any paradigm shift in the attitude of the people.
"I have to take a detour" the cab driver suddenly spoke shaking her off from the Femina-induced thoughts of hers.
His voice. Not a hint of requisition. His tone. Authoritative and dominant, as if he owns me.
"Why? I am getting late!" she nearly shrieked, maintaining her voice as distant from fear as possible.
"It will take five minutes" he said again not even bothered to appear apologetic.
The fear came back again. This time in monstrous proportions. She clutched her handbag and she was reminded that a can of pepper-spray which was unopened, was inside her laptop bag. She also knew who to call in case if something went wrong, which she hoped wouldn't.
I should've just taken the goddamn bike-ride. Why did I care about the ego?
She kept murmuring a hymn that apparently satiated a God she believed in, silently hoping he would come to her rescue. Or maybe it wasn't a big deal afterall! The taxi finally stopped at crossroads which was bustling with activity. She lit another cigarette as she noticed a well built male in his early twenties who was just like the cabdriver- well kempt and dressed in a non-airy way. She flicked ash from the rolled down window as she saw the cabdriver and his "friend" engage in a conversation in the native language.
How I should've just learnt the language in thirty days as the book had claimed. Holy shit.
He sat in the seat adjacent to the drivers' and the driver restarted the engine. She noticed that the cabdriver's friend had a huge suitcase which further piqued her fear. She navigated through her laptop bag opening the polythene casing on the pepper spray and she knew as long as the spray was there, she could atleast defend herself. The driver continued to drive on the highway which was en route to her destination. She wished she had some kind of company to atleast help herself keep calm. Her mother had forewarned her against roaming around alone, but she dismissed her fears.
She realized that they had crossed the function-hall just few seconds after the car swooshed by it. She now was dazed and perplexed, failing to understand what to do. She held her long finger on the nozzle of the spray and another finger dialed a call to him.
The pepper-spray would work and he would come on his bike to rescue her. Who said, the prince arrived only on a horse! It will be okay.
He lifted her call and she didn't react immediately. She just held the phone with the call connected in her fist. She knew one sound and the two men would react pompously and prosaically. All fucking men. Maniacs. Bastards.
The cab finally stopped in an empty land adjacent to the highway. First, the friend got down and followed by the cabdriver.
"Please step out of the car" he said as if meekly ordering her. She knew what would happen if she did so.
"We are requesting you ma'am. Please do as you are told!" said the friend, flicking his hair as it silkily fell on his sulky eyes.
"Step back assholes. I will fucking pepper-spray your eyes!" she screamed, too stunned to even react.
Why hadn't I called for help when they had passed the place!? But who would notice a single woman in a taxi which rode at 100kmph?
"Ma'am. We are requesting you!" said the driver again, politely, with indifference.
"Come near me, dare you! You jerks! Come on!" she replied raging with anger, thinking of the girl who was brutally gang-raped in the hellhole core of the nation's capital. A strange numbness enveloped her. The call on her phone continued as she could hear the voice of her man Friday from the other side.
"I..I..am...This highway...Please come....Near..The hall...Please..Come soon" she said into the phone still seated inside the cab and felt her resistance finally fracturing as her eyes were giving up the fear.
"I'll come soon. Don't worry! Please. I'll be there!" he replied from the other end.
Please come. Please come soon. Please. It will be over before you arrive. Please.
As she spoke into the phone and placed the still running call inside her bag, the driver spoke again.
"Ma'am. Please step out of the car!" he said now getting visibly angry.
"No! You bastards! You can't get away with this!" she screamed at them, holding back her tears which she hadn't given up control on, still.
The cabdriver's friend brought out a glistening knife which resembled the one that she had in her chummery and which she used to mince meat into fine little pieces. She knew it was the one shot she had at their eyes. One fucking spray and they'd go blind atleast till they found water or till they found a doctor. In a jail.
She sobbed, strangely. She felt defeated. She felt as if all the control in her life had been taken away from her and she spoke sobbing "Why bastards? Why? What have I done to you?!"
"Ma'am. This is the last time I am warning you. I will have to use force!" the cabbie's friend spoke for some reason violently shivering.
"FUCK YOU! Dare you come near me, I'll show you what hell feels like!" she screamed violently.
The cabdriver opened her door finally and she pressed the nozzle with all her might, straight into his eyes.
He was blinded immediately and he screamed with pain.
"What the fuck!" said the friend as he yanked the cabdriver into his arms. She stood outside the car with her laptop bag.
"You won't get away with this! I have your cab number. I will report you assholes!" she said surprised at her own confidence and she continued to hold the spray in their direction.
"Sister! You have to listen to us! Please listen to us!" the cab driver spoke shaking and rubbing his eyes that had metamorphosed into a scarlet red.
"We have no intention to rape you! You have to understand" the cabdriver continued, "I love him" he said pointing towards his friend.
"You what!?? she screamed, feeling an absurd understanding of the hazing situation
"Yes. I love him and we love each other. Our families would never accept us. They are after us, they want to kill us. We decided to elope. Me and him. We decided to rob you and just dump this car here and catch a bus to somewhere." the friend finally spoke in an angry, yet effeminate way.
"What....What are you...What are you talking about?" she asked finally a numbness in her throat.
"We need money... Sister...We need money... I love him.... We thought we could steal... You happened to come as a choice....We planned to steal your jewelry, your bag, your phone and run away. Please, sister. Please. Please. We aren't thieves. Don't report us to the authorities. We'll drop you at your place. Please. Please....." the friend pleaded with her, throwing the knife to the ground.
They are amateurs. They don't even know how to use a knife.
There was a sudden calmness as she could listen to faint sobs of the friend and the cabdriver. She collected herself and spoke, "Listen. You drop me onto the road..." she said.. "Right now!"
"Okay ma'am!" the friend spoke as he bustled his lover onto the front seat.
She picked her phone and spoke to her friend who was on call still, riding.
"Pick me up on this highway....Yeah...There is a turnpike...Yeah, you can see a small signboard...Yes, there is a petrol station...Okay, I will wait there..." she said to her guy on the phone.
She looked at them both as he started the engine.
"Give him some water to drink and wash his face, you fool!" she screamed at them.
He obliged and burst into tears.
"You both are stupid? Do you know that? Your cab service would have tracked you both down anyway" she said intrigued by their love and foolishness.
"I am sorry ma'am...Please....Please....Please don't...Police" he said again driving towards the petrol station that was situated on the highway.
"You are in love. You have done nothing wrong. I don't know how to say this, but you'll be together." she said taking out few notes from her purse, "I just have little money left with me, but anyway, take it." and handed over the money to them as he stopped the car.
She waited in the car for him to arrive on his bike. The cabdriver continued to cry out in pain and she rolled her eyes and felt strange that he was in such pain. She got down from the cab when she saw him on his bike and asked the two people in the car to get going. Firstly to a hospital, then to greener pastures, as they willed.
"Don't be afraid of people. Because in the end what finally matters is you both, okay?" she said philosophically, wondering how much of her preachy speech really mattered.
He got down from the bike and went up to hug her. She pushed him back and said,
"Bastard! You want to hug me, eh?" she said.
"I guess! I was really really really scared!" he said.
"Me too...But I realized something during this weird comedy of terror!" she said
"What?" he asked
"I love you...."
Don't stereotype. Not all men are rapists.