Her hand frantically waved to catch the rickshaw-wallah’s attention. She was wearing white and didn’t want to get drenched in this godforsaken, unseasonal rain. There is a time and place for everything, after all.
Her usual patience with people who do menial jobs was wearing out. She hated mundane, routine jobs. Her hatred actually fueled her respect for people who sold railway tickets and put sandwiches together.
But, right now, she just about controlled herself from joining the “curse every rick-driver and CCD waiter” frustrated-Mumbaikar association. She smiled at her willpower as another taxi driver refused to help a lady in distress. Not bitching about everyday life felt so good. Yet “whoever said, being a woman gets you preferential treatment, didn’t know nothing!” she muttered.
“Yay! This one’s stopping.” Did he look at her too intently? Naaaah, her paranoia was doing overtime. Doc wanted her to be a little less suspicious. It was tough to ignore her basic instinct.
And she did look pretty today; prettier than usual. Her skin was even more inviting with raindrops falling on it, through damp strands of hair.
“भैय्या, छोटी ड़ोंग्री?”
“सिद्धार्थ नगर के पीछे?”
She nodded, unintentionally sprinkling some raindrops from her hair on his face.
“ना, ना udhar रात के time नहीं जाता मैं”
“क्या भैय्या, डरते हो?”
She slipped into the back.
“चलो अब, नहीं तो police थाने चलो. बस हुआ तुम लोगों का नाटक”
“please मैं request करता हूं, force मत करो”
“हाँ हाँ request rejected , चलो अब”
“ठीक है, मैने warning दी थी, बाद मैं मत बोलना” He never understood why these girls were so aggressive. It made them and their insistence, irresistible.
“Ok-ok, meter डालो, आप हो ना मेरी safety के लिए” She bit her lip. She always forgot to avoid sarcasm with strangers. Did she spot something odd in his warning? Did his grip on the handle tighten visibly, as if he was trying to control? Control what? Anger? Shhhush…paranoia.
It was weird. Why was this well-built guy, who looked street-smart, so weary of a lonely street? She shook it off, none of her business, anyway.
He pursed his lips, tense. He didn’t like it when people took his composure to mean fear. Which man would?
She took the newspaper lying on the seat. “आज का है क्या?” She didn’t listen to the answer. She wasn’t looking at the paper either. Rape, robbery, fake salespeople, cricket, Priyanka Chopra and so on. She didn’t miss much, did she? Or did she?
* * *
It felt lovely – the rain on her face. She ducked her face out to feel a splash. Make-up be damned. What peace, what serenity despite the polluted drizzle.
“Madam, आ गया सिद्धार्थ नगर” The motor turned off and she jolted out of her reverie.
“huh? क्या मतलब?! अजीब आदमी हो यार. मैं वहाँ से होकर अकेली जाऊँ?” She realized it wouldn’t work, as soon as she said it. She tried the other route.
“भैय्या please end तक छोड दो, मैं half -return देती हूँ. देखो ना सारे कपड़े भी गीले हो रखें हैं”
“वो तो दिख ही रहा है” Was he staring at her from the left-side mirror? Naaaah. She didn’t like it, when she thought the whole world was checking her out. She moved a bit to the side, just in case. The engine noise didn’t bring relief. She was uneasy.
* * *
“आप ये जगह से डरते हो ना, फिर जल्दी चलो” The twilight light, and the empty corner became too discomforting.
He turned around. The rickshaw was motionless and noiseless. She saw his blood-shot eyes for the first time. How had she missed them? He threw the red-and-white, checkered scarf around his neck; took his badge off.
Beyond panic, an ugly thought crossed her mind. Naaaaa…
“अब क्या जल्दी madam…
* * *
The newspaper had an unusual interview. Of a rapist. A convicted criminal who had served his sentence. About the success of a remedial program he was in. Basic instincts die hard. She murdered hers too easily.