Saturday, April 11, 2015

Short story: The Pillion ride.

The movie was to start in half hour. It is late evening and street lights have just been turned on. I had just started from my room. I had to walk nearly 2 kilometers from my home to reach the bus stop. From there it would take another half hour by bus to reach the movie hall. My friend called me from the movie hall and calmly told me that he won’t bother coming out of the movie to give me ticket if I was late. I increased my pace. As always, when in a hurry, I felt, I forgot something. I checked my pants pockets.
Wallet! Check.
Mobile! Check.
House keys! Check.
Oh wait! Did I lock the front door? I pressed the rewind button in my mind. I saw myself coming out of the shower, tripping while trying to put the pants on and to comb my hair simultaneously, grabbing the keys from the holder and .. Blank. Damn! Just the part I want to remember would get erased from my memory. What are the odds somebody would try to steal on that one day when you forget to lock the door? Aahh, I will take the risk. Well, it’s a Mohan lal movie and I don’t want to miss any part. Especially, his introduction scene! That’s after all the priority. I consoled myself thinking that locking the door after grabbing the key would be part of my muscle memory by now and I should have locked the door.
It was getting darker with each step I took. My leg muscles seemed to be pissed at having asked to work so soon after cooling down in the shower and protested by small twitches, making it harder to walk fast. Crickets were singing away without any inhibitions. I was hoping for some auto rickshaws to pass by. They never come when you need them!
I kept checking my watch, though I couldn’t make out the dial in the dim street light. What’s the deal with these street lights anyway? They are placed at an interval of 100 to 150 meters and their light is powerful enough to just throw a halo around the bulb. And some bulbs have not been working for a long time. Scores of insects are merrily flying around each bulb. Wait, so, this could be the actual purpose of street lights. To distract the flies from the headlights of two -wheelers’ and thus to save a motorist, from in turn, getting distracted by these insects, smudging on to their faces, when they are riding by. Hmm.. I should tell this to someone.
Just then I heard the distinctive sound of a Bajaj Chetak scooter from a distance. Oh, it could be that guy who lives near the bus stop. He is a veterinarian. He has got very curly hair and sports a thick mustache. Crap, what was his name? I have exchanged smiles many times when he has passed by my home. I have seen him wait for the school bus with his kids in the bus stop when I used to ride my cycle to school. We have attended marriage receptions of neighbours’ and have exchanged pleasantries. Though not ‘immediate’, he is kind-of-a-neighbour. And in a village like mine, everyone is supposed to know everyone.
The scooter was getting nearer and nearer. He still had his lights on ’bright’ and it was flashing on to my eyes. I couldn’t really make out his face. But could see the outline of the helmet he was wearing. I waved my hand as a plea for a ‘lift’. He slowed down and stopped a bit ahead of where I was standing.
“Are you going by the bus stop? Can you drop me there? I need to catch a bus to the town.”
He didn’t take off his helmet. But he turned his face to me. “Sure sure. Hop on.”
My eyes were still sore from the glare of the bright light. So I smiled in gratitude to the area where I presumed his eyes would be.
“Thanks a lot. I’m in a rush and no autos were passing by.”I spoke loudly as I was sitting behind him. I thought he didn’t hear it over the helmet but then he nodded. He resumed his driving and I looked at my watch but couldn’t make out the time. It would take at least five minutes to reach the bus stop. I was thinking whether I should talk to him. Wouldn’t it be rude if I don’t? After all he stopped because he recognized me. I still couldn’t remember his name.
“So, are you getting back home?” I asked. Yes, pretty lame since he is going in the direction of bus stop which is near his home. But it’s better than the awkward silence.
“No, am going to the medical store. “He said and I noticed a distinct hoarseness in his voice. So that’s why I couldn’t place his voice.
Since am going to medical school and I guess he would know that, I thought it’s an obligation to give my opinion. “Yeah, your voice is hoarse. How long has it been this way?”
“Three – four days. I thought it would get better by its own. But it’s not improving”
I have been in such situations before, where I should not talk like a lay man but give a reply worthy of a med student and non committal enough, to not name a drug. “You should take saline gargles and drink only hot water. You know. They say, if you take medicines, you will get better in 7 days and if you don’t, then in a week”. I sat back and straightened my back, smiling and admiring my own ‘coolness’ quotient. He just nodded his head and gave an ‘audible’ smile.
Again the silence! It would take another five more minutes to get to the bus stop. “So.. How are your children?” I asked, in want of any topic to have a conversation. I really don’t know his kids. I have seen them with him but never really noticed. I was wondering if he had two or three kids, when he replied “she is fine. Exams are starting next week. So, busy with that.”
Most of the middle aged people, I have noticed, have their calendar based on their children’s academic schedule. And they tend to expect everybody else they meet to follow the same. Since I am now in college, it’s a different case. I don’t even know what month it is now. Or even what day of the week!
“My neighbour, Mr.Gopal, he have wanted to meet you. Something about his cows and the dung colour bein-“
“Do you recognize me? I live near the bakery”, he said interrupting me.
“Yeah, yeah. I know you. What a question? How many times have we met!” I said laughing. Many ask this the first time they meet me after a long time like when I come home for vacation. They know I haven’t ‘forgotten’ them, but they still ask anyway. “But are you staying near the bakery?”
“I moved there, like, few months back. I was in the north”, he replies. North! What does he mean north?
We turn a corner and I can see the bus stop. There are a couple of people waiting. He slows the scooter and stops it near the waiting shed. I get down and look at my watch. I have plenty of time left and wouldn’t have to hurry anymore. I smiles at him and thank him. He takes off his helmet and a bearded man smiles back at me. “I shall see you around” he says. I have never seen this man before. He puts his helmet back on while I look at him with my mouth gaping at him. He rides away and I can hear a bus honking to let us know its imminent arrival.

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