The Rickshaw Driver

Underneath the setting sun, stands a brightly painted yellow and green tri-wheeled vehicle shamelessly exposing the sponge beneath its disheveled and wounded seat. This injury, being way down the priority list for a first aid, doesn’t deter the rickshaw from flaunting off the poster of blue-eyed Sonakshi Sinha at its back. Along with this badly battered and yet arrogantly grumpy thing, stands a grumpier man, the driver of this auto-rickshaw who is too crossed to comment on the crimson sky or be aware of how he has been scratching his groin ceaselessly for the last five minutes.

He scoffs at the memory of his miserable day and puts the paan in his mouth hoping that it would distract him from his foul mood. But even that high can’t stop him from thinking about the dreadfulness of the dusty streets or the burning heat of the sun or the cacophonous horns of the cars or the irritating beggars and the policemen. He thinks of his most frequent customers – the vendors who stink of fish, the maids who don’t know how to sit silently or the ladies who can spend 5000 bucks on wallets without complaining but will start a war for that extra 10 bucks he asked for.

He is pissed at the garbage heap nearby, at the receding effect of his paan, at the stinking wall where he would himself be peeing and at the people around; each and every one of them. His back aches as he had been constantly sitting and driving. His eyes hurt he had been staring nonstop at the road. He was nearly hit by a car today. The driver! That cunt!
Kya Madam! Aapko dikhta nahi kya?” he had yelled at her.
In return, she had howled back. Her voice lacked the usual sophistication of those English speaking ladies. It was high pitched, capable of rupturing every eardrum in the radius of twelve feet. She screamed and her voice stung without a single trace of guilt or shame in it. This aggravated him further. He was the one who could have got killed. He should be shouting like a madman. Furious and helpless, he drove away.

His head aches. He feels queasy. Why did he think of that woman? He needs some tobacco. He searches for the packet in his trousers but finds nothing but crumpled papers. His head throbs harder.

He starts driving looking for his most trusted medicine and that’s when he catches her glimpse. He stops and shouts “Bolo madam?”. The girl asks back, “Athwa?” He suddenly recalls that he had called it a day.
Baithiye…” he agrees anyway.
Jitna aapko thik lage.

Usually, he would have asked for seventy but he doesn’t argue. He pulls the lever and the engine roars back to life. He makes sure that the rearview mirror is adjusted in such a way that it’s easy to steal glances at her. She is fair and slim. She is looking away at the buildings passing by, lost in her own thoughts. She is not texting or talking on the phone like people usually do. She is there as the part of the background. Her presence strangely calms him. He carefully prolongs his glances. He notices the light kajal in her eyes, her black bra strap that’s slightly peeking through her kurti, her eyebrows beautifully shaped, her hands clasped with one another resting on her knees, the faint wrinkles on her lips, the tiny spots on her cheeks…
“Student?” He asks.
She nods.

The streetlight falls on her face. He forgets about his addiction; about how he had been missing his high. He forgets about the witch who had almost killed him.

“You have a very good character, I can tell that…” he says trying his hard to come up with an appropriate compliment.
When she doesn’t say anything, he continues, “You don’t speak much. Aapka nature bahut accha hai. Ekdum shant… ”
The girl doesn’t speak.
“No, but really, people like you are rare.”
Bhaiya, yahi pe utaar dijiye…”
Nai, Yahin chalega.”

He stops. The girl gives him the money and walks away.
He stares at her till she disappears in the streets. His hands find a packet of tobacco in his breast pocket. Surprised, he hurriedly empties the content in his mouth. The taste disgusts him. “Bitch!” he shouts as he spits on the ground and drives away.



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