Friday, March 21, 2008

[Short Fiction] - The Ride

AS MELANCHOLY AS his feelings about his romantic life were, Deepak was never really the kind to let it get to him. Being a single guy working in a city that seemed to favor his type, his only regret however was being just that – single. He had unfortunately been unable to fish himself one of those thousands of free roaming damsels who were peppered all across that same city’s misty horizon. With his parents tucked away cozily in a sleepy neighboring city, a weekend visit to find out how they were was enough to maintain his good son status. As much as he would have probably preferred to stay with his folk, the prospect of a better paying job had been his initial incentive to move to the bigger city. As it turned, it remained the only reason he stayed on there.

Now as far as his need to find a girlfriend was concerned it wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried. Why there was that one day when he gingerly approached one of the new mint-fresh secretaries with a bizarre request in mind to strike up an equally absurd conversation. All was looking set for a natural flow of emotions when her father, the boss, walked in enquiring ‘Is everything alright, dear? No problems on your first day?’ to which the girl had coyly responded ‘No daddy. Everything is fine daddy. Thank you daddy!’ as Deepak gradually vanished from the scene without uttering a word. Or how about the other time when at an office party good old Deepak’s ‘chic-radar’ had gone off when he had seen a ‘lass in slow motion’, as he put it, and dug out his heart to give it to her right away. Only to be approached by the same perfume-breathing angel and asked ‘Excuse me, could you tell me where Sandeep is? I am his fiancé and I can’t get him on his cell!’ Deepak had murmured something incoherent and pointed her sheepishly to a drunken Sandeep who stood in the corner being silly. How on Earth such morons end up with such beauties, Deepak had wondered as he wandered off to continue fishing.

So yes, our man had had his chances with making conversations with the ladies, but sadly none of them seemed to be … well, his ‘type’. Now what was his type again? Well, someone equally silent, equally ignorant and definitely holding a PhD in ‘not knowing how to speak with the opposite sex’. What he also needed was someone who was convinced all of the above qualities did not describe her. Finding a combination of such a beauty was lot complicated than it seemed apparently.

But all said and done Deepak the brave weathered it all and survived since he was always convinced that she was out there. And the day he would find her would be the day he would stand tall and proclaim his kingdom of bliss while his single, date-less colleagues bowed down to him in helpless reverence. His little bubble of aspirations continued to fly beside him each day and despite being in the middle of what could only be described as the capital of ‘chaotic meat malls’, Deepak still managed to find peace in his bubble of silence.

You know what they say - the silence sometimes is a signal for the storm in the distance. And the same managed to happen in Deepak’s otherwise mundane and stereotypical life. His sense of calm with his single-hood met an abruption one rainy evening.

The skies had opened all gates that night with a vengeance. Each droplet of rain was being shot down like an arrow from Heaven out to get its target on first impact. The overflowing drains and horrendously congested traffic was becoming proof of a major whiplash on the way. The photographs God was taking of his scattered creation below were only increasing with each passing minute. People returning home from work or, in some cases, people going to their night-shift jobs were hopelessly praying that the galactic ordeal would somehow cease. But there hardly seemed any chance of that happening soon. Deepak was busy exchanging a 100 rupee note for some 10s at the security gate when yet another thunderbolt flashed across the skies.

‘Big rain on its way, sa’ab!’ yelled out the security guard from behind a pair of bulging glasses.

‘Yes! I need to head home before it gets worse! I never have change to give to that fruit fellow near my house, you know. He always has the best apples! That’s why I am making you give up your precious notes!’ screamed back Deepak from atop his 1997 model Kinetic Honda ZX, wrapped in an old winter jacket and armed with an awkward smile. He quickly pressed the ignition button and off he went to be caught in the insanity that was the city’s traffic.

Within minutes he found himself honking incessantly and weaving his way past the serpentine muddle. As four-wheelers and suicidal auto-rickshaw drivers whizzed past him spraying his trousers with muddy water, he continued steering ahead towards the one place he could not wait to get to sooner – his one bedroom apartment in a dingy residential complex at the end of the city. During the waiting minutes at red lights, even in the traffic’s cacophony and meaningless mayhem, he would never miss a chance to look at couples riding together with their bodies stuck one behind the other. Just the thought of being so close to a woman gave him imaginative pleasure. His hopes of bagging a girl for himself only got more fodder on such occasions as he giggled to himself in hopeless yearning. Ah! Must be quite a feel, he would think before being honked at violently by some goon waiting behind him thus bringing an end to his mental journey amongst the roses.

But there was something different about this particular night, reader. It wasn’t that Deepak had never gone home in a rain or ogled at unsuspecting fellow riders. Despite the familiar feel of that night there was something more to it that he could not quite catch. Needless to say given the relentless interruption of the rain there was no way he could have guessed what was about to happen next.

Home was near. Deepak had just spent about 45 minutes in a grueling battle for space in the cratered roads of the city that were now overflowing cesspools of variable depth. About fifteen more minutes and he would be back in his haven of dim lights and overcooked food. Ah! Paradise, he thought as he made a steep curve that led onto the market where he intended to buy his precious apples. Just as he was about to kick up the gas he noticed a figure standing on the side of that isolated street waving at him to stop. The continuous downpour was making it difficult for Deepak to decide what to do with this hitchhiker. But the moment the headlights of his rusty vehicle fell on the person’s face…he knew he was going to stop.

Covered in a dirty-yellow raincoat from head to toe with a wet strand of lose hair plastered to the forehead stood a body with a pretty feminine face attached to its top. He instantly noticed the perfectly placed nose-ring which he had always found a major turn-on in girls and the ever so subtle green-colored bindi that shone like a star in the rain of lights. He slowed down and went a little further than where the woman stood. She galloped to his side and frowned to make herself audible.

‘Sorry! I need to get to the next bus station as no buses are stopping here! Could you please drop me there?’

Deepak knew his response would always be a ‘yes’ but somehow felt the need to ask her, ‘Next bus stop? You mean the one where 345D stops? That one?’

‘Yes! That’s the one. The last bus is in fifteen minutes and I have a long way to go…so please…?’

He could smell cloves in her breathe. She must have been returning from a dinner party, he thought. Something to ask her later during the ride, he figured.

‘Sure! Come…’ he said signaling his head to the pillion seat that had never been blessed by a feminine derriere in all its existence. The moment the contact took place he could feel even his bike shiver in excitement as much as he did. She did not touch him yet managed to get on behind using the spare wheel attached to the back of the vehicle. However her thighs managed to make contact with his as she settled down comfortably behind him.

‘Damn it!’ he cursed himself ‘The stupid wheel should be removed as soon as possible. This way a future episode might lead the lady to hold him to get on the vehicle. For now this amount of physical contact should do….’ he said consoling himself.

Soon the odd couple was on its way. Deepak knew that the bus stop would be at least a kilometer away from where he was headed but of course, had that place been even in the next country he would have given the girl a ride regardless. This part of the city was reasonably quieter than the main areas so the prospect of a conversation, despite the loud downpour, was in the offing. But as always, Deepak was at a loss of words. He wasn’t sure what to ask her. ‘So…are you married?’ was the first question that popped into his head but he dismissed it thinking it would be quite inappropriate to ask her that. How about, ‘The rear wheel is a little shaky. Can you please put your arms around me instead?’ Oh no! That would make her panic and maybe yell at passers by for help! No…he wasn’t too excited about a prospect of getting his derriere handed to him on such an eventful night. He knew he had to start with something more generic. And so finally after a few minutes of careful pondering, he did.

‘Some rain isn’t it?’ he said looking over his shoulder.

‘Yes! Unexpected shower today…’ she said blowing clove fragrance into his face.

‘Actually my friend was supposed to pick me but she had a flat tire on the way. That’s why I now have to take the bus back home’ she continued as she punched something into her cell phone. He could hear the ‘beep beep’ of her fingers and immediately imagined her trying to get in touch with her boyfriend or husband or someone who will definitely ensure there was no chance for him with her. ‘Morons!!!’ he cursed the whole men folk mentally.

‘Yeah…dad? Don’t worry. I got a lift from someone. Yeah yeah…no no…no problem. It is fine. He is dropping me to the next stop. I will take the bus from there. Yeah yeah…it is OK. Yeah…OK…bye…bye...’ and she hung up.

‘Ah!’ Deepak smiled to himself ‘…finally some faith in men. It was her father! Thank God. This means she is definitely not married. Wait! What if she is … and she is visiting him! Damn it! I should have checked her feet for a toe ring!’

‘So….your father is relieved?’ he asked her again only to get silence as a response.

‘Yeah?’ he asked her again making sure he could get a glimpse of her face in the rear view mirror.

She shook her head in approval. He began wondering why she had decided not to continue the conversation. Good lord! Was it his odor? Did he not smell right? He definitely remembered using deodorant that day…but wait…that was in the morning! No! Maybe he smelt like garbage after a long day at work. Sigh…stupid deodorants, he cursed and drove on.

Before he could ask her another question he realized she was punching numbers again. And he was convinced this time it was to her a) boyfriend or b) husband or c) boyfriend who is someone else’s husband…no no…poor girl. She seems quite civilized. She would never date someone in a marriage. But who knows, girls these days are so unpredictable, he continued thinking before he heard the girl speak again.

‘Yeah…Seema? Hi! Where are you now? Oh yeah? OK good! No no…don’t worry. I managed to get a ride. No not an auto…some gentleman…yeah yeah…’

‘Ah! Some gentleman!’ he thought to himself ‘Wow…she thinks I am a gentleman. Of course I am. I value women and appreciate them. I treat them with nothing but respect and kindness. Of course I am a gentleman. Nice to hear it from a girl though and…’

‘Stop here please!’ she shrieked just as Deepak was about to wander off into his thoughts.

‘What!’ he thought. The damn bus stop is already here! Good lord!

And sure enough. There it was. Standing in the middle of nowhere with a few bystanders and families waiting for that last ride of the day.

Deepak slowed down and stopped at the side of the road. She got down, using the spare wheel again, and adjusted her hand bag.

‘Thank you so much! I truly appreciate this’ she said looking him directly in the eye. The rain had thinned down a bit and he noticed how beautiful she really was. Her soft cheeks, her deep dark brown eyes, her slightly pudgy nose that stuck out because of that amazingly well aligned nose ring and her genuinely mesmerizing smile.

‘Oh….fine…’ is all he could get out of him as the girl suddenly noticed the bus honking its way in.

‘Just in time! See you…bye!’ she said before scampering away into the crowd with cloves in her mouth and Deepak’s heart in her hands. As he stood by and watched her take a seat in the bus and vanish in an ocean of shivering lights, he couldn’t help but smile at himself for such an amazing adventure. He had half a mind to follow the bus and see where she goes, but somehow he couldn’t muster the courage to do so. It would be quite un-gentlemanly like, he deduced.

He arrived home that night wet with mud and love. He just could not stop smiling as he pulled in and walked up to his fifth floor of eternal joy. He opened the door and switched on the lights and the first thing that came to his mind were … ‘Apples!’ He suddenly realized he had forgotten to get his favorite fruits that night. But the following second he did not care much for it. He was just gloating in the effect Ms. Pudgy Nose had left him with. He started undressing slowly singing a song to himself ‘…zindagi bhar nahin….bhoolegi woh barsaaat ki raat….ek anjaan haseena se…mulakaat ki raat…’ and started wiggling out of his pants. Just as he was about to take out his wallet he was shocked to realize it wasn’t there! His song became an abrupt murmur and finally stopped as he started frantically looking around for his wallet. No – nowhere to be seen. He fished out his bag, retraced his steps and even went down to his bike. But the wallet was nowhere to be found.

‘Aha! That girl!’ he screamed out loud. ‘Damn it!’ he said kicking his bike in fury. ‘No wonder she kept me distracted with all that talk and thigh grazing and clove magic….aaaaah….what a fool I have been….God….’

Deepak was seriously furious. He closed his eyes and re-designed the scene again.

‘She gets behind me. Manages to maintain a strong thigh-presence during the ride. Also manages to keep blabbering to God knows who without allowing me to speak even once. And finally takes off with four-hundred rupees and a hundred made into parts of 10 each. Totally five hundred rupees gone. Not to mention my company’s photo ID, my credit card, my favorite Superman sticker, my lucky dollar…all gone. Years of cherished memories vanished – just like that…..’

Deepak sat down helplessly on his bed not knowing what to do next. ‘Women…’ he said before going on to end the rather eventful night with a broken heart and a bankrupt pocket.

The following morning he wore a rather drab look. He knew he had been exposed to the one most amazing yet tragic experiences at the same time. What he was unsure of was which part of it to cherish – the clove filled love or the pocket picking shove. He arrived at work with several things on his mind. The first thing he needed was to go to the bank and get some money since he had none on him. He also needed to contact his credit card company and let them know what had happened. He couldn’t do anything about his lucky dollar or his Superman sticker and that is something he regretted.

‘How were those apples yesterday, sa’ab?’ jabbed the security guard as he passed him by. ‘Oh…didn’t get around to buying them,’ responded Deepak as he continued walking into the building. ‘I didn’t imagine you would sa’ab’, shouted back the guard ‘since you zoomed off yesterday without even checking that you dropped your wallet! Here it is. Please make sure it has everything sa’ab’, said the guard with a grin shining on his face.

And just like that – Deepak was in love again.

© 2008 Shashi Krishna. All Rights Reserved.

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