Our eyes met again.
I hurriedly looked away, while an eerie feeling engulfed me, feeling his eyes still on me. Shuddering as I drove away, I decided once again that I will take the longer route to the bus stop starting tomorrow.
Tomorrow finds me hurrying my baby along as she jumps and skips to the car. I check my watch. Nope, no time to take the longer route. Its pouring heavily and I can barely see a feet ahead. I take a deep breath, and take the shortcut to her bus stop through the slum at the back of our society. The slum provides us with all the work force that run societies like ours – the bais (housemaids), the dhobis (washer men), the drivers and watchmen. There are also daily labourers, who congregate on the roads every morning, I presume waiting for contractors to come hire them for the day. There are always men huddled together in groups every morning all along that narrow road that I use as a shortcut for reaching my daughter’s bus stop. There are tiny cramped houses with peeling paint and flapping clotheslines almost on top of each other spilling onto the road on both sides so that you feel boxed in. Women can be found filling water in vessels or washing up right outside their tiny houses, practically on the road. The rain has turned an open garbage dump nearby into a stinking decaying mess and there are children rollicking in the slush and the puddles that have formed all over the pot holed road. Every morning when I enter the area, I feel a familiar wariness creep over me, as if I shouldn’t be here, that I stick out here like a sore thumb. And I drive extra cautiously so as not to hit any wayward children, staring straight ahead trying not to have eye contact with anyone. Lest they see the disgust and the fear in mine. Except, he saw me.
He was one of them, dressed in a cheap shirt and trousers and waiting. Waiting, and looking. One day when momentarily I had forgotten my rule of not looking around, I caught him looking at me. He was clean shaven and his clothes were as clean as they could be, though rumpled. But his look had me unsettled. What was going on in his mind? Was he right now thinking about the unfairness of it all? Was my presence there an everyday reminder of all that he could probably never have? Hurriedly I looked straight ahead again and adjusted my top. Was I dressed inappropriately? I felt vulnerable..
“Ouch! Sorry sweetie” I said to my daughter as the car lurched over a pothole I could not see due to the lashing rain. My car harrumphed like a wheezing horse and then spluttered and died. Just like that. Suddenly the only noise I could hear was the steady beating of the rain and my little girl squealing “yayy muddy puddle…” Stumped, I kept staring at the steering wheel as if somehow that could get the car started, when a tapping at my window made me jump.
It was him.
I froze. No, no this can’t be happening to me.. My vision blurred as my mind raced through a hundred different possibilities none of which ended well…I frantically searched in my bag for my mobile to call my husband when there was a louder tap on the window. I spun towards the window expecting to meet leering menacing eyes. Instead I saw questioning eyes full of concern. What? Have I fallen into a delirium? He seemed to be saying something and beckoning towards the back of the car. With my heart beating loudly enough for the whole locality to hear, I slid the window open an inch. “Start the car, we will push. Your wheels are stuck in a pothole” He had to repeat it again, slower this time, since I was displaying all the understanding of a gargoyle. Somehow I managed to nod, and turned the key in the ignition. It was then I noticed that a few other of those men were all standing at the back of the car ready to push.
Ever get the feeling you are part of something unreal? That’s what I felt when a bunch of strange men I wouldn’t generally associate with heave- hoed me out of that hole with my little girl playing the cheer leader. As they came around to the front, I still couldn’t get up the courage to get out of the car, but I felt relief and gratitude wash over me. I tried to put all of my feeling in my “thank you so much” when blushing, he said “Didi, my wife works in your society looking after a kid. Roma? You had given your cycle to her?”
I started to turn back home with my delighted daughter, too late to catch her bus, a multitude of thoughts welling in my mind, but most of all knowing I wouldn’t feel unsafe on that route again.