Friday 13 October 2017


You were so brave that night, I'll never forget. Single-handedly you took on the driver of the 'shared' auto to assert that the correct fare was five, not ten rupees. An icy bead was frozen at the tip of your nose, your wrinkles subtly frowning at it not to act up in front of strangers, withholding it within their folds. 'This is what I always pay,' you said. I looked with awe at your mouseholed monkey-cap head that remained proudly erect while saying it, 'This is what I always pay.' You stood your ground, not moving away till you had made your point, though you could have moved away, now that you stood on your own ground.

The rest of us sat quiet in the auto, breathing a bit easier in the vacant space you had left behind. It was soon going to descend on us that the cold would also bully us worse, finding us weaker by one. Till an hour ago, we had not known of your presence. Now we found it hard to make do with just the memory of you. We missed the easy intimacy our knees and shoulders had established with yours, discovered in the rhythm conducted by the auto. I had become related to you when I had inhaled the bonfire ash of your clothes and had make-believed warmth.

And now that you were out there, the 'out there' we had all been saving ourselves from, we did not even dare to unshawl our faces lest they got slapped by the wind. We did not know whether we should commiserate with the plaintive driver in his losing battle, who was whining, 'If this is what you always pay, you should've said so in the beginning.' We did not know if you needed us to be with you, in an already won but long lost battle, at least sharing your triumph if not your struggle.

By the time the frustrated auto restarted, I was glad of one thing. I was relieved that you said so in the end ('This is what I always pay') and not in the beginning (good for you). I am glad you did not say it any earlier, when you could've been left behind by the auto driver (though it would have been pure business, nothing personal), between a lonely village and an urgent town (Date: 13 January, Time: 8.26 pm) with hardly any other vehicle around to bail you out, neither for five rupees nor for ten.

First published in Anti-Heroin Chic, 14 Aug 2017.

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