He drove off away from her when all senses told him to stay.
He should go back to her. He should have added her to the body already in the boot, but something stopped him. He was still unable to figure out what it was about her that had overpowered all his basic instincts. He mentally planned out the places he could dispose of the body. There was a faint rotting smell building up already, that made him anxious and anxiety made him do things.
Raghav Sharma. He thought about his name and the way she had looked back at him one last time after reading his card.
His mother was a Hindu who ardently believed in Ram. She worshiped Him every day twice, once in the morning and once in the evening. His father was a peaceful atheist. He worked for a bank and didn’t have much work to do every day. His parents loved, encouraged and supported him. They did everything for him that was possible within their limits, never said no to his demands but still managed not to spoil him. Although his parents were happy together, he’d had one gripe with his father – his temper. His father’s hot headedness used to scare him as a kid, but later he learned to deal with, accept it and at times even challenge it with his own. Like that one time when his father had scolded him for staying out late with his friends.
“It’s 1 in the morning”, said his father taking a sip of water from a glass in his hand.
His father’s voice had been perfectly calm. The calm before the storm.
“I know. I have a watch. I know how to read the time.” he had given a cheeky but badly timed reply.
“Is this the time to come home?” His father continued, his lower lip quivering, barely able to hold back the anger.
“I don’t know. You’re the time police in this house. You would know.”
That was enough. His eyes didn’t even have time to register the movement and the glass came crashing down, right in front of his feet. Shards of glass flew all over the floor, but the biggest ones lodged itself on his feet and few even managed to reach his bare hands. He winced and shut his eyes.
When he opened his eyes he could still see glass and he panicked for a second.
It couldn’t be, it wasn’t possible. And even before he could blink again, realization dawned on him. He had been driving, and there were shards of broken glass strewn all over the road. There had been an accident. A truck was parked blocking half the road, there were policemen, an ambulance, and few people sitting down on the sidewalk. Nobody was bleeding or dead.
He gave a slight chuckle and thought in his head,”I’m carrying one already. If there was somebody dead they could have asked me to dispose of that one as well.” But he didn’t stop. Cops around the city were a peaceful and nice bunch, but he didn’t want to risk it. He’d never been caught or suspected before this. He sure as hell wasn’t going down now and as soon as he got ahead he sped away to find a peaceful riverside.
She looked out the window and started recollecting all the events of the day before she could crash for the day. It was the perfect weather to go out for a long drive, but she preferred to sit inside with her copy of The Stranger, text her friends and think about anything and everything.
The absurd does not bind. It liberates.
Camus was one of her favorite writers and reading this line made her think about him. She thought about how he looked. He was tall. Very tall. He must have been about 6 feet 2 inches in height, heavily built. She had always liked her men strong and taller than her. He had a strong jawline, perfectly set teeth, a big but slightly crooked nose, and small, almost alpaca-like eyes. That made here giggle. But that wasn’t his best feature. It was his perfectly twirled, but tamed mustache. So many men would kill for that kind of perfect facial hair. It somehow intimidated her and attracted her at the same time.
She turned around to walk to her bed, but still thought about him. She still couldn’t figure why a guy like him would want to moonlight as a cab driver. He had something about him, something she couldn’t quite lay a finger on, something that had made her glance back at him one last time. She had to meet him one more time, but should she ask him directly or should she call his cab up? But then she wanted to meet him again.
Resolved she turned towards her night lamp to turn it off and thought, “It wouldn’t hurt if my bike accidentally broke down tomorrow morning.”
And she didn’t even realize when she fell asleep in the middle of smiling to herself and thinking about small alpaca eyes.
Morning came, and as planned she feigned a broken down bike, convinced her mother that she should call a cab instead of her mother dropping her off, clutched a sandwich between her mouth and went down to the waiting cab.
She opened the car door and sat in without a word. He looked at her through the mirror just like last night and she looked back, but under his piercing gaze she couldn’t stand a chance.
“How are you?”
“I’m good ma’am. How’s your hangover?”
She smiled and said,”Please don’t call me ma’am. My name’s Aashna. Aashna Dutt.”
“Hi, Aashna. Now how’s that hangover of yours?”
She smiled again but this time a bit more confidently. “It’s okay.”
“Would you have the time to grab a coffee with me before heading? It’ll help.”
She sat there stunned. Here she was making subtle ways and methods to meet him and probably ask him out, and he just asked her brazenly.
She nodded and he steered the cab towards a coffee joint that they were just about to pass. They stopped down and she went ahead inside. He looked at her again as she walked away. She looked as pretty in the red Anarkali as she had in the gold dress last night.
When she walked in, he didn’t follow. She turned, a quizzical look on her face that clearly asked, “I thought we were having coffee.” He shook his head trying to say, “No, you grab one. You’re the one who’s hungover.” After 5 minutes, she re-emerged from the coffee shop while he opened the door for her to sit.
With coffee in hand and him sitting on the driver’s seat, she had to be extra, extra careful. He drove extra carefully so as not to spill her coffee and still be able to look at her through the rearview mirror, but he kept driving in silence until they reached her destination – her friends place – which was a good 10 minutes away.
As he pulled over, she hopped off the cab immediately. She fumbled for money again and he accepted the change without a word.
“Will I see you around again?”
“Not tonight. It’s Ganpati Visarjan. I will be busy. Some other time maybe. You have my number.”
She nodded and said, “Yes. I do. I will call you. Thank you.”
“My pleasure”, he said and started the ignition as a signal for her to walk away.
She glanced at him again and left without another word. She was really looking forward to meeting him, but he had also hurt her ego. No guy had been this cold with her ever.
But he didn’t drive for long. He watched her walk to her friend’s apartment, then took a turn, parked his car at some distance and waited. He wanted to watch her all day, and he did. He waited for 9 hours right outside the apartment and watched her. He even caught glimpses of her when she would walk into the balcony, or talk on the phone near the window.
At 7 in the evening, he checked his watch, started the car and drove away. The roads were starting to get crowded.
People were coming out on the streets for Ganpati Visarjan, to bid their beloved God adieu for the year.
Throngs of foreigners and Punekars alike were joining in just to watch the grandeur of the celebrations and the festival. He already had what he needed by then.
While the streets echoed with the shouts of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’, there was somebody else screaming inside his car as he went inside her. She was loud and that annoyed him very much. He had always disliked loud women, but he needed her right now. She was giving him what he wanted. After 5 minutes of screaming and panting, they got out of the car. And while people outside smeared each other with color and abir, he smeared himself with a different kind of red color.