“But why is he taking me by this lane?” wondered Sheetal a little worried by now and nibbling at her nails. Sheetal had the habit of biting her nails whenever she was upset. An advertising professional Sheetal invariably had to return home late at nights. These days with the incidence of female harassment being the main bone of contention and almost the common topic in any get together , Sheetal really had got quite conscious of her late hours. Every morning when she left home, her husband made sure he gets her call the moment she reached office. But there were days when she used to forget this all important call of the day. Then once she was in the conference room and discussions and meetings, the phone was a forgotten affair for Sheetal. And to find those innumerable missed calls on her phone and then the pangs of guilt. Today was one such day when Sheetal had forgotten to call her husband and it was quite late by now. She had to reach the hospital as it was the day of checkup. Her husband had recently met with an accident and she had to make sure that he was checked every month. Today she had to reach on time so that they could catch the doctor on time. And the taxi fellow was taking her by another lane, not the usual one. “But why is he taking me by this lane?” hence the question on Sheetal’s mind.
She had one good look at the taxi driver and was really not very comfortable with his thin dry look. He had a square face with a lot of stubble. “He doesn’t seem to be a hardworking person,’thought Sheetal for whom unshaven men meant lethargic human beings. As Sheetal looked at him, she saw him looking at her from the rear view mirror. Blood shot eyes – “Oh Lord! He should be drunk is he? ” Sheetal wondered. These days with so many reports of accidents, thefts and misbehaviour, she got a little wary. Add to it, the dollops of exaggerated stories her mother gave her and Sheetal’s mind raced with a lot of untold fears.
She looked out of the window and her heart skipped a beat as there was sudden darkness. Lights! “Pff” Sheetal murmured. ” why did the lights have to go now?” The taxi came to a screeching halt. “Whhhaaaat……” stutttered Sheetal who normally was a brave kind, but the pressure of not having called her husband in the morning, the day’s work, her cellphone battery totally out and over and the pressure of reaching the hospital on time and the fear of the unknown with taxi and cab drivers these days……and now this. Sheetal almost opened the door of the taxi and was wanting to flee. Flee into the distant highway there from where she could see a row of lights of the tail lights of the traffic. She just had to cross this one solitary dark lane and now the lights …..”What is it?” she asked the driver nervously. He just got out, spit out the betel nut in his mouth and went across the road and stood behind a tree. ” I have no clue why people use the public road to relieve themselves” thought Sheetal. She glanced at the tree questioningly , expectantly, waiting for the driver to come back. Somehow, his long hair just didn’t go down well with her. ” Where is he?’ she looked at the tree a little scared by now. Pitch dark, the sound of a distant bird somewhere, the hum of the traffic, a kilometre ahead…..”how I wish my cell phone was on!” She wondered what the time could be….”Hell! why is this driver not coming by?” Then a thought crossed her mind…Supposing he has gone to bring his friends to rob her? Supposing they come back, four of them and she is cornered? Supposing this was a plan to destroy her confidence? Supposing she loses all her credit cards, money to these men here? Anyway she decided that the driver was looking no good and had no good intentions. I better run, she thought. So thinking she took off her slippers, and edged her way out, lest she be heard. The door of the taxi creaked and thud! Her phone fell making a big noise in the eerie silence. A motorcycle went by and an auto rickshaw. Sheetal’s heart raced pounding, ….nothing happened. “Where is he?” she wondered and for the last time convinced something was fishy, she got out and tiptoed a few feet ahead.
Then she ran…..ran for her life. Sheetal did the wisest thing she could…..ran as fast as she could. And as she ran, she stopped dead on her tracks…for there was light following her. She looked behind….There he was…there was the taxi driver following her.
“Get in, ” he said to her roughly. Scared and beaten that her escape plan didn’t work, Sheetal meekly got in, the pocket knife in her hand ready . She had taken it out from her handbag. Sheetal always kept it ready. “Holy Cross Hospital….you said ma’am?” asked the driver again. Sheetal could only mumble a feeble yes as she was at her wit’s end by now. “What would I do now? He didn’t bring his companion with him, but what took him so long? Supposing he had called someone from behind the tree on his phone and asked them to wait at the end of the road?” Thoughts clouded Sheetal’s mind and she seemed to drift into a world when suddenly she saw the highway come closer. Two minutes from here and I am done.
Holy Cross hospital seemed paradise to her when the taxi edged into the driveway. Sheetal hurriedly got out and paid double the amount to the driver and scooted. As she looked behind, she saw the taxi driver getting out and cleaning the window of the taxi.
Rehan was inside the outpatient department in the hospital ready to get into the room He was waiting for the doctor to come. Sheetal rushed in and he was shocked to see her face. “What happened?…Why didnt you call me in the morning?Why are you so pale?….” a barrage of questions followed when he saw Sheetal. Sheetal was too anxious to reply to any of those and as she plonked on the bench she could only see one figure in the distance….the taxi driver…
“NOooooooo……” Sheetal screamed and almost fainted. He is here too….”Who?” queried Rehan. He was just unable to understand why his wife was behaving thus. “Hhe…..tried to harm me……I fleed…yet he forced me to sit in his taxi and brought me here…Now see….he has followed me till inside…..”
Rehan looked towards the lobby and saw a shabbily dressed, unshaven man with unkempt hair walking towards them. Protectively Rehan stood in front of Sheetal and took out his wallet. “Take all this and whatever you want.” he said giving his wallet. He looked at the security guard from the corner of the eye hoping that he looked towards them and took this man away. The man kept coming towards them. “Get away……” Rehan shouted and the security heard him and rushed towards them. “Take him away…he has come to harm my wife…he harassed her in the taxi too…” said Rehan frightened and scared.
As the burly security guard came to take the driver away, he was very surprised to see the driver sit down on the bench nearby. He opened his clenched fist, and put a bunch of keys in the guard’s hand. The guard raised his eyebrows as if to ask what was it.
“That woman there left her keys in my taxi. I came in to give this to her . ” said the driver.
sheetal looked up in disbelief…….And all the while I thought he was out to rob me….”Then what took you so long behind the tree?” Sheetal asked totally fatigued.
“M’am you seemed to be in a hurry. My taxi ran out of gas. I went to my borrow some fuel from my friend who brought it there.”
Sheetal fainted in agony and trauma. Vagaries of the world, we sometimes imagine facts to be real like in our life. Time to change, aint it world?