It was 11 PM already; now that the fiscal year was coming to its closure, stretching for hours beyond 6 had become a norm. I booked myself an Uber ride, Uber “pool” actually. As it was pretty late, I was sure of not getting a co-rider and reaching home faster, economically. I was wrong. The cab took a left turn, “Where to, bhaiya?” I probed, “Follow the GPS, no.”
“Sir, I got a booking of a madam from TCS.”
The cab pulled up by the gates of DLF; as the door opened, I heard her speaking on her phone, “Yes Maa. I got a cab. I’ll be home in 10 minutes.”
Just 5 minutes into the ride and the car stopped again.
“What happened bhaiya.” The anxiety in her voice consumed up all the oxygen in the car. I rolled down the window.
“Rasta band hai, U – turn lena hoga.” As the car turned its course to take a route that, I could tell, she was unfamiliar with her angst heightened.
“Now what?” she snapped as the car stopped again, shortly.
There was a truck struggling to make a right turn, and the meagre width of the lane added to its trouble. “Thoda rukna padta, madam.” said the driver. She gasped, her patent apprehension transmitted into the little air we shared.
10 minutes of wait and my throat was as dry as a bone, I tried reaching for my water bottle stuffed in the side pocket of my back pack resting in between her and myself. God forbid, my hand accidentally pulled at her dupatta spread all across my bag and she literally jumped with a start, she attempted a shriek, but choked with fright. As she looked at me, I saw sweat drops emerge and melt her face, reflecting the slight light afforded to us by the streetlight.
“Sorry, just looking for my bottle.” I apologised, there was no response from her, only contempt and terror in her eyes. Moving farther from me, as much as she could, she rearranged her dupatta, unzipped her purse, rummaged through it and fished out a Swiss knife. She clutched on it tightly while I froze on my butt. “Is she gonna stab me with this thing?” I wondered. The car finally started and she released a heavy sigh of relief. Throughout the trip she muttered names of Gods and hymns relentlessly, pausing briefly only to scan me from the corner of her eyes to scrutinize my position or any change in it, the “weapon”, however, did not retire into the purse. The next five minutes of our journey was perhaps the longest one of my life. She jumped out as the car halted at her destination. My heart, that failed to pump any blood all this while, resumed its normal course.
No, I am not oblivious to any of the bizarre thoughts crossing her mind in the past several minutes. Yes, it hit me very hard and deep that a mere unintended pull at her garb ensued in her looking at my eyes as though I had attempted to disrobe her, as though I was a rapist. The more I think of it, the more this deplorable idea grows on me and corrodes me from within. That a woman felt the need of protecting herself from me, her petrified eyes identified me as a violator, her mind registered me as a rapist, have my manhood in shreds. What emasculates me further is accepting that there are men whose unspeakable actions have resulted in the suspicion in a stranger’s eyes for another, and I can do nothing about it.
“I am not a rapist, not all men are.” I wanted to tell her, I chose silence instead. Because, part of me believes that her dread, her prayers, and the “weapon” in her hand, none of these were uncalled for. I didn’t want her to get too comfortable around strangers and give up on her Swiss Knife, for I cannot promise that she wouldn’t have to put that Swiss Knife into a good use ever. There might be a day impending when that Swiss knife will be required to be stabbed into someone’s gut and taste some blood. I can only hope she doesn’t see that day.
(If you have an experience to share, or confession to make, do write in – Avantika_debnath@yahoo.in)