Monday, August 04, 2008

the chance meet

The taxi stand was deserted, his being the last dilapidated taxi waiting in the inky night, under the forlorn flickering street lamp. He was in no mood to wait, as he sat staring at the moon. Even the moon seemed in a hurry to leave. The craters seemed like eyes, turned to the east, waiting for the elusive sun. He ran a hand through his prematurely greying hair, just another victim of his harsh life, and considered leaving for home without completing his shift. His boss, the man who had given him the taxi on hire would not be pleased. But then, he had dealt with worse. Finally he sighed and put the key in the ignition. The taxi sputtered, coughed, lurched and then finally hiccoughed to life. With a wry smile at the moon he turned his back on her and started towards home. He heard a faint call-"Taxi!!" and saw the reflection of a young girl in the mirror. But the image was quickly replaced by the fevered face of his daughter, and so he just kept going. There would be other taxis coming soon enough. He turned the corner and the taxi sped away to the tune of a crass movie song.

“Shit"- said the girl as her eyes followed the leaving taxi. She looked nervously at the bunch of guys coming towards the station. The day was just turning from bad to worse.

The city lay in complete contrast to what it had been just a few hours ago. The streets were more or less empty as he drove towards his home. He zipped past high buildings on vast open roads and too soon reached the narrow lanes of misery, flanked by ramshackle huts. He parked his taxi and stooped low to knock on the door. His wife answered, her eyes haunted with ghosts of sleep. His two elder children were sleeping on a ragged blanket in a corner, while his youngest daughter writhed in a feverish haze. He looked at her and loving touched her burning brow.

She ignored their lurid catcalls and songs and instead concentrated on looking out for a taxi. Why did she have to pick this day to get into a fight with him? Fate, she thought with a sigh. At least she shouldn't have been stupid enough to just walk off instead of letting him drop her. But then the ego doesn't spare anyone, does it?

As he gazed at his child's face he whispered her name softly- "Laxmi". Laxmi - the goddess of wealth and prosperity. How ironical that she must now lie on a threadbare rag, burning with fever, almost in the clutches of Yama, death. And all that her poor father could do was pitch his hopes on the medicines bought with the last of his hard earned money, the cloth keeping his daughter's brow cool and his love that he tried to give to her through a touch and a whisper. Would she grow up to become a beautiful girl? Educated and independent so that pride could shine like glistening tears in her father's eyes? Abruptly he got up and left, driving back through the empty streets, a man hounded by his and his daughter's fate.

She was getting nervous. Maybe she should just go back to the station. But what would stop them from following her? Or even from never letting her reach the platform? Suddenly she spotted headlights in the distance. She called out and to her relief the taxi stopped. She got in and as the taxi drove through the city and away from the deserted station, relief seeped into her.

She was finally home. She knew her mom would have some words for her but she was overcome by the relief of being safe. "Bhaiya kitna hua?" she asked the driver for the fare as she got off. He just shook his head and drove off into the night.

May be his daughter would grow up to be a young woman like her too, he thought.