I’m not a big fan of Priya. I mean who in their right mind would like that big mouthed bitch? However, Kush had convinced me to attend a party at her farmhouse. It was in March two years ago. That led to some gruesome yet nostalgic experiences.
That evening, Kush picked me up in his old hatchback. I remember he made a comment about my choice of outfit on the way — I wore a dull white kurta with a white salwar.
I didn’t mind or care much. “You’re putting on weight, Tina. Watch your calorie intake”, “Can you not laugh like an owl?”, “Hey, could we possibly be a little less loud?” — that was my boyfriend Kush. However, he also happened to be the guy who spent his nights at the hospital during my mother’s chemotherapy (while I slept at home) or the one who offered to pick up my cousin from the airport when she flew in from Italy amidst a taxi strike in Delhi.
We reached the farmhouse by a quarter past nine. Only a dozen guests had turned up thus far. A soft rock buzzed in the air. Kush and I were the first couple to hit the dance platform.
By twelve, I found myself slouched at a corner with my sixth drink. Kush was amongst the thirty odd people dancing on the floor. I was suddenly nauseated. A strong smell from Colonel Jalal’s cigar added to my misery. I needed to escape the din and take fresh air. Thus I staggered towards the parking spot. On the way, my fidgety fingers picked up Kush’s car keys from the table.
To be honest, I find it easier to drive than walk when drunk. It was in a bid to ditch the wretched music that I sped away from the party. No-one noticed when I swooshed past the open gate. However, I was almost ten kilometres from the farmhouse and my bladder cried for attention when I realised I had to go back. Something in the car was burning. I paid no heed to the smell and approached the next U-turn.
It was fifty metres from the turn where the car acted funny. I frowned. Was it the car or could it be the alcohol that affected my driving at last? Next moment, the engine groaned and the car croaked to a halt. Damn! I looked around. Thankfully, I was close to the left of the road and didn’t block the way.
I sat in the dead car till my bladder allowed. After that, I dragged myself out and tottered to the pavement. A row of swank stores frowned at me. They were all closed. But for cars swerving past my car now and then, there was no soul around. I squatted to pee behind a pillar in front of a furniture store. A brilliant LED board read out the store name. Urban Decor. That name was familiar. It ripped open a stunning bout of recollection while I peed. Two years ago, a female employee of Urban Decor was kidnapped and gang-raped. After shutting the store around ten, the girl and two male colleagues were about to board a taxi when the monsters pulled over, overpowered the men, dragged the poor girl into their car and fled.
I looked at my watch. It was twelve twenty. I was all alone. Without my mobile phone. On an open road. Well after midnight. In a city that was arguably the rape capital of the world. I stood up and shivered.
Locking myself in the car, I tried to start it. Although the ignition worked, the dreaded gear would not budge. Cold sweat screened my back and forehead. A pair of tears streamed down my cheeks.
The only option left was to seek help from a passing car. However, that would leave me at the passengers’ mercy. What if they were potential sex predators? At this point, the drunken me came up with a plan. I would appear too repulsive for them to consider forcing themselves on me.
Thus my eager hands picked up a pair of tissue papers from the dashboard and smudged my lipstick. Later, they rummaged through my hair. I stopped only when my head looked like a rainforest on the car’s rear-view mirror. Disheveled hair blurred my face. With Mission Disfigure accomplished, I took the road to flag down commuters.
The first car sped away. So did the second one. I walked up to the middle of the road. An approaching motorcycle swerved past me and fled.
“God, please help me,” I cried out. Tears clogged my vision. I tried to throw myself at the next car. It screeched a loud groan, almost hit the divider and sped off. This continued for around ten minutes. At least twenty cars took great pains to run away from me.
At last, an SUV screeched to a halt. Four men including the driver crawled out of it. They looked like call-centre employees being dropped by their company cab. Were they going to attack me? I started crying again.
One of the passengers said, “Can we help you?”
He didn’t sound like a rapist.
I sniffled, “My car broke down… I’m not carrying a phone… please help.”
I heard the driver complain, “She’s drunk like a sponge.” The passengers glared at him.
The first guy asked, “What happened to your car? May be we can help you fix it?”
The driver sniffed the air and said, “It looks like she fucked up the clutch. If you want to help her, drive it without a gear. I’ll follow in our car.”
“You’re suggesting I drive her car?” The guy looked flummoxed. “Where to?”
“Drop her somewhere? Perhaps let her rest in your place for the night?”
“Take a drunk woman home now? It’s less than six months since I married. You’re technically asking me to forge a divorce.” He looked at me and asked, “Is there someone we could call for help? A number that you remember?”
“07973681XXX.” The number literally escaped my mouth. He dialled it from his mobile phone.
“It’s ringing. Whose number is this?”
“Neel,” I heard myself take that name after ten years.
“Hello, Neel?… There’s a woman stranded on ABC Road. She gave me your number and hopes you’ll help…”
He asked me, “What’s your name, ma’m?”
“She’s Tina… Thanks a lot, sir… Yes, right in front of Urban Decor.”
He cut the call and said, “He’ll take twenty minutes.”
I put up with the driver’s occasional grumbles for fifteen minutes before Neel’s SUV turned up. The other guys were quiet all the while.
It took them ten minutes to drag the hatchback to the roadside. I was too occupied with Neel to thank those beautiful men (God bless their noble souls) — was he pissed up with me? Inconveniencing him at this hour ten years after our violent break-up? I rolled my eyes anticipating an outburst from my ex. With the alcohol still working, it was delirious inside Neel’s car.
We didn’t break the silence even inside his apartment. I collapsed in his couch. He stood there for two minutes and then retreated to his bedroom. I spread myself on the couch and sleep engulfed me.
Next morning, I woke up to a woman smiling at me from a photograph on a centre table in front of the couch. I was puzzled and tried to recall where I was. A splitting headache tore me apart.
“That’s my wife,” someone said. It was Neel. He sat on a chair across the table.
I said, “Sorry.” What did I apologise for? The nuisance created last night? The ugly breakup? Shutting the door on him for the last ten years? Perhaps for everything.
He said, “It’s ok. Sorry about being so blunt, but you need to leave now.”
I might have still been with you had you not been so artless. I said, “I understand. Please call a cab.”
The cab reported ten minutes later. Neel opened the door for me. I grabbed his shoulders and stole a light kiss on his lips. His startled eyes followed me as I floated out the door.
“Tina,” he called.
I turned back. The world was mute for a second before he said, “Good to see you after all these years.”
He added, “This meeting should remain our secret.”
“You bet.” Asshole.
I nodded. And left.
Thus ended my night of horror. Of course, a huge aftermath followed. 1500 words would be too small a space to explain how I latched on to Kush despite vanishing from his life with his car that night. However, let me instead tell you that stories took wings at other fronts. If you ever mingle with night-time cab drivers in Delhi, they’ll talk about a woman in white who attempts to flag down cars at night. When they speed away, she follows them, floating in the air.