It was time I called up my folks. I was freaking out.
But, as my lovely lady luck would see fit, my cell-phone was out of battery.
I was on my own.
So there I was… standing with a stiff back, ready to fight off any unwanted attention from human and non human forms, when a rickety bus for Chandigarh came. I quickly boarded it, and if it were possible, this bus had even more slimy looking men giving me the eye!! A man with a retard seemed to be touching him in all the wrong places, and much to my distaste, the bus was nearly empty before long! (I do believe in the concept of safety in numbers.) To top that off, the driver was driving like a lunatic, and I wondered if I would reach home in one piece that day.
Eventually, the bus reached sector 17, Chandigarh and as I disembarked it, I asked the conductor if I would get a bus to Mohali. He gave me a once over and told me in a drawl, that this was the last bus for the day.
I got out of that empty bus stand as quickly as my legs could carry me. It was an effort not to run. (I had to at least make a pretence that I was calm and in control).
I left the bus stand, getting jumpier by the minute. An elderly Rickshaw Puller, henceforth christened as Ricky Pooler came my way, and asked me where I’d like to go. I stated my destination and he was quick to tell me, “Memsahib, don’t sit in the auto, the world is very bad these days. Someone might take advantage of the fact that you are a lady, and that you are all alone!” Years later, I would find out that elderly rickshaw pullers are no better. But that is a different story for a different time. I looked at him. He seemed decent enough and I decided to ride his ride and reach home rather late than never!
The cycle rickshaw screeched and screamed as the oldie took it out of the exclusive rickshaw parking lot. The tires were in obvious need of air. The old chap showed it off to me with a semi-toothless grin as a young boy would show off his ‘hot wheels chopper’ or like a young man would show off his new sports bike. I smiled back and sat on what would be my abode for about forty five minutes from then.
And so my Knight in shining armor took me home on his white, majestic horse, with me feeling safe and sound in his strong arms. Ha! Some nerve for me to have such hope!!! Instead, it was Ricky Puller in old, torn, unwashed, slightly smelling kurta and lungi. (it has always surprised me how they manage to ride the bicycle with a lungi on) And I was feeling anything BUT safe.
He took me through a route I did not recognize, and I wondered if he was an active part of the “bad world” he had mentioned. The night was blacker than I remembered nights to be. The street lights were nonexistent and my imagination was on overdrive.
Suddenly, someone called my name.
It was hard to hear it at first… faint. Then, the second time it was louder. My heart had stopped. My intestines had wrapped themselves around my heart and it was now lodged somewhere in my throat.
Ghosts? Trap? Was Ricky Pooler the indecent man he had mentioned? Do I know self defense?
I craned my neck to the right, feeling sweat trickle down my back in the cool night. No one there. I looked left and there was no one there, either. I definitely heard someone say my name. Was I imagining it? The night was colder now…I couldn’t see 50 meters ahead of me. My leg was cramping up due to inactivity. I had not moved a muscle, and now I couldn’t. The nerves screamed and my foot tingled in pain as I tried to wake it up.
There it was, again. No denying it. Someone was taking my name. I did the only thing I could do. Waited, and watched… and wobbled with the wobbly rickshaw.
The lightless road was finally making way for a main street. I was grateful for the streetlights; had an almost irrepressible urge to go and kiss them.
I felt safer now. I was thankful was the few cars on the road. I could see a sardarji eating a KFC Burger while driving the car. I was grateful for him too. I knew this road I was just reaching.
I felt a cold touch at the back of my neck. I whipped around. There was no one there. My heart was no longer in an inactive stage. It had leapt and run off at a hundred miles a minute.
Much later, I finally reached home. It was eleven at night and the front porch light was off. That’s strange. Or was it? Did my parents usually keep the front porch light off?
I rang the bell. It felt unnaturally loud in the stillness of the night. I waited.
…And still waited.
Finally, my mother opened the door, surprisingly unperturbed at the late hour. Everything was all right. I finally let go of a long breath of relief. I had just survived an evening of creepy morons, scary surroundings and what I now like to believe as an overactive imagination.