Friday, 1 February 2013
My black-and-yellow Indica was parked in its usual spot under the green canopy of the trees lining the black tar road. The time was Dusk, a time when the colours of the world are rendered black, white and steely grey. It was that time of the day when your eyes, weary after another long day in the sun, delight in whatever little colour there is on offer. And that is why I remember her so vividly.
It wasn't her dress which caught my eye, for it was as black as the night which was about to fall. No: although it was very beautiful and made her look perfectly graceful, almost poignantly beautiful, it wasn't the detail which captured me. I remember her because of her skin - the most beautiful bronze in a black-and-white world. Alongside her walked a young man, modestly built, who I have driven around town a few times in my car. I'd seen them together several times in the past, as they walked up and down the same lanes with such brightness in their eyes that you'd think they discovered new places every single time. Sometimes there would be carefree laughter, possibly spurred on by nothing but the beauty of the evening itself, and at other times, there would be a quiet understanding. But this evening, they seemed different.
As he held the door open for her, she slid into the car wordlessly without the usual smile she would afford him as her body brushed against his outstretched arm. As he took his place beside her inside the car, I noticed that an immense chasm separated them, a space so wide that my car seemed to have split lengthwise into two distinct pieces! It is one of the abilities I have developed in my years as a cabbie: to judge people and the spaces between them by just looking at them in the rear-view mirror. Nothing tells a story as clearly as a rear-view mirror.
They didn't say anything as there was a deafening lull inside the car, in stark contrast to the chaos that pervaded the streets outside. I didn't ask them where they wanted me to go; I understood that they only wanted me to drive. But as soon as I put the car into motion, I felt the man's hand touch my shoulder softly. He told me where they wanted to go and I nodded quietly. I then saw him turn towards the girl, as if to say something, but then he didn't speak. He sank back into his seat and stared out at the garish windows and billboards which sped past.
The pain in his eyes was clear, and when I looked at the lady seated in the other corner of my car, I saw her small, pretty lips curve in an expression I can only term as feigned-indifference. She wanted to care less about everything around her, but quite apparently, she couldn't. I switched to the highest gear and stepped on the gas pedal until the speedometer showed one-hundred. An oncoming car, whose driver seemed visibly drunk, swerved out of my way although there would never have been a collision even if he had maintained his initial course. I know this much about driving! But the near-accident and the speed at which cars were bursting past the windows suddenly brought my passengers to life. People seldom want to start living until they are reminded about the end of their lives. I accelerated further.
I admit unashamedly today that I adjusted my mirror in order to let me follow the happenings in the back-seat, for I didn't not watch them for the voyeuristic pleasure that one often derives from the lives of others. I watched them with genuine concern; I almost felt like a protector that night! I felt like I mustn't let the two wonderful passengers endure even a single evening of melancholy.
In my mirror, I could see them steal uncomfortable glances askance at each other, but only when they were sure that the other person wasn't looking. The gentleman, who sat behind me, was clinging onto the window with his hand, as if he was unsure about what he'd do if he let it go. The girl still sat, cold and rigid, as beautiful women so often do when they are upset. I looked ahead and realized that the destination was approaching fast. I would soon be powerless to affect their lives, which were suddenly two separate worlds separated by an ocean. So, I decided to close the gap.
I banked so hard to the left that the car skidded a few feet in the process, to the horror of a few passers-by. The man who was seated behind me, already close to the door, remained in his place even as the lady was thrown towards him by inertia. There was momentary horror in their eyes for they believed that the car was careening out of control, and the girl stretched her delicate arms to brace her fall. And then came the moment for which I had attempted the reckless stunt, endangering the lives of people around me: without even turning, he caught her instinctively, almost as if it was the most natural thing he had ever done. As their fingers intertwined, I turned my rear-view up, in order to see the road again. 'Whatever happens now is their own business,' I thought. 'My work here is done.'
As I dropped them off at her house, I was glad to see both of them leave the confines of my car. This time she smiled as he held the door open for her. I lit a cigarette and watched the two of them fade away slowly in the distance. I gloated in the new nickname I had coined for myself - The Destiny Driver.
No, that just didn't sound right! According to me, there is nothing called Destiny - nothing in the world can control where you will be. Your final position is a result of the choices you make, nothing else. However, the choices and opportunities which you are provided with are so often not in your control - like the cab-driver that night in the lives of the two young passengers. He was Fate. Even after he banked the car, they had a choice in front of them. Only decisions transform these opportunities into things which are more meaningful.
'No,' I said to myself. 'I am The Fate Driver.'