The rain beat mercilessly on the glass sheets of the high rise. Across the street, the drains overflowed, revealing the poor sewage work of the city. Pedestrians with umbrellas, without umbrellas walked gingerly, watching their steps. Traffic had ground to a halt. Horns blared, curse words rented the air. It was close to seven in the evening.
Siddharth covered his head and walked to his car, parked parallel on Brigade road. He looked for the parking attendant, who was nowhere to be seen. He’d parked a little over his time-slot, and these guys didn’ t stop for the rains. But this time round he was lucky. He got into his car and started backing up. Visibility was zero, and he pulled back real slow.
Shit, he’d hit something. He pulled the hand brake and stepped out, getting drenched almost instantaneously. He saw a girl trying to get up. Her scooter had a bent fork upfront, and the cops manning a traffic signal nearby, were slowly making their way over to him. He rushed to help the girl.
“I’m extremely sorry, I…,” He began, giving his hand to her. She brushed him off. Her shopping bag was strewn all over.
“Are you blind, you nutcase?”
“Excuse me, but I think you should know better than to race even in this weather. I was as slow as possible.”
“Oh yeah..look…,” she began saying. One of the cops, a constable, slowly waddled toward them.
“What’s the matter?”
“Uh..nothing, sir..I, here – she was coming damn fast and..”
“Hello, you should get the reverse light of your vintage car fixed…”
A few minutes later, they both were seated in Siddharth’s car. She was fuming. He maneuvered the car slowly through the traffic. Neither spoke.
“Damn autorickshaws,” She muttered.
Siddharth smiled at her. “I know.” A pause later, “…I’m Siddharth. Hi.”
She glared at him. “Don’t you try to be all friendly and all, now. I’ve noted down your number plate, mister – so, if you so much as even try anything funny…”
He shook his head, chuckling in disbelief. “You must be kidding. Do I look like that to you? Hell, you’re welcome to step out right now, lady.”
She didn’t speak.
He remained silent for a while, the traffic worsening ahead. They had almost come to a stand-still.
She flipped open her cell and dialed.
“Hello? Yeah, amma..I’ll be a little late. I..there was a small accident – no, no, no, no..I’m fine. I’m getting a drop till the corporation circle…” She stopped to look at Siddharth, who wasn’t looking at her. “No..a friend.”
Now he turned to her, raising his eyebrows. She frowned and turned away. “Yeah..can appa come pick me up?”
She quickly completed her conversation, stuffed the cell phone back into her bag and sat looking out.
Siddharth looked at her again. “Your dad doesn’t have a cell phone?”
“None of your business.”
He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “Ok”. He then inched the car forward.
She looked at him for a moment, the glare in her eyes softening just a little bit. But she was still serious. He looked at her for a brief second. She opened her mouth to say something, stopped, and again started. “I’m Priyanka. Look…I…”
The rear door behind her opened and a big, burly man slid in. Siddharth turned, shocked.
“Just keep driving ok? I don’t want trouble,” the man said, ducking below the seat.
“Hello, sir..listen, who do you think you are…,” the girl began when he pushed the barrel of a gun at her face.
“Shut up, girl.” He then looked at Siddharth, who looked at the gun for a minute and then turned his eyes back on the road.
“Hand me your mobiles. Both of you. Quick.”
The stranger was breathing heavily, craning his neck every now and then, trying to look out for something, or somebody. He then turned to Siddharth.
“Hey, boy..get out of the city – drive to Mysore.”
“What?” Priyanka said, gasping.
Siddharth didn’t reply.
“What are you thinking, do as I say..” the man said.
“Yeah, ok ok..I will, but..I need to drop her at the corporation circle first. She needs to..”
“No time. She comes along,” he said looking at her. Priyanka was swallowing hard now. She looked out of the window for a minute.
“Don’t even think of shouting for help,” the man said, reading her mind. He jabbed the gun to her shoulder.
They passed by corporation circle after a half hour. Priyanka spotted her father waiting at the place they decided upon, and tears rolled down her cheeks. Siddharth was quiet. The city lights slowly gave way to moffusil ones, and the long, lonely highway stretched in front of them after an hour or so.
“I need to fill the tank,” Siddharth said blankly. Priyanka’s eyes had turned red with weeping silently. She sniffed, looked back at the man and then at Siddharth again.
The man raised himself on the seat now. “Are we out of town?”
Siddharth nodded. The man sighed, stretched, and then lay down on the seat, legs folded. He’d switched off the two mobile phones, and then switched off his as well.
Suresh Kumar, Priyanka’s father, waited a while before dialing his daughter’s number. He had brought along his wife’s cell phone; he belonged to the old school of thought and hated carrying the little instruments. Being retired, he didn’t see the need for a mobile device for himself. So, after much prodding, he’d gotten his wife’s cell phone, and now kept trying Priyanka’s number, which was apparently switched off. He called home and conveyed the same to his wife.
“She should’ve been here by now, Radhika,” He said, his tone typical of a worried father. He looked around to see if she’d gotten down some place and walking to him.
It didn’t take so long, even in this weather and traffic, for someone to drive from Brigade road. He hoped his daughter had parked her damaged scooter some place safe.
He dialed his wife again after a half hour. “What was the name of the friend? Didn’t you take down her number?”
“How should I know she’d get so much delayed? I tried her number myself a few times. She’s not picking up. Moreover, she said she’d see you in half an hour or so.”
“Ask Amrish to go down to Brigade road and check if she’s returned there, for some reason. She keeps leaving things in her glove compartment,” he instructed. Amrish was Suresh’s nephew, and lived close by.
Amrish came to where Suresh Kumar was, an hour and a half later.
“She there?” Suresh asked.
Amrish shook his head. “No, but I spoke to some people nearby, and also a traffic cop. She’s not with any friend. She’s with the guy who hit her scooter. They had a small fight, the cops didn't intervene due to rains and all.. after which the guy said he’d drop her to corporation, I believe.”
Suresh kumar clenched his teeth. “The bastard.”
To be continued…