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Short Story: “Do you know me?”

It was one of those dark nights — the ones that make you feel alone, make you talk to yourself. If you are a 20-something guy living alone, then I would describe it as the one you like to take a stroll and smoke a cigarette or two in. I was roaming around Connaught Place after my friend ditched me for a girl. The fact that my friend was a girl herself made it worse.

I had booked a cab with Ola. After waiting for 15 instead of the promised 5 minutes, the Almighty finally arrived in a white Swift Dzire. Now, I must mention that I have always found a cab driver’s job fascinating. The fact that you meet so many people, all of them chasing different destinations makes it sound fascinating to me. I have always been the kind that likes to meet new people, learn their stories. Being a cab driver must be the cure for writer’s block, if there is one.

Whenever I find that I have to break ice with a stranger, I generally start by asking where he is from. It opens up several options as people feel comfortable talking about their hometowns instead of themselves.

“Where are you from?”
“I come from a village in Maharashtra. You wouldn’t know the name even if I told you,” he replied.

At this point I decided to boast about the names of places I know in Maharashtra. His face literally lit up when I mentioned Sangli.

“How do you know of that place?” He was either surprised or excited, I wasn’t sure which.
“I have a few friends in Walchand College, Sangli.” He was definitely excited when he heard Walchand.
“My brother, Yogesh, is studying in Walchand. Do you know him?”

Now, this is the point I hate in any conversation. Even if I knew the Yogesh he was talking about, what’s the point in asking? Just to see where he’d go with it, though, I lied and said that I might know him. The guy was ecstatic to say the least.

“Arey waah! You must know me then, my brother must talk about me a lot.” So I went on with a general idea of the story and told him that I have heard that he was financing his brother’s education. Fortunately, I was right — or (not-so-fortunately) just being played by him. I couldn’t be sure, but just as anything else in my life, I didn’t waste time mulling over it.

One thing led to another and I found him inviting me to his place for a joint. Now, I don’t have a reason to justify my decision. Maybe it was the excitement with which he asked me or maybe I just heard the word ‘joint’ and auto-pilot kicked in. I found myself some place near the border between Delhi and Gurgaon.

I can’t recall much about the surroundings of his house because I couldn’t really see anything except the dirty yellow lit room he lived in. I was surprised by the emptiness of his abode; he looked like he was living precariously. There was no sign of a cot, forget about luxuries like ‘the glass teat’. There was a stool in the corner and a rugged, dirty cotton mattress on the floor. He quickly brought a bathroom stool for me to sit on. I was comfortable sitting on that cotton mattress if you ask me though.

He told me that he had been living alone ever since he had to leave his village due to a drought a year ago. Then we talked extensively about the condition of farmers in Maharashtra and bitched about black money while smoking the illegal weed he had bought that evening. I could tell he was happy by the intensity with which he was talking. Now that he was under a light, I could see what he was wearing. His shirt was dirty, or so it seemed in the light, but I could see it being torn in some places. This didn’t only make me feel sorry for him but a part of me grew a bit afraid of him as well. The joint was over and so were the initial pleasantries, the paranoia had kicked in and I couldn’t wait to leave his place. Soon enough, we left his place to arrive at mine. After a casual goodbye, I was unharmed and at my place.

A few days had passed, and I hadn’t given any further thought to this incident. There I was, ditched again, but for different reasons — she had ditched me for a guy this time. The fat lazy guy in me was rather relieved that he wouldn’t need to travel to Connaught Place from Gurgaon just for a date. Just at that moment, the cab driver whom I had the ‘joint-venture’ with the other day, called me and said that he could drop my lazy ass for free. As it was harmless last time, I agreed. And within minutes, he was there.

He looked a bit different this time. I could see that his clothes were new or at least not torn. The usual happened and I found myself at his place but everything was not usual there. First of all, the dirty yellow light was replaced with a tube light. At the least, I could see everything clearly. The cotton mattress was gone and a cot with a good mattress and a clean sheet hid it underneath it. There was even a table and a chair to my surprise. He even looked a bit younger now that he was clean shaven.

I had to ask the reason for those changes. I was curious to know the reason behind it. But I waited for him to light the joint because that’s what you do, if you are about broach a subject like this. Soon enough and shamefully, even before lighting that joint, I found myself asking him that question.

“Arey now I have someone who knows me in the city,” he said. It seemed enough to him to explain the transition in himself and his conditions from then to now. I usually don’t think about things too much but this time, I had to. And soon enough, it seemed a satisfactory answer to me as well…

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