“Let me buy us some cigarettes here”, saying so, he slowly pulled his car from the main road and beside the small shop selling pan, cigarettes and all kinds of addictives in between. I pulled out my wallet to offer him my share of participation into the sin, but he politely refused, saying, “Oh come on now, after all of this?”
“Here you go”, I noticed his rough, ragged hands.
“Goldflake lights? The normal ones would have sufficed, bhaiya”, I say, taking one for myself. I search for the damn lighter that I always forget to carry around. He throws a box of matches towards me, I cannot catch it. We both laugh, albeit mine carrying a hint of embarrassment with it.
*****—–(About an hour earlier)—–*****
“Karim bhaiya, you have my drop location, right?”
“Yes, sir”, came the courteous reply.
I ask him if the car was his, he replied back with a smile so radiant even someone as blind as a bat would be able to sense it, “Bought it the previous year. Earlier I used to work for a seth. He was ruthless, to say the least, he used to make me work on mornings as well as nights. I was his source of income and his personal chauffeur. There were days where I could not get even an ounce of sleep; well I still don’t sometimes. At least now I have the choice to decide whether or not I want to. See how red my eyes are?”
Karim’s bloodshot eyes told me a thousand stories in a heartbeat.
“Doing back to back driving shifts is good for the pocket, not so for the body. Ola used to be better, sir. Now many drivers like myself have switched to Uber. Pays decently”.
I am an introvert but I love talking to people like Karim, people who have seen the bad side of life. Things do not come easily to them, yet they hope for a better standard of living, they hope of being able to live life without worrying about tomorrow’s bread. I listen to a lot more than I speak. He spoke in broken Hindi, I managed to understand the crux of the matter every time and replied him accordingly. There is so much to learn from people like Karim. There is a revelation hidden in the briefest of journeys.
“School has become so bloody expensive these days, sir. My little one studies in Class II. I barely manage everything”, there was a hint of despair in his voice but his ever so cheerful disposition made it disappear shortly after.
I did not realize when I fell asleep, the air conditioning and the gentle rocking helped me. I was suddenly awoken from my peaceful slumber by a loud thud accompanied by a violent shake.
Apparently, Karim too had dozed off while driving and the car, out of control had steered left and touched the divider. Ironically, Karim’s quick reflexes saved both of our lives.
“Do not fall asleep when you are sitting in front, beside the driver”, my mother’s wise words echoed inside my head, to the point of a headache.
What doesn’t kill you, definitely makes you wiser.
“Bhaiya, let me get some cigarettes for the both of us”, Karim smiled nervously, still shaken. I laughed at the irony.