I do not prefer to take a cab to work. But I was already late. I am an article writer in a local magazine. My job is to find a story from real people and add spices and make the house wives leave their work and cry while reading the story. I was not good at humour, so I stick to conventional romance or frustration of mass public, kind of articles. This one was a whole new genre. I took a cab from the bus stop. The driver was a middle aged man. I sat in the back seat of the white ambassador. "Metro Plaza", I said. It was little over 3 hours of trip. Little bit outside the city. A retired army general was living there. After almost 3 months, I finally got his appointment for an interview.
The ambassador was as boring as it has always been since the beginning of time. Few CD's hanging from the rear view mirror. A plastic Santa clause with a spring head. Every time the breaks were pulled, it nodded looking straight at me. Frankly it was creepy, as if telling me "I know your secrets". I looked over the other items in the dashboard. I saw a picture, in a frame, of the driver and a girl holding a black boot hanging from a string. Looked like they went fishing and caught a boot instead. Generally you get to see pictures of celebrities. "Who are they?", I asked.
The driver said with a smile, "This is me and this is one of my passengers". "You take your passengers to fishing", I added. He left out a laugh. He took out the picture and gave it to me. "Her name is Sneha", he said. "What's your name?", I asked. "Vijay", he said. I was a little surprised, as the name did not match his profile. "So what's the story?", I asked. "Its an unusual story. I can bet you haven't heard one similar to that before", he answered. After hearing which I took out my mini recorder. And made him the protagonist.
It was from some time back, I was doing my general rounds near Ruby Hospital. A women showed her hand to stop the cab. She got up. Generally when some one takes a cab, he or she tells the location, then bargains the price and then gets up. But she got up, pulled down the glass and started enjoying the breeze. I asked her couple of times, where she wanted to go. But she did not reply.
After few minutes she said, "Keep driving straight". So I did. As long she was paying for it, I had no trouble driving all week. Sometimes she said go right, then left. I followed the instructions. After 30 minutes or more of driving we were back at Ruby. I had to ask her, "Mam, we are back where were started". "Just keep driving", she replied. I could see her tears. She was using a small handkerchief to wipe it. "Another breakup story", I said to myself and kept driving. After around a hour of left right left. Finally she got down at a train station. After she paid, she added "I want to book your cab, for tomorrow at 5 in the evening, near this train station". This looked like a unique way to earn some good money. I said, "OK" and left. I was not sure what I did was rational or not. I was getting easy cash, for taking a weirdo on a city tour. So why not.
Next day I reached the train station 15 minutes earlier. I thought she won't show up. But she did. We went for a four hour of ride without destination. She paid me the exact fare, without bargaining, which I thought she might. It was weird, but the money was good and easy. This routine went for next couple of days, before I finally lost my patience.
"Its not my business, but something tells me you are upset for some reason", I asked. After 5 minutes she said, "Keep driving". Another day of senseless earning was over. By then I was a little irritated by all this. Although there was nothing to feel that way, I just felt as if I am using her. Soon this feeling got converted into a guilt. I was having trouble sleeping that night. More I thought about it, more senseless it sounded to me. So for sake of peace of mind, I decided to end it the next day.
"I won't be able to do this from tomorrow", I said. Again the freakish silence. "You are not a lost dead soul, by any chance are you?", I asked, while trying to be funny. Got an immediate reply from her, "Take me to the lake. This will be our last ride". As we drove towards the lake, out of nowhere she said, "I am dying". Then she added, "I have blood cancer. 2nd stage". "I have worked so hard my entire life, to achieve my dreams. But this is how it had to end", she continued. "What am I going to tell my parents. I am their only hope", she added. By now her eyes were moist again. I felt bad for her, but there was nothing I could have done, except for driving.
We reached the lake. She paid me the exact fair, as always. "Thanks for everything", she said and went inside the lake for some lone time. One part of me wanted to leave, other part wanted to stay back and console. I wanted to console her. "Bad idea", voices inside my head said. I followed her inside and sat besides her on the bench. First few minutes were as boring as watching a movie in a theatre alone. "I used to come here when I was a boy with my dad", I said. No response from her, as expected. I stood up, picked up a stone and threw it at the pond. The stone skipped its way, bouncing couple of times over the surface of water then drowned. "Did you see that, I thought I forgot how to do it", I said in excitement.
I did that couple of more time. By now I was more concerned about the skipping stones rather than her tears. Unexpectedly, she too joined me. She did a couple of times. "I am way better than you, in this", I said with a smile. She replied back with a very sleek smile. That was the first time I have seen her smile since last few days. Soon she felt skipping stones was better than crying. I won't lie, I was enjoying this childish act too. It was getting dark and we could not see the stones that we were throwing. So we left. She was looking much more calm than usual. Maybe she had accepted the fact that she was dying. I left her at the train station as usual. She paid me.
As she was leaving I said, "Tomorrow at 5pm same place". "But, I thought you wanted to end this", she asked. "Since you are......you know.....will be relocating. So let me make it a happy ending", I replied with a stupid smile. I had absolutely no idea why I said that, or how would she react. "OK", she said. While leaving, she turned over looked at me and said, "RELOCATING?!!", with a sarcastic smile and left. My stupid face, looked more stupid.
Everything after that was roller coaster. We had started meeting each other with a smile. I was getting comfortable with her uncomfortable silence. I even saw her smile more than one's in a day. Every day we started meeting half an our early, till we started going around whole day. She never forgot to pay the bill. I had no problem, as long money was coming in. We were having lunch together, she paid every time. I was too selfish to do that. In all our meetings, I was the only one talking and she was an excellent listener.
As we were going through her bucket list, one day we visited the toy fair. I was afraid of heights, but she wanted to ride the giant wheel. I didn't stand a chance when she wanted something. Also, I did not want her to die, with unfulfilled wishes. As I was thinking this and shivering in fear while the wheel was going round and round, she said, "I want to climb mount Everest". I tried to recollect what I heard for next few minutes and said, "That's it lady. This is why we need to draw line on your bucket list". She replied with just a smile. I liked times like this, when she gave such smiles when I was not being funny, yet she felt the humour.
One of the other day, I took her fishing, because I wanted to do that. Before we started, I told her how good I was in this, how I used to beat other kids in school days and so on. "I can personally guarantee you this, you don't even stand a chance with me when it comes to fishing", I said. At the end of our fishing venture. She caught 1 fish and me two boots. That day I first saw her laugh without any heavy load over her chest. We took few snaps. The one in your hand is one of them. And with that we have reached, Metro Plaza.
After Vijay completed his story. I was under a spell. I wanted more of it. "Make a U turn, I got what I wanted, tell me more about Sneha. What happened next? When did she pass away?", I asked Vijay. "What are you talking about? Why are you killing my wife?", Vijay replied. "WHAT!! WIFE?!! you guys got married??!! What happened to her cancer", I replied in a shocking tone. "Not technically. I have been proposing her since last six months. She says if she survived 1 year, she will marry me. Doctor gave her 3 months deadline. And you know what day is today?", Vijay asked. I nodded my head saying no. "Today its 1 year. I will propose her again, and she can't deny", Vijay said with a satisfying smile.
"That was romantic. I have to meet her", I said. "She is admitted in Ruby Hospital. I was going there only. You can join me if you want", Vijay proposed. "Of course", I said and paused the recorder. I could not wait to reach the hospital and meet her. When I first saw her I realised she was not the most beautiful girl I have seen, but definitely graceful. She was conscious, attached with many needles and pipes. Vijay introduced me to her. Then we got engaged in some casual talks, where Sneha was taunting Vijay and vice versa.
"Do it now", I said to Vijay. She gave a smile looking at me as if she knew what was about to happen. Vijay kissed her hands and said, "Will you....". Before he could finish, she said, "I will. But promise me you will keep me alive, with your stupid, non stop, senseless, blabbering for at least a 40 years more".
I got the perfect love story. I recorded every bit of this drama. I wish I had a video cam, to capture the moments as well. I edited and published, but not in an article, but as a book. After the book was published I gifted one copy to the driver and his wife.