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Yashodhan Kelkar

Drama Tragedy


4.2  

Yashodhan Kelkar

Drama Tragedy


Last Ride

Last Ride

11 mins 130 11 mins 130

The mobile hums softly on the table, the sound barely audible over the din made by the rain lashing against the window pane. I tear my eyes away from the darkness outside and see that Lavanya is calling.

I had tried calling her a few minutes ago, but the rain had screwed with the networks. Has she reached the depot? I answer the call. Lavanya starts speaking hurriedly the moment I do.   

Her voice cracks, but the torrential rain is still audible in the background. She is at the depot. She was the last passenger left in the bus by this time, and the depot is now deserted, with not a soul in sight and no vehicle available for hire. I ask her to wait while I book a cab.

A cab? She asks. What about the car?

The driver has left, I tell her. Once it was clear that her bus was delayed, I couldn’t really keep him from going home.


What about you? Can’t you come and pick me up? She asks.

I glance towards the car shed, where my Honda city is parked, ready to go. The thought of driving it to the station crosses my mind, and I shudder. I haven’t been at the steering of any car since more than a month. Since the accident …    

Lavanya hasn’t noticed that.

The rain seems to increase in intensity before my eyes. It has been raining since the evening, and it doesn’t seem to be in a mood to stop any time soon. The visibility is poor, the conditions dangerous… Better to rely on the experts. I tell Lavanya I will arrange a cab soon. 

I open the Ola app, and the first thing it does is to tell me that a surge rate would apply to rides booked now. Do I have a choice? No.


I punch in the pick-up location and the destination. Then I wait as the app looked for available rides. I hope it finds a ride soon. Lavanya is waiting at the bus depot alone, surrounded by darkness and rain. She is a wonderful woman, a splendid wife, but not particularly big on patience.

I see the app still searching for rides and begin to despair. I wonder whether I can call my driver to come and take the car, drive to the depot and pick Lavanya. It is nearly midnight, I remind myself. He must be sleeping. Besides, how do I expect him to come to the house through all this rain?

Who would be mad enough to go out for a drive during such horrendous weather? Only one name comes to my mind.


Gaurav.

He would have jumped at the opportunity to take his beloved Toyota out for a spin during a storm. He would have loved to go out without any reason, but then his wife would have fought with him, and kept him in. But armed with a reason, such as his friend and partner’s wife in need of a pick-up, he would have been unstoppable.

Gaurav loved driving. I met him in the first year of college, and since then, he was always in the driving seat. He was born to be in the driving seat. It was ironical then, that he died in an accident, tucked behind the staring wheel. 


He was not a reckless driver, nor a speed junky. I never understood what pleasure he derived from driving, but whenever we needed to go anywhere, he was the designated driver, and I rode shotgun. He decided on the destination and got us there. I took care of everything else, like the money, the gas, the food, and the lodgings.

It was the same in life. Gaurav in the the driver’s seat, and me riding shotgun, making other arrangements and taking care of the details. After college, we joined a company which manufactured boilers for breweries. A few years down the line, he came up with a plan to start our own business. I agreed.


With our combined efforts, the business grew steadily. A year ago, a leading business magazine did a feature on us, complete with a tacky photo and all. Gaurav sitting in a chair, and me standing on his right. They called us the drivers of growth.

Our growth brought us to the notice of a German company based in Pune, and soon, we found ourselves negotiating a merger with them. We used to travel frequently to Pune; Gaurav making more trips than me. He loved riding to Pune late at night; he told me enjoyed driving on the highway after midnight.

He had been on the way to Pune when he met with an accident.


No one who had been in a car with Gauarv would have believed he would ever meet with an accident. I remembered the few night time rides to Pune with Gaurav. He drove with a zen-like calmness. Complete opposite of how I would be, if required to go and pick Lavanya tonight.

The phone buzzes and blinks. Ola has found a ride. I gladly book the ride, and call Lavanya. I am right, she has lost her patience, but she cools down when I tell her I have indeed booked a cab. I cut the call and look outside at the rain, which shows no signs of letting up.


Unlike today, the weather was clear on the night Gaurav died. The accident itself was very strange. For starters, there was no other car involved in the accident. Apparently, Gaurav had lost control and rammed his car into a divider.

The driver of the truck tailing his car had told the police he had seen the car swerve sharply before it rammed into the divider. The police concluded that Gaurav was either drunk pr had fallen asleep during driving, and lost control. All of us who knew him well – Me, Lavanya, and his wife Tara found this hard to believe.


Gaurav never used to drink. He also suffered from chronic sleep disorder. He found it hard to fall asleep lying on his bed. To cure his insomnia, Gaurav had tried every idea in the book, he had seen multiple specialists. We all had tried to help him, referred him to various experts, therapies…

The thought that he had fallen asleep behind the wheels of a car while driving on a highway at the speed of eighty kilometres per hour was preposterous. However, after all the investigation, it was the only explanation that police could come up with.


My phone buzzes again. The ride I had booked has been cancelled. I curse the driver, I curse the rain, and I curse the bus that drove Lavanya to the city for being late. I wouldn’t be in this situation if not for them.

I call Lavanya and tell her that the ride was cancelled. She asks me what the plan is now. There is a desperate edge to her voice, it is tinged with fear. I look at the Honda city. Should I risk it? Even when I had lost not one, but two friends in road accidents within last month? Even when it feels as if some trap is closing shut around me?


A visual comes to my mind – Lavanya waiting alone at the dark, deserted depot… It stirs me into action. I tell Lavanya that I would pick her up. Sounding glad, she he tells me to hurry. 

I collect the car keys and pick up an umbrella. When I open the door, the sound of the rain which was muffled by the walls and the windows till now fills my ears. I open the umbrella and make my way to the car shed.


The tiles are slippery, and I tread carefully, my feet submerged till the ankles. The wind is roaring, and it violently shakes the trees and shrubs in the garden. The rain whips me from all sides, and I am drenched by the time I reach the car shed. The raindrops are tap-dancing with gusto on the shed.

The gates swing open into the darkness, made more opaque by the thick showers. The orange street lamps lining the street are vague orange spheres surrounded by black, merely managing to light up the raindrops that pass them on the way down.


I open the car door, and slide into the driver’s seat. It feels strange. A shiver runs through my spine, a shiver which has nothing to do with the water soaked into my shirt. I raise the key… My hands are shaking, and I keep missing the key-hole. I take a deep breathe, and manage to fit the key in the hole.

I turn the key, and the engine comes to life. Faint tremors run through the car, and reach me through the seat. I pull free the handbrake, shift the gear, and grip the steering wheel tightly. I pray to the lord for my safety, and slowly press my foot down on the accelerator. The car rolls forward.

It emerges onto the open road. Raindrops bang hard against the bonnet. The wipers work double-shift, making a rhythmic squeaking noise as they try to swipe the water away, but I can barely see the road. I drive slowly and cautiously.

The road is deserted. Most of the houses lining the road are also dark.

My mind hearkens back to Gaurav’s accident. What did he think about while he drove the car that day? Did the thought ever cross his mind that this might be his last ride? I don’t think so.   

I am certain this is my last ride.


A few minutes and a few kilometres later, the rain is still un-relenting, the road still deserted, and visibility still poor, and the surface just as slippery, but something has changed. The fear squeezing my chest has loosened its grip a bit. Maybe I was thinking too much, swept away in this fate business…

I take my eyes off the road, and glance at my mobile – It had been fifteen minutes since I spoke to Lavanya.

I look up, and notice something large in the road ahead. Then I see two red lights. It’s a car, and it is braking.


It must’ve come out from one of the adjoining lanes, because I haven’t seen or heard any car drive past me. The brake-lights come on once again, as the car slows down further. I too slow down. My headlights cut through the thick curtain of rain, and illuminate the car in front of me.

It is a Honda city as well. I can’t identify the colour, but something else catches my attention. A sign itched on the rear-window of the car. A large, ornate, white sign shaped like an inverted &.

The sign Gaurav had seen before his accident. The sign another of my friend, Sahil, had itched into Gaurav’s mind.

A sign that used to put Gaurav to sleep.

I had suggested that Sahil help Gaurav get rid of his insomnia. Sahil was a hypnotherapist. He has succeeded in finding a cure for Gaurav’s insomnia. He taught him how to calm his mind, and prepare for sleep, by concentrating on a visual – the inverted ‘&’ sign. It worked for Gaurav. He has praised Sahil to high heavens in front of me.


I asked Sahil how he did it, and he naively told me everything. He even showed me the sign.

I know Guarav had seen the sign before his accident because on that fateful day, I had followed him in his way to Pune, with the sign itched on the back of my car. I had identified the correct location for the accident beforehand, and overtook him once we reached that spot.

Did Sahil ever find it suspicious how Gaurav fell asleep while driving? I don’t know, because if he did, he never talked about it. I don’t think he got enough time to think about it. He died in a car accident merely two weeks after Gaurav died.


He too had fallen asleep behind the wheel of his car.  

Gaurav had seen the sign; he dozed off, and got into an accident. I’m sure Sahil must’ve seen the sign before he dozed off and got into an accident.

Now it is my turn.

Karma is a bitch. Karma is the phantom Honda city driving in front of me with an inverted ‘&’ sign itched on its rear-window.


My eyelids become heavy as I stare at the sign. They begin to droop and my foot on the accelerator starts to weigh a ton. I can’t take it off as much as I try to. The car accelerates ahead. The Honda city which was in front of me is nowhere to be seen. As my eyes close, a new article pops up before me…

Siddharth Gulati (33) was killed in a road accident during the freak storm last night. He lost control while driving and rammed his car into the divider. He died on spot. In a strange twist of fate, his business partner Gaurav Mishra had died in a similar accident merely a month ago. The deceased is survived by his wife Lavanya…


I now see Lavanya, still waiting at the dark and deserted depot.

My eyes open briefly. The car skims over the slippery road, spraying jets of water on both sides. I have a strange feeling that I am sailing over a stormy sea. The divider comes closer and closer, like a ship cutting through the waves. I close my eyes again.

Darkness engulfs everything.


The End

                                                                              

                                                                                                   


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