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7 mins 301 7 mins 301

As she searched, her movements were frantic. She could hear the fast breathing of her driver in the front seat. Facing their car, the three bikes stood motionlessly, their engines growling, the headlights blasting away the darkness of the night.

‘Damn it,’ she cursed under her breath. The pepper spray she’d bought was just for a situation like this. And now, in her overstuffed bag, she couldn’t locate the damn thing.

‘Do you need light, madam?’ the driver asked. Alekha could tell that his voice was shaking. The poor guy was afraid for his life!

‘No, don’t switch on any light,’ she replied. ‘Just…just keep quiet, and maybe they’ll go away.’

She knew it was just wishful thinking. They hadn’t come in front of the car to just go away.

Alekha’s mind wandered back two hours when she’d decided to stay in the office for some more time to catch up with her work. Now, sitting in the AC ola cab, she could feel sweat beads on her forehead. Why couldn’t she just leave with everyone else!

She cursed the driver too. The guy had taken a small, dingy road branching out of the four-lane, for a shortcut. Now it didn’t look like he knew where they were.

The lane was narrow, with rubbish mounds here and there. There was no way they could back out from here, it was too dark. She could not see any street lamps. Save for the piercing headlights, they were in a mass of darkness. The slow rumble of the three bikes was the only sound. The digital clock blinking on the dashboard showed the time: 23:47.

‘Ah,’ Alekha sighed, her fingers closing around the small bottle. The spray was right at the bottom of her bag. She pulled it out, holding it tightly. It was amazing how a 4-inch bottle could make someone feel so strong.

‘Madam,’ the driver’s voice was still shaking. ‘Get down. They shouldn’t see you. Let me talk to them.’

Alekha felt sorry for the young, scrawny guy. He was barely an adult, surely younger than her. Maybe it was his first days with the cab. The mix up with the streets certainly indicated so…

She started to say something, but the words caught in her throat. One of the guys had got down from the bike and was walking towards their cab. The headlight behind him threw a huge silhouette shadow. Like the devil.

Her driver started the car and putting it on reverse gear, started backing it out slowly. He couldn’t move back much, however. A crunching sound told both of them that they’d hit the wall on the side.

They were cornered now.

The biker reached their car, stepped past the driver, and knocked on her window. Alekha could see him clearly now. A black jacket and jeans. Tall. Long hair coming down to his shoulders. She shrank back. He waited for a moment, then knocked again. She held up the spray, ready to fill the scoundrel’s eyes.

He was now pounding on the window. Thump. Thump. Thump. Soon, the window would break. With each hit, her driver let out a little whimper.

The man now changed course. He bent down on the driver’s window and told him something. Alekha wasn’t sure what he said.

‘Open the door. We need help!’ The man shouted. The driver shook his head, holding onto the door with all his might.

The man shouted something again. Out of all words, Alekha could make out ‘Accident’. The driver must have heard it too, probably more than she did. He suddenly moved forward and unlocked the door.

‘What are you doing!’ Alekha screamed. Just as the man shoved his head inside their car, she pressed on the nozzle with all her power, yelling at the top of her voice.

The guy went still for a moment. Then he lurched backward, hitting his head on the windowsill. Howling with pain, he blundered blindly into the sidewall, his hands on his eyes.

Alekha was trembling inside. She could see the others coming.

‘Why did you open the door!’ she shouted at the driver.

‘He said one of his friends had an accident,’ the driver replied. He sounded anxious. ‘What did you do to him?’

‘You believed that guy?’ Alekha retorted. ‘Are you dumb? Now his pals are coming. Get the heck out of here!’

The car engine roared, and its headlights flooded the four bikers who were approaching. In the light, Alekha could see that one of them was being supported by two others. They almost carried him forward, as his legs hung limply.

‘Madam, they really had an accident,’ the driver said.

One of them came forward and shouted from a distance, ‘Please listen to us. We don’t mean any harm. My friend here has just faced an accident, he needs immediate medical attention. Could you please give us a lift? The hospital is just five minutes away.’

Alekha could see the guy plainly, holding up his hands. She looked at the wounded guy again. His face was sickly blue, and he winced with every little movement. She made up her mind.

‘Ok,’ she shouted back. ‘I’ll give you a lift. Come on inside.’

‘Are you sure?’ The guy sounded doubtful. ‘You won’t spray us like you sprayed Rajat?’

A wave of guilt went through Alekha. Rajat was back at their bikes now, rinsing his eyes with water from a bag, still moaning.

‘No, come on,’ she opened her side of the door. They carried the wounded guy inside carefully. He slumped on the seat, breathing profusely. His face was a dripping mass of sweat.

‘Hello, I’m Ankur,’ said one of the guys who was carrying his friend. He sat beside her. ‘The one you talked to is Shivam, and this is Ravi. I guess you know Rajat by now.’

Rajat had returned after siding their bikes and took his seat in front. He didn’t respond to the little pun but kept looking straight ahead. The driver started moving the car ahead. Alekha moved forward, and said, ‘I’m sorry Rajat. I guess you can understand, with the circumstances…’

Rajat shrugged but didn’t say anything. Ankur said, ‘C’mon man, lighten up. How many times do you get sprayed at night by a woman? It’s a lifetime experience!’

Shivam chuckled a little, but Rajat still kept quiet. Their car got into the wide four-lane and picked up speed.

‘So Ankur, what happened with you guys?’ Alekha asked, looking concernedly at Ravi. ‘This doesn’t look good.’

‘We just went out to buy a couple of bottles of beers,’ Ankur said airily. ‘He was driving, and suddenly the bike slipped and fell on his feet. Thankfully, he was alone in his bike, or someone else would get hurt too.’

Shivam gave a sighing moan before slumping back again.

‘You guys live nearby?’ Alekha asked. ‘My PG is so far away, it’s at least half an hour of drive from here.’

‘Ya, we live just around the corner,’ Ankur pointed back. ‘We are all in the same department. More like friends than colleagues.’

‘That’s good,’ Alekha smiled. ‘Do you have money with you? It can get costly in metro hospitals, you know.’

‘We have credit cards, that’ll do fine,’ Ankur said, looking out into the night streets.

The empty streets were glowing in the yellowish hue of streetlights. One or two cars passed them at high speed. They were traveling fast as well. The clock flashed in the dashboard: 12:36.

‘Better look where we are going,’ Alekha said lightly. ‘My driver is so talented, he managed to get me inside that dingy, horrible lane. Hey, didn’t you say the hospital was just five minutes’ ride from the place?’

Rajat spoke, his voice raspy. ‘Your driver is talented all right. He brought you to us, didn’t he?’ He lifted his hand and patted the driver on the back.

Alekha felt something was going wrong. ‘Hang on, where are we going? There’s no hospital this way! Driver, stop the car!’

In reply, the scrawny kid let out a laugh and pushed down hard on the accelerator. Their car was flying on the highway.

‘What is this, Ankur?’ Alekha was scared now. She looked at Ankur. He was smiling softly.

‘That’s not my actual name, you know,’ he said sweetly. ‘Razzaq, get into this lane. You must appreciate Razzaq though…he made it all look so real. The fear in his eyes, his voice…oh, I don’t know who does it better, Razzaq or Ravi.’

Their car slowed down, and turned left, entering into a shallow path that curved away downward.

‘Don’t do anything as yet, that bitch is mine,’ Rajat ground from the front.

‘Easy, brother, we all have plenty of time,’ Ankur said calmly.

Ravi was no more grimacing in pain. Alekha could feel his hands on her thighs, groping at her. She wanted to move it away, to slap him, to bite him…but she couldn’t move…

The car stopped right at the middle of a big, empty field. A few minutes later, the silence of the moonlit light was shattered by the shrieks of most dreadful nightmares.

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