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Advocate Tejaswinee Roychowdhury

Horror Tragedy


3  

Advocate Tejaswinee Roychowdhury

Horror Tragedy


The Last Passenger

The Last Passenger

7 mins 269 7 mins 269

Iqbal swerved his vehicle around the corner of the street and drove through the dingy lane. The wheels dove in and out of the water-logged potholes, creating muddy splashes on the eroded bituminous concrete around them. Iqbal slowed down and hit the brakes.


He peered through the routine of the rainwater dotting the windshield and the rhythmic left-right of the wipers clearing them out. The GPS had stopped at the location where his car stood. He looked around.


A little down the lane, Iqbal could make out the silhouette of a house. Its windows were dark. The flickering yellow streetlights cast an ominous hue on its steps, and dimly reflected off the metallic nameplate on its door. It was the only house on the lane which seemed to bear any shred of life; the remaining dilapidated structures only bearing long-lost memories of what they once were apart from wild leaves and roots. As far as the map was concerned, he was in the right spot to pick up his last passenger for the day.


Normally, he would wait for a few seconds before making the call to a passenger. Not all of them appreciated being hounded by their cabbie. But it was late and Iqbal wanted to make the trip and go home to his wife and little girl. A little impatient, he unplugged his phone from its holder and dialled the number which booked the ride.


"The number you are calling is currently switched off," said an automated voice. Iqbal cross-checked the number and dialled again. "The number you are calling is currently switched off," the voice repeated.


Iqbal furrowed his brows and peered out once again. There has to be some sort of mistake. He tried the number again, and again, and again. But, all he heard was the same voice repeating the same words.


Unbelievable, though Iqbal. Why did they book the ride on a number they would switch off? He checked his phone for the booking details of the passenger. There was a name, Sambhavi.


He paused for a minute and stepped out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him. It was an unusually cold night. The drizzle did not help. Iqbal jogged to the house ahead and climbed up its steps. The nameplate read 'Miss. S. Mukherjee, LL.B'. Iqbal assumed that the 'S' stood for 'Sambhavi' and rang the doorbell.


No one answered.


Iqbal blew white mist into the icy cold air and rubbed his hands together, hoping the friction would keep them warm. He looked around the deserted lane. The only thing that seemed alive, apart from himself, was the car. It's steady humming and unwavering headlights provided him with a peculiar comfort. It was as if he wasn't alone.


He shook his head and rang the doorbell once again, this time followed by the pounding of his sturdy fist on the door's plain modest wood. And again, no one answered.


Exasperated, Iqbal decided to head back. He would update the status of the ride to 'cancelled by driver'. As a reason, he would write that the passenger did not show after a prolonged wait and that no contact could be made to the provided phone number.


He stepped out into the drizzle once again, the ice-cold raindrops cutting through his skin. The man was underdressed for this weather. He wrapped his hands around his arms and shivered. Blinded by the headlights of his own car, Iqbal squinted his eyes and jogged forward only to step into a pothole filled with dirt and rainwater.


Iqbal groaned.


In an awkward footing, he made his way to the car and opened the door. He sat down on the driver seat, his feet outside the car, undid the shoelace of his right boot, and took it off. Iqbal emptied the water from the boot on the road and put it under the seat. If there was something worse than driving barefoot, it was driving wearing a wet shoe. 


Iqbal promised himself he would never again accept a ride request outside the city. The hassle was not worth it. He locked the door and put on the seatbelt before focusing his attention on the steering wheel. With his barefoot manning the accelerator and the brakes and his booted foot on the clutch, Iqbal shifted the gears and steered the car backwards, out of the lane before making a sharp turn onto the street. 


He gasped and hit the brakes.


There was a woman standing in the middle of the street. Iqbal scrutinized her in the glow of the headlights. She was wet, barefoot, her dark hair flattened down the sides of her face, her yellow maxi dress translucently hugging her shape. It was as if she had taken a dip in the river. And she looked so pale and withered, like a faltering flower that desperately needed sunshine.


Iqbal stared at her for a split second and undid his seatbelt. He put on his wet shoe, unlocked his car door and stepped onto the street.


She stared right at Iqbal, her lips quivering.


He hesitantly walked towards her.


"I know you," whispered Iqbal.


The woman did not say anything. Her eyes were bloodshot and looked strained. The clots of purple under her pale olive skin were trying to scream a dangerous tale.


He edged closer to her.


"I — I gave you a ride earlier today, from outside the Court to a resort," Iqbal said.


She still did not say a word.


"You're Sambhavi, aren't you?"


A faint smile hovered on her wispy lips for a second. She tore her eyes off Iqbal and stared at the ground.


"I remember someone else booked that ride for you. Ravi or something similar. I'd have to check." He paused. "I don't understand."


"Take me home," Sambhavi whispered, still staring at the ground.


"Your home is right down that lane, isn't it? You booked a ride. I came for you, called you but it was switched off. Then I rang your doorbell, no one answered. And you're here, without shoes, and wet."


She did not move.


Iqbal did not know what to do. He hoped she would walk home, it was right there, at the end of the lane. And then he remembered something — the booking details, it would have a destination!


He hurried back to the car and grabbed his phone from the dashboard. Iqbal furrowed his brows as he checked the destination and looked at Sambhavi.


Fortunately for her, Iqbal hadn't gotten around to cancelling the ride. He helped Sambhavi into the backseat and drove towards her desired destination. It was about to be a very long drive but on a cold rainy night, even a city like Kolkata slept. Iqbal glided through the thin traffic and made it within an hour. It was a record, even for him. Although he was careful not to run any traffic light, he was eager to shake her off as fast as possible. Something did not sit right about this whole affair.


Iqbal parked his car on the side of the road outside the old abandoned dockyard on the Hoogly river. He checked the GPS. It was the right location.


He turned to the backseat and observed Sambhavi. She seemed lost in thought, gazing outside the window, her head resting on the window frame. Iqbal felt sorry for her. He cleared his throat loudly but she did not even flinch, let alone look at him.


"Ma'am, we are your destination," he said.


Sambhavi unlocked the door and stepped out. But it wasn't in response to Iqbal. She walked towards the docks, ignorant to the cab or its driver.


"Hey! You haven't paid for the ride!" Iqbal swiftly got out of his car and went after her.


She took a turn behind the corroded walls of what was once a proud Victorian structure, a reminiscent of the city's colonial history. Iqbal followed.


But she wasn't there.


He frantically looked around but in vain. Iqbal was the only person in the dockyard.


He yelled in despair, kicking and punching the air. He would have to pay for the ride out of his own pockets if he did not find her. And it was a large fare. It was unfair, uncalled for. But there was nothing he could do.


Dejected, defeated, Iqbal edged towards the river. He sat on one of the rusty old mooring bollards and closed his eyes. The calm repose of the Hooghly river always had a motherly effect on him. He wanted to cool off, calm down, before driving home. Amina and little Ruhi needed him to reach home safely, in one piece. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and let out a deep breath. He stood up and headed for the car. That's when he saw her...


There was no mistaking that yellow dress. She lay tangled in the old chains and the vines on the edge of the river, waiting to be discovered. Iqbal was a believer. He looked up to the skies and murmured a little prayer. He had realised that he was the last person she had seen, who she thought she could trust. Iqbal knew what he needed to do. He went back to his car and drove to the nearest police station. Sambhavi deserved a place to rest, and most importantly, she deserved justice.


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