The Taxi5 mins 205 5 mins 205
The engine died with a sputter. Kavita was afraid of this. Her car had been groaning and growling for a week. She meant to go to the mechanic but never found the time. Journalism can be a demanding career. Kavita had little knowledge of cars and their engines. So, she knew that popping the hood open and peeking inside wasn't her job at all. The only thing she could do is take a taxi to the nearest mechanic and have her car towed to the place. She would then go home and wait like a good little customer. At least, that was the plan.
Kavita was familiar with the road where her car had broken down. It encapsulated a residential area on the south side of the city. A personal favourite, it helped her avoid the traffic congestion on the main road, two blocks West. She walked in the direction in the hopes of finding a taxi. It could be near impossible this time of the night and the year. After all, it was late, almost twenty past eleven. And Kolkata had started to feel the chill sting her skin whenever the sun was off-duty. Not to mention, this wasn't the liveliest part of the city either.
Three taxi drivers refused without a reason. The fourth taxi driver seemed to have better things to do. And the fifth taxi driver did not want to run the meter. Kavita was jelly. Now, if there was one thing she did not want to do was call someone for help. Particularly when that someone was someone she had dated not too long ago. But it looked like she didn't have an option. Being new to the city, she didn't know who else to call but Gaurav.
If there is a God, he must have listened for a sixth taxi rolled up to her and an elderly man poked his head out. "Where to, madam?" It wasn't clear whether Kavita was grateful or relieved, but she was resolute. This time she prepared herself to pay any amount of fare as long as the man took her where she wanted to go. But he did not make any unscrupulous demands. He nodded and turned on the meter. "Don't worry, I'll take you where you need to go." Kavita climbed onto the backseat and the taxi jumped to life.
The scent of sandalwood incense and fresh tuberose plunged her through time. It was a morning ritual, unusual for this hour, but Kavita didn't seem to notice. She was buried deep inside a memory... Gayatri wrapped a pink and white checkered gamcha around her wet head. A turquoise cotton saree and a deep-necked teal blouse hugged her slim frame. And she hummed to the latest Telegu songs. She did the pooja, lit two sandalwood incense sticks, and toured the house with them, lost in herself. She then plucked tuberose sticks from the garden, trimmed the ends, and tied them up in bunches of five or seven. They went in the engraved brass flower vases kept in every room. Kavita watched her mother. She was the epitome of beauty and elegance. Her grandmother, Lilavati, sat Kavita on her knees, braiding her hair. She was also instructing Lakshmi, the cook, on the day's menu, after she had cleaned the house, and then herself. Once out of her grandmother's firm grip, Kavita ran to her mother and Gayatri smiled as she gazed at her three-year-old running towards her...
Ths honk of the taxi awakened Kavita from her trance. The taxi stood parked and the elderly driver was nowhere in sight. She peered out of the window hoping to catch a glimpse of the man. But he was gone.
It seemed that the taxi had stopped outside an old iron gate. There was something familiar about it. She climbed out and stood for a while, facing the gate, trying to remember. Kavita called out but no one answered. She hesitated a little and pushed open the gate. It creaked and swung open.
Kavita walked in, across an unkempt compound. Dipped in the moonlight was a scorched and dilapidated structure. It greeted her with whatever warmth it still harbored within its walls. She knew at once.
Her faint memories lit up the hallways, the rooms, the corridors, the balcony, and the garden. It was such a long time ago, almost twenty-three years... Gayatri had decided to prepare breakfast. It was a special day. It was Kavita's birthday. Lakshmi was helping out. Within moments, a thunderclap explosion shook the very earth beneath her feet. Slides of events followed that moment, like an ugly PowerPoint presentation; her father screaming attempting to run towards the flames that had engulfed the kitchen; Raju, the gardener holding on to him refusing to let him jump into the fire; and her grandmother scooping her up in her bosom and running outside as the fire raged and spread, with no regard for anything that stood in his way...
Overwhelmed, Kavita sprinted outside. She had to get hold of the taxi driver. For one, she was a long long way from Kolkata. And for another, she had questions. How could he have known? Why bring her back here? Why remind her of all the things she had forgotten? But, the taxi was gone, and so was its elderly driver. All that remained was a piece of paper where the taxi stood.
Kavita picked it up.
"I brought you where you needed to be, as promised because you would never come here on your own. Journalism is your choice of career. But I know what you need. You need to write, don't you? You find a hollow in your soul that nothing can fill. Not journalism, not love, nothing. And you know what you need. Deep down, you know. Well, you and your story, it begins here. Are you ready?"