Have you ever been in a situation when you are so badly screwed that there is nothing left for you to do but laugh. The kind of laughter that’s a combination of nervousness at what’s about to happen next, terror for the safety of your life, helplessness at your inability to do anything about it and finally acceptance of God’s weird sense of humour. Well, I did laugh my way out of a similarly intense situation the other day.
You see, not only do I not know how to drive, I am also a pathetic co-passenger when it comes to helping out the driver with directions. But I can surely be counted upon for making all kinds of terrifying noises at even the tiniest provocation, the noises that can shake the confidence of even the most experienced driver.
As luck would have had it, I ended up in the passenger seat with a friend of mine who had taken the plunge into the big bad world of driving a car in India three months back. We met after a long time and I was clueless of her driving skills when she arrived to pick me up in her shiny Santro in Delhi. The dents on the side of the car could have given me a heads up but then, I always knew driving in my homeland was a challenge in itself.
Anyway, after exchanging pleasantries we started our journey towards Greater Noida, that’s about 45 minutes away from where she picked me up in Delhi. I know this because I heard the GPS on her mobile inform her that. As she was about to start the car, she closed her eyes for a brief second and said a silent prayer. Since she is religiously inclined, I was quite impressed by her dedication towards prayers. Little did I know that those prayers combined with my frantic ones would be saving my life a short while later.
So off we went, exchanging the latest updates about our lives when the GPS informed her that we were required to take the next left turn. Now we were on the extreme right of the busy road and my friend started to steer the car across in a rather sharp turn without paying any heed to the cars behind us. In India, this can be chalked off as the skills of a confident driver who thinks that the traffic will give way to us first. So even though I could see the oncoming cars halting quite close to my side, along with honks and screeches, I gave her the benefit of doubt and fell silent so that she could concentrate on driving.
After the turn, she insisted that I continue our conversation. As I was about to open my mouth, to my growing horror, she skipped a red signal and slowed down right at mid of the crossing, murmuring, “I think I was supposed to stop at that signal.”
With widened eyes, I exclaimed, “You think?!”
As the other traffic signal turned green, I screamed, “Go, go, go, before the oncoming traffic bangs into us.”
I got my breath back when we finally picked up speed and got back on track. Finding my voice, I asked, “What happened back there? What if the policeman spotted us casually halting in the middle of the junction?”
Laughing, she continued driving and informed me that out of the mandatory 14 driving lessons that she signed up for, she had completed just 4. “I took the car out after my fourth lesson and am learning through experience now.”
This information hadn’t even sunk in when she left the steering wheel of the moving car to adjust the mobile on the holder in front of her. Reminding her of the necessity to keep her hand on the steering wheel, I exclaimed, “You have got to be kidding me!”
“Nopes, it’s the truth. Apart from a couple of days back when I bumped into an auto, I have been reaching home safely every day.”
“Oh really, just a single accident in 3 months. Now that’s such a huge consolation,” I remarked as I wondered what God had in store for us that night.
As she kept missing one turn after the another, it took us more than an hour and lots of u-turns to reach midway of our destination. And each u-turn was a challenge in itself as the traffic on both sides of the road came to a halt and let the lady take the turn safely. They were either very courteous or truly scared of the novice female driver. They preferred to wait for 5 mins rather than risk being close to the struggling white Santro. On my part, I did the best I could to guide her. For once, I felt that I knew more about the traffic rules than the driver!
“Oh shoot! The battery died down!” she exclaimed as the mobile screen went blank. Before she could start fidgeting with the gadget in the middle of the moving traffic, I asked her to stop at the side and turn on the hazard lights atleast. It was getting dark and people wouldn’t be so forgiving when they were rushing to get home after a long day at work. The car charger was broken and as a cherry on the cake, my mobile network had no signals.
“We better restore to the old methods then,” she said as she started the car again. Before I could ask what she meant, my heart jumped to my throat when the car screeched to a halt near a man riding a bicycle. The terrified man mumbled some directions in reply to my friend’s questions. The people in the passing cars shot angry looks at us for stopping right in the middle of the road once again. Believe me when I say it is really difficult for a tall person like me to sink any lower in my car seat than I already was.
So off we went with a new set of directions. I tried reading the signboards to get some sense of where we were. We went about asking random strangers for guidance for about an hour, taking turns and U-turns and ending up on the same road time and again. It was midnight and I was finding it hard to keep my eyes open. Perhaps it was the late hour, or the exhaustion from the jolts of adrenaline all evening, that I no longer cared where I was headed or whether I would even reach there alive.
Suddenly my friend exclaimed, “This is it! That turn right there! I know the way from here.” It was an old dusty road with creepy trees on either side, swaying in the wind. As the car progressed along the path, leaving a trail of dust behind, the spotlights fell on a man standing in the middle of the road. The scene in front of us sent a chill down my spine. All I could think of was to pedal the car to full speed and get past that strange man. To my horror, my friend brought the car to a stop and rolled down her window. Before I could say anything, the man approached us and said, “Could I please get a lift ladies? Just drop me off at the bus stand ahead.”
“Oh sure, why not?” my friend replied and turned around to unlock the door behind us.
“Are you crazy? We can’t pick up a stranger at such a ungodly hour,” I whispered in her ears before she could go ahead with her generous offer. Sense dawned upon her and she asked me in a hushed tone, “What do I do now?”
“Just rush ahead and don’t look back,” I advised. Our eyes widened when we heard the man fumbling with the door handle. It took us just a few seconds to disappear from the scene, leaving the man running after us, his shouts echoing through the silent night.
“That was a close call,” my friend said when we finally saw the streetlights ahead. “There, that’s my apartment, right there.”
I still don’t remember how I got out of the car, went up the staircase, into her empty flat and crashed on the double bed in her room. The rest of the night was a blur when I woke up the next morning. Apart from a slight strain in my neck, I felt refreshed.
“Here you go,” my friend said as she handed me a streaming mug of coffee and tossed the newspaper on my bed. I smiled at her and accepted the mug. Taking a sip of the soothing beverage, I turned over the newspaper. The headline caught my eye. Events of last night came rushing back in my mind, making my heart skip a beat as I reread the words.
A man robbed, a woman raped in Greater Noida while giving lift to a stranger last night.
I sat holding the mug in my hand and stared at the article. We were on that exact road last night, and had stopped to help that stranger!
I looked up at my friend, who, oblivious of the situation, smiled at me and said, “You know what, I had so much fun yesterday.”
“Fun?!” I fixed her with an incredulous stare, and she winked at me and added, “I was thinking of going on a road trip together. What do you say? You in?”
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