Recently, I started teaching as a volunteer on Saturdays at a school aided by Akanksha Foundation. Last Friday, I started my day earlier than usual as I had to reach school by 7:00 am for some unpremeditated work. It was a long day for me and my wrist watch showed 11:10 pm when I started from NESCO office, Goregaon. I was at the exit of NESCO and then it struck me that I should have called for an Uber or Ola cab. As these cabs accept bookings online, I unlocked my phone to book a cab but my phone battery was low at 3 percent. I thought to myself that it is wise to save battery and stepped out of NESCO building which is on the highway and started looking for a cab.
I was too tired to walk on the other side of highway. After waiting for about 5 minutes, I realized that only cars passed on this highway and that there were no cabs. But there were auto rickshaws, may be waiting for customers who have their houses in suburbs. As autos run only in suburbs and my home is in town, I couldn’t take an auto. One of the auto drivers asked if he could drop me somewhere but I was a bit skeptical so refused. So I walked for a while and saw another auto. The driver of this auto didn’t take any effort to call me, so I decided to take this auto for a ride till I find a cab.
I was dog-tired and was trying my best to not fall asleep. And thanks to the bumpy auto ride which kept me awake all the time. As we were moving on the highway, there was something strange around me but in that blank weary state I couldn’t think much. I could see it, feel it, but could not keep my finger on it. It kept bothering me. Oh Shit! There were no cars on the highway anymore. Just the auto in which I was sitting on this never ending straight road. I was in a state of shock as all vehicles had vanished.
This shock swallowed my sleep and then suddenly there was a jerk as we crossed the speed breaker. I was too scared to say anything to the driver. And suddenly it struck me that I haven’t even told him about the destination. The tension in the auto was palpable. I gathered courage and asked the driver who hadn’t spoken till now, “which route are you taking?” No response followed by dead silence. His silence scared me.
At that moment, I thought it was imprudent to ask the driver to stop the auto. To be honest, I did not have the courage to speak again. I was almost blank and staring at my cell phone only to realize how careless I have been to not charge my dead phone. Long tiring day, no cab and a weird driver.
While I was cursing myself for this stunt, the driver stopped. I was scared to even look at him. He said, “Madam, my family lives here. Can I give this food to them and be right back?” I didn’t know whether to say a yes or no so I continued looking down till he was gone.
For a moment I wanted to kill myself for being so stupid and voluntarily sitting in this auto. I could have called home or done something better. I started rubbing my forehead with my fingers as if it was going to take away all the stress. I closed my eyes and started chanting prayers which I could recall at that time. A soft voice, “Madam, are you sleeping?” While my hand covered my left eye, I saw the driver standing before me. This was the first time when I saw his face. I mumbled, “Which place is this and why can’t I see any car here?” The driver smiled and softly said, “This is the place where I died.” His response shocked me to the core and my heart was in my mouth. There was a lump in my throat and I was completely mute then.
He put his hand in the chest pocket of his uniform and pulled a white folded paper note. He moved the note towards me. Was this driver trying to scare me or may be he wanted money and this was one of his ways to get money! I looked into his eyes and said, “Enough of your non-sense!” While I got off the auto, I was scared if he would stop me or cause harm to me. I opened my wallet and extended a 100 Rupee note to him. He continued looking at me and said nothing. My bag was on my shoulder, open wallet and mobile in one hand and the 100 Rupee note in another. He continued staring at me with this white folded paper note in his hand. I looked away from him in the opposite direction. What I saw then was the mother of all shocks! I was standing outside NESCO office, the place from where I had started. Unbelievable. Impossible. I immediately turned back. Neither the driver nor the auto was there.
I was exhausted but 100 percent sure that I took an auto ride. But how did I land at NESCO again as the driver moved only forward and he never took any turn. I was standing motionless at the exit of NESCO. Suddenly, my phone started vibrating and displayed “Mom Calling”. I answered immediately and blabbered, “Mom I am at NESCO office, please ask Dad to pick me as there are no cabs here…” I was still in a state of shock as I re-entered the office (the only safe place to wait while my Dad was on his way).
The auto incident was mind-boggling. I couldn’t reconcile. May be I was dreaming and that the auto incident never happened. I punched my head and that’s when I realized that the 100 Rupee note which I had extended to that driver was still in my hand. I opened my wallet to put the 100 Rupee note back and was totally baffled to see the white folded paper note in my wallet!
Cheers – Lubna