This story originally appeared in my short-story series, Easy But Hard.
In this series, I take a look at stories of people that are easily forgotten.
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“Bhaiya, chalenge?” I asked the auto-rickshaw driver.
This was the fifteenth rickshaw since I started waving my hands at the deluge of rickshaws coming towards me. I would never take an auto-rickshaw usually. But my phone wasn’t working today, so booking a cab wasn’t possible. The beads of sweat on my forehead were convincing enough to the driver, I guess. Thank God! The driver agreed.
The driver flicked his face, indicating me to step inside. He had the look of a person who had come from running a marathon. His face and underarms were sweaty. The khakee shirt was wet on his back, while his eyes were bright and energetic, full of adrenaline.
“Sir,” he looked at me in the rear-view mirror, “I’ll have to make a stop on our way. Is that okay?” As if I had a choice. If I said no, he’d have asked me to find another one, which I was not in the mood for.
“How long will it take?” I asked.
“About fifteen minutes. You don’t have to pay me for the wait time.” He said.
What could I say? I poured my attention into my phone, connecting my headphones and turning the cacophony of the traffic off. I started watching a movie on Netflix. The ride would take about half an hour. What better way to utilize this time?
“Sir,” he called out a few minutes later. I was engrossed in the movie, so I didn’t realize that we had stopped by the side of the road at a not-so-busy junction. I looked to see if the signal was red. It wasn’t.
“Sir, can you step out of the rickshaw?” Did I do something wrong? The temperature this afternoon was touching 38 degrees Celsius. Standing outside for even a few minutes was going to burn me. What was the driver punishing me for?
“It’ll only take about five minutes or so,” he stated.
As if I had a choice. If not for this driver, I would still be waiting to find a ride.
I stepped out of the auto-rickshaw. The driver started by rubbing his face with a handkerchief. He then peeped into the rickshaw’s trunk and lifted a huge water bottle before placing it beside me. The movie kept playing on Netflix while I looked at the scene in front of me. The driver then went to the footpath and picked up a large steel bowl with a wide mouth but a rounded bottom.
A couple of stray dogs were looking intently with me as if they were watching a Netflix movie too.
The driver first poured a little bit of water into the bowl. He then rinsed the bowl, before throwing away the dirty water. He then poured water from the bottle into the bowl. After putting the empty bottle aside, he was on his knees to pick up the bowl. He used all their strength to lift it up. Carrying the bowl was too much work for a single person, but I didn’t realize I should help him. He bent again, almost spilling over the water this time. He turned his face towards me before bending again.
“Sir, can you help place this?”
I helped him put the bowl down and put a couple of rocks under it to ensure that it didn’t lose its balance. He then placed the empty water bottle back in the trunk and took the driver seat. As I sat back in the passenger seat, I peeked inside the trunk. There were 5 more water bottles filled with water.
“Doesn’t the water just evaporate?” I thought. But when I saw stray dogs, crows and pigeons all making their way to the water bowl, I realized that it didn’t matter.
They seemed happy with the gesture. The dogs were wagging their tails, the crows were looking at the driver and the pigeons were flocking their feathers. A sparrow came along a moment later but sat on the footpath at a distance for its chance. Once the dogs went away, it dipped itself into the bowl, taking a break from the intense summer.
I kept thinking through the rest of the journey. For how long had the driver been doing this? Did he get paid for the work? What was his motivation?
But I asked none of those, as the driver dropped me at my place and went off to his next checkpoint.
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