Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nira’s night out, A Short Story~Sudz

( A short story this time)
Nira’s night out
Was published on 20 December 2010 in the 8TH DAY, The Statesman.
Short Story~Sudz

The winter seemed like an unsteady lover, sometimes very intense while at others just playfully banteresqe to the extent of being indifferent. Thus carrying a shawl was as mandatory as it was unnecessary. Nature was at its paradoxical best that made one crave the subtle warmth and the chill. “Yeah! I’ll take the sweater today,” said Nira as if in answer to the reproachful look of her mother, as she held out the sweater to her. This was the bone of contention every morning. While Nira refused the extra luggage, her mother insisted in seeing her properly draped. “I am bound to oblige you,” she said, taking the sweater with a smile. 
   “Thank you, your highness for your small mercies,” said her mother looking pleased. Nira hugged her as she readied her bag for work. Being a journalist was fun despite the hard work. She had a party to cover that evening. “Maa,” she said cautiously approaching the topic, “I’d be late today. Boss wants me to cover a late night event. I’ll be back by 10.”
   Her mother stopped and swung around... concerned, a bit disturbed. “Why don’t you quit this job? You don’t heed my advice and your dad’s not in town. Your company doesn’t give you a car. Give me your boss’s number; I’ll talk to him,” she raged. “Don’t worry Maa(Mother), I’ll ask Sujitda to accompany me back.” 
   “The same guy who saw you off last time you were late?”
   “That drunkard who had to he escorted back by your dad!” 
   “Try to understand Maa,” reasoned Nira. “If I don’t go I’ll lose out on contacts.” Besides, Nira really liked attending events partly because of the attention she got. She was young, still new in the profession and attention gave her a new high. But such things never really featured on her mother’s priority list. So she just said, “This is part of my job Maa... accept it.” 
   “Do I have an option?” 
   The party ended well past 11 o’clock that evening. Sujitda, Nira’s so-called escort, couldn’t be traced. She took a cab and all would have gone off well had the taxi not broken down in the middle of EM Bypass leaving her stranded on the deserted road. “Wait for a bus,” suggested the taxiwallah  as Nira ventured out grumbling. EM Bypass was definitely not a safe place for a young woman like her at that hour. But Kolkata was still a safe place, she assured herself, as she walked towards the bus stop. 
   The place was empty except for an individual who seemed lost in thoughts. His clothes could have been branded but the casualness with which they were worn gave her a feeling that either he was indifferent about how he looked or had to do a lot of hard work in course of the day.  “One of those insipid creatures,” thought Nira and did not even bother to look at his face. He, too, didn’t seem to be the interfering type. Nira stood waiting as the minutes rolled by.
   Nothing came.   A car packed with revelers sped down the road and Nira’s heart suddenly missed a beat. She crossed her fingers as her first prayer, in many days, passed her lips. For the first time it dawned on her why her mother insisted she quit the job. A few minutes later, a car stopped by the bus stand; the door opened and a middle-aged man gestured at her. Nira was stunned. She pulled her sweater sleeves tight towards her, ignoring him even as the man stretched his right hand full of notes. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks and she drew back with a start. She was almost preparing to run when a grave voice from behind her said, “Leave her alone, she is with me.” 
   “Oh,” the man banged the door shut and ordered the driver to move on. 
   Nira turned to look at the “insipid creature”, her savior. Was he her savior? She hoped he wouldn’t take advantage of her situation. “Oh god!” She prayed. “Let this man be a nice guy. Even if he is not, change him by your benign power. Think of my mother. She has never harmed anyone. Even though she may not have the best daughter in the world, she would prove hard to console if something happens to me. Help me for her sake. God, please…”
   “Though it’s no concern of mine, you should not be out so late,” said the man nonchalantly. “It’s almost 12.” 
   “I know,” she said apologetically and started explaining. 
   “You mean you don’t keep such weird hours, today’s an exception?” he asked, smiling. Nira guessed he didn’t believe her. “Look,” he continued, “no point standing here for a bus. There wouldn’t be any to take you home at this hour. Let’s start walking home,” he said as he started walking down the footpath, at a distance from the bus stop.  
   Nira had no idea what to do. Should she go with him or stay put? Waiting for a bus alone wasn’t a safe bet either. Should her worst fears about the man come true, she could just hit with her bag and run. 
   The man had almost walked 15 steps when he stopped and looked back at her. “In case your home’s this way, you could come,” he called. The man still seemed suspicious to Nira. 
   Right then a car stopped a few yards beyond the bus stand. It was slowly backing up towards where she was standing. Could beggars be choosers? Between the devil and the deep sea, she almost thought audibly, sprinting up to him.  He seemed to be quite a fast walker.  Nira had to break into a trot at times to keep pace with him.  The exercise left her quite breathless to talk much. “ You are not much of a walker, are you?,” he noticed at last lessening his pace and offering to carry one of her bags which she was carrying. 
   What it appeared, that through the main road Nira was quite far from her home, but a detour through the alleys and lanes could land her home much faster than she thought.   Of course, this was not her own discovery. Nira barely had the inkling how to take on those alleys and by lanes.   “I will show you the way,” he offered.  What if some of his accomplices were waiting in one of the corners, thought Nira? She rummaged her hand bag for the deo spray and kept it handy. She would just spray it on their eyes should the occasion arise.
   “What is your name?” asked Nira at last. (Just in case the police would want know his name)
   “Abhay,” he answered. He did not even bother to ask Nira her name.
   “I am Nira,” said she nonetheless.
   Abhay just shrugged.
   “What were you doing in the bus stop at that hour of the night?”
   “I generally return late from work,” he replied.
   “And you are a..?”
   “I am a no one. It doesn’t matter, does it?” his abruptness seemed to stun Nira.
   “I just asked…I..I..I think you are quite rude!” said Nira, unable to control herself.
   “Tell me something I don’t know,” he said rather impatiently. 
   They walked in silence through the silent streets deserted except for a few dogs.  
   At last it was Abhay who spoke, “Your house should be few more minutes walk,’ he disclosed, “Ummm…who all are there in your house?” he asked. 
   Nira had almost forgotten his snub when she started, “Mom….dad is….” she trailed remembering, “It doesn’t matter, does it?” she  returned. 
   Abhay smiled broadly this time. For a moment Nira forgot everything to notice how good he looked when he smiled. Nira shook her head as if in rebuke to herself.  Just clear your head, missy, she told herself, next turning and you might be finding this guy attacking you. 
   When she came out of her thoughts she found Abhay looking intently at her. “Yeah?’ she frowned.
   “I was precisely waiting for you to come out of your reverie,” he replied, still smiling, “Whoever, is there at your home must be sick with worry by now. There is a phone booth still open round the corner and I think you should make a call,” he said. 
    “How do you know about this phone booth and do you know them?” asked Nira. 
   “Look, the choice is yours. I was just trying to help,” he said looking the other way.   
    “Why are you trying to help?” she asked looking straight into his eyes. Their eyes locked for a moment. Something in his eyes told Nira she should not have broached on this topic. Abhay then said abruptly,” Fine, then, that's it! You are on your own,” he quipped walking away. He had gone a half a meter when Nira saw him returning. Smitten by my charms, smiled Nira to herself, as she saw him approaching. Nira actually was a good looking girl.  
   “You are right, why am I trying to help you? Why did I help you at all?” he said, slamming her bag which he was carrying into her hand. With brusque steps, Abhay turned the corner and disappeared. 
   Nira now stood on the empty street.  She almost called out to her night knight beseeching him to return. But her pride came in between. As she turned the corner she noticed the telephone booth by the side of the road. It was actually a room of a house where an old woman was preparing to close the window which served as a counter.   Nira did not make the call she just walked on letting her intuition take its course.   Down the road she saw a crossing. Nira knew it. Two turnings down that road was her home. “Huh! Mr Abhay..I am home,” she said. But no sooner did these words leave her mouth; she saw two figures emerge from out of the darkness swaying gently as if by the breeze of the winter night. Nira knew they were drunk. As they approached her, of them stopped her and asked, “Aije madam, May I have the honour of your company just for a dance.” Nira tried to ignore and keep walking but they kept coming her way asking her for a dance.  “Let me go,” she pleaded.  But such pleas at these hours of the night went unheard by people in their senses, what could she expect from mindless drunks? Just then she felt a hand on her shoulder almost chaperoning her out of their clutches with an order, “keep walking.” Nira knew that baritone voice.  With a relief in her voice she could only say, “Thank you.”  
   In two minutes Nira was standing in front of her house. “Is this your house?” asked Abhay. “Yes,” was her relieved reply. The blazing living room lights told her, that mother was still awake. That was natural!  So, like Maa, she smiled warmly. Abhay was after all not a bad guy as she had thought!  He was only trying to help, Nira thought with a smile. Maybe he will ask me for a cup of coffee tomorrow. Not to mention I will agree. But first let me thank him… 
   Nira turned to Abhay. But where was he? There was no sign of him. Not now… not ever. Nira did not even get to tell him thank you! An opaque winter fog seemed to envelop everything around just leaving behind a trail of that winter night walk and a faith that still existed a few good men. 

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