… Continued from The Driver – Part I

With a start Amrit stood up to leave. He could have sworn he felt a hand on his shoulder bringing him out of the brown study he had sunk into. When he turned around, there was no one. He looked at his watch again. It was nearing eleven. Curiously, he glanced toward the statue of Shiva. He saw that the man who was meditating in front of the statue was standing on the last step of the ghat. The man seemed to be communing silently with Ma Narbada. His body was taut. He was standing as straight as he sat in meditation. Amrit was almost fifteen feet away from the man yet,  he could feel a vibrancy in every line of the body.

Amrit decided to go home and started off towards the steps. Instead, his feet carried him nearer the meditating man until he was within three feet of him. There his feet grew roots and wouldn’t let him budge. He stood there, helplessly. He felt like an idiot but he just couldn’t move. So close to the meditating man, Amrit could feel a strange relief pervading his being. He felt as if someone has laid a cool hand on his aching brow and just smoothed his worry away. He felt as if the burdens he had brought with him were slinking away in shame one by one. He felt strangely buoyant. He could neither understand it nor believe it. He stood there gaping a little.

The man on the steps finished his conversation with the river.  When he turned around, he seemed preoccupied and ignored Amrit. Amrit was sure the man’s attention was elsewhere and he hadn’t even seen Amrit standing barely three feet away. The man came up the steps towards Amrit, his head lowered. Two steps above Amrit, the man turned and sat down. Then he looked up at Amrit and said, “Sit…!”

The word was spoken in such a gentle compelling tone that Amrit obeyed automatically. It never occurred to Amrit to refuse or to question the man. He sat down at a lower step… near the man’s feet.

“You’ve been crying”, the man said it as a fact. There no question or emotion in the voice, it was dry and flat. The eyes were piercing and strangely comforting, reaching Amrit’s soul. Amrit felt his eyes filling up again. His throat clogged. Dumbly, he nodded, knowing it was futile to deny. This man seemed to read his mind.

“Do you feel better now..?” Amrit had to nod again. He wanted to tell the man that he didn’t feel better because of the tears he had shed but because of the man’s strangely benign presence. He couldn’t say anything though. His vocal cords had knotted together and refused to emit a sound.

“Tell me why”, the man persuaded.

Amrit looked up and stared silently at the man before him. He noted the muscular torso, with the dhoti tied at the waist. There was a single rudraksh hanging by a black thread on the hairy chest. The man’s face was ordinary, nothing that one would find striking. The hair was grey, thick, long and oiled. It was combed straight back leaving the broad forehead clear, the skin glowing. There was a day’s stubble on the cheeks and one ear was pierced sporting a simple gold ring. The man’s lips were full, over-shadowed by a grey moustache. His chin was square with a cleft in the centre.  In his right hand the man wore a stainless steel watch… very ordinary. His feet were bare but shapely, with long toes. Amrit glanced at the hands, they too were beautiful as the feet with long fingers and nails clipped short. The man was indistinguishable from a hundred other people… or a thousand. Until one looked into the eyes. They were the most luminous eyes Amrit had ever seen. They glowed with the warmth of a hundred cold diamonds. There was passion, awareness and serenity in them… all together. They were oddly shaped, like rectangles. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from their mesmerizing hold.

The man waited silently while Amrit carried out the reconnaissance of his person. By the time Amrit reached his eyes again, he had made up his mind to speak. “I was fourteen years old…”, began Amrit.

The story began with hesitant steps, like that of an invalid getting out of bed after months. The words were unsure and harshly bright like newly minted coins whose edges have not been dulled with handling. The voice was low and agitated. His eyes were full of a pain unshared over the years. His shoulders bowed with the weight of the responsibilities he had carried.

“I don’t know how I reached the hospital that night”, Amrit said. “When I regained consciousness after almost a month, I was told that some kind soul had called a private ambulance as well as the police. The ambulance rushed me to the hospital in time and and my treatment was began immediately. I know the timeliness saved my life. My benefactor must have spent some money to get the treatment started. He also had my family informed. After that the man disappeared. We have never been able to find out who he was and why he did what he did. I only know I owe my life to him, may Ma Narbada bless his family.

“I had injuries so severe that I was not expected to survive. Five ribs were broken where the steering hit my chest. My right leg was fractured in three places between the knee and ankle. My jaw was broken with my cheekbone splintering into 3 pieces. Both my wrists were fractured. I had almost bled dry. The hospital informed my mother that she would need to deposit 1.5 lac rupees for my treatment. She went to my master, but he had already been arrested. We are poor folk, from where could we have found so much money…? My mother tried to borrow from the money-lender, but he only gave 40 thousand. My mother begged the hospital to start treating me with the money she had brought. She promised them that she would collect the rest of the money too and pay them. They refused to touch me until all the money had been deposited. My mother begged and pleaded. They refused.

“My mother lost all hope and came to my room dejected and crying. I was unconscious. Fifteen minutes later, they brought a stretcher to take me away. My mother was afraid they were throwing me out on the streets as we couldn’t pay for the treatment. She tried asking them… stopping them… but they ignored her. To her utter surprise I was taken to the operation theatre. My poor mother went rushing to the reception to seek explanation. She was asked to deposit the 40thousand she had. She was told that someone had anonymously deposited the balance. I was operated on and regained consciousness after twenty-three days. I stayed in hospital for nearly six months before I was allowed to go.

That accident happened six years ago but to this day I don’t know who paid for my treatment. I am sure it was the same man who had called the ambulance for me. May Ma Narbada take care of him and his family.”

“What happened to the bag carrying the drugs and gold…?” the man asked.

Amrit stared at the man confused. While recounting the story, he had only said the bag carried gold. He had not mentioned the drugs at all. Then how did this man know…? Amrit drew back, startled and afraid.

“What happened to the bag carrying the drugs and gold…?” the man asked again.

… to be Continued…

The Driver- Part II