Ravi loved his taxi. It was the only thing that made him want to live. But he never allowed just anybody to get in. Working in Mumbai as a taxi driver meant that he had to use his sense of discerning very well. He only took well-dressed, decent people. Ever since the bomb blasts started happening in taxis, he made sure that he was as careful as possible.
Today was a good day. He had already earned Rs 300 and now two men were signaling him to stop. Well-dressed, in their mid thirties, they looked like those bankers in the 70s. Ravi stopped, got out and held the door open for them. Before getting in they said that they had to go the hospital. Only then did he notice that one of them was ill and holding his head. Ravi thought for a moment and said, “I’ll take you for free, sir.”
They stared at him in astonishment and immediately got into the taxi. Ravi started the taxi and they were on their way. Throughout the journey, he could hear his passengers whispering in English. Ravi had never bothered with English. To him, it was always a foreign language.
Neetu sat outside her house in Dharavi. The chawl was the only place she called home. At 15, she’d run away from the chawl twice fearing that her father would kill her mother and she would not be able to do anything about it.
A week back her father had come to get her from the roadside stall where she always sought refuge. He’d said, “I promise never to drink again. And this is the first time I’m promising you like this. So believe me. Please come home.”
She trusted him, went back home. He didn’t touch alcohol for that week. She was happy. Her father had gone back to being the doting parent that he was when she was younger. Things were good. He’d left early this morning. Her father, Ravi, drove a taxi in Andheri. She was waiting for him to come back.
She fidgeted with her new kameez, a pretty blue one with mirrors on it. Her mother had stitched that for her. She wanted to show it to her father and then he’d told her he would take her to a nearby temple, where she would pray for all of this to remain the way it was.
Ravi was idly waiting in the hospital compound when an old couple came up to him. “Will you take us to the station?”, the old man asked.
Ravi nodded and opened the back door for them. He helped them get in and shut the door. The station was not very far off. Normally, he would’ve said no for such a short distance, but they were old and he didn’t want to trouble them.
He dropped them off at the station and took the money. He prayed to the picture of Ram in his taxi and put the money in his pocket. He started to drive away from the station. In the rearview mirror, he noticed something on the backseat. He stopped the car, got off, opened the back door and took the package out. It was something wrapped in cloth. He’d made sure that the old couple didn’t leave anything. “Those two men must’ve left this”, he muttered under his breath.
He was afraid to open it. He’d heard so many stories about taxi drivers doing exactly this – finding a strange package, opening it and dying painfully. He put the package back and drove towards the nearby police station. Fear gripped him now. Something told him that he was not alright.
Then, he saw a blinding light, followed by a huge sound. There was a lot of blood. The last thing he knew was the pain.
It was dark. Neetu was still waiting for her father to come home. There was something at the back of her mind which told her that her father was not going to come today.
She saw her mother running out of the house. Some lady had come and asked for her mother. “She must’ve gotten a phone call”, thought Neetu. A phone were about a kilometre away. She ran behind her mother and they got to the phone booth. She saw her mother pick up the phone and listen to someone speak on the other end.
Her mother’s face went dull as the unknown person kept speaking. The receiver then fell from her hands and the other woman held her up. She came towards Neetu. “Neetu…”