Hit and (make the victim) Run
Imran H. Khan
The traffic signal in front of Rangs Bhaban can be quite chaotic: the signals are long, the drivers edgy, the daily commuter's impatient and the traffic sergeants often inebriated. Any one of these elements is an ingredient for an impending disaster. What are the chances that one encounters all of them… at the same night?
It had been a long day at work and I thought I would pamper myself and vegetate in the confines of an air-conditioned taxi before facing the onslaught of a bachelor's pad and its “I'm home” routine. But it was my “lucky” day and all the taxis that passed had passengers grinning like monkeys in their cages at my lack of wheels. I'd been waiting for ten minutes when a mishuk passed - at a snail's pace - with the driver craning his neck and giving me longing looks like a child outside an ice-cream parlour. An overwhelming feeling of charity engulfed me - after all the poor guy had to make a living as well, didn't he? He probably had a wife and six kids waiting for him to bring the dal-bhat home. As I snaked into the narrow confines of the mishuk I tried my best to relax. My body was too tired to fight my instincts and I closed my eyes, putting my life into the “capable” hands of the emaciated mishuk driver.
Suddenly I felt a jolt and stiffness in my neck. Presumably the mishuk driver had passed the buck and put both our lives into God's hand. Our vehicle was moving, but of its own. The driver had his hands up as if someone was holding a gun to his back. But I was the only person at his back, and so, of course, I looked behind me - and met the audacious eyes of a bus driver with a sadistic smile to match.
I was, to use the cliché, caught in 'the horns of dilemma' (if the bus had a horn that's where we'd be - like a bullfighter getting a free ride on the bull's horn…). Instinct told me I was not safe in the micro moorir tin, fear kept me from jumping onto the mayhem of the main road. I looked at the driver, he seemed to be having a field day with his smile plastered on his face. His amusement was directed more at me than the stalled mishuk. I gagged the angel on my right shoulder and went with the one on the left; jumped off the mishuk and boarded the bus. The driver's smile changed direction and he looked at me as if I'd done him a personal injury. He started folding his shirtsleeves.
“Ki hoyse?” he said, lengthening the vowel in the first word. He might have been pacifying a young kid.
I experienced a new emotion: “refeager” a combination of relief, fear and anger. If I had been a particular fantasy character my biceps would have bulged my body ballooned and my clothes tear into tatters, but not being The Hulk, I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and said, “Why do you want to show your power on something as “hit-unworthy” as a mishuk? And why a sitting vehicle? Simply because it's small?”
He beamed and said gleefully, “I pushed you so that the car could start. Do you want some more?”
My body stilled and all the noise around me stopped. I literally saw RED. Then a whooshing sound filled the vacuum. Other voices intruded.
One of the passengers shouted, “He hit you. So what? Just move on!”
Other passengers joined in. I looked at the driver. If he had been blessed with a moustache he would be rolling them between his fingers. I decided this wasn't a battle worth fighting and got off with the words of the bus conductor ringing in my ears, “What can you do Bhai, this is how the country runs!” I wondered who the comment was addressed to, the driver or me.
As the bus sped away, all but grazing us as a parting shot, the mishuk driver was still trying his luck at the stalled engine. A traffic sergeant nonchalantly strolled by and asked me what I did for a living. It didn't seem like a “gap-shop” line so I told him and asked if he had witnessed the accident.
He was ready with an answer even before I had finished, “All I saw was you get into a bus and disrupt traffic. You rich folks think you can say what you want and get away with it. Now who is to compensate?”
Either he had missed the whole scene or had only ventured out when the “powerful” bus with its reckless band of driver/conductor/passengers had passed and the hapless mishuk and its befuddled passenger remained and he saw his chance of making a quick buck. I am proud of how I kept my head and calmly asked him for his name. That acted as a fuse and he started to shout and swear at my driver, obviously a more “worthy” opponent. I take back whatever I said about my mishuk driver. When he saw the sergeant reaching into his side pocket (presumably for a pen) he put the pedal to the metal and sped away, passing not only baby taxis, but cars.
The irony hit me as I looked back to see the law enforcer scowling at our exit: the bus hit us and we were the ones fleeing the scene.
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