I’ve been out of the short story loop for a couple of weeks and now must get back to it! As an opening effort, I bring you this story that was inspired by someone I met for the first time a few days ago who narrated an incident to me that has evolved into the story that follows – I hope you all enjoy it.
The street-lamp flickered to light as it struggled valiantly to remain lit against the fluctuating currents running down the street. A breeze gently drew out the very water from everything it touched, still carrying the heat of the receding day as the sun was reaching its ebb somewhere over the horizon. Nothing quite like summer days and nights here in the streets and by-ways of Delhi.
After a long and tiring week at work, I waited patiently at the bus stop for my ride home and a weekend of some much needed R&R… and maybe even a night out, if I could stay awake long enough. But here I sat and pursued one of my favourite aspects of city life : watching the world pass you by and seeing the stories it plays out in between the cracks of the bigger picture. Most days you got nothing. But on the lucky ones, you might find something to amuse or horrify or anything in between – and a few even leave you with unintentional enlightenment or simply realisation, but those were fewer still. This night though was destined for something unique, at least from my point of view – what you’ve seen and experienced, only you can measure it up against. But I’m wandering, an old habit.
Many interesting-ish sights had passed me by, but nothing particularly interesting or memorable. My eyes scanned around and for the umpteenth day this year, I cursed myself for not carrying something other than my phone for entertainment. There’s only so many mini-screen minutes I can mash tiny buttons. Then something caught my eye – not because it stood out as anything remarkable, it was just one of those moments when a sight catches your eye and you watch as if waiting for something special to happen.
In this case it was a little old-lady. Just that, a little old-lady hunched over her walking stick on the foot-path, waiting for a gap in the still-solid traffic that she could get through. I suppose I might have helped – though I can’t be certain – had I been on the same side of the road.
She was clearly frustrated as she waited and waited and there was no opening sufficient for her to traverse the gargantuan chasm between footpaths. Above her head the traffic lights had been put on the yellow blinker for the night and so she had no chance of even the respite of the light stopping the traffic for her – she was on her own. There was an air of desperation and sadness over her as she looked all around for some unknown relief that might yet come in on the breeze and help her reach her destination, but none was forthcoming. As she stood and kept craning her neck and struggling to strain to straighten her spine and look for openings that might be coming in the traffic, she wobbled from time to time.
Soon enough, her frustration was clearly beginning to build and I wondered whether she was on her way home or from home to elsewhere – one could allow her to simple turn back and return another time, the other meant she was dangerously short on options. I looked at my watch and making a call based on the late hour and the amount of time she had been waiting – it was I think a fair assumption that she simply had to cross that road. Chickens came to mind and all philosophy that went with it, churning around as I continued to look around, though always returning to see the old woman. She would find a small opening, but an oncoming would make her back away; she’d try and wave to ask for passage and in response horns would blare in that cartoonish way they do when a car goes by at high speed – rising, blaring and then slowly fading away. I was actually starting to feel bad and pondered getting off my ordinarily apathetic arse and running across to try and give her a hand, but it would take a while to convince lazy me. I’d still try though.
As my internal debate continued in the background and I looked on, she had given up on peering over the incoming traffic and was now anxiously tapping her cane on the ground and there was a marked tenseness exuding from her and as I looked closer I noticed a harder and more determined look on her face. With one final look left and right and a deep breath, she simply stepped out into the oncoming traffic and began walking!
My breath caught in my throat for a moment as I saw the giant hunks of steel heading at this frail little person slowly puttering her way across the gravel and tar. Terrible screeching sounds followed as first one car and then another slammed to a halt, followed by just as many scrapes, bangs, grindings and crashes. All the while the old lady simply kept on walking along nonchalantly as if she neither heard nor realised what was transpiring in her wake – and perhaps she indeed didn’t, I thought.
Slowly but surely the traffic piling up built as half a dozen and counting cars were forced to come to an unexpected halt. Fights and arguments broke out and it took mere seconds at most before the blame-game and fighting started to explode all around. It was chaos. Even my attention was caught, flitting like a hummingbird between the multitude of conflicts unfolding with the usual cacophony of insults and rhetorical questions about fathers and uncles being thrown around.
But then I realised what I had forgotten about and my head snapped back to one side just in time to see the old lady who had been catalyst for all this, making her way triumphantly on to the solid concrete. She walked a couple of steps and then I thought for the briefest of moments that I saw her gaze flick back to the devastation she had left in her wake, deserving as they all might have been of some measure of suffering for not even having the courtesy to let a pedestrian such as herself pass – and just ever so slightly I thought I saw a tiny grin pull at the edges of her mouth as she turned to putter away quietly into the night.